Unilever looks back on 2023 with mixed feelings: the slight volume growth (for the first time in two years) is encouraging, but the evolution of market share – especially of ice creams – is disappointing.
Growth for private labels
After two years of volume declines, Unilever sold slightly more products in 2023 (+ 0.2 % for the full year and + 1.8 % in the fourth quarter). Underlying sales rose 7 % to 59.6 billion euros and underlying operating profit was up 2.6 % to 9.9 billion euros, slightly exceeding expectations.
Yet there are reasons for concern: few of the group’s brands are gaining market share, in Europe volumes fell 7.7 %. Cleaning products and ice cream performed the worst, despite strong brands such as Magnum and Ben & Jerry’s. The group speaks of a “disappointing” year, as European consumers in particular are switching to private labels due to high inflation.
CEO Hein Schumacher says he is pleased that volume growth is returning and margins are recovering, but also sees that there is work to be done. The headlines of his plans have been known for a while: marketing investments are going up sharply and the multinational will focus on the thirty “power brands” that account for 75 % of sales. Unilever has already sold some non-strategic brands such as Elida Beauty and Dollar Shave Club.