Unilever chief executive Alan Jope said the health crisis would accelerate the growth of online food purchases. He also predicted a permanent increase in demand for soap and other cleaning products, improving hygiene becoming a priority for households.
“I think we will be able to look back and see this as an inflection point for online grocery shopping,” said Jope. “Good luck getting an appointment for a grocery delivery. I think it will persist and we will adjust our approach to reflect that. “
In the coming months, people would like to wash their hands more and worry about the hygiene of the surfaces in their homes, added Jope, saying, “The whole hygiene will go on.”
Unilever, which owns more than 400 brands, was updating investors after three scorching months during which the company had seen a roller-coaster ride. As buyers filled kitchen cabinets with Hellman’s mayonnaise jars, Pot Noodles and Cif spray from the group, the foreclosure forced consumers to cut back on products such as Cornetto and Magnum ice cream, which are dependent on sales at cafes and restaurants.
The shift to homework also undermined the demand for skincare products like shampoo and deodorant, Jope admitting that people “shaving a little less” were hitting the demand for razors.
Unilever increased sales by 12.4 billion euros in the first three months of 2020, the same level as a year ago and short of analyst expectations. Like other companies, the Anglo-Dutch group withdrew its financial guidelines as it made its way through what Jope described as a “human crisis”.
Demand for its cleaning and hygiene products, such as Cif bleach and Domestos, jumped by more than 10% in the first three months of 2020, resulting in an overall increase of 2.4% in its home care sales. However, the collapse in demand for ice cream dampened food sales, which fell 1.7% after orders for traditional tourist hotspots failed to materialize, given the uncertain outlook for the holiday season.
The company was not asking the government for financial support, said Jope. “We believe the government’s plans to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods are for small businesses and sectors that are more at risk than Unilever,” he said. “We don’t think it is intended for companies like ours; we would rather keep our destiny in our hands. “