Daily Insights

Unilever Changes the Guard

By: Irene Yoon | Dec 05, 2018

As consumer behavior shifts and small “disruptor” brands proliferate, the CPG industry is seeing a wave of CEO departures. Over the past two years, CPG companies ranging from Campbell Soup and General Mills to Kellogg Co. and Hershey have made changes at the senior leadership level. As consumers demand better-for-you products, industry leaders are searching for a fresh perspective on how to compete with the digitally-native companies at the forefront of this category disruption. With the departure of longtime CEO Paul Polman and appointment of beauty and personal care head Alan Jope, Unilever is one consumer-goods giant hoping to capture small brand growth.

To mitigate the threat from the longtail, Unilever has turned toward product innovation across many of its categories. After low-sugar, high-protein ice cream brand Halo Top made inroads in the ice cream category, capturing 5% of the market in just two years, Unilever brand Breyer’s launched its own healthier alternative, Breyer’s Delights. As Breyer’s revamped its product packing to emphasize nutrition information, this focus cascaded across digital channels as well. Breyer’s topped unbranded organic search visibility for sugar-free ice cream from May to June of this year.

Under Jope’s leadership, Unilever has also been playing in the eco-beauty space, launching Love Beauty and Planet to appeal to a younger generation of consumers. In addition to jumping on the trend of sustainable and ethical beauty products with powerful storytelling, Love Beauty and Planet has stolen a page out of other digital-first brands’ playbooks.

Looking at the 22% of organic site traffic that comes from unbranded keyword searches, half of those visits result from searches for top ingredient terms like “ylang ylang.” Moreover, Love Beauty and Planet has built out content around other trending ingredients including coconut water, argan oil, and shea butter.

While Unilever’s efforts have paid off for some brands, there are still opportunities for improvement across others. For example, Dove falls behind in product page merchandising relative to other category disruptors, which differentiate the user experience with robust content. Skincare brands Glossier and Kiehl’s showcase their products through on-model imagery, before-and-after imagery, and application-based videos, making Dove’s packaging-focused product pages look bare in comparison. Additionally, despite Dove’s early innovations in third party e-tailer handoff capabilities, the brand now falls behind the sophistication of category peers. The L’Oréal portfolio has adopted a seamless process that hands off items in shopper carts directly to Amazon, further reducing friction in the purchase path and limiting opportunities for user drop-off.

Recent CEO departures from industry giants suggest a call for fresh ideas on how to capture growth amid rapid shifts in consumer preferences. While organizations like Unilever adapt some brands to health and wellness trends, others organizations have remained stagnant relative to the competition. As consumers become more sophisticated in their own personal needs, organizations must become more agile in response to this demand by investing in search, digital content, and new product innovation.

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