Unilever was arguably the world's first packaged goods manufacturer, and is still one of the global leaders, with operations in every corner of the globe and an especially strong profile in emerging markets. It was one of the original pioneers in household detergents - products today include Omo and Persil - and it remains the world #1 in personal wash and deodorants, with brands including Dove, Rexona and Axe/Lynx. Following a series of high-profile acquisitions, including US-based Bestfoods, it is also a major force in foods, and a global leader in sectors such as culinary foods, ice cream and (for the time being) tea. Key brands include Knorr, Lipton and Magnum. Yet Unilever also struggled for several years to adapt to the faster-moving business environment of the 21st century. In the late 1990s, the group initiated a strategy to prune its vast portfolio, disposing of regional products and rebadging others in order to concentrate on a smaller roster of global power brands. That mammoth task finally began to deliver results from 2005. So much so, perhaps, that in 2017, Unilever was shaken by an unexpected bid approach from fast-expanding predator Kraft Heinz. The approach was quickly defeated but has prompted an internal review of operations to deter further such attacks. The group has traditionally operated through two main divisions, Unilever Home & Personal Care and Unilever Foods. However the home and personal care divisions were separated during 2018. Alan Jope succeeded Paul Polman that year as CEO. Unilever's three divisions each developed at widely different speeds over the following years. The biggest by some margin, as well as the strongest, is beauty & personal care, which has been steadily expanded with a succession of acquisitions in both mass-market and niche segments. Home care has proved less hardy, especially in developed markets, but the group is still a leader in laundry detergents in emerging countries, and an important global force. The weakest of the three divisions has been foods. Numerous brands have been divested, including the entire margarine portfolio, once one of the group's founding pillars. Another such pillar, tea, came under review in 2020, and a deal to spin it off to private equity was finalised at the end of 2021. In 2022, a new structure was announced with the group's remaining businesses split into five separate divisions of Beauty & Wellbeing, Personal Care, Home Care, Nutrition and Ice Cream. Group revenues for 2021 were €52.4bn with net profit of €6.6bn. Emerging markets now contribute almost 58% of revenues and are continuing to grow at a much faster rate than the developed world.
Capsule checked 4th November 2021
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Marketer Moves 8th Apr 2022: Unilever's top marketer adds additional duties. See Marketer Moves (members only).
Marketer Moves 25th Jan 2022: New divisional management at Unilever. See Marketer Moves (members only).
Adbrands Update 25th Jan 2022: Hot on the heels of its failed takeover of GSK Consumer Health, Unilever unveiled a major reorganisation that will, it said, "enable us to be more responsive to consumer and channel trends". Coincidentally, perhaps, it will also make it easier to identify and offload underperforming segments. Operationally, Unilever is now dividing into five divisions rather than the previous three: Beauty & Wellbeing, Personal Care, Home Care, Nutrition and Ice Cream. Since the disposal of its margarine and tea businesses, the remaining Nutrition and Ice Cream units have become increasingly marginal to the main thrust of Unilever's purpose. Their divestment at some point in the future would come as no surprise.
Adbrands Update 20th Jan 2022: Just a few days after news was revealed of its multiple approaches to GSK Consumer Health, Unilever said that it will make no further increases to its existing offer, effectively ending its pursuit. That follows growing opposition from institutional investors to the proposed takeover. Many investors said they would vote against the deal, and Unilever's share price sank by more than 10% after news of the offer became public.
Adbrands Update 17th Jan 2022: It was revealed that Unilever has been negotiating for several months to acquire Glaxo SmithKline's soon to be demerged consumer health business. Three successive cash and shares offers, the last valued at £50bn, have been rejected by the GSK Consumer Health board on grounds that they "fundamentally undervalue" the business. Analysts value GSK Consumer at between £42bn and £48bn, but GSK is understood to be asking for an additional premium on that estimate. This could lift the required sum to as much as £55bn. Talks continue, though Unilever has warned that "there can be no certainty that any agreement will be reached". The group also issued an investor update that says it has determined that its "future strategic direction lies in materially expanding its presence in Health, Beauty, and Hygiene". There was no mention of the shrinking food and refreshment division, leading to heightened speculation that this business will be divested, especially if cash is required to fund a takeover of GSK Consumer Health. However, analysts and investors were generally unimpressed by news of Unilever's bid for GSK, with many voicing doubts that this would be a wise move.
Adbrands Daily Update 9th Sep 2021: Unilever's mammoth media review concluded. Most of the incumbent agencies were retained, with Mindshare holding onto the biggest share of the global business, including key markets including the US, China, the UK and most of Europe. Similarly, Initiative's responsibilities for Latin America were renewed. However, there were a few significant changes in selected territories. PHD continued to expand its global remit, adding Germany and the other DACH markets, Canada, the Middle East and Turkey, all at Mindshare's expense. There were also surprise triumphs for Havas Media, which added France and Spain, also from Mindshare.
Adbrands Daily Update 23rd Jul 2020: Unilever confirmed that it will proceed with plans to spin off its global tea business as a separate entity, following a strategic review. Lipton, Brooke Bond, PG Tips and other brands will all be seeking a new owner. That move, expected to complete by the end of 2021, would remove another of the traditional pillars of the Unilever global business. However, like the margarine division divested in 2017, it is also slowing down the group's overall growth. The whole business - with annual sales of around €2bn - will be divested with a few major exceptions. Unilever will retain rights to the Lipton name for ready-to-drink iced tea products, which it produces in a joint venture with PepsiCo. It will also hold on to its tea businesses in India and Indonesia.
Adbrands Daily Update 11th Jun 2020: Unilever announced the results of an 18-month review of its complex corporate structure. Currently, the group is effectively a joint venture between two separate entities based in the UK and the Netherlands respectively. Ownership of each of the group's individual country operations has a different shareholding structure between those two parent companies, with some majority owned by the Dutch parent and some by the British one. That has long created significant legal issues for the group, not least when it divested its global margarine business four years ago. Each country-specific sale required a different legal arrangement. A similar set of problems lie on the horizon with the likely disposal of Unilever's tea division. As a result, the group has taken the decision to unify its structure under a single parent company, the UK-based Unilever plc. The Dutch Unilever NV parent will be eliminated. It's a significant morale boost for Britain ahead of Brexit, although virtually nothing will change with respect to day-to-day operations.
Adbrands Daily Update 30th Jan 2020: Another pillar of Unilever's global food business is under review after attempts to resuscitate its world-leading €3bn tea business failed to deliver results. Like margarine before it, declining sales of tea are holding back the rest of the group's performance. CEO Alan Jope announced a strategic review with a view to full or partial sale of the business, whose brands include Lipton, PG Tips, Brooke Bond and others. Group full year net profit fell 38% to €6.0bn, though this year's figure included a one-off €1.3bn restructuring charge, while last year's figure benefited from a huge gain on the sale of margarine. On a comparable basis, revenues edged up 2% to just under €52.0bn. As has been the case for several years, Unilever's foods business continues to fall behind home care, and especially beauty care in both volume growth and overall sales growth. Reported sales for foods & refreshment slumped by 5% to €19.3bn, while home care rose 7% to €10.8bn and beauty by 6% to €21.9bn. The strategic review of tea could ultimately lead to a full divestment of Unilever's wider foods division.
Adbrands Daily Update 3rd Dec 2019: After a prolonged search, Unilever named Conny Braams as its new global chief digital & marketing officer. She was previously regional EVP and general manager, Unilever Middle Europe. Braams takes up her position at the beginning of 2020. The role has been vacant since Keith Weed departed in May. At the same time, the group confirmed the departure of North America president Amanda Sourry after 30 years with the company in a variety of different roles. She will be succeeded at the beginning of 2020 by former Revlon CEO Fabien Garcia.
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