Skip to content

1980 – 2010 – A bold change of strategy

1980 - What happened in the 1980s?

People working in a Lifebuoy factory

At the start of the 1980s, Unilever is the world's 26th largest business, with interests including plastics, packaging, tropical plantations and a shipping line, as well as a wide range of foods, home and personal care products. Early in the decade, in a bold change of strategy, we decide to refocus on core product areas with strong markets and equally strong growth potential. The necessary rationalisation leads to large acquisitions and equally large divestments. But by 1989 the resulting growth of core businesses is clear.

1982 - Unique Viennetta ice cream gateau launches

An advert for Viennetta ice cream

Viennetta ice cream gateau is launched, starting in Britain as a Christmas speciality. The idea of a cake consisting of layers of ice cream alternated with strata of chocolate is developed in 1981 by Wall's Ice Cream. The product design is registered as unique. Competitors try unsuccessfully to copy the product.

1983 - Axe body spray launches in France

Axe body spray bottles in a row

Axe body spray for men (Lynx in the UK) is first launched, starting in France. It is the first standalone body spray on the market (ie a body spray that is not part of a wider range of products). At its launch it is available in three fragrances, Amber, Musk and Spice, and packaged in distinctive black containers with silver lettering.

1984 - Unilever acquires PG Tips, the UK's biggest-selling tea brand

Packaging for PG Tips

In 1984, Unilever acquires PG Tips. Brooke Bond first started selling Pre-Gest-Tee (PG Tips) in 1930, and the brand has gone on to become a leader in the UK teabag market. In 1956 the PG Tips chimps made their debut appearance on the UK's newly launched commercial TV station. Aired on Christmas Day, the ad results in PG Tips becoming the UK's biggest selling tea brand. As times change, a knitted puppet Monkey is introduced and is still today a mascot for the brand.

1985 - Clearblue launches as first home use pregnancy test

A ClearBlue home pregnancy test kit

In June 1985, Unipath, one of the companies in Unilever's new Medical Products Group, launches the Clearblue home pregnancy test. Sold through pharmaceutical outlets in Britain, it is the first pregnancy test designed specifically for home use and is promoted as having several benefits over other tests on the market - it is more accurate at an earlier stage in pregnancy, gives a clearer result and does not take as long to complete.

1986 - Unilever's business in fragrances and food flavours doubles

A scientist in a lab

Based in the Netherlands and operating in 24 countries, Naarden, a leading international supplier of flavours and fragrances, is acquired by Unilever to provide additional expertise in fragrance and food flavours. The acquisition would double Unilever's international fragrances and flavours business.

1986 - Chesebrough-Pond's acquisition further increases presence in the US

An advert for Vaseline
A tin of Vaseline

Chesebrough-Pond's is acquired in 1986, a strategic move to build a stake in the US market and a presence in the skincare market. The acquisition brings with it famous brand names including Pond's and Vaseline.

1989 - Acquisitions venture into cosmetics with Calvin Klein and Elizabeth Arden

An advert for Calvin Klein Obsession
An advert for Elizabeth Arden Pulsations

Unilever acquires the Calvin Klein Cosmetics Company, and with it the Calvin Klein brand, in 1989. It offers a complete range of beauty products in addition to its core fragrance business. The Calvin Klein brand is sold to Coty Inc NY in 2005. In the same year Elizabeth Arden/Fabergé is acquired but later sold in 2001.

1989 - Magnum launches in Germany as a premium ice cream

A German advert for Magnum ice cream

Magnum ice cream is launched in Germany. The Langnese impulse marketing group developed a thick, rounded, oval slice of quality ice cream wrapped in pure Belgian chocolate. This is to be the premium product and advertising campaigns have been based around the image of the ice cream as an irresistible and indulgent treat which is too good to share.

1990 - What happened in the 1990s?

An aerial shot of the aftermath of deforestation

The 1990s see a period of restructuring and consolidation, starting with the number of categories in which Unilever competes cut from over 50 to just 13 by the end of the decade. This includes the decision to sell or withdraw many brands and concentrate on those with the biggest potential. Restructuring creates four core business areas: Home Care, Personal Care, Foods and Speciality Chemicals. Growing environmental pressures and consumer concerns about the food chain encourage action in sustainable agriculture.

1992 - Unilever moves into Eastern Europe

A group of Unilever employees forming the letter U

Unilever enters the Czech Republic and Hungary, and establishes UniRus in Russia.

1993 - Breyers ice cream is acquired in the US

Breyers Delights logo

In 1993, Unilever acquires Breyers ice cream in the US. Founded back in 1866 by William A Breyer of Philadelphia, it consists of rich cream, pure cane sugar, fresh fruits, nuts and other flavours - some of the very same ingredients used today.

1993 - Organics innovative shampoo launches in Thailand

An advert for Organics

Organics shampoo is first launched in Thailand, having been developed by Hair Innovation centres in Bangkok and Paris. By 1995 Organics is sold in over 40 countries. The range is innovative in its formula, which is designed to work beneath the surface on the roots of the hair, using Glucasil to supplement the hair's natural nutrient levels. The packaging uses a root symbol on the front label to reflect the new root-treating formula.

1995 - Unilever publishes its Code of Business Principles

Unilever's code of business principles

Unilever publishes its Code of Business Principles. Today, they continue to play a key role in setting out how we seek to ensure compliance with laws and regulations, protect our brands and reputation, and prevent harm to people or the environment.

1995 - Research into trans fats sparks action in food production

A grandmother and grandchild cooking

An unprecedented decision is taken to practically eliminate trans fats from food production in a rapid response to new research suggesting that their effect on blood cholesterol is at least as adverse as that of saturated fats.

1996 - Attention focuses on the sustainable sourcing of fish

WWF Marine Council

Unilever makes an ambitious commitment to source all fish from sustainable stocks and starts working with the WWF to establish a certification programme for sustainable fisheries through the newly created Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

1996 - Unilever subsidiaries in India merge

Hindustan Unilever office building

Hindustan Lever and Brooke Bond Lipton India merge to create India's largest private sector company. The amalgamation ensures benefits from scale economies in both domestic and export markets and enables the investments required to building new categories. In 2007, the company name formally changes to Hindustan Unilever Limited, as it is still known today.

1997 - Unilever acquires Kibon in Brazil

A young boy eating a Calippo

Kibon ice cream is acquired in Brazil. Kibon becomes part of Unilever Heartbrand which is marketed in over 40 countries.

2000 - What happened in the 2000s?

A vanilla farmer

As the challenges facing business, the environment and communities grow, and as consumer habits shift to become more socially and environmentally motivated, Unilever adopts change. Building on our long history of social purpose, we embed sustainable thinking even further into our day-to-day activities to ensure we remain a sustainable business.

2000 - Continued expansion leads to one of the largest cash acquisitions in history

A collection of Slimfast products

Bestfoods joins Unilever in the second-largest cash acquisition in history. Other acquisitions include Slim-Fast Foods, Ben & Jerry's and the Amora Maille culinary business in France.

2000 - Knorr joins the Unilever family as part of the Bestfoods acquisition

Knorr stock packaging

Carl Heinrich Knorr opened his first kitchen in Heilbronn, Germany in 1838, experimenting with drying vegetables and seasonings, to preserve nutrition and flavour. This led to the launch of the first Knorr dried soups across continental Europe in 1873. With a history of providing nutritious food for low-income consumers and a continued passion for food and flavours, Knorr has become one of the world's largest cooking brands, sold in more than 78 countries around the world.

2001 - Unilever reforms brand portfolio with acquisitions and sales

An Elizabeth Arden lipstick advert

Our brand portfolio is reshaped and enhanced through acquisitions and the sale of 87 businesses, generating €6.3 billion of sale proceeds. By 2001 Unilever has reduced brands from 1,600 to 900. Disposals included Batchelors and Oxo in the UK, Royco and the Lesieur range in France, Heisse Tasse in Germany and Blå Band in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Unipath, Bestfoods Baking Company, Elizabeth Arden and DiverseyLever are also sold.

2002 - Lifebuoy brings hygiene education to millions of people

A teacher wearing a Lifebuoy t-shirt in class

In 2002, the Lifebuoy brand launches its hygiene education programme, Swasthya Chetna, which will reach nearly 51,000 villages and make a difference to the lives of 120 million people in rural areas of India.

2003 - The Unilever Health Institute expands and announces policy on nutrition

A woman using Knorr products in the kitchen

After launch at the start of the decade, the Unilever Health Institute - a centre of excellence in nutrition, health and vitality - opens regional centres in Bangkok, Thailand and Accra, Ghana. Our Nutrition Policy and Nutrition & Health Academy are launched.

2004 - Unilever joins the industry move towards sustainable palm oil

A farmer holding palm

In 2004, Unilever becomes a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the not-for-profit, industry-led initiative set up in co-operation with conservation organisation WWF. It works to increase the amount of certified, sustainable palm oil that is available, and has set sustainability criteria against which suppliers can be certified. Our aim is to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.

2004 - Unilever brings 'Vitality' to life with new mission

A person laughing

The Vitality mission 'to meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene and personal care with brands that help people look good, feel good and get more out of life' is launched in 2004. Reaching across the whole organisation, how we are 'bringing Vitality to life' continues to provide the basis for our category, regional and functional strategies today. The new Unilever brand is rolled out, including the new logo which represents the diversity of Unilever, our products and our people.

2004 - Dove launches Campaign for Real Beauty

An artist drawing

Dove launches the Campaign for Real Beauty in the US, Brazil and Canada in October 2004 (later extended to other countries, including the UK, in 2005). It features poster advertising of six real women aged from 22 to 96. Each woman is chosen to challenge conventional stereotypes about beauty, offering an alternative to the youthful, airbrushed and unattainable supermodel images usually portrayed in advertising.

2005 - The Dove Self-Esteem Project turns to the next generation of women

A group of young girls

The Dove Self-Esteem Project is founded in 2004 to help the next generation of women grow up feeling happy and confident about the way they look. The project delivers self-esteem education to young people (primarily girls) aged 8-17 years through lessons in schools, workshops for youth groups and online resources for parents.

2005 - Thousands of products are assessed for nutritional enhancement

A consumer reviewing the packaging on a Knorr product

The Nutrition Enhancement Programme is completed, through which 16,000 products are assessed for levels of trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and sugars, and, where necessary, action is taken.

2006 - Small & Mighty showcases new technology in laundry

A woman using Persil with her washing

New technology helps create Small & Mighty, the first super-concentrated liquid laundry detergent that uses one-third of the packaging, one-third of the water and one-third of the transport of dilute liquids.

2007 - Unilever commits to sustainable sourcing of tea

A tea farmer

Unilever commits to source all of our tea from sustainable, ethical sources, asking the Rainforest Alliance to start auditing our tea suppliers with immediate effect. Lipton launches a sustainable tea partnership with the Rainforest Alliance, announcing our aim to have all Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms by 2010 and all Lipton tea bags sold globally similarly sourced by 2015.

2007 - Unilever acquires local food and drink brands in Indonesia and Russia

A machine within an ice cream factory

Unilever announces agreements to acquire the Buavita vitality drinks brand in Indonesia and Inmarko, the leading ice cream business in Russia.

2008 - Unilever commits to sustainable palm oil

A palm oil farmer

In 2008, in an effort to help halt deforestation, we announce our commitment to draw all our palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015, purchasing our first batch of certified sustainable palm oil in November.

2008 - Unilever consistently recognised as a sustainability leader in DJSI

A field with trees

For the tenth year running, Unilever is named foods sector leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes - the only company ever to achieve that accolade. By 2010, Unilever is named sustainability leader in the Food & Beverage 'super sector' of the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices, for the 12th consecutive year and in 2015, for the 15th year, Unilever is named leader of the Food, Beverage & Tobacco industry group with a score of 92 out of 100.

2009 - The Compass: a strategy for truly sustainable business

A group of factory workers in China

In 2009, Unilever launches its Compass strategy. The changes it has adopted as a result prepare us to face the next decade with a truly sustainable business model: to double the size of our business while reducing our environmental impact.

2009 - Commitment to sustainable palm oil and tea continues

A hand holding a cup of Lipton's tea

Unilever purchases 185,000 tonnes of sustainable palm oil via GreenPalm certificates (an offsetting scheme supporting RSPO-certified growers), accounting for around 15% of its total needs. Around 80% of Lipton Yellow Label and PG Tips tea bags sold in Western Europe are sourced from certified farms. Rainforest Alliance Certified tea also becomes available in the US, Japan and Australia.

Back to top