Probably there is hardly a household in the world that does not own a Unilever product. The company makes products to eat, to do the laundry, to care for your body or to clean your house. Most of Unilever’s goods are sold through supermarkets.
Unilever delivers its products to the market under their own identity. You will not find Unilever ice cream, Unilever deodorant or Unilever laundry soap in your local shop, but Magnum, Dove and Omo. Many of their brands are regional: in the Netherlands we wash our clothes with Omo, which in Brazil is known as Ala. Of its international brands, Unilever itself claims Magnum, Dove, Omo, Flora, Hellmann's, Lipton, Knorr, Calvin Klein, Becel and Lux are the best known. Main competitors on the consumers’ market are Procter & Gamble, Nestlé and Philip Morris.
The history of Unilever started off in the Netherlands with two Dutch businessmen called Simon van den Bergh and Anton Jurgens. From 1870, they separately exported butter and subsequently margarine to England. In 1927 they decided to unite their thriving businesses in the so-called Margarine Unie, Dutch for Margarine Union. Other European companies like Calvé joined the union in the following years.
In 1930, the Margarine Unie merged with their English counterpart called Lever Brothers. This company had existed since 1885 and sold soap originally. Founded by William Hesketh Lever, the Lever product called Sunlight became a huge success because it was offered in supermarkets. The popularity of the soap made that no shopkeeper could afford refusing to sell the product. Lever added fish, ice and canned foods to his assortment in 1917. Together, the companies Margarine Unie and Lever Brothers owned concerns in over forty countries in the 1920s. Because their interests and their consumers (the housewife) were the same, they decided to merge in 1930.
The brand Unilever was chosen directly after the decision to merge. Nothing is known about the inventor of the name, which obviously comes from Uni(e) and Lever. Especially its margarine branch has contributed to the well being of European citizens. It helped ending the fat deficiency in those days and now has turned into a nutritiously valuable part of our daily vital minerals.
The last few years, Unilever has cut back in the number of brands. From 1,600 in 1999, the total will be around 400 in 2005, in an attempt to grow further with the crucial marks and outdo the minor products:
Unilever’s strategy is to focus research and development and marketing on our leading brands, that is, those that are most in demand from consumers. Through our extensive knowledge of trends identified today, we will continue to develop our brands to meet the needs of our consumers tomorrow.
An overview of their most important brands, split up by category (as found on their international corporate web site at http://www.unilever.com):
- Dressings: Bertolli, Hellmann’s and Maille.
- Savoury: Knorr, Ragú, Continental, Lawry’s and Unox.
- Frozen foods: Birdseye, Findus and Iglo.
- Ice cream: Magnum, Breyers and Solero. By the way, Ben & Jerry’s is also a Unilever product.
- Tea: Lipton and Archetype.
- Spreads & cooking products: I Can't Believe it's not Butter, Rama, Becel and Pro-activ.
- Household care: Domestos and Cif.
- Laundry: Omo, Ala, Snuggle and Comfort.
- Deodorants: Axe, Rexona and Impulse.
- Hair care: Organics, SunSilk and ThermaSilk.
- Skin care and cleansing: Dove, Lux, Vaseline and Pond’s.
- Heath and wellness: Slim·Fast.
- Oral care: Signal, and Close-up.
- Fragrances: House of Valentino, House of Cerruti and Calvin Klein.
At the end of 2001, around 265,000 people were employed at Unilever worldwide, in almost 100 different countries. Their total turnover in 2001 was over 52 billion euro (52,000,000,000), investing 1,2 billion in research and development, and 57 million in society benefit projects. Almost four tenth of their products is sold in Europe, followed by a quarter in North America. The Unilever head quarters are still divided over England and the Netherlands: they have a head office in London and one in Rotterdam.
Other random facts about Unilever: