Unilever and TikTok have announced a global #CleanTok partnership which aims to tap into the huge and fast-growing audience of people who are captivated by cleaning.
Meet the leader: Peter ter Kulve
Our series of head-to-head interviews with members of the Unilever Leadership Executive continues with Peter ter Kulve, President of our Home Care business group, who discusses how our Clean Future strategy redefines a rapidly changing industry.
As President of Home Care, Peter ter Kulve leads Unilever’s fastest-growing business group. Quick-paced, science and tech-led, and with massive potential for growth and sustainability, Home Care is the perfect fit for this corporate globetrotter with an entrepreneurial heart.
Career and leadership
Peter, have you always worked in the home care space?
I started my career at Unilever in 1988 in frozen food and ice cream, where I ended up leading the ice cream category. After a long stint in that division, I moved to South East Asia where I worked in general management roles across the Unilever portfolio from home care to personal care to foods.
What attracted you to working at Unilever?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I started my first business when I was just 12 – selling sandwiches at school during breaktime.
After university, I wanted a role that was entrepreneurial but also international. I felt brand management would give me that entrepreneurial space within a company context and that Unilever, with its enormous global reach, could provide the international element.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Unilever’s Home Care business is gigantic. Its volume is as large as the rest of Unilever combined, serving 3.5 billion people worldwide, and yet our consumers’ washing conditions – from water hardness to humidity – are incredibly local and varied. This makes for all kinds of really exciting challenges. Also, I'm passionate about how science and technology transform industries for the better, making them more sustainable, and work to do just this in the world of home care.
What I always loved about working in ice cream was the execution intensity imposed by the seasons. The home care industry has the same intensity. It’s highly competitive and extremely fast moving, so we have to strive to be several steps ahead of the game, all the time.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I like to be surrounded by people who build, create and use ingenuity to solve problems, and I see my job as sparking them with energy, guidance and ideas. That’s my space.
Strategy, innovation and growth
What benefits has Unilever’s new business group structure brought to Home Care?
It’s helping us in a number of ways. For example, growth in this industry comes from long-term category development such as taking people on a journey from a bar of soap to a laundry powder to liquid detergent to capsules. These are 10–15 year shifts. Now that we control our business end-to-end, we can look long term with our investment strategy.
Also, the reorganisation is allowing us to create a Home Care business which is fit to win in the industry we compete in: from how we set up procurement to how we organise logistics for a high-volume business like ours.
What does it mean for decision-making?
Ultimately, we can move faster – there’s no lobbying across functions or regions. Most of the time issues don’t come to me, but when they do I can make a call and I can make it instantly.
Recently, for example, I was in Indonesia discussing some fundamental changes needed to our portfolio to make a real P&L impact. We made the decision on the spot, then switched our focus to execution. This is important, because the quicker you focus on execution, the better placed you are to capture opportunities.
Our Clean Future Commitment
We launched Clean Future in 2020. What progress have we made?
Clean Future is our strategy to tap into a vast segment of consumers who ‘want it all’ – superior products that are sustainable and at a cost they can afford, but who are frustrated that the current offering forces them to choose between green, clean and reasonably priced.
So we are using technology and science rarely seen in our industry to set new standards of performance and progress towards net zero carbon emissions and the elimination of plastic waste. It’s not about using current formulations and packaging, and making them sustainable – that just makes them expensive. It’s about coming up with totally new solutions from the outset that create the cleaner future of our industry.
To date, Clean Future has powered seven consecutive quarters of growth and built our global leadership position in the ‘naturals’ segment, which is growing twice as fast as the rest of the market. It has helped create partnerships with truly leading-edge biotechnology organisations such as Arzeda, Evonik and Geno.
Which have been the biggest product breakthroughs with Clean Future?
Here are two examples, both of which are science and technology unlocks.
One is the OMO (DIG) capsule. We were the first to launch laundry capsules in a plastic-free cardboard box rather than plastic packaging. But it’s not just about a more sustainable box. The new capsule formulation dissolves faster, works at low temperatures and is made from more natural and biodegradable ingredients.
The second is our Sunlight hand dishwash liquids we’ve developed using new cleaning ingredients like rhamnolipids which are totally renewable and biodegradable. We have combined them with advanced enzymes, so the product is softer on hands, better at degreasing and tougher on residues, while also being lower in carbon emissions.
Looking to the future
What’s changing in the world of home care and how are we responding?
The industry is at a pivotal moment. It has always been quite resilient but, during and since the pandemic, we’ve seen a huge shift. Home care is no longer just about killing germs and removing stains. It’s about creating satisfying experiences and moments of joy.
Nowhere is this better illustrated than with #CleanTok. This is TikTok’s cleaning community. Since the pandemic, it has really taken off, making cleaning more engaging and fun than it’s ever been. It’s now the biggest thing on the platform by a mile and shows no sign of slowing down.
We recognised this as a big opportunity for us, so we launched an exclusive global #CleanTok partnership which aims to tap into this huge and rapidly expanding audience.
Collaborating with content creators, it allows us to serve cleaning fans with useful and entertaining content such as hacks, tips and reviews. It also gives us a unique insight into how people use our products. This two-way dialogue is like having a chat with millions of people who use our products each day.
How do you plan to maintain growth over the months and years ahead?
Ultimately in home care you grow because people have found within a cleaning product something that delights them. It could be a fragrance that puts a smile on their face, the disappearance of difficult stains or the comfort of knowing ingredients biodegrade.
We’re always creating innovations that people don’t even know they want yet, but that they will be looking for in three to five years’ time. Our aim is to make sure we’re where people will go in the future, not where they are today.
People want products that transform ordinary cleaning chores into moments that matter to them, without costing the earth. And so we need to be at the crossroads of these trends, because these are your big winners.
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