Supporting small-scale retailers

Many small businesses and individual sellers help us to distribute and sell our products. We are helping them boost their skills and incomes as we grow our business.

How we reach our consumers

Our deep roots in local cultures and markets around the world enable us to enjoy a strong relationship with our consumers, and are the foundations of our future growth. We want to expand our distribution reach, particularly in rural areas.

We have a wide network of customers - around one-fifth of our worldwide sales are channelled through ten major retail chains. We also sell our products through a more diverse group of distributors, wholesalers and millions of small independent retail outlets and kiosks, particularly in developing and emerging countries. This more traditional route to market – which we call ‘distributive trade’ – makes a significant contribution to our business. It also supports the incomes of millions of small-scale businesses and individual sellers around the world.

Our approach

We aim to widen economic participation by improving the incomes of five million small-scale retailers in our distribution network. We approach this via a number of different routes. In many cases, we target women specifically, as we know that empowering women often brings associated benefits that uplift their families and the wider community.

Building on our concept of Perfect Stores, we have now developed and integrated Perfect Communities into our strategy. This is a new way of working that focuses on cities, neighbourhoods and villages, embedding environmental, social and economic sustainability into what we call our ‘go to market’ strategy.

Around 1.8 million small-scale retailers in our distribution network are accessing our Perfect Store initiative, aimed at increasing their sales. Around 1 million small-scale retailers are accessing our Perfect Store initiative in India. The programme contributes to our sustainable business growth by empowering local entrepreneurs, teaching small-scale distributors basic merchandising and business skills. This helps to ensure our brands are always available, properly displayed and in the right price bracket, and that we become the supplier of choice for our customers.

Through the small village outlets in our Perfect Store programme, consumers have easy access to the benefits of our products. By working with local governments, Unilever also facilitates and sponsors women to open small shops, and supports store owners with preferential financing.

Our new Perfect Village programme builds on our Perfect Store programme to drive awareness, knowledge and adoption of our products in hard-to-reach rural communities. We identify rural villages with high sales potential and then introduce a range of programmes, including product education sessions and health, beauty and hygiene workshops for the community, for example on the importance of handwashing to prevent the spread of disease.

Boosting sales for grocery stores across the Gulf

In Oman, we are boosting the capabilities of small grocery shop owners (baqalas) and combating unemployment. Nationwide, small grocery stores are estimated to represent around 20% of Oman’s grocery trade. Many are struggling as competition is increasing from larger stores. We conducted a study across 100 Omani store owners, and identified a clear need for vocational training to help them run their businesses more efficiently.

In 2013, we developed an Integrated Quality Improvement face-to-face training programme. This is supported with practical experience in our ‘Baqala Lab’ - a model Perfect Store for baqalas to learn from. We produced a ‘Baqala Express’ toolkit on the fundamentals of retailing, and our programme includes post-training evaluations based on agreed improvement measures.

Following endorsement from Oman’s Ministry of Labour and Sanad Programme, which provides job seekers with self-employment opportunities, in 2013 we began to expand this initiative to Bahrain and Kuwait. Over 2013-2014, we trained 1,500 baqalas and provided 5,150 stores with our Baqala Express toolkit.

Given the high unemployment rates amongst graduates and youth across the Gulf, in addition to providing training for existing store owners, our Baqala Vocational Programme also offers training for budding entrepreneurs who are looking to start their own grocery businesses.

We have trained around 380 grocery owners, helping them to become more competitive. Our programme has been endorsed in Bahrain by the Ministry of Labour and Tamkeen, which supports business creation and growth. It has also been endorsed by Union Cooperative in Kuwait, where co-operative society stores (which are owned by the society’s members) are a significant part of the retail trade.

Creating jobs in hard-to-reach communities

In emerging markets, we try to reach small towns and villages that are spread out over large geographic areas. Given the relatively sparse population and often weak infrastructure links, we need to find ways of doing this that are economically viable.

Engaging small-scale retailers or entrepreneurs in door-to-door selling is one way of getting our products to consumers in these hard-to-reach places. Our approach provides job opportunities by recruiting and training people to become part of the company’s sales network. This can involve providing them with extended credit, marketing, sales and accounting training as well as bicycles or other equipment.

To maximise the benefits for the people involved, we often work in partnership with local NGOs and governments to ensure we understand the particular needs of individuals and the socio-economic context in which they live and work. Schemes like this are resource-intensive to set up and we need to ensure they are well-structured and sustainable.

As an example, Shakti, our door-to-door selling operation in India, provides work for around 70,000 women (or ‘ammas’) in poor rural communities. In 2010, we expanded Shakti to include ‘Shaktimaans’. These are typically the husbands or brothers of our ammas. They sell our products by bicycle to surrounding villages, covering a larger area than ammas can do on foot. Today we estimate there are around 50,000 Shaktimaans. We are creating employment, enhancing livelihoods for thousands more entrepreneurs, as well as bringing our quality brands to the hardest to reach consumers.

In 2014 we started Gbemiga to provide job opportunities for women and rural youth in Nigeria. As of the end of September 2015, 1,000 women are participating in the initiative, aimed at expanding their opportunities in our value chain and increasing their income. We operate similar schemes in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Sales training for micro-entrepreneurs

We are the world’s largest ice cream company and sell our ice cream in over 40 countries across the world under well-known brands such as Wall’s, OLA, Good Humor, Algida and Kibon. To ensure we reach as many consumers as possible, we create jobs selling our ice cream and provide training for micro-entrepreneurs.

In June 2015, we launched our I am Wall’s programme with a mission to ‘spread happiness’ and create sustainable livelihoods. The programme evolved from our previous Feet on the Street and Wall’s Micro-Entrepreneurship initiatives. Through our new programme, we aim to create jobs for 100,000 people worldwide by 2020.

Our programme has three priorities:

  • Recruiting unskilled people who may have been traditionally excluded from the workplace due to their lack of skills.
  • Employing young people as interns during the summer months, providing credible experience as they step into the job market.
  • Investing in building soft skills such as sales and shopper management, customer service, problem solving, and helping to build self-confidence.

“A former vegetable hawker in India now runs a business with a turnover of 1 million euros, and an elderly South African woman can afford to keep a roof over her head and send her children to school,” says P. Krishnamurthy, Vice President for Refreshments, Global Markets, who leads this initiative. “Wall’s provides tools and equipment, such as trikes or push carts and freezers, to enable a micro-entrepreneur to run his or her own ice cream stock point. The entrepreneur can then employ mobile vendors to sell these ice creams.”

In 2015 we ran this initiative across 15 countries. We are aiming to expand I am Walls to over 20 countries in 2016. We have already made significant progress in Latin America, South Asia and South East Asia, which are our biggest markets for mobile vendors.

In 2015, we began working with the government and NGOs in Spain and Portugal to create jobs. We also launched an Academy to provide training for young people with Unilever managers. Building on its success, we will be expanding it to around six more European countries in 2016.

Giving micro-entrepreneurs skills to help communities

Through our micro-entrepreneurs training initiatives, we have a big opportunity to impact the local communities where we operate. We are currently running a number of innovative programmes in partnership with governments, municipalities and NGOs. Responding to community needs, we train our mobile vendors not only in business, but also in such things as basic tourist information and first aid.

A good example is our OLA Life Saver Programme, which we co-created with the Municipality of Durban in South Africa. Realising the importance of safety on beaches, we integrated a life saver programme into our regular sales training, training our mobile vendors in basic first aid. Now, as well as selling ice-cream on the beaches, they also have the skills to act as life guards. This partnership has not only strengthened community relations but has created respect for our OLA brand amongst consumers.

Back to top