Unilever: Products and Projects

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Unilever is basically an ‘Armada of brand names’. The multinational owns many subsidiaries all over the world (see section two). Unilever’s famous brands include Dove, Knorr, Lipton, Magnum, Omo, Cif, Slim-Fast, Iglo, Birds Eye, Becel, Blue Band, Unox, Calve, Conimex and Lever2000.

Unilever categorizes its products as follows:


  • Home and Personal Care (HPC) Products include cosmetics, perfumes, personal wash, soap, toothpaste, deodorants, shampoo, fragrances, detergents for fabric cleaning, diagnostics (e.g. pregnancy tests)
  • Food Products include tea, ice-cream, fish, margarine, frozen foods, spreads & cooking products, salad dressings, culinary products, meat snacks, olive oil, cheese
  • Professional cleaning: DiverseyLever provides cleaning and hygiene products and services to industrial and institutional customers
  • Plantations, Plant Science and Trading Operations: Unilever operates tea plantations and develops raw materials for the vegetable, tomato, edible oil and bakery categories. The company also has oil milling operations.

R&D: In 2000, Unilever spent 1,187 million euro (£748,235.37) on R&D, 2,5% of total turnover [9].

A few explanatory remarks on some of Unilever products with a dubious status:

Bachelors Beanfeast Unilever was the first multinational company that started using genetically modified (GM) products. Their "Beanfeast" range (which is now being sold) contained GM soya. A tiny asterisk attached to the ingredient list was the only mark to warn consumers.

Bachelors Beanfeast contained soya beans which had genetic material from a virus, a bacteria and even the petunia plant inserted into them. Effects on the human body could (and can) not be predicted [10].

Unilever received more than 3,000 phone calls from angry consumers in the UK. By spring 1999, it was forced to withdraw Beanfeast, its flagship GM food product and to agree to phase out all GM products [11].

Omo, Unilever’s international-brand washing powder Omo is a blue detergent powder launched in 1954, and became the Unilever spearhead in the synthetic detergent market. New Blue Star Omo was introduced at the end of March 1963 [12]. Today, Unilever is aggressively promoting Omo all over Asia and Africa (see box below for an illustration), packaged in quantities down to 35 gram. Unilever’s brands Persil, Omo and Skip (other Unilever brands include the pre-war brand Sunlight, Sun, Vim and Surf) are engaged in fierce competition with Procter & Gamble's washing powder brands for pole position in just about every world market.

P&G was the first to use one brand name for its leading detergent (Tide) in some countries and another brand name, with a different package (Ariel) in the others. Unilever copied this policy. The company markets Surf in many countries and Omo in the remainder. The products are almost identical. But the packages are dissimilar enough that retailers stock Surf in the same section with Omo, often at the same price, so consumers must believe they are different products [13].

'No customer must ever say I didn't get a packet' ‘It is morning in the down-at-heel Tanzanian hamlet of Kiwalani, and salesman Sospeter Jackson is busy helping to define the future of marketing to Africa's dollar-a-day economies. Wearing Unilever's battledress an "Omo" T-shirt and a yellow "Key" baseball cap he has cycled to a tiny outlet beside a gravel road and launched into the daily challenge of bringing his products to some of the poorest people in the world. Salesmen in Unilever uniforms act as mobile advertisements, and by travelling door-to-door develop personal relationships with shopkeepers. They are paid extra if they hit targets.  

"A systematic distribution operation is crucial to the success of any company in a developing economy. But it is a large-scale undertaking", says Rajendra Aneja, MD of Unilever Tanzania. Tanzania has 100,000 retail outlets across the country, in 9000 villages. With half the population living below the poverty line, consumers buy rice, maize and flour in tiny quantities every day from mini kiosks in lanes that are too narrow for vehicles. While Unilever delivers goods by van to big shops in towns, it had to find another form of distribution for outlets in inaccessible villages. In December the company came up with a pilot scheme to address this problem: the "bicycle brigade".

Salesmen are given bicycles with large boxes welded onto the back to transport small packs of detergent powder, margarine, soap and oil. Each salesman visits about 20 to 30 shops, following a fixed itinerary. Small Omo detergent packs and Blue Band margarine have become market leaders, and Key soap, launched last December, has wrested 15% of a highly competitive market in just eight months.'

Source: Financial Times, 7 November 2000 (‘No order too small for bicycle brigade that peddles products in rural Tanzania’)

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Slim-Fast (see: www.unilever.co.uk/unileverintheuk/slimfast.html)

‘Each Slim.Fast meal contains one third of everything you need to eat in a day - protein, carbohydrate, essential fatty acids, fibre, vitamins and minerals - an ideal food in around only 200 calories’ [14].

Slim-Fast was bought by Unilever in 2000, and is now one of Unilever’s top-performers. Unilever CEO FitzGerald (obviously suffering from Nutritional Schizophrenia) likes to say he bought the ice-cream company Ben & Jerry's on the same day he bought Slim-Fast because "one makes you fat, and the other makes you thin" [15].

Hunger evidently is a pre-eminent problem in the South, while obesity is a big problem in the North. Hunger and obesity should be considered as two sides of the same medal. Food corporations can now exploit the opportunities (in this case: fighting overweight) opened up by the culture of over-consumption, which they themselves have created. In addition, advertisements & TV commercials add to pressure (particularly on women) to look slim (if not skinny), and enlarge the growth potential for companies such as Slim-Fast.

Slim-Fast sells shakes (milk- or soy-based), drink powders, and snack bars through retailers in the US and Europe under the Slim-Fast and Ultra Slim-Fast names. As these names suggest, Slim-Fast capitalises on the needs of weight-conscious consumers. It has marketed products aggressively, hiring celebrity endorsers such as former baseball manager Tommy Lasorda and TV's Kathie Lee Gifford; Lauren Hutton is the company's latest spokesperson [16].

Unilever and Slim-Fast have developed an Internet-based service that offers advice on health management and vitality. You can even join in the Slim-Fast "It Pays to Lose" Instant-Win Game [17]. No purchase necessary to enter or win; just fill in your details (which will be used by the company to sharpen its marketing strategies).


  • ‘Avoid embarrassing moments’You can do your online shopping as well. ‘Avoid those embarrassing moments. Purchase products like Slim-Fast online, from the privacy of your home or office. When you shop online for diet aids, you'll never have to face a clerk again!’[18]. 

    Visit Slim-Fast online: http://sweepstakes.yahoo.com/slimfast

  • Light-weight citizens'Slim.Fast has the longest clinical trials running of any slimming programme - in Pound, Wisconsin the population using Slim.Fast for weight control for the past five years is now an average 11.5kg lighter than the population in a nearby town' [19].


  • Safety AlertOn 3 August 2000, Slim-Fast (voluntarily) recalled more than two million milk-based shakes, saying they may present a low risk of temporary gastrointestinal sickness and should not be consumed. The shakes were being pulled off supermarket shelves due to a "manufacturing problem" [20].


Fair & Lovely Unilever’s subsidiary based in India, Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) markets Fair & Lovely Skin Cream and Lotion, the largest selling Skin Care Product in India; a brand developed in India, and now exported to over 30 countries [21]. Fair & Lovely is being promoted as a ‘fairness face cream’ that will lighten your dark skin. Through their advertisements, Hindustan Lever spreads the message that a light skin is better than a dark skin. This type of advertisement promotes racism. It sends out the message that dark-skinned people are inferior.

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References [9] Unilever Jaaroverzicht 2000, en verkorte jaarrekening (Unilever publication, Dutch version)

[10] http://cobalt.freetekno.org/issue7.htm (source: Cobalt, date viewed: 19/8/01)

[11] www.heureka.clara.net/gaia/genetics.htm (article titled ‘Genetic Engineering a Paradise on Earth or a Descent into Hell?', date viewed: 19/8/01)

[12] www.warringtonhistory.co.uk/products.html (source: Warrington, date viewed: 19/8/01)

[13] www.sbaer.uca.edu/Research/1995/SMA/95swa358.htm (GLOBAL BRANDING POLICIES BY THE BIG THREE SOAPMAKERS: AN UPDATED AND EXPANDED STUDY, date viewed: 19/8/01)

[14] www.unilever.co.uk/unileverintheuk/didyouknow.html (source: Unilever, date viewed: 18/9/01)

[15] www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/01_32/b3744137.htm (source: BusinessWeek online, date viewed: 19/8/01)

[16] www.hoovers.com/co/capsule/2/0,2163,40432,00.html (source: Hoover’s online, date viewed: 19/8/01)

[17] http://iw1.prizes.com/Slimfast/rules.asp (source: Slim-Fast, date viewed: 19/9/01)

[18] www.over-the-counter.com/dietaids.html (source: Slim-Fast shopping online, date viewed: 19/9/01)

[19] www.unilever.co.uk/unileverintheuk/didyouknow.html (source: Unilever, date viewed: 20/9/01)

[20] www.safetyalerts.com/recall/f/00/slimfast.htm (source: SafetyAlerts.com, date viewed: 19/9/01)

[21] www.hll.com/ab02.htm (source: Hindustan Lever Limited, date viewed: 19/9/01)