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Monday, September 6, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK


Business: The Company File

Unilever culls its brands

Unilever is trimming its brands, which include big names like Persil

The Anglo-Dutch consumer products manufacturer, Unilever, says it is going to scrap many of its 1,600 brands to streamline operations, boosting efficiency and turnover.

The chairman of the Dutch arm, Antony Burgmans, said about 1,000 of the company's brands accounted for only 8% of turnover, so there was plenty of scope for "pruning".

"It will be a massive operation," he said.

Over the past 15 years, Unilever has tightened its core operations by selling off businesses outside those areas.

The new plan to reduce brands is expected to take three to five years and is a logical extension of that policy, according to Mr Burgmans.

Decision time

Policy over which brands are to be kept will be worked out during the next six to nine months.

No comment has been made on how many brands the company expects to have at the end of the process.

It aims to reach a level of turnover growth of 4% per year, having averaged only 2.3% a year in the past decade.

One of the world's largest manufacturers of packaged consumer goods, Unilever makes margarine, tea, ice cream, fragrances, deodorants, personal washing products and cleaning products.

After the reorganisation of brands, the foods division is still expected to account for about half total sales.

EU foods agency call

In a separate development, Unilever is pressing for the introduction of an independent, centralised agency to oversee at EU level the testing and introduction of new food products.

"We are issuing a plea for a European food agency along the lines of the Food and Drug Administration in the United States," Mr Burgmans said.

"Such an organisation is needed in view of the slow clearance procedures for new food products at EU level," he said, adding that it was also important to "restore consumer confidence" following the mad cow disease and dioxin scares.

"There are 15 different legislations in food quality control, and this is too many," he said.

Unilever has been awaiting EU clearance to market a cholesterol-reducing margarine since December.

Authorisation has been blocked by Germany, which is awaiting the result of more in-depth scientific tests on the product.



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