Unilever Home & Personal Care (HPC) is one of the two main business divisions within consumer goods giant Unilever. It is the world leader in personal wash and deodorants, and among the leaders in laundry detergents, haircare and surface cleaning. The portfolio is dominated by such global giants as the Dove cleansing range, deodorants Rexona (known as Sure in the UK and Degree in the US) and Axe (Lynx in the UK and some other countries), as well as the Omo and Persil detergent brands. Well-established in most Western markets, Unilever's HPC division also has an unrivalled presence in developing markets, especially in Asia and Latin America. The current business is the result of many years of consolidation of separate operating units, many of which had operated under the Lever Brothers or Lever Faberge names. Confusingly, many of Unilever's individual brands are still sold under different names in different countries.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Unilever Home & Personal Care division was formed from a string of individual mergers, as Unilever's various acquisitions over the years were gradually consolidated into one company. However at its heart is one of the original key businesses that formed the platform for the development of the group as a whole.
William Hesketh Lever founded Lever Brothers in 1885 after working in his father's wholesale grocery business. He introduced Sunlight, the world's first wrapped, branded laundry soap that year, backing it with a large-scale advertising campaign. The ads claimed that Sunlight would end the "wash-day evil" of laundry and stop women from ageing so fast from hard toil. Sunlight was enormously successful, both in Britain and as a worldwide export. In 1888, the company built its own garden city, Port Sunlight, just outside Liverpool, where workers from the main UK factory were housed in model surroundings. (Port Sunlight still exists today, a cross between a museum and a living town; houses were made available to non-Unilever employees for the first time in 1979). Lever also established soap factories in Europe, North America, Australia and the Far East.
Towards the end of the century, the company developed a process to manufacture its soap in thin sheets, rather than blocks, which could be broken up into flakes for easier mixing with water. These were introduced in 1899, initially as Sunlight Flakes. A year later, however, the name was changed to Lux Flakes to avoid competition with the existing Sunlight product and to allow them to be marketed as a higher-priced product, designed for more delicate fabrics such as wool. (The brand was advertised with the slogan "Lux won't shrink woolens"). Another product introduced in this period was Lifebuoy, a household soap which contained carbolic acid, which acted as a disinfectant. Because of its perception as a more refined product, Lux was also the name adopted for the group's first venture into toilet soaps, with the introduction of Lux Toilet Soap in the US in 1924. This marked a new phase in what had already become a fierce rivalry with America's local soap giant Procter & Gamble. The UK has proved another of the most keenly fought battlegrounds, with Lever's Persil and Surf ranged against P&G's Ariel and Bold. In 1989, Lever upped the stakes with the launch of a third brand, Radion, but the latecomer never threatened the leading brands and was dropped ten years later.
Also in 1989, Unilever created a sister business to Lever Brothers, merging its Elida Gibbs division with the Faberge toiletries business acquired as part of Faberge/Elizabeth Arden, to created Elida Faberge. Elida Gibbs was itself the product of a series of amalgamations of British businesses such as A&F Pears, makers of one of the UK's oldest beauty brands, and D&W Gibbs, whose toothpaste brands included SR, Close-Up and Signal. Famously, the company's advertisement for Gibbs SR toothpaste, broadcast in 1955, was the UK's very first television commercial. Another of the company's best-known brands was Harmony, the hairspray product. Originally launched in 1953, Harmony was relaunched in 1971 with the now legendary "Is she ... or isn't she?" advertising campaign, which made it one of the country's best-selling hair products through the 1970s.
By 1986, however, Harmony in particular (and hairspray in general) had fallen out of favour. Elida shifted its attentions to other brands including shampoos Timotei and Sunsilk. In 1987, Unilever's acquisition of Cheseborough-Pond's added another well-known cosmetic cream in Pond's. The addition of Faberge boosted the portfolio with a collection of high profile male toiletries, of which perhaps the best-known were Brut and Denim. Launched in the US in 1964, Faberge's Brut more or less invented the category of men's aftershave, inspiring numerous competitors. By the 1980s, the brand had begun to appear a little old-fashioned. One of newly acquired business's fastest-growing brands was a new range of male toiletry products launched in 1983 and known in the UK as Lynx (and elsewhere globally as Axe). In 1995, the group launched the Organics haircare range to compete with Procter & Gamble's Pantene and Head & Shoulders.
As the Elida Faberge portfolio continued to expand, the product most obviously missing from the portfolio was soap. Traditionally this had been an integral part of the core Lever Brothers business, developed alongside that company's detergent products. However, the increasingly bruising battle with Procter & Gamble for control of the detergent market encouraged Lever to focus its attentions on its washing powder brands. [See Persil brand profile for more]. In 1997 Lever Brothers transferred its entire soap portfolio, including the Dove, Lux, Shield, Knight's Castile and Lifebuoy brands, to Elida Faberge. The purchase of Helene Curtis that same year added the Salon Selectives brand range to the mix.
That same year the group began to increase its focus on a smaller range of key brands. This culminated in the 1999 announcement that Unilever was to reduce its brand portfolio by almost three-quarters. Within Elida Faberge, Harmony hairspray was one of the first to be disposed of, sold in 1998 for £25m to EMVI, a newly formed personal care products group. Meanwhile, marketing spend was firmly directed into top performers such as Dove, Impulse, Lynx, Organics, Vaseline Intensive Care and Sure.
In early 2000, Lever tested an unusual sideline in the UK - home cleaning services. Unilever acquired south London home cleaning company Mrs McMopp and the Palace Laundry launderette in 1999, and relaunched the business as MyHome, offering domestic cleaning under the Persil and Jif brands. This followed a strategic review of its Lever Brothers UK business which showed that busy consumers no longer had the time to devote to such chores as washing and cleaning, but did have the money to pay others to do it for them. The service was tested in London, but by 2001 Lever had decided that the home cleaning side of the business at least was not worth developing, and it was sold to local cleaning company Chores group.
During 2001, arch-rival P&G admitted it had breached their own internal guidelines to spy on Unilever's haircare division, going as far as stealing the latter's rubbish to search for discarded confidential documents. The two groups finally agreed a private settlement which is thought to have included at least $10m in compensation. Also in 2001, the group confirmed that it would merge Elida Faberge and Lever Brothers in the UK under the Lever Faberge umbrella, and the process was formally completed mid-year. A few non-core brands were eased out over the following months as part of the group's portfolio review. Lux soap flakes were discontinued in the UK in 2001, while long-established Stergene detergent was sold to Lornamead in 2002. In 2003 the Brut brand in the US was sold to Helen of Troy for $55m.
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