Unilever upbeat on MENA

20 February 2012

DUBAI: Unilever, the FMCG group, believes the Middle East and North Africa offer considerable growth potential, despite the tumultuous events recently witnessed in the region.

Speaking to Gulf News, Paul Polman, Unilever's chief executive, reported that 80% of the goods sold by the company in MENA were now manufactured in its nine local plants.

"This is one of the fastest-growing regions and our turnover is driven by leadership positions in most of the categories that we operate in," he added.

Such a trend has resulted even though the last 12 months brought dramatic change in many countries, from Egypt and Libya to Tunisia.

"These parts of the world have often experienced volatility in their growth rates, but this year has seen more volatility than most. And yet our growth has been impressively resilient. Our business today in the Middle East, for instance, is bigger and stronger than before the Arab Spring," he said.

"We expect some of the impact of the 2011 uncertainties to remain with us, but overall we expect growth acceleration in markets affected by the Arab Spring in 2011."

More specifically, favourable demographic trends, and the existence of untapped countries, mean that the long term outlook is strong.

"MENA remains a focus market to invest in for growth, with a young population that continues to boost consumption.

"We continue to invest behind our brands across MENA ... so as to develop the markets, to increase the distribution of our products in countries such as Iraq and Sudan, where our presence has been so far limited, and to gain market share," Polman said.

When assessing conditions in some of the region's advanced economies where the economic downturn exerted a profound impact, like the UAE, Polman was also upbeat.

"The UAE market continues on its recovery trajectory after the 2009 crisis and we should hopefully see even more robust growth in consumer demand in 2012," he said.

Data sourced from Gulf News; additional content by Warc staff