Paul Polman, the ex-P&G executive now controversially installed as chief executive of Unilever, likes to think of himself as a “simple man” from a “simple town” and a “simple background”. “That’s why I like consumer goods,” he adds.
So I was somewhat surprised to find him in a more mystical frame of mind later in the FT article. There is, he says, more synergy between some of the company’s food and beauty brands than between its home and personal care brands. And he goes on to suggest, enigmatically, that some of the technologies developed for its tea and ice-cream products have applications in skin creams. “Inner beauty and outer beauty are closely related… we think that is a competitive advantage.”
Whatever does he mean? That Wall’s ice-cream has a secondary application as Dove hand lotion? Or that you can squirt Lynx in your tea and gain extra sex appeal?
I think not. Polman’s last job was as a senior executive at Nestlé, where he played an important role promoting it as a “nutrition, health and wellness” company rather than the un-PC confectionery-maker that we are all more accustomed to. As part of this corporate transformation, Nestlé has created an interesting joint-venture with L’Oréal, the cosmetics company which Nestlé part owns. Called Inneov, its nutraceutical products blend Nestle’s nutritional insights with L’Oréal’s dermatological research.
At the time of Inneov’s foundation, in 2002, Nestlé rightly claimed to have come up with an industry first. So, I am not entirely sure how Polman, in borrowing Nestlé’s strategy, thinks he is creating a “competitive advantage.”