Unilever Reorganizes, Making it Easier to Divest Foods

Jan. 25, 2022
1500 executives to be laid off, foods split into two businesses.

Days after dropping its bid for GlaxoSmithKline's consumer health care division and with Nelson Peltz nipping at its heels, Unilever announced a restructuring that will eliminate 1,500 mostly management-level jobs around the world … and theoretically make its business groups easier to be sold.

"The company will move away from its current matrix structure and will be organised around five distinct business groups: Beauty & Wellbeing, Personal Care, Home Care, Nutrition, and Ice Cream," said today's (Jan. 25) announcement. "Each business group will be fully responsible and accountable for their strategy, growth, and profit delivery globally."

Currently, the company's 400 or so brands operate in three divisions – beauty & personal care, foods & refreshment, and home care. So, notably, the reorganization will split the food business – which CEO Alan Jope said may be "de-emphasized" -- into two divisions.

"The proposed new organisation model will result in a reduction in senior management roles of around 15% and more junior management roles by 5%, equivalent to around 1,500 roles globally," the news release continued. "We do not expect factory teams to be impacted by these changes."

The layoffs will take time to effect. But immediately, there was a handful of executive changes. The two in food involve:

  • Hanneke Faber, President Foods & Refreshment, has been appointed President Nutrition, which will be home to Scratch Cooking, Healthy Snacking, Functional Nutrition, Plant-Based Meat, and Food Solutions.
  • Matt Close, EVP Ice Cream, has been appointed President Ice Cream, a Business Group in its own right. The appointments are effective April 1.

It's been a rocky start to the new year for the global consumer goods company. European media said the company has missed sales and profit targets. The company made a $68 billion bid Jan. 15 for GlaxoSmithKline's consumer health care division, but declined to further negotiate when GSK rejected the offer.

At about the same time, it became public that Trian Partners, led by U.S. activist investor Nelson Peltz, was buying stock in the company, although Peltz has not said what his motives are. Peltz has taken stakes in food & beverage companies before and pushed for divestitures or other changes to increase stock price.

One of his more radical efforts, which we satirized in 2014, was to split PepsiCo into separate beverage and snack companies and to merge Frito-Lay with Mondelez.

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