The 2000s have been a period of great transformation for Unilever, seeing significant organisational change and the launch of The Compass, our strategy to achieve significant growth while minimising our impact on the environment.
Forging new paths
The 21st century started with the launch of Path to Growth – a strategy to transform the business, leading to more acquisitions and the rationalisation of manufacturing and production sites to form centres of excellence. This was followed by the One Unilever programme, aligning the organization behind a single strategy, simplifying our business and leveraging our scale more effectively.
Our mission 'to meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people look good, feel good and get more out of life' was launched in 2004. Reaching across the whole organization, how we are 'bringing Vitality to life' continues to provide the basis for our category, regional and functional strategies today.
The last decade has seen a fundamental shift in people’s shopping and purchasing habits. With consumers becoming more socially, environmentally and civically motivated, we are increasingly embedding sustainable thinking into our day-to-day activities. In 2002, the Lifebuoy brand launched its hygiene education programme, Swasthya Chetna. This has reached nearly 51,000 villages and made a difference to the lives of 120 million people in rural areas of India.
In 2004, we became a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – a body which we currently chair. In 2008, in an effort to halt deforestation, we announced our commitment to draw all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015. In 2007, Lipton launched a sustainable tea partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, announcing our aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags in Western Europe sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags globally similarly sourced by 2015.
As the end of the 2000s draw to a close, the whole world is experiencing unprecedented economic uncertainty. Unilever was born at the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s and has had to deal with many economic and financial crises since. Being able to respond quickly to rapidly changing market conditions will ensure it emerges from the recession stronger than ever.
Bestfoods is acquired in the second-largest cash acquisition in history. Other acquisitions include Slim.Fast Foods, Ben & Jerry's and the Amora-Maille culinary business in France.
The Unilever Health Institute – a centre of excellence in nutrition, health and Vitality – is launched.
By 2001 Unilever has cut its brands from 1,600 to 900. DiverseyLever, Elizabeth Arden and Unipath are sold.
The portfolio is reshaped and enhanced through acquisitions and the sale of 87 businesses without acceptable growth or margin potential, generating €6.3 billion of sale proceeds.
Unilever Health Institute opens regional centres in Bangkok and Accra, Ghana.
Unilever is consulted by the World Health Organisation regarding the development of a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (published May 2004).
Our Nutrition Policy and Nutrition and Health Academy are launched.
The Vitality mission is launched and the new Unilever brand rolled out, including the new logo which represents the diversity of Unilever, our products and our people.
Antony Burgmans becomes non-executive chairman of both Unilever N.V. and Unilever PLC while Patrick Cescau takes on the new role of group chief executive, responsible for all operations.
Unilever sells its global prestige fragrance business, Unilever Cosmetics International (UCI), to Coty Inc, of the US. The sale is in line with Unilever’s strategy to focus on core categories.
The Nutrition Enhancement Programme is completed, through which 16,000 products are assessed for levels of trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and sugars, and where necessary, action taken.
Antony Burgmans steps down as Chairman of Unilever after being with the company for over 35 years. Michael Treschow succeeds him as the first independent Chairman of the Boards of Unilever.
New technology helps create Small & Mighty, the first super-concentrated liquid laundry detergent that uses one-third the packaging, one-third the water and one-third of the transport of dilute liquids.
Unilever announces agreements to acquire the Buavita vitality drinks brand in Indonesia and Inmarko, the leading ice cream business in Russia.
Unilever commits to source all of its tea from sustainable, ethical sources, asking the Rainforest Alliance to start auditing its tea suppliers with immediate effect. The company aims to win certification for all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags sold globally by 2015.
Home & Personal Care and Foods are combined into a single category structure, and Central & Eastern Europe is managed within an enlarged region along with Asia and Africa. Western Europe becomes a standalone region.
Unilever announces the sale of several of its businesses including its North American laundry business, its edible oil business in Côte d'Ivoire together with its interests in local oil palm plantations, Palmci and PHCI, and its Bertolli olive oil and vinegar business with Grupo SOS.
The company commits to move to sustainable palm oil sourcing by 2015, purchasing its first batch of certified sustainable palm oil already in November.
For the tenth year running, Unilever is named foods sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes – the only company ever to achieve such an accolade.
Paul Polman takes over as Chief Executive Officer on 1 January, the first time the Boards chose an external candidate to this position and succeeding Patrick Cescau who retired after 35 years service to the company.
Unilever sharpened its portfolio with the announced acquisitions of Sara Lee’s personal care brands, the TIGI professional hair care brands and the Baltimor ketchup business in Russia.
The company purchased 185,000 tonnes of sustainable palm oil via GreenPalm certificates, accounting for around 15% of its total needs.
Around 80% of Lipton yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe were sourced from certified farms. Rainforest Alliance Certified tea also became available in the US, Japan and Australia.
Nearly 17 million school meals were delivered to 80,000 children through the company’s partnership with the World Food programme.
Towards the end of the year, the company launched a renewed vision: to double the size of its business while reducing its overall impact on the environmental.