Celebrating 90 Years of Doing Good
23 January 2020 – 90 years ago, British soap maker Lever Brothers and Dutch Margarine Unie merged their operations to become Unilever. Many years down the road, now in 190 countries, we can look back on decades of doing good globally. And despite being Unilever’s youngest historical addition, Hive is also proud to celebrate the company’s rich history. So, what is it that we can be proud of and how has Unilever developed against the backdrop of an ever-changing society?
Since the merger in 1930, a lot has happened in the world, but also in our company. We have expanded and evolved, but some things never changed. The values of our founding fathers still underpin the way we do business today. William Hesketh Lever, co-founder of Lever Brothers soap, 1990: “The truest and highest form of enlightened self-interest requires that we pay the fullest regard to the interest and welfare of those around us”. He, like us, knew that companies with purpose last.
In its reaction to pressing societal issues, Unilever has been a forerunner since the beginning. Aiming to safeguard the environment, Unilever Packaging Services published the 'Environmental Issues and Packaging Policies in Unilever companies’ in 1972, highlighting how to avoid over-packaging. Ten years later Unilever made a powerful pledge against the hazardous effects of pollution on the atmosphere and in 1991 measures such as flexitime, crèches, job sharing and career breaks were introduced, to try and help accommodate some of the specific needs of women.
But also, our innovative spirit and ability not just to see and need, but to do something about it dates to early Unilever years. In 1922, Lever Brothers bought Wall’s, a popular sausage company. The meat business, however, was very seasonal in nature, resulting in sales of pork products dropping dramatically during the summer months.
The idea was proposed to make ice cream during the summer season. Initial ice cream sales were disappointing, as retailers were reluctant to buy in quantity. The solution? To sell directly to the customer via salesmen on tricycles. This is the first time in Britain that ice cream was factory-made, wrapped for mass distribution and retailed.
Throughout the years, many more innovations have been developed in our global R&D centres, fuelling purposeful brands. In 2019 we combined the expertise and knowledge of 3 important R&D centres in Poznan, Heilbronn and Vlaardingen into Unilever’s global Foods Innovation Centre; Hive. And the inherited mind-set of our innovative founding fathers is still at the very core of what takes place at Hive today; using challenges to create new opportunities and seeking possibilities in our context to drive innovations and purposeful brands.
A milestone like a 90th birthday is cause for reflection on values, memories and defining moments. Interested to hear how our colleagues reflect on their past years at Unilever? Have a look here. In the decades to come, we at Hive, look forward to new innovations, creations and collaborations to fuel our ambition of making sustainable living commonplace!