Outgoing Unilever Chief Paul Polman Regrets Not Jumping On The E-Commerce Bus Earlier

Unilever’s e-commerce business will very soon hit the euro 5 billion mark, says Paul Polman.

Paul Polman, chief executive officer of Unilever NV, poses for a photograph with a selection of Unilever products. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Paul Polman, the outgoing chief executive officer of Unilever Plc., regrets not having designed products for e-commerce channels sooner.

“Frankly we were a little late to design our products and product ranges for the e-commerce channels versus our competitors,” Polman told shareholders at his last investor meet. The top management of Unilever is currently in Mumbai for its annual global investor meeting.

The consumer goods maker, however, fortunately woke up in time and rapidly adjusted, according to Polman, who believes that there is opportunity in online retail and the company needs to be much faster in picking up new trends and accelerate its presence in some of the growing channels like e-commerce.

Unilever’s e-commerce business, which is close to euro 2 billion, is growing four times faster than the overall market, Polman said, adding that it will very soon hit the euro 5 billion mark.

Hindustan Unilever Ltd., the Indian arm of the fast-moving consumer goods maker, currently sees 3 percent of its revenue come from e-commerce channels.

“We’ve shaped our portfolio to be more into faster-growing channels or into segments or faster growth markets,” Polman said.

Unilever has made 50 acquisitions in the last ten years, including the buyout of GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare business, said Polman, adding that the money Unilever spent on mergers and acquisitions alone is around euro 23-24 billion and with share buyback the figure gets close to euro 30 billion.

The outgoing chief executive officer of Unilever called the Horlicks acquisition as “cherry on the pie.”

On Monday, Unilever announced that it will acquire GlaxoSmithKline’s business and merge its Indian unit with HUL in a deal worth $3.8 billion.

Polman said that nearly 60 percent of Unilever’s business comes from emerging markets, compared to 45 percent ten years ago.

Unilever’s strength now lies in the emerging markets and India is what the future of Unilever is all about, said Polman. “HUL is the best performing.”

Paul Polman’s last day at Unilever is Dec. 31 after which Alan Jope will take over as the chief executive officer of the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods maker. Jope is currently president of beauty and personal care business.

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