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Introducing Unilever’s DataLab Ecosystem: pioneering collaborative R&D for superior innovation


Alberto Prado, Unilever Global Head of R&D Digital & Partnerships, on the digital space that’s powering our partnerships, innovation and growth.

A close-up photo of a scientist in a Unilever-branded white lab coat, looking at a large digital microscope.

Across Unilever we’re on a mission to create superior brands that deliver unmissable experiences for consumers – and it all starts with pioneering research and development. That’s why we’ve launched the Unilever DataLab Ecosystem – a new digital environment where we can collaborate with a curated group of industry-leading partners on key innovation opportunities in science and engineering.

Here Alberto Prado, Global Head of R&D Digital & Partnerships (pictured), shares how it will help grow our business and brands.

Alberto Prado, Global Head of R&D Digital & Partnerships at Unilever. He is white with dark hair, wearing a white shirt.
Alberto, what is DataLab and how will it drive growth for Unilever?

Digitally powered and collaboration-fuelled innovation is integral to the future of R&D at Unilever – especially as we address complex innovation opportunities around biotech, microbiome and new materials to deliver unmissable superiority for people and planet, and continued growth for our business.

Unilever DataLab is where we translate our proprietary R&D data and world-class scientific and engineering expertise into digital models, simulations and advanced analytics for better, faster and more efficient R&D.

This is possible now because of all the progress we have made on data management and quality over the last few years, in addition to fully leveraging cloud technology for flexibility and scalability.

In November, Unilever opened the DataLab Ecosystem to 12 expert partners. How were they selected?

We had already worked with our first 12 partners for some time and invited them to join the DataLab Ecosystem based on their proven capability to meet our current and future innovation needs.

Going forward, we will welcome additional partners to enrich our skill-base. We will have as many companies as we need to deliver against our innovation ambitions and as few as possible to nurture a dynamic, transparent and collaborative spirit.

We are also innovating in the way we apply an ecosystem approach to solving problems, harnessing the power of this network by assembling the necessary skills, often multi-disciplinary, from across our partners. This deep collaborative approach is unique in our industry and more effective at tackling complex innovation challenges.

A graphic listing partners in Unilever’s DataLab Ecosystem, including Microsoft, Capgemini, University of Manchester and more
How will the DataLab Ecosystem create opportunities for our business and brands?

R&D innovation helps drive unmissable superiority for our brands – and Unilever is committed to innovating in a way that is both sustainable and cruelty-free, using non-animal testing.

The world has become more complex and unpredictable – from faster-paced consumer trends to disruptive new technologies, supply shortages and raw material inflation. All this requires a whole new level of R&D agility, and the technology to move at pace. The only way to remain competitive and deliver superior and responsible innovation is by fully leveraging the power of digital and strong partnerships.

DataLab, and the ecosystem around it, augments Unilever’s capabilities to do all of that, resulting in differentiating claims that drive product superiority and deliver unique brand experiences for consumers.

What makes this different from how we’ve done things before?

With DataLab we are transitioning from a purely physical infrastructure model to a hybrid one. We will still need to assess new formulations in our labs, validate improved manufacturing processes in our pilot plants, test preferences with actual consumers and so on. But before that, we do all the heavy lifting virtually, in a space where we can discover, design, plan and optimise at the speed of digital to then engage our physical assets much more effectively and reduce time-to-value.

The ecosystem around DataLab is a booster to that hybrid innovation model. It provides access to a DataLab-trained, world-class digital science and engineering network that we can partner with to solve the biggest innovation challenges facing our industry.

How has DataLab been used so far?

DataLab is core to Unilever’s R&D digital transformation. We have been using and scaling it internally for the last three years and it has already been instrumental in several projects.

To share one example, in our Hair category we use DataLab’s computer modelling to predict and simulate how liquid products like shampoo and conditioner would behave in certain conditions. The aim is to ensure our products remain completely stable in terms of viscosity, consistency, fragrance and so on if they’re exposed to heat, shaken up in transit, or sitting on a shelf for a while.

Rather than having to monitor products over a long period, we use our predictive models to do the work in minutes, freeing up our scientists’ valuable time for discovery and innovation.

We also leverage DataLab in our Nutrition business. Our R&D teams can retrieve key nutritional data and automated calculations of nutritional ratings for any ingredient virtually, rather than resorting to time-consuming manual processes. It means that when they’re developing new products, we can optimise ingredients and quantities in parallel for health benefits such as reduced sugar or fat, or fortification with vitamins and minerals.

Visit the Unilever DataLab website to find out more.

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