1930 - 1939: Overcoming challenges

The 1930s is a tough decade – it starts with the Great Depression and ends with a new world war.

Vintage advert for Lux Flakes - 'Undisolved Soap Ruins Undies'

These conditions make the newly merged business's need to rationalise even more urgent. So in the UK Unilever cuts its 50 soap-manufacturing companies to concentrate on fewer brands, while governments in continental Europe protect local butter production through taxes, excise duties and limits on production. The end result is that Unilever's margarine and edible fat plants are cut from ten to five.

But despite the recession the business continues to expand: partly through the development of new products in its established markets, and partly by acquiring companies to take it into emerging categories like frozen and convenience foods.



On 1 January Unilever is officially established.

Procter & Gamble enters the UK market with the acquisition of Thomas Hedley Ltd of Newcastle and becomes one of Unilever's largest rivals.

Mid 30s

Soap production moves further from hard soaps to flakes and powders designed to make lighter work of household cleaning. This leads to expansion in the soap market.


Vitamins A & D are added to margarine, to levels equivalent to those found in butter.


After a campaign to improve public perceptions of margarine and the growth of vitamin-enriched brands including Stork in the UK and Blue Band in the Netherlands, sales of margarine rise to levels close to the highs of 1929.

Late 30s

With the advent of World War II, exchange controls and frozen currencies make international trading increasingly complex. In Germany, Unilever is unable to move profits out of the country and has to invest instead in enterprises unconnected with oils and fats including public utilities.

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