Unilever has ditched Persil washing up liquid as part of its strategy to cut 40% of its SKUs by the end of the year.

Customer services director Simon Bailey said it was on schedule with the rationalisation programme first revealed by The Grocer in March. It will have axed 1,300 SKUs across all of the fmcg categories it operates in. The cuts are part of a strategy to focus investment and innovation on its top-selling 100 products.

Aside from Persil washing-up liquid, the ad for which was fronted by model Naomi Campbell, no other well-known products would go, said Bailey. The reduction accounted for 4% of Unilever's total turnover as only low-earning SKUs were ditched, he said.

He cited the example of the Knorr stock cube range, which was reduced from 26 SKUs to 13 earlier this year by cutting some of the pack sizes but retaining all the flavours. This allowed Unilever to launch Knorr jellied stock pots, which grew the stock category 60% despite being twice the price of a cube.

"We took a leap of faith in cutting 4% of turnover in a recession but it has paid off," said Bailey, speaking at the IGD Supply Chain Summit this week.

"Getting complexity out of the portfolio plays well with what retailers are looking for. It focuses our production facilities to improve our responsiveness so we don't have gaps on shelves."

This week, Unilever reported a 2% lift in third-quarter underlying profits to 1.7bn, on sales up 3.4% at £10bn.

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