Doubling India business in 7-10 years no-brainer for Unilever: CEO Polman

Unilever CEO Paul Polman
Paul Polman, who runs $176-billion Unilever, the world’s fourth-largest consumer goods firm, praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his ambition to upscale India’s economic growth and said India has the potential of becoming the biggest market for the company.

“I am not giving a guidance but the assumption that we double (in India) in the next 10 years or seven-eight years is a no-brainer. Because US is not going to double,” Polman told The Economic Times.

Here are key things the Unilever CEO said on business in India:

India in charge of its own destiny

Polman said that India could do better trade and business while attracting investments from global companies, including Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), with the rollout of goods and services tax (GST). Also, with Modi’s Smart India, Make in India and Swachh Bharat, Indian economy was set to improve, he said.

Will continue investing in HUL

With 35 innovations in 2016, Unilever will continue to invest in Indian subsidiary HUL, which contributes 9 per cent to the Anglo-Dutch company’s overall sales. This would aid the firm in achieving the overall margin of 20 per cent in 2020.

Importance of Ayurveda in India

Understanding the importance of Ayurveda in personal care and other spheres of the Indian market, the company is set to launch its brand Lever Ayush nationally. While Patanjali has posed tough competition for the firm, Polman said HUL had doubled over the past eight years because they did not believe in reacting to competition as it was not the right way of doing business. 

Oral care business 

Polman admitted that out of all the brands the company had in India, the oral care business had suffered the most. However, taking this loss as a motivation, he said the company was figuring out ways to fix the issue. Excluding the United States, Unilever ranks second globally in the oral health care category.

Expanding in the e-commerce sector

While e-commerce constitutes a meagre 3 per cent of Unilever’s business, the company is is growing it at a 30-40 per cent rate and is set to make it a five-billion-euro business globally. 

Food business in India

Since Unilever is in the value-added branded business, Polman said the food market in India was relatively small. This is because while turnover can be achieved quickly, adding value to the brand takes time. Therefore, the company is content with the brands it has in India currently. Some of these include:

  • Kissan ketchup and jam
  • Bru coffee
  • Knorr soup
  • Magnum ice-cream

Can his successor be an Indian? 

Saying that five of the top 18 people reporting to him were Indians, Polman said hhe was certain that at one point there would be an Indian CEO of the company.

HUL accounts for a quarter of Unilever's overall market capitalisation and saw its shares surge to a record last week. 

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