Skip to content

Inside our markets: Unilever’s fast-growing business in Nigeria

Published:

Average read time: 5 minutes

The partnerships, programmes and purpose-led brands driving sustainable growth in one of Africa’s most vibrant countries.

A with locally grown cassava to be used in Closeup and Pepsodent toothpaste at Unilever’s factory in Nigeria.

How has Unilever Nigeria grown in recent years?

Unilever Nigeria reported 35% growth in turnover in 2021, taking the business from ₦52 billion Nigerian naira in 2020 to ₦70.5 (€108 million to €145 million).

Gross profit was also up 84%, from ₦11.1 billion in 2020 to ₦20.4 billion in 2021 (€23 million to €42 million).

One-off income of ₦2.8 billion (€6.3 million) was generated when Unilever Nigeria completed the separation of its tea business last year. 

What is driving this strong growth? 

Throughout 2021, Unilever Nigeria focused on reinvesting in brands and aligning with Unilever’s global strategy of competitive, consistent, profitable, and responsible growth – in addition to investing in employees to develop a pool of future-fit talent and adopting rigorous plans to fuel growth through cost savings.

This model will continue to guide our Nigerian business.

Brand campaigns rooted in local insights are also connecting with consumers to boost the business. Knorr’s purpose ‘Eat for Good’ encourages consumers to change the world by changing what is on their plate. In Nigeria, we first communicate this message by teaching food diversity, using the most popular local dish, Jollof rice. Campaigns show consumers healthier ways to prepare this meal by incorporating diverse vegetables and cooking with Knorr to make the dishes extra-tasty. Take a look at the film below for inspiration.

Recipe sharing and in-person experiential activities from the brand also aim to inspire consumers to choose Knorr and change the way they cook. Earlier this year, Knorr brought together chefs, food critics and more than 5,000 consumers to mark World Jollof Day – an event celebrating the popular African rice dish beloved by countries from Nigeria to Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Knorr’s chefs demonstrated how healthy, locally grown vegetables could be incorporated into the dish at home – along with Knorr products. Watch the video below to see a glimpse of the event.

Since the launch of Eat for Good, Knorr has seen growth in underlying sales, underlying value and brand power scores.

Knorr aims to reach 50 million Nigerians with the campaign by 2025.

How long has Unilever operated in Nigeria? 

Lever Brothers (West Africa) Ltd began trading soap in Nigeria in 1923. The company later started to sell food and laundry products, introducing Omo in 1960 and opening a production facility to manufacture the popular laundry brand locally in 1964.

In 1982 Lever Brothers opened a factory in Agbara, which still operates today, and the business changed its name to Unilever Nigeria plc in 2001. We’re the longest-serving manufacturing company in the country, marking 100 years in Nigeria in 2023.

What are some of Unilever Nigeria’s most popular brands?

Sunlight detergent is extremely popular, as is Closeup toothpaste and Knorr’s range of seasoning and stock cubes. In fact, Knorr’s new variant, enriched with natural ingredients and flavours, was one of Unilever Nigeria’s biggest success stories of 2021, contributing to business growth.

How are brands bringing their purpose to life in Nigeria?

Sunlight recently relaunched its purpose in Nigeria, setting out to help women reclaim their time and fulfil their potential for themselves, their families and their communities.

The brand is partnering with NGOs to support women to access training in skills that will help them to start a new career or scale up their existing small business. Watch the ad below to learn more.

Unilever’s Shakti programme is supporting women entrepreneurs across Nigeria too. Shakti offers women training in book-keeping, retailing and other business skills so they can become local vendors of Unilever products, earning a reliable and fair income by selling products within their community.

And Knorr’s Eat for Good campaign is also making an impact. Knorr believes that wholesome, nutritious food should be accessible and affordable for all and it’s encouraging Nigerian consumers to understand that they can change the world – and their health – for the better by changing what’s on their plate. The brand is promoting plant-based meals with Knorr seasoning as a key ingredient.

What else is Unilever doing to lead in sustainability in Nigeria?

This year Unilever Nigeria announced the launch of a new partnership to make sorbitol – a key ingredient in Closeup and Pepsodent toothpaste – from sustainably sourced cassava starch rather than from corn. The move means we will use locally grown cassava rather than imported corn to produce Closeup’s and Pepsodent formula, creating thousands of employment opportunities for factory workers, agronomists, back-office support staff and farmers.

Mrs Oluyemiusi Iranloye is CEO and Founder of the Psaltry International factory, where the new approach will produce 24 tonnes of cassava-derived sorbitol a day.

She said: “This factory, the first of its kind in Africa, is projected to created 25,000 direct and indirect jobs while empowering 100,000 rural farmers and families.”

The change to cassava starch marks a significant step forward in Unilever Nigeria’s localisation agenda, where the company is taking action to source raw materials locally and transparently. Working with the woman-owned Psaltry International factory also acts on Unilever Nigeria’s goal to create a more diverse, more inclusive and more secure supply chain.

Cassava piled high outside the Psaltry International sorbitol factory in Ado Awaiye, Nigeria
Cassava piled high outside the Psaltry International sorbitol factory in Ado Awaiye, Nigeria

What makes Nigeria unique as a market for Unilever?

In Nigeria, most people don’t shop for our products in supermarkets. Instead, products are more commonly sold in smaller, local stores run by individuals rather than retail companies. Online shopping and digital commerce accounts for a small but growing fraction of sales.

Nigeria also has a young, vibrant population. More than 200 million people live in the country, and the median age is 18.

Visit Unilever’s East & West Africa website to find out more about our business in this part of the world.


Related articles

Back to top