Unilever bulked up what had previously been only a patchy presence in global foods with the acquisition in 2001 of what was then Bestfoods, which added a large collection of products to its portfolio, not least its single biggest culinary brand Knorr. However, Unilever's commitment to the food sector has remained mercurial, especially by comparison with its other interests in home and especially personal care. It remains a world leader in several sectors including savoury products and dressings, in tea - for the time being at least - with Lipton and a large collection of regional brands including PG Tips and Brooke Bond, and in global ice cream with its Heartbrand portfolio. However, new culinary acquisitions since Bestfoods have been few and far between and instead the group has steadily divested a huge number of other products, including the Iglo Birdseye frozen foods business in Europe (now Nomad Foods), Ragu pasta sauces, Peperami and Bifi meat snacks, Bertolli olive oils and Slim-Fast meal replacement products, among others. The most transformational disposal was the group's long-established margarine business, originally the core of the company, spun off in 2018 as Upfield. As a result, Knorr and Hellmann's are now essentially Unilever's only remaining global foods brands outside tea and ice cream. They are bolstered by what is still a sizeable patchwork of market-by-market local jewels: Colman's, Pot Noodle and Marmite in the UK; Continental in Australia; Maille and Amora in France; Pfanni in Germany; Calvé and Unox in the Netherlands; Baltimor in Russia; Kissan in India; and Bango in Indonesia. Only a handful of smaller culinary brands have been added - Graze snacks, Vegetarian Butcher meat-free foods, Sir Kensington's sauces - though the Refreshment portfolio was significantly expanded in 2020 with the mammoth acquisition of Horlicks in India and Asia. In 2018, what were previously two separate divisions of Foods and Refreshment were united under divisional president Hanneke Faber. However, the group later confirmed plans to sell its €2bn tea business to private equity firm CVC, most probably in early 2022. As a result, the remaining foods and refreshment business was split once again into Nutrition, under Hanneke Faber, and Ice Cream under divisional president Matt Close. Combined sales for 2021 were €20.0bn with operating profit of €2.9bn.
Capsule checked 22nd June 2021
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Historical profile information for Unilever Foods
Adbrands Update 19th Nov 2021: Unilever confirmed the sale of its global tea business, now consolidated under the brand banner Ekaterra. A deal has been agreed with CVC Capital Partners, which will acquire the business for €4.5bn. All traditional tea brands, led by Lipton, PG Tips, Pukka, Tazo and Brooke Bond, will be divested, but Unilever will retain ownership of its tea plantations in India, Nepal and Indonesia as well as its interest in the Pepsi Lipton ready-to-drink joint venture.
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 22nd Oct 2019: "Times Are Changing". Unox is Unilever's iconic Dutch culinary brand, a household staple in the Netherlands famous for its traditional smoked sausage, soups and other foods. It truly signifies something when a brand like this introduces a range of meat-free meat products. Times are changing, indeed. TBWA Neboko launches the product with a charming animation which dares to show that even a butcher's family can't tell the difference between the real thing and the vegetarian version. It's a sweet tale, beautifully animated by prodco Ambassadors.
Adbrands Daily Update 6th Feb 2019: Unilever announced another niche purchase within its foods division. The group confirmed a deal for UK-based healthy snacks manufacturer Graze. The business originally launched in 2008 as a subscription service delivering personalised seed and oat snack boxes to customers' homes. It still offers that service but has branched out into packaged snack bars and bags sold through major grocery channels. Parent company ND1T reported revenues of £72m for the year ending Feb 2018. No terms were disclosed but media reports suggested a price tag of £150m-£200m.
Adbrands Daily Update 20th Dec 2018: Acquisitions by Unilever's foods division are few and far between these days, and usually involve niche or specialist market segments. The latest is no exception: Dutch company The Vegetarian Butcher (or De Vegetarische Slager at home) specialises in meat-free foods like "vegan nochicken nuggets" or "vegan smokey hotdog". It already produces vegetarian meatballs for Unilever, marketed in the Netherlands under the Unox range. No price was disclosed.
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