It takes two parents -- one Dutch and one British -- to make one Unilever. Unilever N.V. and Unilever PLC, together with their group companies, constitute a global food, personal care, and household products powerhouse. The group's vast portfolio of consumer products includes a dozen global brands, including Hellmann's (mayonnaise), Knorr (soups), Lipton (tea), and Dove and Lux (soaps), that each ring up more than €1 billion ($1.4 billion) in sales. Unilever's consumer goods are sold in more than 190 countries. The company was the world's #1 consumer products maker until Procter & Gamble purchased Gillette in 2005. Based in England, Unilever PLC trades on the London and New York stock exchanges.
Unilever’s business is organized across three geographic areas: the Americas; Europe; and Other markets (Asia, Australasia, Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus).
The company operates in four segments: Personal Care (36% of Unilever's 2014 revenues); Foods, 27%; Refreshment, 19%; and Home Care, 18%.
Sales and Marketing
Unilever’s products are generally sold through its own sales force as well as through independent brokers, agents and distributors to chain, wholesale, co-operative and independent grocery accounts, food service distributors and institutions. Products are physically distributed through a network of distribution centers, satellite warehouses, company-operated and public storage facilities, depots and other facilities.
E-commerce,is an increasingly significant distribution channel. In the retail market e-commerce sales account for 1.2% of total sales, and it is expected to double to 2.4% by 2020 due to growth in emerging markets where mobile phones one of the most effective ways of delivering advertising to individuals.
Global digital advertising is estimated at $137.5 billion, or about 25% of Unilever's total advertising spend.
In 2014, the company's revenues decreased by 14% due the following factors:
Revenues from personal care dropped as the result of lower volume growth driven by a slowdown in global markets and strong competition;
Food sales declined due to exchange rate movements and business disposals (including the Ragu and Bertolli pasta sauces business), while savory and dressings both grew (but spreads declined due to lower consumer demand for margarine in Europe and North America);
Refreshment revenues dropped due to exchange rate movements and business disposals (primarily SlimŸFast), offset by acquisitions (Talenti Gelato & Sorbetto);
Revenues from Home Care showed strong growth, supported by the impact of the Qinyuan acquisition, partially offset by exchange rate movements.
Unilever's net income declined by 5.7% in 2014 due to lower revenues.
In 2014 cash from operating activities increased by 12% due to the net inflow of acquisitions and disposals.
Unilever aims to double its business with innovative brands backed by marketing and a best-in-class supply chain. The strategic choices across four categories (personal care, home care, foods, refreshment, emerging markets) focus on growing brands in emerging markets which retain good long-term growth prospects.
Unilever points to several countries for steady growth. These include Africa, the Americas (including Brazil and Mexico), China, Europe, India, and Russia. China, Russia, and Brazil are three of the company's biggest hair care markets in the world.
In 2015, Unilever launched a crowdsourcing initiative to drive sustainable growth by serving as a hub to centrally organize all crowdsourcing briefs.
To raise cash to pay down debt a reinvest in growth areas, in 2014 company sold its global Ragu and Bertolli pasta sauce business to Mizkan Group for $2.15 billion, and its SlimŸFast brand to Kainos Capital for an undisclosed amount. Ot also sold its global Skippy business to Hormel Foods for $700 million.
Other 2014 disposals included its Royal pasta brand in the Philippines to RFM Corporation, for $48 million, and the sale of its meat snacks business, including the Bifi and Peperami brands, to Jack Link’s for an undisclosed amount.
Mergers and Acquisitions
In 2016 Unilever acquired plant-based household products maker Seventh Generation for $700 million. The acquisition brings to Unilever's Home Care business a well-established line of eco-friendly detergents and household cleaners. The addition also complements the company's sustainable living public relations initiative, which is rooted in "purpose-driven" products like Ben & Jerry's, Dove, and Seventh Generation.
Growing its portfolio in emerging markets, in 2014 Unilever acquired 55% of the Qinyuan Group, a leading Chinese water purification business for an undisclosed amount. It also acquired US-based Talenti Gelato & Sorbetto for an undisclosed amount.
Unilever acquired salon hair care products maker TIGI in 2009. The more than $410 million purchase, which includes the firm's hair styling academies, adds the Bed Head, Catwalk, and S-factor brands, among others, to Unilever's hair care products offering. TIGI remains headquartered in Dallas and operates as a stand-alone global business unit within Unilever.
CEO Patrick Cescau retired at the end of 2008 and was replaced by Paul Polman, an executive at Nestlé USA, who has some 25 years of experience at P&G.