Unilever delivers more proof of its dedication to purpose

Unilever has been resolute in its determination to be a purpose led company, and we saw two demonstrations of that commitment this week, one here in Canada and another in the U.S.

Here at home, Hellman’s announced on Wednesday that all of its mayonnaise jars and bottles will be made from 100% recycled plastic by March. Hellman’s claimed the change will save 1 million kilograms of virgin plastic this year.

Bottles made from recovered and reprocessed plastic (PCR or post-consumer recycled) are appearing on store shelves now. The plastic is slightly darker and includes a label with instructions on how to recycle correctly.

“Canadians want to do what’s right, seeking out products and brands that prioritize the planet,” said Unilever Canada president Gary Wade (right). “By transitioning our bottles and jars to ones made with 100% recycled plastic, Hellmann’s is helping make sustainable choices more accessible.”

While the change has a clear environmental benefit, Unilever also maintains that changes like this are beneficial to its bottom line.

Unilever previously committed to ensuring that all of its packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 as part of its Sustainable Living Plan. While that plan was first introduced 10 years ago under previous CEO Paul Polman, Unilever’s commitment to being purpose led across its large portfolio of brands has become even more pronounced under Alan Jope, who became CEO early last year.

In Cannes last year, Jope complained about “woke-washing” and suggested it could be “putting in peril the very thing which offers us the opportunity to help tackle many of the world’s issues.” Unilever tasked its marketers with finding a business plan that would “make society or the planet better.” Those brands that can’t, could be sold off, even if they are profitable, said Jope. “Principles are only principles if they cost you something,” he said.

But Unilever also says that being purpose led is good for business, and that consumers prefer brands that are making the planet better. In November, it noted that it now has 28 Sustainable Living Brands that “communicate a strong environmental or social purpose, with products that contribute to achieving the company’s ambition of halving its environmental footprint and increasing its positive social impact.” According to Unilever, those brands grew 69% faster than the rest of is business.

“Two-thirds of consumers around the world say they choose brands because of their stand on social issues, and over 90% of millennials say they would switch brands for one which champions a cause,” said Jope at a Deutsche Bank conference. “Purpose creates relevance for a brand, it drives talkability, builds penetration and reduces price elasticity. In fact, we believe this so strongly that we are prepared to commit that in the future, every Unilever brand will be a brand with purpose.”

Another Unilever owned brand also made a bold statement about its commitment to fight for a better world Tuesday night. Seventh Generation ran an ad directly after U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address. Seventh Generation is an environmentally friendly household paper and cleaning products brand that was acquired by Unilever in 2016.

Assuming that Trump’s speech would lack any bold new vision to fight climate change (no kidding), Seventh Generation’s ad directly equated the current threat of global warming to the threats posed by the Great Depression and the spread of fascism in the 1930s and ’40s. The generation that won the fight in World War II was dubbed the Greatest Generation, and the new ad asks if young people might be the “next greatest generation” for overcoming the new existential threat of climate change.

Seventh Generation chief executive Joey Bergstein, told The New York Times the brand ran the spot across all major U.S. networks right after Trump’s speech because it felt like an appropriate moment and the company was targeting people “who we know are concerned about climate and really try to inspire that group to action.” Seventh Generation bought the first ad break across CBS, ABC and NBC. It did not buy air time on Fox.

David Brown