Unilever is merging its three UK operations into a single company in a bid to simplify the business, leverage consumer insight and "re-polish the UK as the jewel in Unilever's crown", The Grocer can reveal.
Unilever UK Foods MD Kevin Havelock will chair the new company, Unilever UK Ltd. It will be the largest consumer goods provider in the country, with retail sales of just over £2bn and 28 key brands - more top 100 brands than any other manufacturer.
Speaking exclusively to The Grocer, Havelock said the merged company would "draw upon the experience across the three business units to bring our brands to life".
"We have world-class practice embedded into some areas of the business. Rather than having three ways of doing things we are bringing the best across the whole business."
This would benefit retailers, he added, as they would be "meeting individuals that are bringing best practice and who have deep consumer insight gained from learnings across the brands". It would also take out complexity as retailers will have one main contact point.
While acknowledging the move would incur costs, Havelock said the chance to extend Unilever's reach into thousands of outlets outweighed this. And he stressed that merging the units was not a cost-cutting exercise.
"This is more about focusing on how we use the skills of the people we have to extend brands into new categories. Job losses is not a core reason."
A review will be conducted shortly into the best location for one UK head office. The food business is currently run out of Crawley, household and personal care from Kingston-upon-Thames and ice cream and frozen foods from Walton-on-Thames.
Havelock emphasised that it was business as usual while the review was carried out.
The move comes just 16 months after the three units aligned their names under the Unilever identity.
Previously they had traded as Unilever Bestfoods, Lever Fabergé and Unilever Ice Cream and Frozen Food.
Siân Harrington