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Inside our markets: Unilever in India

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Average read time: 6 minutes

Take a closer look at Hindustan Unilever – one of our best-performing businesses.

Mumbai Skyline in India.

How has Hindustan Unilever (HUL), our business in India, grown in recent years?

Our business in India is the biggest in Unilever when it comes to the volume of products sold, and in January 2023 HUL was ranked among the country’s most valuable companies. 

According to its results for the financial year 2021–22, HUL’s turnover growth of 11% and underlying volume growth at 3% were significantly ahead of the market, and its year-on-year market share gain was the highest HUL has seen in a decade. HUL announced its quarterly results (ending 31 December 2022) on 19 January 2023, with turnover up 16%. Read the full quarterly results announcement here.

In the past decade, HUL has adopted a successful growth strategy it calls Winning in Many Indias. Recognising that products, campaigns and logistics that work in one part of this incredibly diverse country might not work in another, HUL has developed individual business plans for 15 separate regional clusters.

Nine in ten Indian households use HUL brands, with products on sale in around 9 million retail outlets across the country. The business has 29 factories nationwide and 21,000 employees.

What is driving this strong growth?

India remains one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for consumer goods and by reaching more and more consumers in both urban and rural regions, we see enormous potential across the country. The Indian consumer is evolving fast. More people are entering the middle class, the working population is growing, and urbanisation is increasing, along with the rapid adoption of technology.

Consumers are increasingly upgrading to products with proven superiority. In recent years, HUL has seen strong results from several premium ranges such as Vim’s anti-bacterial dishwash, Lifebuoy’s hand hygiene products, and health drinks from Horlicks that are designed to support specific nutritional needs such as diabetes.

Our Premium Beauty business unit is also up and running, with digital-first brands including Simple, Love Beauty & Planet and Baby Dove. Read more about HUL’s consumer trends here.

Man on the phone walking along a bridge in front of the Taj Mahal

How long has HUL operated in India?

The first consignment of Sunlight soap bars landed in the harbour at Kolkata in 1888, and several Lever Brothers brands soon followed. They included Lifebuoy, Pears, Lux and Vim.

In 1931, Unilever set up its first Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Vanaspati Manufacturing Company, followed by Lever Brothers India Limited (1933) and United Traders Limited (1935). These three companies merged to form Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) in November 1956 and HLL offered 10% of its equity to the Indian public, being the first among the foreign subsidiaries to do so.

HLL opened its first Indian research centre in the 1960s, and in the 1970s supported the government’s drive to develop rural India by setting up manufacturing operations and work opportunities away from major cities.

Brooke Bond and Lipton teas and Pond’s skincare joined the business in the 1990s. And as the new millennium approached, HLL’s commitment to supporting livelihoods across rural India escalated with the launch of Project Shakti – an initiative helping women to become micro-entrepreneurs by selling our products within their communities.

HLL’s name changed to Hindustan Unilever Limited in 2007. And in 2020, GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer health brands Horlicks and Boost joined HUL’s thriving portfolio.

Innovation underpins this success, and in India the business has an unmatched pool of research and development talent: we have over 730 scientists with more than 100 PhDs across three R&D centres in the country. Read more about innovation at HUL here.

Vintage Sunlight 12 oz Soap in branded cardboard box.

What are Hindustan Unilever’s most popular brands?

The biggest success stories in HUL come from both Unilever’s global brands and the local heroes beloved by Indian consumers. In fact, HUL brands are No.1 across more than 85% of the business from fabric wash to tea, health drinks and dishwashing.

Lifebuoy is India’s No.1 soap brand and further strengthened its position between 2021 and 2022. Clinic Plus, Dove and Sunsilk were ranked India’s top three hair care brands in the latest Kantar Brand Health Check Report. And Lakmé, India’s most-followed beauty brand on Instagram, now wins 30% of sales through digital platforms.

Laundry brand Surf and Red Label tea both generate more than ₹5,000 crores a year (€607.5 million).

Dove, Horlicks, Wheel, Lifebuoy, Glow & Lovely, Vim and Rin all sell in excess of ₹2,000 crores (€243 million) annually.

And Pond’s, Clinic Plus, Lux, Lakmé, Kissan, Bru, Cornetto and Kwality Wall’s have passed the ₹1,000 crores (€121.5 million) a year milestone.

Lakmé cosmetics, Kissan peanut butter and Bru coffee are among what we call Unilever’s ‘local jewels’ – brands that are particularly popular in one key country.

How are our brands bringing their purpose to life in India?

Across India, HUL is taking positive action for people and the planet.

Purpose-driven brand campaigns include Dove’s #StopTheBeautyTest. According to a study from the brand in partnership with Hansa Research, three in four Indian women are rejected on the basis of their looks during the arranged marriage process. Dove urges audiences to look beyond narrow stereotypes to discover what beauty really means.

Brooke Bond Red Label tea has long called for a fairer, more inclusive India. Its Cannes Lions-winning campaigns celebrate how tea has the power to bring people together. Take a look at the film below for a thought-provoking example.

As a company, HUL has empowered more than 160,000 women through its Shakti programme, which gives women in rural locations an opportunity to become micro-entrepreneurs. They receive training in communication and trouble-shooting, and can earn a sustainable income by selling HUL products to households and small retail outlets in their community.

These ‘Shakti Ammas’ are one example of HUL’s commitment to raise living standards, advance equity, diversity and inclusion, and prepare people for the future of work. The business has also pledged that everyone who directly provides HUL with goods and services will earn at least a living wage or income by 2030.

The Hindustan Unilever Foundation and its partners also work in thousands of villages to support and amplify scalable solutions that can help address India’s water challenges. Read more about Hindustan Unilever’s Environmental, Social and Governance work here.

What makes this market completely unique in the world?

India has nearly 800 million internet users and the highest mobile data consumption per user in the world.

This rapid digitisation has transformed the market and teams at HUL are leading a future-fit agenda designed to redefine how the business uses technology to operate, engage with consumers and leverage the power of data.

A person part of the Shakti programme in their shop selling Unilever brands such as Lux and sunsilk.

Visit the Hindustan Unilever website to read more from this part of the business.

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