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9 decades of doing well by doing good 


On a momentous day in 1888, Sunlight arrived in India, at the port of Kolkata. It marked the beginning of our journey to becoming Hindustan Unilever Limited, India’s largest FMCG business today. Throughout our journey, we have stood alongside India, from empowering communities, supporting the nation to caring for our planet.

HUL’s Sunlight soap at Kolkata Harbour in 1930s
HUL incorporation certificate

Our brands are driven by purpose

Over the years, our iconic brands have served millions of Indians with superior products and purpose-driven initiatives. These include Dove, Lifebuoy, Surf excel, Vim, Brooke Bond Red Label, and Horlicks, to name a few. Today we have over 50 brands that touch the lives of 9 out of 10 Indian households every single day.

A collage of HUL’s iconic brand ads over the years.

Here’s a look at some of our iconic brand stories.

  1. Lifebuoy 

    Lifebuoy is one of the earliest brands to espouse what is known today as ‘Purpose’. Founded in 1894 by William Hesketh Lever in the UK as the Royal Disinfectant Soap to combat the spread of cholera, Lifebuoy has never deviated from its purpose – to make billions of people across the world feel safe and secure by meeting their personal care hygiene and health needs.

    In India, Lifebuoy’s popularity soared in 1964 when it devised the unforgettable jingle ‘Tandurusti ki raksha karta hai Lifebuoy, Lifebuoy hai jahan tandurusti hai wahan’. The campaign promised health and hygiene to consumers.

    Lifebuoy had been running behaviour change campaigns on hand-washing to help prevent diarrhoea and pneumonia among children. To tackle the problem, we created a campaign around celebrating life, birthing the seminal story of Gondappa, who chose to give thanks to the Almighty because his child had crossed the age of five.

    In recent times, Lifebuoy’s role of advocating for hand hygiene continues to reach different parts of our country. From campaigns such as helping a child reach 5 to H for handwashing, Lifebuoy is on a mission to save lives by preventing diseases.

  2. Dove

    Our campaigns for Dove have been supporting women-centric social causes since the very beginning. For example, launched a couple of years ago, our #StopTheBeautyTest campaign, released in 10 languages, featured real-life stories of five women who faced harsh judgement shaped by society and failed the ‘beauty test’ because they were either overweight, dark-skinned, short, curly-haired, or had skin blemishes. The aim of this campaign is to create awareness about beauty prejudices in society and help people overcome such prejudices that plague women every day.

    Over the decades, Dove has garnered consumer trust, helping the brand grow from a moisturising beauty bar to a global brand with a range of products: body washes, hand and body lotions, facial cleansers, deodorants, shampoos, conditioners, hair styling products and more. By forming robust partnerships and multi-touchpoint campaigns, Dove has also expanded its digital footprint with a single-minded focus on ‘real beauty.’

  3. Horlicks

    Synonymous with Indian households, Horlicks was initially marketed as a dietary supplement at the end of World War II, morphing later into a family beverage, and ultimately, a nutritional drink for children. 2005 was a milestone for Horlicks, when a clinical study by the National Institute of Nutrition claimed that children who consumed Horlicks were taller, stronger, and sharper than those who did not. To date, the brand continues to speak to mothers and children through vivid and purpose-driven storytelling.

    India faces the challenges of malnutrition, obesity, and micronutrient deficiency. Nine out of ten children have diets that are deficient in micronutrients and four in ten are malnourished. Horlicks’ ability to tackle the country’s nutritional deficiency makes it best-suited to the needs of Indian consumers. By making Horlicks accessible in the hinterland, HUL has upheld its philosophy of ‘Doing Well by Doing Good.’

  4. Surf excel

    In its earliest avatar, Surf excel (then known as Surf) was launched as a one-stop shop for people seeking solutions for laundry issues. Surf excel dominated the stage until the 1990s, till a lower priced competitor entered the market. To counter this competition, Lalita ji was born, who soon became one of the most memorable characters in Indian advertising and a household name. Surf excel’s global campaign “Dirt is Good’ launched in India in 2005 with the heartwarming campaign featuring two little kids. And no one else. No washing machines. No product features. In fact, it had no product window. A pure, emotionally relevant story, without the product being overbearing and a simple sign-off that summed up the messaging for mothers. The brand saw an accelerated growth not only in sales but also brand equity numbers. And ‘Daag achche hai’ became a phrase everyone had on the tip of their tongues.

    Today, Surf excel our $ 1 billion brand, has embarked upon the ‘Clean Future’ journey to create product and packaging that is more sustainable for people and the planet.

Did you know?

Morarji Desai who was then deputy prime minister, inaugurated the green and spacious Hindustan Lever Research Centre at Mumbai’s Andheri in 1960s, the first of its kind research centre in India at the time.

Morarji Desai, inaugurating HUL’s research centre in Mumbai in the 1960s.

Building categories, empowering India

Our history of building new categories to keep pace with the changing needs of India goes way back to the 1950s, a time of shortages. This was when an HUL salesman in Patiala, realised the value of vanaspati for people who could not afford cooking oil or ghee. PL Tandon, of Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Company, an affiliate of Lever Brothers, took it upon himself to maintain regular fair distribution and high standards of integrity to Dalda available for the masses. This was perhaps HUL’s first step towards creating categories to attend to Indian consumer needs. 

In the 1980s, with liberalisation on the horizon, HUL undertook massive market development initiatives to educate consumers, upgrading them to affordable shampoos and conditioners.

For HUL, expanding businesses goes further than profits: it’s about education, affordability, empowerment, and access. Over the years, we have acquired brands that are not only a strategic fit but also address the Indian consumer’s needs. Our mergers are always in line with the nation’s growth. Some of them include:

Empowering communities, enhancing livelihoods

At HUL, our ethos is rooted in servicing people through brands that brighten their lives. HUL had internalised the idea that what is good for India is good for the company from the very beginning. There are several examples of HUL’s belief that the company must be seen as an active participant in Indian society and benefit society at large. Some of our initiatives include:

The Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF)

Established in 2010, the Hindustan Unilever Foundation (HUF) supports and amplifies scalable solutions to address India’s water challenges for rural, agricultural communities. HUF’s programmes reach over 14,000 villages in partnership with NGOs and various co-founders. It supports numerous knowledge initiatives in water conservation and governance whose collective achievements between 2021 and 2022 include a water potential of over 2.6 trillion litres. This has been done through improved supply-and-demand water management. In addition, 1.7 million tonnes of agricultural and biomass production, and over 110 million days of employment have also been managed effectively.

A overflowing dam with farmers standing and looking at the surplus.

Project Prabhat

Project Prabhat, launched in 2013, is HUL’s sustainable community development initiative which builds on local community needs at a grassroots level. It is in line with India’s development agenda and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The ultimate purpose of Prabhat is to create sustainable communities in and around the company’s sites through focused interventions. The impact has been immense, with the initiative impacting over nine million lives since its inception.

An image of children outside a school refurbished by HUL’s Project Prabhat

Project Shakti

In 2000, HUL initiated the Millennium Project, targeting specific areas for future growth. Among them was Project Shakti, launched in rural areas with a population of less than 5,000 that recruits women to be sellers and distributors of HUL products. Shakti was born with a business model based on enrolling rural women to be sellers and distributors of HUL products thus providing economic empowerment to women. At present, HUL equips the Shakti Ammas (women entrepreneurs) with training in sales, accounting, and marketing, and has so far empowered over 1,90,000 Shakti Ammas.

A picture of HUL’s Shakti Amma in her shop situated in the hinterland.

Ensuring access to sanitation

An image of HUL’s Suvidha centre in Mumbai with a group of staff members who manage the centre.

To address the rising hygiene concerns in the country, HUL set up its first Suvidha Centre, an urban community water, hygiene and sanitation centre in Ghatkopar, one of the largest slums in Mumbai. The first-of-its-kind centre provides toilets that flush, hand-washing facilities, clean showers, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to low-income urban households. Today, 14 such centres operate in Mumbai — the result of a pioneering public-private partnership of HUL, HSBC India, JSW, and the Brihanmumbai Municipal corporation (BMC), which positively impacts the lives of over 350,000 people each year.

Towards an equitable and greener future

In its journey to reduce environmental impact of its value chain, HUL eliminated coal across its operations, replacing it with biomass and biodiesel. Also, HUL’s factories, offices, R&D facilities, data centres, warehouses and distribution centres are now wholly powered by renewable grid electricity.

Furthermore, we have continued to transition from fossil fuel-derived chemicals in cleaning and laundry products to drastically reduce our carbon footprint.

At the same time, HUL has been driving diversity and inclusion and is pioneering in its efforts towards gender balance and representation. We have revamped our D&I framework to #BELONG that fosters a more inclusive culture. To ensure diversity across the business even in factories and in sales, that are traditionally a male bastion, HUL has introduced projects Samavesh and Ahilya. Our efforts in diversity go beyond gender. Through Saksham, we are committed to tap entry level PwD (Persons with Disabilities) talent by creating a hiring path. Last but not least, we also have our own HUL Proud Network for LGBTQI+ and allies, with over 450 members.

And the story of purpose continues…

The story of HUL, though well on its way to completing a hundred revolutions around the sun, is only just beginning. There are miles to go still. But our journey so far inspires us to do better every day; it is a legacy worth upholding and taking forward. In the coming years, we aspire to accompany India on its journey ahead , and serving our nation and our consumers with the utmost dedication and care, just like we have done— for the last 9 decades.

To view our history timeline, click here.

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