The UK is a major operational centre for the giant Anglo-Dutch FMCG company Unilever, now home to its main corporate centre, as well as two world-leading research centres. Unilever UK is one of the group's four biggest regional subsidiaries, and was where founder William Hesketh Lever's original detergent business was first founded at the end of the 19th century. Over the years, what were once several separate trading units - Lever Bros, Lever Faberge, Birds Eye Walls - have been gradually amalgamated and some heritage businesses sold. In addition to its main international brands, the UK arm of Unilever still manages several "local jewels", the company's term for brands with special regional appeal but limited international exposure. Perhaps the most notable is laundry detergent Persil (sold in almost all of Unilever's other markets under a different name), still the local leader in the UK and Unilever's top-selling brand in Britain with sales of around £185m in 2020 (Nielsen in The Grocer). Close behind is top-selling fabric conditioner Comfort (approx £172m), while Surf is the country's #4 laundry detergent at £97m. Household cleaners Domestos (£67m) and Cif (£39m) got a big boost in 2020 from the Covid pandemic. In personal care, the Dove brand has sales of well over £150m in the UK, and the Simple skincare range added at least another £75m. Unilever's global deodorant Axe is sold here under the name Lynx (£74m) and Rexona as Sure (£110m from supermarkets alone and more from beauty and pharmacy retailers). In 2020, the group relaunched the Brut deodorant range, a top-seller in the 1970s, but which had fallen out of public favour by the 1990s. Other local jewels are mostly in the food and beverage sector. Ice cream is marketed in the UK under the Wall's banner and in Ireland as HB, though individual brands (Magnum, Cornetto etc) have the same branding as in other global markets. PG Tips was for years Britain's best-selling tea, but has been eclipsed by rivals since 2018. By 2020 it had slipped to 3rd place (behind Yorkshire Tea and Twinings) with sales of £96m. It is partnered in Ireland by Lyons tea, and in 2017, the group acquired premium herbal tea brand Pukka. Local food specialities include Pot Noodle snack pots (£130m in 2020), traditional Bovril beef extract, Marmite savoury spread and Colman's mustards & sauces. In 2020, to take advantage of the uplift in consumer demand for hygiene and cleaning products, Unilever reintroduced its Lifebuoy brand in the UK for the first time since 1995. For more than 100 years, the group was also the local leader in margarine with a portfolio led by Flora. That business was sold in 2018 following a steep decline in sales. Another long-standing pillar of the local business - its tea operations - was sold in 2021 following a global strategic review. Statutory accounts for Unilever UK Ltd for 2020 showed turnover of £1.9bn and net profit of £93.9m. See also other Unilever group and brand profiles on Adbrands.
Capsule checked 21st December 2020
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Historical profile information for Unilever
Marketer Moves 27th Jun 2022: New leadership at Unilever UK. See Marketer Moves (members only).
Adbrands Daily Update 10th Oct 2019: "Marmite Mind Control". Adam&Eve DDB has unleashed the latest in their long-running lovers/haters campaign for Unilever's Marmite brand. That bitter black yeast spread is famously divisive. More perhaps than any other foodstuff, it's a product you either love or hate, and this has proved fertile ground for a succession of funny ads over the past few years. This latest offers the opportunity for haters to be converted to lovers through a semi-genuine hypnotherapy course. Haters can sign up online for a live event during which they will be experimented upon comedy hypnotist Rory Z Fulcher. It is, of course, all just a gag; but a funny one. Here's part of the hypnotism taster; there's also a more traditional TV ad.
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Oct 2018: Unilever abandoned a plan to transfer its main corporate base to the Netherlands following opposition from several of its biggest institutional shareholders. The Anglo-Dutch group has been attempting to simplify its structure. Currently it still operates as two separate companies, Unilever plc in London and Unilever NV in Rotterdam, which between them share ownership of the group's various international operating businesses. It said earlier this year it would eliminate the plc entity, which is quoted in the UK, and consolidate all activities under the Dutch entity, quoted on Holland's much smaller stock exchange. However shareholders objected to the proposal, not least because the company's UK listing would be eliminated. Unilever's board finally capitulated. "We recognise that the proposal has not received support from a significant group of shareholders and therefore consider it appropriate to withdraw," it said in a statement. Nevertheless, "the Board continues to believe that simplifying our dual-headed structure would, over time, provide opportunities to further accelerate value creation and serve the best long-term interests of Unilever."
Adbrands Weekly Update 15th Sep 2017: Unilever expanded its tea portfolio with the acquisition of UK-based premium organic range Pukka Herbs. No price was disclosed. Pukka is expected to report sales this year of around £30m, up 25% year-on-year. Unilever’s Refreshment President Kevin Havelock said: "Pukka has strong values and a clear purpose that aligns fully with our own sustainable growth model. There's a clear strategic, philosophical and cultural fit for us."
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