Downturn could benefit Unilever, says ceo

17 March 2009

LONDON: Paul Polman, the ceo of Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever, has argued that his company could benefit from the economic downturn, as while consumers are cutting back on major purchases, this "frees up a lot of money to spend on everyday needs."

It has been argued that the combination of a recession and the emergence of value brands poses a challenge to companies like Unilever and Procter & Gamble as consumers trade down to cheaper products. (To view more content on recession trends and marketing in the downturn, click here.)

However, while shoppers are buying fewer discretionary items from cars to electronic goods, Polman argues that "we don't see personal core or food markets going down substantially."

As Unilever also expects to post growth rates of at least 5% in countries like India and Indonesia, Polman also said it will put "a lot of emphasis on this part of the world where the future and potential are."

He added that Hindustan Unilever Limited, the company's Indian arm, offers a "spectrum of options to keep consumers within our franchise in an upswing or downswing," and if "we had that in the US, there is no reason why we would be in a recession."

The company's UK chairman, Dave Lewis, has also said it will maintain its level of advertising spend in the country, to take advantage of lower media costs and falling levels of activity among its competitors.

Lewis argued media deflation means "the money that you do put in goes further, so we've increased our share of voice", and thus "increased our marketing pressure as other people have stepped back."

Data sourced from Livemint/Times Online; additional content by WARC staff