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Half-year results: performance reflects agility and resilience of the business


Average read time: 9 minutes

Today, Unilever announced its results for the first half of 2020, which show that overall underlying sales declined 0.1%, with developed markets up 2.4% and emerging markets down 1.9%.

Illustration of a person washing their hands with Lifebuoy soap
  • Underlying sales declined 0.1% with volume declining 0.3% and price growth of 0.2%
  • Turnover decreased 1.6% including a positive impact of 1.1% from acquisitions net of disposals and negative impact of 2.5% from currency
  • Free cash flow up €1.3 billion to €2.9 billion, reflecting our objective to protect cash during the crisis
  • Quarterly shareholder dividend maintained at €0.4104 per share
  • Completed acquisitions of Horlicks brand from GSK, enhancing presence in healthy nutrition
  • Announced plans to unify the Group legal structure under a single parent company

A statement from CEO Alan Jope

“Performance during the first half has shown the true strength of Unilever. We have demonstrated the resilience of the business – in our portfolio, in a continued step-up in operational excellence, and in our financial position – and we have unlocked new levels of agility in responding to unprecedented fluctuations in demand.

We have also taken action to strengthen the strategic future of the company by announcing proposals to unify our dual-headed legal structure, progressing the strategic review of our global tea business and making new commitments to help protect the climate and regenerate nature.

From the start of the Covid-19 crisis, we have been guided by clear priorities in line with our multi-stakeholder business model to protect our people, safeguard supply, respond to new patterns of consumer demand, preserve cash and support our communities.

Our focus for the rest of 2020 will continue to be volume led competitive growth, absolute profit and cash delivery, as this is the best way to maximise shareholder value.

I would like to thank every member of the Unilever team for the outstanding commitment they have shown in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Our markets

The spread of Covid-19, combined with the lockdowns and restrictions that have been implemented in many countries, has led to significant changes in the operating environment in our markets. Consumer demand patterns have been impacted by channel closures, more time spent in the home and the critical importance of hygiene.

China was the first of our markets to be impacted by Covid-19, entering lockdown in January. China slowed significantly during the lockdown period, with some recovery after April as the economy opened back up. In most other major markets, sales patterns in January and February were normal and Covid-19 impacted from March onwards. In North America and parts of Europe there was a positive impact from household stocking in March. Consumption patterns then normalised in the second quarter with heightened levels of demand for hygiene and in-home food products.

Market growth in India had already been slowing prior to the spread of Covid-19 and the market was further impacted by the introduction of the strict national lockdown at the end of March. This national lockdown continued until early June, when it was followed by further regional lockdowns. Latin America was impacted by Covid-19 later than other major markets, with the effects primarily in the second quarter, exacerbating already challenging conditions in the region.

Overall performance

Underlying sales declined 0.1% with volumes declining 0.3% and price growth of 0.2%. Developed markets grew 2.4% whilst emerging markets declined 1.9%.

The impact of Covid-19 on our business in the first half varied widely across our channels and categories. Channel closures as a result of lockdowns in our markets negatively impacted our food service, out-of-home ice cream and Prestige businesses. Food service declined by nearly 40% and out-of-home ice cream declined by nearly 30%. Shoppers moved from offline to online channels, driving ecommerce growth of 49%.

As people spent more time in their homes, we saw growth in home consumption of foods, ice cream and tea. It also meant that consumers had fewer personal care occasions from going to work or socialising, and we saw a decline in our personal care business, except for hygiene products. The effectiveness of good hygiene practices against the spread of Covid-19 increased demand for our hand and home hygiene products, which each grew double digits. Consumers eating and cleaning more at home, and focusing more on hand hygiene, led to underlying sales growth in North America of 9.5% in the second quarter, despite a negative impact of 3.7% from food solutions and Prestige channel closures.

The lockdowns introduced in our markets during the first half varied in severity, with some having a more significant impact on the supply and availability of goods, particularly those in India and China. China entered lockdown in January and declined mid-teens during the first quarter. The market reopened from April, and China returned to mid-single digit growth in the second quarter. Growth in India was impacted by the lockdown implemented from March.

Turnover decreased 1.6%. There was a positive impact of 1.1% from acquisitions net of disposals and a negative impact of 2.5% from currency.

Underlying operating profit was €5.1 billion, an increase of 3.8% excluding a negative impact from currency of 3.2%. Underlying operating margin improved by 50bps.

As consumer habits and the status of lockdowns have been changing during this period, we have been quick to adapt and reallocate our brand and marketing investment week-by-week. In response to lockdowns in our markets, we reduced spend in some channels and geographies while maintaining investment in growth opportunities. This, combined with a deflationary environment in media rates, led to a reduction in brand and marketing investment by 100bps during the period.

In the second half of the year, we expect to see higher brand and marketing investment, as lockdowns ease and we support brand campaigns and product innovations tailored to the new environment. Gross margin reduced by 30bps driven by costs to adapt and run our supply chain in response to Covid-19, ensuring the safety and continuity of our operations, as well as an adverse mix effect. Overheads increased by 20bps, including an adverse currency mix.

We delivered free cash flow of €2.9 billion, an increase of €1.3 billion. The increase was driven by favourable working capital movements, reduced capital expenditure and lower cash tax paid, primarily a result of higher tax on disposals in the prior year relating to the disposal of the spreads business.

Covid-19 response and support measures

We have put in place a wide-ranging set of measures to support global and national efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

In our own operations, strict protocols for hygiene and physical distancing are in place for our sourcing units and distribution centres. Our office-based employees have been working from home since March, with some limited reopening of office workplaces in selected countries, where stringent requirements have been met.

We are supporting global efforts to tackle Covid-19, contributing €100 million through donations of soap, sanitiser, bleach and food. We are also working in partnership with others, including a programme to reach up to a billion people globally with the UK Department for International Development to urgently tackle the spread of the disease through raising hygiene awareness and changing behaviour. We have also made available up to €500 million of cash flow relief for our most vulnerable small and medium sized suppliers, though so far the levels of uptake have been low.

Our financial strength remains robust and we have not sought Covid-19 related financial support from any governments.

Strategic review of tea

In January, we announced a strategic review of the global tea business, which includes leading brands such as Lipton, Brooke Bond and PG Tips.

This review has assessed a full range of options. We will retain the tea businesses in India and Indonesia, and the partnership interests in the ready-to-drink tea joint ventures.

The balance of Unilever’s tea brands and geographies and all tea estates have an exciting future, and this potential can best be achieved as a separate entity. A process will now begin to implement the separation, which is expected to conclude by the end of 2021.

The tea business that will be separated generated revenues of €2 billion in 2019.

Recent acquisitions

During the second quarter, we completed the acquisitions of the health food drinks portfolio of GlaxoSmithKline in India, Bangladesh and 20 other predominantly Asian markets. Acquiring the iconic brands Horlicks and Boost is in line with Unilever’s strategy to enhance its presence in healthy nutrition.

Beauty & Personal Care

Beauty & Personal Care underlying sales declined 0.3%, with volume growth of 0.1% and negative pricing of 0.4%.

Skin cleansing saw mid-teens volume-led growth, as we quickly responded to the critical need for hand hygiene to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We rolled out our Lifebuoy hygiene brand to over 50 markets and increased our hand sanitiser capacity by around 600 times across several brands. This helped contribute to double digit growth for Suave.

Lockdowns in our markets and reduced personal care occasions amidst restricted living, led to lower demand for skin care, deodorants and hair care, which each saw volume and price decline. The division’s largest brand Dove remained resilient, with mid-single digit growth.

Our Prestige portfolio was impacted by health and beauty channel closures in many markets. Consumer oral care demand remained robust. However, the category saw negative volumes related to disruption caused by lockdowns in key markets.

Home Care

Home Care underlying sales grew 3.2%, with 2.9% from volume and positive pricing of 0.3%.

We saw increased consumer demand for household cleaning products, such as Cif surface cleaners, and our home and hygiene brands delivered high-teens underlying sales growth. Working with environmental health experts, Domestos educated consumers about targeted cleaning of high-touch surfaces in the home to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 and saw strong double-digit growth.

Strict lockdowns in Asia impacted fabric solutions, which declined overall. However future formats such as capsules and liquids continued to grow. Clean and green brand Seventh Generation saw strong double digit, volume-led growth. Fabric sensations declined low-single digit, driven by Brazil and China.

Foods & Refreshment

Foods & Refreshment underlying sales declined 1.7%, with volumes down 2.5% and positive pricing of 0.8%.

Lockdowns in most markets led to the closure of out-of-home channels. This, together with reduced tourism, led to a reduction in out-of-home ice cream sales of nearly 30%. Similarly, food service sales were down around 40% as hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars closed. At the same time, we saw double digit growth in our retail foods business with Knorr and Hellmann’s performing strongly.

Sales of ice cream for consumption in-home increased by 15% in the first half and by 26% in the second quarter, significantly offsetting the declines in out-of-home channels. Magnum and Ben and Jerry’s continued to grow strongly.

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