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Unilever Australia & New Zealand : company profile

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Unilever Australasia is a clear leader in household and personal care in Australia and New Zealand, and a major food manufacturer. In fact the company's arch-rival elsewhere in home and personal care, Procter & Gamble, has only a limited presence in this region, mostly in personal care, and the biggest threat to Unilever's presence in laundry in the region comes from German company Henkel.


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Brands & Activities

Unilever Australia is responsible for all group operations in Australia and New Zealand. The business markets a broad variety of international and local brands in the region, although the portfolio varies a little between Australia and New Zealand. The company is one of two leaders in detergents with best-seller Omo and value brand Surf. Other detergent brands include Persil (in New Zealand only, where it is the top seller) and concentrated enzyme-based Drive, as well as Comfort fabric conditioner, and Domestos and Jif household cleaners. However the Australian home care market has become brutally competitive, with manufacturers under intense pressure from the two rival supermarket giants to cut prices. In 2013, Unilever agreed to testify to local competition regulators about a late 2000s price-fixing cartel involving itself, retailer Woolworths and rival marketers Colgate-Palmolive and Cussons, who agreed to reduce supply of cheaper detergents in favour of higher priced concentrates. According to Euromonitor, Unilever had slipped behind Colgate to become the #2 in local laundry care in 2013.

The personal care division is led, as elsewhere, by the Dove brand, active in several segments from skincare to deodorants. The broader portfolio has also been swelled by international acquisitions. As a result, Unilever's traditional haircare brand Sunsilk is now partnered by Alberto-Culver's TreSemme and VO5; while skincare and wash products Lux and Vaseline are accompanied by Simple, St Ives, Pond's and Radox. Deodorants include Rexona, Lynx (Axe) and Impulse. The portfolio has undergone some restructuring since 2001, with several brands discontinued, including Timotei and California haircare products, and local soaps Velvet, Sunlight and Norsca. The group no longer markets toothpaste in Australia either. The Close-Up and Aim toothpaste brands are now marketed in the region by Pental Products, along with a collection of other ex-Unilever orphans including Lux Flakes detergent, Sunlight laundry and dishwashing products and Huggie fabric conditioner.

The company's biggest food brand is Continental, essentially the local umbrella for the Knorr range of soups, sauces, and culinary products. Knorr is itself not generally available here, and other major Unilever brands such as Hellmann's have only very limited availability. The Slim-Fast brand was phased out in Australia in 2003; but the group subsequently launched its Carb Options range with a big fanfare in 2004, but that too was discontinued when the low-carb diet fad ended. Continental is supported by Bertolli spreads (the oils and pasta sauces have been sold). Flora is the market-leading margarine. Lipton forms the core of the tea portfolio, but its is supported by long-established Australian tea brand Bushell's, as well as Lan-Choo and New Zealand's Choysa. In 2013, the group also acquired premium tea blender and retailer T2 for around A$60m.

The ice cream portfolio is represented by another long-established Australian brand, Streets, founded in the 1930s and acquired by Unilever in the 1960s. Its products include a number of local favourites such as Paddle Pop, Spice and Gaytime, as well as international products including Magnum and Cornetto. In 2017, another family-owned Australian icon, Weis sorbets and ice cream bars, was acquired for an undisclosed sum.

Regional revenues for 2015 were A$1.56bn, with net profit of A$48m


Unilever has a long history in the region. Australia was home to one of William Lever's first factories, established in 1899 to make Sunlight branded soap. At the time the company faced two local rivals. J Kitchen & Sons of Melbourne, established in 1883, was then the country's biggest manufacturer, and dominated the eastern half of the country; WH Burford & Sons had been making soap and candles in Adelaide since 1840, and was Western Australia's leading soap maker. After several years of trying unsuccessfully to beat these two competitors in the market, Lever took a more effective alternative route, effectively buying out them out in 1924. All three businesses' soap manufacturing divisions were merged as Australian Producers Partnership, although they continued to trade under their separate corporate names. The company was also well advanced in New Zealand, by then, having opened its first factory in Wellington in 1919.

Kitchen & Sons launched the company's Australian personal care division in 1929 when it acquired the Rexona brand from another Australian business, The Sheldon Drug Company. Rexona had first been introduced in 1908 as the umbrella name for a variety of products including soap, shaving cream, and most notably a successful ointment, marketed as the remedy for everything from pimples to nappy rash. Already a well established brand in Australia, a separate company was formed to market Rexona, and the brand was later extended to shampoos and toothpaste. The first Rexona deodorant was introduced in 1968.

The group first entered the Australian ice cream market with the purchase of McNivens in 1959, followed by Streets and Sennitts in the 1960s. All three businesses were merged under the Streets name. Other food products were added with the acquisition of Rosella Foods in 1963, the launch of John West tinned seafood in Australia in 1968, and the acquisition of Lipton in 1971.

Since the 1960s, Unilever's various businesses in the region have gradually consolidated under a single roof. In 1962, Kitchen & Sons and Lever Brothers Australia were merged to form Lever & Kitchen. Bushells, Rosella Lipton and John West were combined in 1988 to form Unifoods; a year later Rexona Pty Ltd was absorbed into Lever & Kitchen to form Lever Rexona, which took over responsibility for the group's New Zealand operations in 1993. Finally, in 2000, Lever Rexona and Unilever Foods Australia were merged to form Unilever Australia. Unilever's John West tinned foods and Rosella canned soup and tomato sauce were sold in 2002 and 2003.

Last full revision 29th September 2016

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