Unilever was born from the merger of Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and English soapmaker Lever Brothers in 1929. In subsequent decades, the company expanded beyond oil and fat-based products and now has a portfolio of over 400 brands.
These brands are used by more than 3.4 billion people around the world each day.
Dove was founded in the United States in 1957 and initially offered soap with a patented blend of mild cleansers and moisturizers.
Today, Dove is the number one dermatologist-recommended brand in the United States, France, and Canada.
In addition to soap, Dove-branded products also encompass hair care, lotions, moisturizers, beauty bars, body washes, and antiperspirants.
Dove has been part of the Unilever family for decades, with former Lever Brothers employee Vincent Lamberti granted the original manufacturing patent to Dove soap in the 1950s.
Magnum is a Belgian ice cream brand that was developed and produced by Danish company Frisko in the late 1980s.
The original Magnum consisted of vanilla ice cream with a chocolate coating that would not perish in temperatures of -40°C. According to Unilever, it was the first hand-held ice cream marketed exclusively at adults.
Vaseline is an American petroleum jelly brand that also sells soaps, cleansers, lotions, deodorants, and skin creams.
Similar to the way Google is now a verb as well as a noun, the word “Vaseline” is commonly used as a generic term for any petroleum jelly.
Vaseline dates back to 1872 when chemist Robert Chesebrough learned of a wax residue that was produced by oil rig pumps.
Taking samples back to his lab in Brooklyn, Chesebrough extracted the usable petroleum jelly and began selling it as a medicinal product.
Omo was first registered in the United Kingdom as early as 1908. It is believed to be an acronym for “Old Mother Owl” to link the wisdom of an owl with the purchase of Omo laundry detergent.
Today, Omo is a leader in sustainably sourced ingredients and packaging. The new Omo Eco Active features 70% plant-based cleaning agents and 25% recycled plastic.
Like Dove, Lifebuoy is another Unilever brand that can trace its origins back to Lever Brothers.
The first Lifebuoy product was released in 1894 and quickly became known for its distinctive red color and medicated carbolic scent.
It was released by William and James Lever to make the simple act of washing one’s hands more commonplace, with this pedigree of healthy hygiene practices still evident in Lifebuoy’s product range today.
History of Unilever
Unilever is a multinational consumer-packaged goods (CPG) company that is headquartered in London and is the result of a merger between the British soapmaker Lever Brothers and the Dutch company Margarine Unie.
Let’s delve into Unilever’s history below with a particular emphasis on its numerous acquisitions over the years.
The butter makers
In the 18th century, a family of carpenters known as the Jurgens started to on-sell butter they had received as payment for their work. Finding it to be a worthwhile exercise, the Jurgens moved to the Dutch city of Oss in 1860 to start a butter business.
Around the same time, the Van den Bergh family was also selling butter in Oss and in 1870, established exports to the lucrative English market. In 1871, the Jurgens family acquired the patent for making margarine and shared it with the Van den Bergh family.
The Lever family
In 1885, brothers James Darcy Lever and William Hesketh Lever founded Level Brothers – a soap manufacturer and seller that was the first to market a wrapped bar of soap made from tallow and various vegetable and cotton seed oils.
Like the Jurgens and Van den Bergs, the Level brothers’ business expanded rapidly into continental Europe and overseas. Their cause was also helped by innovative advertising campaigns that featured unique slogans and prize competitions.
Unilever is formed
By the First World War, Lever Brothers was making margarine and both the Dutch butter families had expanded into soap. The families merged in 1927 to form Margarine Unie, with Lever Brothers joining other major European producers under the group in 1929.
Unilever was thus formed as a portmanteau of the two entities, and the company wasted no time with its first acquisitions of trade companies in Africa. Over the Second World War, the company was prevented from investing in Europe and choose to focus on the UK and US markets instead.
In 1943, Unilever acquired T. J. Lipton, vegetable canner Batchelors Peas, and a majority stake in Birds Eye owner Frosted Foods. The following year, it acquired American toothpaste brand Pepsodent. At the time, meat, fish, ice cream, and canned goods accounted for just 9% of the company’s turnover.
Over the 1950s, the rapid development of new markets for consumer-packaged goods (especially in Africa and Asia) provided further expansion opportunities for Unilever. Post-war prosperity in Europe and much of the West also resulted in a consumer boom and an increase in the standard of living.
The now billion-dollar brands Sunsilk and Dove were launched in 1954 and 1957 respectively, with Unilever purchasing the American ice cream brand Good Humor in 1961. In the mid-1960s, a lackluster butter and margarine market and increased competition from P&G forced Unilever to diversify into other products.
Acquisitions over the last half a century
In 1971, Unilever acquired Lipton International and subsequently possessed one of the largest tea businesses in the world. Seven years later, it acquired the American manufacturer of adhesives, starch, and organic chemicals National Starch for $482 million.
The start of the 1980s decade saw Unilever as the 26th largest business in the world with diverse interests in tropical plantations, packaging, shipping, plastics, and various food, home, and personal care products.
- Tea brand PG Tips (1984).
- Beauty and health brand Chesebrough-Ponds (1986), and
- Calvin Klein Cosmetics, Fabergé, and Elizabeth Arden (1989).
- Ice cream brand Breyers (1993).
- American cosmetics company Helen Curtis (1996), and
- Brazilian ice cream brand Kibon (1997).
Unilever completed the then-second-largest cash acquisition in history when it purchased Bestfoods in 2000 for $24.3 billion in cash and debt. The Bestfoods acquisition added brands such as Knorr, Bovril, and Hellmann’s to the Unilever stable.
That same year, Unilever acquired the well-known brands Ben & Jerry’s and Slim Fast. The company then decided to split into two divisions (one for home, one for personal care) in 2001. By this point, the company owned some 900 brands.
Unilever developed its sustainable business model plan over this period, but nevertheless continued to acquire brands. These include:
- Alberto Culver (2010) – maker of personal care brands such as Simple, VO5, TRESemmé, and Nexxus.
- Chinese water purification company Qinyuan (2014).
- American soap brand Camay (2014).
- Skincare brands REN Skincare and Kate Somerville Skincare (2015).
- Razor subscription service Dollar Shave Club (2016).
- Australian ice cream business Weis (2017).
- Starbucks specialty tea brand Tazo (2017), and
- American deodorant brand Schmidt’s Naturals (2017).
- Unilever is a multinational consumer-packaged goods (CPG) company that is headquartered in London and is the result of a merger between the British soapmaker Lever Brothers and the Dutch company Margarine Unie.
- Unilever was thus formed as a portmanteau of the above entities, and the company wasted no time with its first acquisitions of trade companies in Africa. In 1943, Unilever acquired T. J. Lipton, vegetable canner Batchelors Peas, and a majority stake in Birds Eye owner Frosted Foods.
- Over the 1950s, post-war prosperity and the rapid development of new markets for consumer-packaged goods provided further expansion and acquisitional opportunities. The now billion-dollar brands Sunsilk and Dove were launched in 1954 and 1957 respectively, with acquisitions continuing unabated in the decades that followed.
- Unilever was born from the merger of Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and English soapmaker Lever Brothers in 1929. The company now has a 400 brand portfolio with most related to consumer packaged goods.
- Dove and Lifebuoy are two Unilever brands that were developed at Lever Brothers before the merger, while Omo is a British laundry detergent brand considered to be the oldest such brand in the world.
- Other Unilever brands include Belgian ice cream maker Magnum and American petroleum jelly brand Vaseline, which has entered common usage as an adjective.
- Unilever’s Formation: Unilever was created in 1929 through the merger of Dutch margarine producer Margarine Unie and English soapmaker Lever Brothers. The name “Unilever” comes from a combination of these two entities.
- Brand Portfolio: Unilever has a diverse portfolio of over 400 brands that cater to various consumer needs across the globe.
- Global Reach: Unilever’s products are used by more than 3.4 billion people worldwide on a daily basis.
- Dove: Founded in 1957, Dove is known for its patented blend of mild cleansers and moisturizers. It has expanded beyond soap to include hair care, lotions, moisturizers, beauty bars, body washes, and antiperspirants. It’s the number one dermatologist-recommended brand in several countries.
- Magnum: Magnum, a Belgian ice cream brand, was developed in the late 1980s. It’s recognized for being the first hand-held ice cream marketed exclusively to adults. Unilever owns the brand in most countries.
- Vaseline: Vaseline, an American petroleum jelly brand, was founded in 1872 by chemist Robert Chesebrough. The name “Vaseline” has become synonymous with petroleum jelly.
- Omo: Omo is a British laundry detergent brand and Unilever’s largest in this category. Depending on the region, it’s known as Skip, Surf, Excel, or Persil.
- Lifebuoy: Lifebuoy, introduced in 1894, is known for its red color and medicated carbolic scent. It was aimed at promoting hand hygiene. Unilever continues to offer products that emphasize healthy hygiene practices.
- Unilever’s History and Acquisitions: Unilever’s history involves a series of mergers and acquisitions. It initially emerged from the merger of Margarine Unie and Lever Brothers. The company continued to expand its portfolio through strategic acquisitions, including tea, beauty and health brands, cosmetics companies, and ice cream brands.
- Diversification: Over time, Unilever diversified its product offerings to include a wide range of consumer goods beyond its original focus on butter, margarine, and soap.
- Sustainability: Unilever developed a sustainable business model over the years, and despite this focus, the company continued to make acquisitions to enhance its brand lineup.
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