Unilever is arguably South Africa's foremost packaged goods company, as well as one of the country's leading advertisers. The group has a long history here, having first established a presence in South Africa in 1891 (through predecessor company Lever Brothers) to market Sunlight laundry soap. Its operations have gradually expanded over the years as a result of acquisitions, both international and local. As a result of the purchase of Bestfoods in 2001, for example, Unilever inherited Bestfoods Robertsons, a local joint venture with Remgro, the investment vehicle of South Africa's Rupert family (also owners of Richemont). That partnership was finally dissolved in 2017 with the transfer of Unilever's margarine business across Africa, in return for Remgro's 26% minority stake. As a result Unilever South Africa is now wholly owned once again by the group. Many of Unilever's best-known international brands are marketed here, including Axe, Dove, Domestos, Hellmann's, Omo and Comfort, among others. The group also retains a few local food jewels including Robertsons and Rajah herbs and spices, and local tea brands Glen and Joko. Another local jewel Mrs Ball's Chutney was sold in 2013 to rival Tiger Brands. The main Knorr culinary range is partnered by Knorrox stock cubes, while the local name for Unilever's ice cream division is Ola. Home and personal care products include a variety of the group's international brands as well as local-only Even & Lovely skincare for darker skin colourings, Fissan babycare products and mositurising cream Dawn. Luc-Olivier Marquet is EVP. The group doesn't split out revenues for South Africa, but sales are around €1bn. In 2020, the company took the bold step of asking retailers to withdraw all Tresemme hair care products from sale in South Africa for 10 days by way of an apology for a digital ad for that product that was widely criticised for being "racist" and had prompted a boycott of the brand. (The ad described African black hair as "frizzy and dull", compared to a white woman's hair that was referred to as "normal"). Unilever also set up an advisory committee to oversee future advertising of its hair care products in South Africa to ensure diversity and equality.
Capsule checked 24th March 2021
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Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Sep 2017: Unilever took the first steps towards the sell-off of its margarine and spreads division, while also resolving the shared ownership of its South African subsidiary. Unilever South Africa is currently minority-owned by Remgro, the investment vehicle of Johann Rupert, also chairman of luxury group Richemont. Under a new deal, Remgro will surrender its near-26% stake in the local Unilever entity in return for the company's South African margarine portfolio plus around £275m in cash. The deal values the local spreads business at around £390m.
Adbrands Weekly Update 23rd Apr 2015: Ads Of The Week "I Love What You're Wearing". We love this funky spot from BBH London and prodco Blink for Unilever's Skip detergent in South Africa. The film itself is great, but you should also try the interactive version over at SkipSouthAfrica. This isn't digital trickery: the dancers did the identical routine nine times in different outfits, so the full interactive version allows you to change their clothes as often as you want. Hey, go easy on the bra and pants version, ok guys? There's also a really good Behind The Scenes explaining how it was done, there or on our Facebook page.
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