Unilever Sales Slow Despite Virus Cleaning Frenzy

British-Dutch consumer giant Unilever said Thursday that worried consumers snapped up cleaning products due to the coronavirus pandemic but that overall sales slid.

During the first half of the year, sales came in at 25.7 billion euros ($29.8 billion), a drop of 1.6 percent from the same period last year, with currency fluctuations also negatively affecting the results.

In the second quarter, when lockdowns were in place in much of Europe and North America, overall sales slid by 2.9 percent to 13.3 billion euros.

Unilever said coronavirus and lockdowns provoked changes in consumer behaviour, with people spending more time at home and being more concerned about hygiene.

“We saw increased consumer demand for household cleaning products, such as Cif surface cleaners, and our home and hygiene brands delivered high-teens underlying sales growth,” the company said in a statement.

Nevertheless sales of home care products overall fell by 3.7 percent during the quarter to 2.6 billion euros.

https://www.2020mjs.com/The need to wipe down surfaces sent sales of cleaning products higher at UnileverThe need to wipe down surfaces sent sales of cleaning products higher at Unilever Photo: AFP / Mark Felix

And with many people no longer going into the office or out to socialise, sales of personal grooming products sagged by 3.6 percent to 5.3 billion euros.

“Lockdowns in our markets and reduced personal care occasions amidst restricted living, led to lower demand for skin care, deodorants and hair care, which each saw volume and price decline,” said Unilever.

The division’s largest brand, Dove soap, saw mid-single digit growth, however.

Sales of food products, which includes brands such as Magnum ice cream, Knorr soups and Lipton tea, slid 1.8 percent in the second quarter to 5.4 billion.

It noted a 40 percent drop in food service sales at hotels, restaurants and cafes which was partially offset by a rise in retail food sales.

The results were better than expected by many analysts, and shares in the firm jumped by more than 8 percent in morning trading, outpacing the 1.2 percent gain for Amsterdam’s main stock index.

Unilever Capitalizes On Coronavirus Cleaning Boom

To help protect against the coronavirus, the CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces daily. Bryan Warcholek, who leads the Covid-19 team for biohazard clean-up company Aftermath Services, shows how it’s done. Photo: Adam Falk/The Wall Street Journal

LONDON—Consumers are cleaning their hands and homes more as concerns about coronavirus continue to swirl around the world, and Unilever PLC is reaping the benefits of speedily retooling its business to capitalize on the trend.

Soon after coronavirus struck, the maker of Suave shampoo and Dove soap aggressively expanded its previously small hand-sanitizer business to meet surging demand. Before the pandemic it had just two manufacturing facilities making sanitizer, and the business wasn’t a big focus. Now it has over 60 sites.

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