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EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Unilever providing new transparency on ingredients

In this piece, David Blanchard, Chief R&D Officer at Unilever, explains how and why transparency matters in personal care and home brands.

14 March 2017

Sustainability: Why and for whom does transparency of ingredients matter for home and personal care brands?

We want to build trust in our brands, and transparency is a key driver of that. Our consumers tell us that they want more information about our products in a way which is easier to access and easier to understand. For example, it’s no surprise that an ingredient with the name Hexyl Cinnamal sounds mysterious, but it’s naturally present in camomile and gives a jasmine-like scent to some of our fragrances. We think it’s our job to debunk the myths, remove the jargon and have a different type of conversation with consumers.

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Sustainability: What is new about the level of transparency with this initiative?

What is new is the breadth and depth of transparency we are offering our consumers about our home and personal care products. The initiative has three key elements:

Firstly, we’ve launched a new ‘What’s in our Products’ platform on our local European and US websites – this will provide individual product information and much more content to inform and educate our consumers.

Secondly, this year we will start to voluntarily disclose fragrance ingredients included in individual products online (down to 0.01% of the product formulation).

And finally, in Europe where our products are already labelled with fragrance allergens in line with regulations, we now provide an online search tool to support people with allergies to find suitable products for them. In the US, we are voluntarily expanding our labelling of fragrance allergens on-pack to cover the full Unilever personal care portfolio.

Sustainability: What is the return on the investment?

We want to build trust in our products – it’s as simple as that. This is about deepening our relationship with consumers, building their knowledge of our products and as a result driving brand growth – that’s our ultimate return.

Sustainability: How does this compare with the transparency on other Unilever products?

Alongside our home and personal care brands, we have a strong portfolio of products in food and refreshment categories. For these, ingredients transparency is already well established.  Consumers want to know that the food they eat is safe, and they want nutritional information available to make educated choices about their diet.

We believe that this desire for transparency and openness has now extended to the products people use to clean their home, their clothes and themselves. We think consumers should have access to ingredient information when they purchase one of our home or personal care products as they do with our food products.

In the US, consumers can already use the SmartLabel scheme to gain easy and instant access to product information for food products as well as personal care brands. When you visit a Unilever product’s SmartLabel page you will find the information from the product’s label, such as ingredients, but also extra information such as fragrance ingredients and use instructions, and links to brand information.

Sustainability: How does this compare with the industry standard?

Our approach goes well beyond regulatory requirements – we believe this is an industry-leading initiative in the breadth and depth of transparency we have committed to.

Sustainability: Does transparency on consumer goods generally matter for sustainability? Why?

Consumers have high expectations when it comes to doing the right thing for them and the planet.  For Unilever, our Sustainable Living Plan outlines how we will have a positive social and environmental impact. By being transparent about our approach to business we believe we will build trust and engagement with the people who buy our products.

We know that transparency and sustainability matter to our consumers – we recently commissioned an international study that revealed that a third of consumers (33%) are now choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good. This is a growing trend and we can expect consumers to become increasingly discerning about which companies they trust to provide the products they and their families use every day.

Sustainability: What is your long term goal(s) around transparency in your products? Why?

It goes without saying that transparency doesn’t just matters for our consumers in the US and Europe. So the next steps will be to explore our approach in other markets too. We are committed to ensuring that people have all the information they need to choose the right products for them.

We will continue to gather feedback from consumers and stakeholders to ensure we are providing information on what matters to them.

Any opinions Expressed in "Executive Perspectives" are those of external parties and not those of Thomson Reuters.

Topics

Corporate Governance, Executive Perspective

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