Unilever is a business founded on a sense of purpose, and our unique heritage still shapes the way we do business today.
Our story begins back in the late 19th century and tells of small family businesses who – through partnerships, brand innovation and industry firsts – grow into the purpose-led company that is Unilever today. Scroll through our history to find out more.
Dating back to the early 18th century, the Jurgens, a family of carpenters, begin selling on butter that they have received as payment for work. As this proves to be a profitable enterprise, in 1860 the family move to Oss, Brabant in the Netherlands, to focus on building up a successful business in the butter trade.
The Van den Berghs, a family of butter merchants, have also built up a thriving butter trade in the Dutch town of Oss. By 1870, the business has expanded and begins exporting to England, the biggest market for Dutch butter.
In 1871, the Jurgens family acquire the patent for making margarine from its inventor Mège Mouriès. The new product, made from animal fat, can be mass produced as an affordable substitute for butter and becomes known as margarine. With business in the same town, Jan Jurgens takes a sample of this new product to Simon Van den Bergh who then begins to develop a similar product. The development of hydrogenation, a technique for hardening vegetable oils, makes it possible to use a wide range of raw materials, not just animal fat.
In northern England, Lever & Co, a family grocery business, begin producing a new soap containing copra or pine kernel oil, to help it lather more easily than traditional soaps made of animal fats. Unusually for the time, William Lever sells it wrapped in distinctive packs with a brand name – Sunlight.
Sunlight soap becomes one of the first brands to advertise in-home, using innovative means such as small cards inserted into soap packaging, featuring the Sunlight brand in cartoon drawings or calendars. As early as 1893, postage stamps are used in New Zealand to advertise Sunlight Soap.
With 450 tons of Sunlight soap being made a week, the scale of the business encourages William Lever to buy a large factory in Liverpool, with a purpose-built village for its workers providing a high standard of housing, amenities and leisure facilities.
In the year that the Lever Brothers become a limited company, sales of Sunlight soap have boomed to nearly 40,000 tons a year. As a result, the business starts expanding into Europe, America and the British colonies with factories, export businesses and plantations.
With a growing interest in public health and personal hygiene, Lever Brothers create a new product called Lifebuoy Soap. It uses carbolic acid to combat germs but remains affordable to everyone.
Just as for Lever Brothers, business is booming for Van den Bergh. With a 750-strong salesforce and a thriving export trade, they launch their first branded margarine – Vitello. Manufactured from animal fats, its superior quality, compared with its competitors, ensures its success.
Lever Brothers introduce a new type of product, Sunlight Flakes – that seeks to make housework easier than with the traditional hard soap bars. In 1900 this innovation becomes known as Lux Flakes.
With supplies of oils and fats struggling to meet the demand created by fast-growing soap and margarine production – and in an increasingly competitive market – Jurgens, Van den Bergh and Lever Brothers focus on securing stable sources of raw materials.
In 1904, Lever Brothers launch Vim, one of the very first scouring powders. It is the first specially formulated product of its kind to be marketed in Britain. Originally, the principal abrasive ingredient of Vim is silica, which comes by rail and road from quarries in North Wales.
By now, Lever Brothers have a thriving export trade and factories in South Africa, Europe, Canada, Australia and the US. In response to the problem of obtaining raw materials, they seek to create their own sources for supply and in 1906 develop a palm plantation in the Solomon Islands.
Between 1906 and 1907 the Dutch margarine industry sees its competitive strength weaken as increased supply of butter lowers the value of margarine. On 13 February 1908, a ‘secret’ pooling agreement is reached whereby the Jurgens and Van den Bergh businesses agree to pool their profits. At the same time, the two companies set up a joint palm-planting venture in Africa.
As the First World War is set to make a big impact, soap and margarine are in huge demand as vital wartime supplies, and the oil and fats industry is placed under the control of the British and German governments. Lever Brothers, Jurgens and Van den Bergh increase their interests in the production of raw materials to supply the booming demand.
In 1911, Lever Brothers’ first purpose-built research laboratory is constructed at Port Sunlight. Research work includes laboratory analysis, testing raw materials and the finished soap, the recovery of waste heat from the condensers, boiling down of caustic liquors in steam boilers and the development of the glycerine department.
In the year that war breaks out, companies controlled by Lever Brothers are making about 135 000 tons of soap a year. For employees drafted to war, Lever Brothers agreed to re-employ them on their return and give allowances to their dependants whilst they were away.
In 1917, Lever Brothers Ltd acquire Pears Soap, a company said to have been established as far back as 1789 by Andrew Pears. Pears wanted to develop a pure soap that would be gentler on the skin than many of the harsh products of the time. By 1807 he had succeeded in developing a method of producing a high-quality amber-coloured, delicately perfumed transparent soap. Key elements of Pears’ production process, developed to achieve the transparency and purity of the soap, have been continued throughout the history of the product.
In 1917, Jurgens and Van den Bergh establish factories in England, with one in Purfleet, Essex, which is still manufacturing margarine today. The factory is extended in 1957 and again in 1971, and by 1959 there are 1,000 workers employed there. They make Stork Margarine, processed cheese and soft drinks. In more recent years, the Purfleet factory has expanded to make some of Unilever’s best-known brands such as Flora, Bertolli and Olivio and is reputed to be the largest margarine factory in the world.
The post-war boom is in decline and during the 1920s the margarine market suffers as butter becomes more affordable. By the end of the 1920s, Jurgens owns margarine factories in Scotland, Ireland and England and Lever Brothers controls 60% of the output of UK soap manufacturing. Before the decade is out, alliances reach their ultimate conclusion and the official history of Unilever begins.
In 1922, Lever Brothers Ltd buy Wall’s, a popular sausage company. The meat business, however, is very seasonal in nature, and fresh perishable products cannot be properly distributed at the time, resulting in sales of pork products dropping dramatically during the summer months. The idea is proposed to make ice cream during the summer season.
Due to the war, the idea does not come to fruition until 1922 and initial ice cream sales are disappointing, as retailers are reluctant to buy in quantity. The solution is to sell directly to the customer and so salesmen are sent out on tricycles. This is the first time in Britain that ice cream has been factory-made, pre-hardened and wrapped for mass distribution, branded and retailed in this way.
Lever Brothers launches its Clean Hands Campaign. As part of its child health policy, it encourages the habits of personal cleanliness among primary school children, educating them about dirt and germs and teaching them how to wash their hands properly. Children are encouraged to complete a ‘Clean Hands Chart’ which is marked each time they wash their hands ‘Before Breakfast’, ‘Before Dinner’ and ‘After school’ for each day of the week.
Margarine businesses Jurgens and Van den Bergh, Jbusinesses, Centra and Schicht join forces to create Margarine Unie – the Margarine Union. The union quickly gains new members, creating a large group of European businesses involved in the production of almost all goods created from oils and fats. In 1928, Margarine Unie acquires the French–Dutch Calvé-Delft group with factories in the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. The following year the Union also acquires the firm Hartog’s.
The 1930s is a tough decade – it starts with the Great Depression and ends with a new world war. But despite the recession the business continues to expand, partly through the development of new products in its established markets, and partly by acquiring companies to take it into emerging categories like frozen and convenience foods. Soap production also moves further from hard soaps to flakes and powders designed to make lighter work of household cleaning. This leads to expansion in the soap market.
On 2 September 1929, Margarine Unie and Lever Brothers sign an agreement to create Unilever. The businesses initially aim to negotiate an arrangement to keep out of each other’s principal interests of soap and margarine production, but ultimately decide on an amalgamation instead. Described in The Economist as “one of the biggest industrial amalgamations in European history”, Unilever is officially established on 1 January 1930. However, the year also sees Procter & Gamble enter the UK market, becoming one of Unilever’s largest rivals.
After a campaign to improve public perceptions of margarine and the growth of vitamin-enriched brands such as Stork in the UK and Blue Band in the Netherlands, sales of margarine rise to levels close to the highs of 1929.
During the war years Unilever is effectively broken up, with businesses in German- and Japanese-occupied territory cut off from London and Rotterdam. This leads to the development of a corporate structure in which local Unilever businesses act with a high level of independence and focus on the needs of local markets.
During the Blitz, Lifebuoy soap provides a free emergency washing service to Londoners. Lifebuoy vans equipped with hot showers, soap and towels visit bomb-struck areas of the capital to offer much-needed mobile washing facilities.
Unilever becomes the majority shareholder in Frosted Foods and the UK rights to a method of food preservation new to mass markets: deep-freezing. Years later, freezing will enjoy a resurgence of popularity when it’s shown to be one of the best ways of naturally preserving the goodness of fresh food. Around the same time, Unilever acquires Batchelors, which specialises in freeze-dried vegetables and canned goods.
Birds Eye launches the first frozen peas in the UK. At this time meat, fish, ice cream and canned goods account for only 9% of Unilever’s total turnover.
As we move into the 1950s, the development of new mass markets for consumer goods – including Africa and Asia – provide opportunities for expansion. Unilever’s United Africa Company continues to grow, producing goods for sale in the newly independent African states, which helps create new local manufacturing industries. Post-war prosperity in Europe, spurred by the start of the European Community, leads to a consumer boom and rising standards of living.
As new scientific advances come thick and fast, Unilever establishes Port Sunlight Research, a research division with responsibility for both UK and Dutch laboratories. From this, a nutrition research group launches in the Netherlands which later becomes the Unilever Food & Health Research Institute – a centre of excellence in nutrition.
In 1954, Sunsilk shampoo is launched in the UK and will become a leading shampoo brand – by 1959 it is available in 18 countries worldwide. In 2005, the brand’s reach has stretched to 40 countries. Seda and Sedal, in Brazil and Mexico, are also part of the Sunsilk brand.
On the 22 September Unilever airs the very first advertisement on UK commercial TV, for Gibbs SR toothpaste. The initials ‘SR’ are short for sodium ricinoleate, an ingredient effective in the treatment of gum infections. It is promoted by the company as ‘an entirely new and revolutionary product’.
Fish fingers are introduced in the UK and within a decade they account for 10% of British fish consumption. During the 1950s new types of food – most famously the fish finger – are developed as a direct response to the need for nutritious food that makes use of ingredients available in the wake of post-war rationing.
In 1957, Dove launches a revolutionary new beauty cleansing bar, with its patented blend of mild cleansers and moisturising cream. The beauty bar claims to rinse cleaner than soap, leaving skin clean, soft and smooth. Today, Dove has grown into one of Unilever’s biggest global brands, offering a range of products: body washes, hand and body lotions, facial cleansers, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners and hair styling products.
Unilever launches its first margarine in a tub, replacing the traditional block wrapped in greaseproof paper, with Blue Band in Germany, followed by Flora in Britain.
The 1960s brings optimism and new ideas as the world economy expands and standards of living continue to rise. As a result, Unilever expands and diversifies through innovation and acquisition, setting up advertising agencies, market research companies and packaging businesses. By the mid-60s, a restructure increases opportunities to grow brands internationally.
Becel, the pioneering ‘health’ margarine, is launched after the medical community asks Unilever to develop a cholesterol-lowering food product. Initially, it’s only available from pharmacies.
Unilever forms its own specialist packaging business, the 4P Group, turning an internal service provider into a profit-earning business. It is in effect a co-ordination of Unilever’s interest in packaging, printing, plastics and paper, based in Germany.
Cif – a scouring cream capable of cleaning modern household surfaces such as stainless steel and enamel without scratching – launches in France. The product is later launched as Jif in the UK, with production out of Port Sunlight, and made available in Europe.
Late to the idea of corporate styling, Unilever establishes the Unilever U as our corporate logo in 1967. It seeks to reflect Unilever’s durability and internationally minded and dynamic character. Its solid twin pillars on a common base suggest the idea of the two united parts of the business, Ltd and NV, and the two Us superimposed on one another symbolise the 1930 union. To those unfamiliar with the company structure and its history, it makes sense as the first letter of the company name.
In 1969, Unilever airs the UK’s first colour TV commercial – an advert for Birds Eye peas.
During the 1970s, hard economic conditions – including high inflation in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis – lead to flat sales. The growth of large retailers including supermarkets starts a shift in negotiating power away from manufacturers. So Unilever continues to build consumer goods businesses in other sectors such as transport and packaging and has a major thrust into North America. Fortunately, the subsidiary United Africa Company yields large profits in oil-booming Nigeria, helping balance out the costs of businesses in Europe and the US.
Lipton International is acquired in 1971 and Unilever’s tea business becomes one of the largest in the world. Founder Sir Thomas J. Lipton bought his first tea estates in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) in 1890, in order to help source and sell his own tea. He arranged the packaging and delivery of tea directly to his Lipton markets to keep costs low.
Mentadent is launched in Austria as a revolutionary gum health brand. It continues to be a leading dental care product in Austria and across the world.
Impulse is launched in South Africa in 1972, where it holds a third of the perfume deodorant market by 1979. By 1985 it is sold in 30 countries. A combination of a deodorant and a perfume, it is aimed at young consumers looking for an inexpensive and popular fragrance.
Unilever’s subsidiary, the United Africa Company, becomes UAC International, having expanded since its inception in the 1920s to trade in 43 countries.
Frigo ice cream is acquired in Spain. This becomes part of the Unilever Heartbrand unveiled in 2003. The Heartbrand operates under different names in different markets (Wall’s in the UK and in most of Asia, Algida in Italy, Langnese in Germany and Ola in the Netherlands).
By 1977, across the nine members of the European Economic Community, Unilever employs nearly 177,000 people in 200 offices and factories, investing in fixed assets at a rate of about UK £30 million a year and spending about UK £1 billion on supplies.
Signalling intentions to increase its presence in the US, Unilever acquires National Starch, a leading producer of adhesives, starch and speciality organic chemicals. It’s the largest acquisition by a European company in the US at this time.
At the start of the 1980s, Unilever is the world’s 26th largest business, with interests including plastics, packaging, tropical plantations and a shipping line, as well as a wide range of foods, home and personal care products. Early in the decade, in a bold change of strategy, we decide to refocus on core product areas with strong markets and equally strong growth potential. The necessary rationalisation leads to large acquisitions and equally large divestments. But by 1989 the resulting growth of core businesses is clear.
Viennetta ice cream gateau is launched, starting in Britain as a Christmas speciality. The idea of a cake consisting of layers of ice cream alternated with strata of chocolate is developed in 1981 by Wall’s Ice Cream. The product design is registered as unique. Competitors try unsuccessfully to copy the product.
Axe body spray for men (Lynx in the UK) is first launched, starting in France. It is the first standalone body spray on the market (ie a body spray that is not part of a wider range of products). At its launch it is available in three fragrances, Amber, Musk and Spice, and packaged in distinctive black containers with silver lettering.
In 1984, Unilever acquires PG Tips. Brooke Bond first started selling Pre-Gest-Tee (PG Tips) in 1930, and the brand has gone on to become a leader in the UK teabag market. In 1956 the PG Tips chimps made their debut appearance on the UK’s newly launched commercial TV station. Aired on Christmas Day, the ad results in PG Tips becoming the UK’s biggest selling tea brand. As times change, a knitted puppet Monkey is introduced and is still today a mascot for the brand.
In June 1985, Unipath, one of the companies in Unilever’s new Medical Products Group, launches the Clearblue home pregnancy test. Sold through pharmaceutical outlets in Britain, it is the first pregnancy test designed specifically for home use and is promoted as having several benefits over other tests on the market – it is more accurate at an earlier stage in pregnancy, gives a clearer result and does not take as long to complete.
Based in the Netherlands and operating in 24 countries, Naarden, a leading international supplier of flavours and fragrances, is acquired by Unilever to provide additional expertise in fragrance and food flavours. The acquisition would double Unilever’s international fragrances and flavours business.
Chesebrough-Pond’s is acquired in 1986, a strategic move to build a stake in the US market and a presence in the skincare market. The acquisition brings with it famous brand names including Pond’s and Vaseline.
Unilever acquires the Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company, and with it the Calvin Klein brand, in 1989. It offers a complete range of beauty products in addition to its core fragrance business. The Calvin Klein brand is sold to Coty Inc NY in 2005. In the same year Elizabeth Arden/Fabergé is acquired but later sold in 2001.
Magnum ice cream is launched in Germany. The Langnese impulse marketing group developed a thick, rounded, oval slice of quality ice cream wrapped in pure Belgian chocolate. This is to be the premium product and advertising campaigns have been based around the image of the ice cream as an irresistible and indulgent treat which is too good to share.
The 1990s see a period of restructuring and consolidation, starting with the number of categories in which Unilever competes cut from over 50 to just 13 by the end of the decade. This includes the decision to sell or withdraw many brands and concentrate on those with the biggest potential. Restructuring creates four core business areas: Home Care, Personal Care, Foods and Speciality Chemicals. Growing environmental pressures and consumer concerns about the food chain encourage action in sustainable agriculture.
Unilever enters the Czech Republic and Hungary, and establishes UniRus in Russia.
In 1993, Unilever acquires Breyers ice cream in the US. Founded back in 1866 by William A Breyer of Philadelphia, it consists of rich cream, pure cane sugar, fresh fruits, nuts and other flavours – some of the very same ingredients used today.
Organics shampoo is first launched in Thailand, having been developed by Hair Innovation centres in Bangkok and Paris. By 1995 Organics is sold in over 40 countries. The range is innovative in its formula, which is designed to work beneath the surface on the roots of the hair, using Glucasil to supplement the hair’s natural nutrient levels. The packaging uses a root symbol on the front label to reflect the new root-treating formula.
Unilever publishes its Code of Business Principles. Today, they continue to play a key role in setting out how we seek to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, protect our brands and reputation, and prevent harm to people or the environment.
An unprecedented decision is taken to practically eliminate trans fats from food production in a rapid response to new research suggesting that their effect on blood cholesterol is at least as adverse as that of saturated fats.
Unilever makes an ambitious commitment to source all fish from sustainable stocks and starts working with the WWF to establish a certification programme for sustainable fisheries through the newly created Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).
Hindustan Lever and Brooke Bond Lipton India merge to create India’s largest private sector company. The amalgamation ensures benefits from scale economies in both domestic and export markets and enables the investments required to building new categories. In 2007, the company name formally changes to Hindustan Unilever Limited, as it is still known today.
Kibon ice cream is acquired in Brazil. Kibon becomes part of Unilever Heartbrand which is marketed in over 40 countries.
As the challenges facing business, the environment and communities grow, and as consumer habits shift to become more socially and environmentally motivated, Unilever adopts change. Building on our long history of social purpose, we embed sustainable thinking even further into our day-to-day activities to ensure we remain a sustainable business.
Bestfoods joins Unilever 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.
Carl Heinrich Knorr opened his first kitchen in Heilbronn, Germany in 1838, experimenting with drying vegetables and seasonings, to preserve nutrition and flavour. This led to the launch of the first Knorr dried soups across continental Europe in 1873. With a history of providing nutritious food for low-income consumers and a continued passion for food and flavours, Knorr has become one of the world’s largest cooking brands, sold in more than 78 countries around the world.
Our brand portfolio is reshaped and enhanced through acquisitions and the sale of 87 businesses, generating €6.3 billion of sale proceeds. By 2001 Unilever has reduced brands from 1,600 to 900. Disposals included Batchelors and Oxo in the UK, Royco and the Lesieur range in France, Heisse Tasse in Germany and Blå Band in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Unipath, Bestfoods Baking Company, Elizabeth Arden and DiverseyLever are also sold.
In 2002, the Lifebuoy brand launches its hygiene education programme, Swasthya Chetna, which will reach nearly 51,000 villages and make a difference to the lives of 120 million people in rural areas of India.
After launch at the start of the decade, the Unilever Health Institute – a centre of excellence in nutrition, health and vitality – opens regional centres in Bangkok, Thailand and Accra, Ghana. Our Nutrition Policy and Nutrition & Health Academy are launched.
In 2004, Unilever becomes a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the not-for-profit, industry-led initiative set up in co-operation with conservation organisation WWF. It works to increase the amount of certified, sustainable palm oil that is available, and has set sustainability criteria against which suppliers can be certified. Our aim is to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.
The Vitality 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’ is launched in 2004. Reaching across the whole organisation, how we are ‘bringing Vitality to life’ continues to provide the basis for our category, regional and functional strategies today. The new Unilever brand is rolled out, including the new logo which represents the diversity of Unilever, our products and our people.
Dove launches the Campaign for Real Beauty in the US, Brazil and Canada in October 2004 (later extended to other countries, including the UK, in 2005). It features poster advertising of six real women aged from 22 to 96. Each woman is chosen to challenge conventional stereotypes about beauty, offering an alternative to the youthful, airbrushed and unattainable supermodel images usually portrayed in advertising.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project is founded in 2004 to help the next generation of women grow up feeling happy and confident about the way they look. The project delivers self-esteem education to young people (primarily girls) aged 8–17 years through lessons in schools, workshops for youth groups and online resources for parents.
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 is taken.
New technology helps create Small & Mighty, the first super-concentrated liquid laundry detergent that uses one-third of the packaging, one-third of the water and one-third of the transport of dilute liquids.
Unilever commits to source all of our tea from sustainable, ethical sources, asking the Rainforest Alliance to start auditing our tea suppliers with immediate effect. Lipton launches a sustainable tea partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, announcing our aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags sold globally similarly sourced by 2015.
Unilever announces agreements to acquire the Buavita vitality drinks brand in Indonesia and Inmarko, the leading ice cream business in Russia.
In 2008, in an effort to help halt deforestation, we announce our commitment to draw all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015, purchasing our first batch of certified sustainable palm oil 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 that accolade. By 2010, Unilever is named sustainability leader in the Food & Beverage ‘super sector’ of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, for the 12th consecutive year and in 2015, for the 15th year, Unilever is named leader of the Food, Beverage & Tobacco industry group with a score of 92 out of 100.
In 2009, Unilever launches its Compass strategy. The changes it has adopted as a result prepare us to face the next decade with a truly sustainable business model: to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental impact.
Unilever purchases 185,000 tonnes of sustainable palm oil via GreenPalm certificates (an offsetting scheme supporting RSPO-certified growers), accounting for around 15% of its total needs. Around 80% of Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe are sourced from certified farms. Rainforest Alliance Certified tea also becomes available in the US, Japan and Australia.
In the face of climate change, instability and unprecedented economic and environmental uncertainty, Unilever recognises a turning point in history. The launch of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan outlines our strategy to decouple growth from our environmental impact, while increasing our positive social impact. The Plan is welcomed by independent commentators as one of the most ambitious sustainability plans ever created by an international corporation. ‘Sustainable living brands’ grow twice as fast as our other brands and start to represent half of our growth.
Unilever launches the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, our blueprint for a sustainable business model. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan sets out hundreds of targets and commitments which fall under three key goals: to help more than a billion people improve their health and wellbeing, to halve the environmental impact of the making and use of our products and to enhance the livelihoods of thousands of people in our supply chain. Today the Plan continues to evolve, driving growth in our business while harnessing our reach and expertise to create change in the world.
Alberto Culver shareholders vote in favour of our acquisition of the company, bringing personal care brands such as TRESemmé, Alberto VO5, Nexxus, St. Ives and Simple into the Unilever portfolio.
Unilever backs an industry-wide move towards supporting sustainable agriculture at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Unilever’s turnover exceeds €50 billion, with all regions and categories contributing to growth. By 2012 we have 14 brands each with sales of more than €1 billion a year.
In 2012, progress towards USLP targets is reported, with more than a third of agricultural raw materials sourced sustainably and more than 50% of factories achieving the goal of sending no waste to landfill. We reach 224 million people through programmes to reduce diarrhoeal disease by handwashing with soap, provide safe drinking water, promote oral health and improve young people’s self-esteem.
Unilever is named as a winner of the prestigious 2013 Catalyst Award for our initiatives that expand opportunities for women and business. Unilever’s initiative, Global Reach with Local Roots: Creating a Gender-Balanced Workforce in Different Cultural Contexts, accelerates the advancement of high-potential women across different regions and leverages the company’s strong foundation of cultural diversity and multinational expertise to promote a culture of inclusion.
The company re-enters the Myanmar market with the launch of full business operations including a new manufacturing facility and new headquarters in Yangon.
We launch the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards, an international awards programme designed to inspire young people around the world to tackle environmental, social and health issues.
A number of strategic acquisitions are made throughout 2014, including the Talenti super-premium ice cream business in North America and the Qinyuan water purification business in China.
By 2014, our ‘sustainable living brands’ – brands which have a sustainable purpose and contribute to one or more of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goals – are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the business and making a major contribution to overall growth. These brands have integrated sustainability into the contribution they make to the world and into their products’ ingredients and life-cycle.
We announce in ‘Mobilising Collective Action: USLP Summary of Progress 2015’ that we are on track to achieve the majority of our USLP targets and make an unprecedented call for collective action to address the biggest challenges facing the world.
In January, we announce that we have achieved our target of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill from our entire network of factories. Believed to be a global first for delivering zero waste on this scale, more than 240 factories in 67 countries making products for brands such as Magnum, Knorr, Dove and Domestos have now eliminated landfill waste.
In 2015, Unilever contributes to the launch of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and joins global calls for action at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP 21). We identify three areas where we can help deliver real systems change by working in partnership with others in business, civil society, government and NGOs: climate change and deforestation; water, sanitation and hygiene; and sustainable agriculture and food security.
In June 2015, Unilever announces a saving of 1 million tonnes of CO2 emissions since 2008, a key milestone in the mission to be ‘carbon positive’ by 2030.
In 2016, Unilever reaches a new industry-leading achievement of sending zero non-hazardous waste to landfill across more than 600 sites in 70 countries, including factories, warehouses, distribution centres and offices. Having identified the different non-hazardous waste streams in our operations, we have now found alternative routes for the waste from these sites. This is achieved through the four ‘R’ approach of reducing, reusing, recovering or recycling, proving that waste can be seen as a resource with many alternative uses, from converting factory waste to building materials to composting food waste from staff cafeterias.
This year we set ourselves a commitment to ensure that all of our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025, and call on the FMCG industry to do the same.
Beginning in September 2017, Unilever’s personal care brand Simple arrives in Brazil.
Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is ranked No 1 in India on the Forbes list of The World’s Most Innovative Companies 2017. It is also one of the two Indian companies that feature in the Top 10 in the year’s list.
As a leading advertiser, in 2017, we made a stand to #unstereotype the way men and women are portrayed in marketing and call on the industry to do the same.
In 2017, we were the first FMCG organisation to join the Climate Group’s EV100 global initiative. Its aim is to bring together forward-looking companies committed to accelerating the transition to electric vehicles and making electric transport the ‘new normal’ by 2030.
Unilever launched its newest personal care brand in 20 years with Love Beauty and Planet in July. Inspired by Unilever's Sustainable Living Plan, the revolutionary new beauty brand, featuring six hair and skincare product ranges, has sustainability at its heart and is designed to meet rising demand from consumers who are looking for more environmentally-responsible products.
Unilever announced that Dove, its largest Beauty & Personal Care brand, gained accreditation by PETA. Dove’s cruelty-free status has been granted in recognition of the brand’s commitment to not conduct any tests on animals anywhere in the world. PETA’s cruelty-free logo will begin to appear on Dove packaging from January 2019 to assure customers that Dove does not, and will not, test on animals.
Unilever’s condiment company Sir Kensington’s has been awarded B-Corporation certification. The move means Sir Kensington’s joins a community of more than 2,000 businesses which meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
Unilever named head of Beauty and Personal are, Alan Jope to succeed Paul Polman as Chief Executive Officer.
Unilever announces the launch of Cif ecorefill, the new at-home technology that allows consumers to refill and reuse their Cif spray bottles for life. This comes when the UK's demand for less plastic and more refillable and reusable solutions are on the rise, with 62% of people saying reuse is even more important to them than recycling.
All our factories, offices, R&D facilities, data centres, warehouses and distribution centres – across Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and North America – are now powered by 100% renewable grid electricity. We have been working towards 100% renewable electricity as a global goal for 2020, but have achieved five continents ahead of time.
Unilever CEO Alan Jope warned that woke-washing – brand campaigns promising to improve the world but failing to take real action – is undermining the advertising industry’s credibility and trust.
We announced our commitment to halve our use of virgin plastic in our packaging, and to collect and process more plastic packaging than we sell by 2025.
Photograph taken by Christine Njoroge
Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) won the Good Corporate Citizen Award presented by the Bombay Chamber of Commerce in Mumbai.
Working in partnership with the government of Buenos Aires, we have extended a programme that encourages the city’s residents to throw away less and recycle more. At ‘Green Points’ dotted across the city, people can exchange their household recyclables for discount coupons that are redeemable against Unilever products at selected retailers.
We contributed more than €100m to help people affected around the world by the Covid-19 pandemic. Product donation of soaps and sanitiser to the COVID Action Platform of the World Economic Forum and adaption of manufacturing lines to produce sanitiser for use in hospitals, schools and other institutional settings also took place.
Hindustan Unilever (HUL), our Indian listed subsidiary, merged with GSK Consumer Healthcare Limited in India. With this transaction, HUL completed the acquisition of the Health Food Drinks portfolio of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in India, including Horlicks and Boost brands.
We set out an ambitious new range of measures and commitments designed to improve the health of the planet by taking even more decisive action to fight climate change, and protect and regenerate nature, and to preserve resources for future generations. We will achieve Net Zero emissions from all our products by 2039.
We announced our signing of an agreement to acquire Liquid I.V., a U.S-based health-science nutrition and wellness company.
We announced we will source 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in our cleaning and laundry product formulations with renewable or recycled carbon.
We announced a new annual global sales target of €1 billion from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, within the next five to seven years. The growth will be driven by the roll-out of The Vegetarian Butcher as well as increasing vegan alternatives from brands including Hellmann’s, Magnum and Wall’s.
The Unilever archives are amongst the most important collections of business records in the world.
In the 1890s, William Hesketh Lever, founder of Lever Brothers, wrote down his ideas for Sunlight Soap – his revolutionary new product that helped popularise cleanliness and hygiene in Victorian England.
It was “to make cleanliness commonplace; to lessen work for women; to foster health and contribute to personal attractiveness, that life may be more enjoyable and rewarding for the people who use our products”.
That sense of purpose and mission has always been part of Unilever’s culture. In the 21st century, we’re still helping people to look good, feel good and get more out of life – and our purpose as a business is ‘making sustainable living commonplace’.
Follow our timeline to find out more about our history.