Unilever targets digital partnerships

unileverE-commerce may represent less than 3 per cent of British FMCG giant Unilever’s total annual revenue, but the multinational’s food president Amanda Sourry is nonetheless bullish about the company’s digital future.

Speaking to an audience at an investor conference, Sourry said Unilever was building joint business plans with “key players” in e-commerce, to develop strategic partnerships to better leverage its suite of brands in the “digital ecosystem.”

She outlined four key digital channels for Unilever’s digital ambitions: marketplaces, pureplay, direct sales and grocery.com style offers.

“We don’t believe there is a single model that in the end is going to prevail,” she said. “We believe there will be a multiple of models and we are playing against them: it’s about grocery.com; it’s about marketplaces, such as Taobao; [and] it’s about pure play, most notably Amazon.”

Online is a $671 million annual business for Unilever, but that figure is set to skyrocket in the coming years, after the giant booked 40 per cent growth in digital for the first-half of fiscal 17.

Sourry said 800 people within Unilever are currently dedicated to growing e-commerce within the business, and that as consumer uptake increased across its product categories spend would increase.

Key short-term goals include working with online players such as Amazon to leverage big-data opportunities to better understand the online path to purchase and buying habits in the digital arena.

Unilever already has a wide-ranging deal with Amazon in the US and UK, supplying everything from its Dove soap to its Lipton iced tea products and is tipped to extend that partnership to Australia when the e-commerce giant launches locally.

Citi analysts predicted an October launch for Amazon last week based on the entrant’s engagement with key suppliers, signalling food and liquor as immediate targets for the giant.

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