Winning in the New Decade

HUL Chairman and Managing Director Sanjiv Mehta's speech at the 88th Annual General Meeting

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Mr Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and Managing Director, Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL), while addressing shareholders at the Company's 88th Annual General Meeting held virtually today, said that the effects of the pandemic are just a pause in India's consumption and growth story. With a growing middle class, one of the youngest populations in the world and rising internet penetration, India is poised for unprecedented growth. He added that the pandemic has pushed businesses to break new ground and reimagine the future that is equitable, sustainable, and purposeful. To achieve this, he said it would take concerted efforts from governments, businesses, and individuals, and HUL is geared to walk that path.

In his speech titled 'Winning in the New Decade', Mr Mehta gave shareholders a glimpse of the Company’s future readiness. He said the Company is building an ‘Intelligent Enterprise,’ and the HUL of the future will be a web of intelligent ecosystems – the consumer ecosystem, customer ecosystem, operations ecosystem with data, technology, and analytics at the core.

Mr Mehta also reiterated the Company's philosophy of 'what is good for India is good for Hindustan Unilever.' He added, "In the last ten years, we have significantly improved our profitability, strengthened our portfolio, embraced emerging trends, organised ourselves to be nimbler, built distinctive capabilities, pursued our social and environmental agenda with passion and vigour and in doing so, built a strong foundation for the future."

Building brands with purpose

With an increasing number of consumers starting to prefer brands and businesses that not only deliver great products but also positively impact the people and planet, Mr Mehta said every product that the Company manufactures and sells, is seen through the lens of how it can change people's lives. He took the examples of Surf excel, Lifebuoy and Brooke Bond as brands with purpose delivering sustained high performance. For instance, Lifebuoy has actively advocated the importance of washing hands with soap, and it was the first brand to issue a public service message during the pandemic urging consumers to wash hands with soap or sanitisers of any brand.

Creating categories for the future

Highlighting the significance of market development or creating markets of the future, Mr Mehta spoke about how HUL leveraged its global know-how, embellished it with deep local insights and innovated to meet consumer needs by constantly striving to deliver better experiences. He added that over the last decade, the Company launched several products delivering higher-order benefits, such as liquid detergents, products for washing machines, salon-like hair solutions and advanced skincare and cosmetic products, amongst many more.

Since the onset of the pandemic, to meet the growing need for health, hygiene, and sanitation, HUL innovated and launched several new products and formats such as fabric sanitiser, fruit and vegetable wash, anti-bacterial dishwash. Mr Mehta added that through the acquisition of iconic brands like Horlicks and Boost, HUL entered the extremely important segment of 'Nutrition' and has also become one of the largest foods and refreshment businesses in the country.

Establishing our digital technology backbone

Talking about how the power of a strong technology backbone became apparent for the business during the pandemic, Mr Mehta spoke about the 'Reimagine HUL' agenda and how it redefined HUL's engagement with consumers, customers and the way the Company operates. To illustrate this, he said that today over 500,000 stores in India use Shikhar – HUL's eB2B app, which helped the company receive orders even when the salesmen could not reach the outlets during lockdowns.

Instituting a Future-Ready workplace

At HUL, there is a clear focus on learning priorities to make people future-fit and purpose-led. Mr Mehta spoke about creating a workplace that promotes agility. He said, "the new levels of uncertainty and volatility that we see around us require a fundamental shift in the way we work and the way we help our talent develop to face the challenges of the future."

Pandemic and HUL's response

At HUL, the responsibilities did not stop with its employees and those working in the outer core. HUL stood by the country since the very beginning of the pandemic. HUL donated medical equipment, including test kits and ventilators to several hospitals to address the severe strain on medical facilities and set up several isolation facilities. HUL has been working closely with the Government, NGOs, and various other partners to ensure that our consumers and communities have continued access to essential items and other daily necessities. HUL donated more than 20 million soaps and sanitisers, over 100,000 bottles of toilet and surface cleaners, over 15 lakh packs of Horlicks to frontline workers, medical professionals, and communities in need. During the second wave, HUL leveraged its global supply chain and airlifted 5,500 oxygen concentrators to address the country's urgent need for medical oxygen.

HUL in the Future

As it enters the new decade, HUL will rely on three drivers to propel its '4G' agenda of consistent, competitive, profitable, and responsible growth: First, the Unilever Compass, which is its sustainable business strategy. Second, building an Intelligent Enterprise that will further embed data, technology and analytics in all aspects, and the third is building Leaders of the Future.

Elaborating on ‘Intelligent Enterprise’, Mr Mehta stated, “our core business will become smarter and efficient by becoming data-led and machine-augmented while we create customised platforms and ecosystems for differentiated consumer and customer value. This will build a value chain that delivers for scale and efficiency of the large while building nimbleness of smalls.”

He summed up his speech quoting Nobel laureate Kofi Annan who said the 'biggest challenge in this new century is to take an idea that seems abstract – sustainable development – and turn it into a reality for all the world's people.'

To this, Mr Mehta closed by saying that it is for us to make sure that Mr Annan's words become a reality in the new decade.

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