Unilever is a massive international conglomerate headquartered in London that predominantly sells food products. Like many other companies Unilever has gone “woke,” as its web site reflects. Unilever claims to be all about its “values,” a company that “take[s] action on the issues affecting our world.”
But many observers are not convinced. The Telegraph headlines: “Investment star Terry Smith attacks Unilever for ‘ludicrous’ focus on social and environmental issues.”
One of Britain’s best known investors has attacked Unilever for its “ludicrous” focus on sustainability, in a sign of growing City frustration at blue chip companies championing fashionable causes.
Terry Smith, manager of the £29bn Fundsmith Equity fund, said that the consumer goods behemoth has become “obsessed” with its public image and mocked its efforts to imbue brands such as Hellman’s mayonnaise with a higher purpose.
He said this overzealous focus on environmental and social issues has proved a distraction at a time when the £101bn maker of products from Vaseline to Marmite is struggling with a falling share price.
This line deserves to go down in history:
In a letter to investors in his fund, Mr Smith said: “A company which feels it has to define the purpose of Hellmann’s mayonnaise has in our view clearly lost the plot.
“The Hellmann’s brand has existed since 1913 so we would guess that by now consumers have figured out its purpose (spoiler alert – salads and sandwiches).”
And this stands as a monument to cluelessness:
In 2019, its chief executive Alan Jope vowed that “in the future, every Unilever brand will be a brand with purpose” and said he would offload those that “are not able to stand for something more important than just making your hair shiny, your skin soft, your clothes whiter or your food tastier”.
But of course, shiny hair, soft skin, white clothes and tasty food are the sorts of reasons why people buy the products that Unilever sells. It is hard to imagine a more radical disconnect between a company and its customers.
Unilever owns Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, among many other brands, and it was exposed to public opprobrium when Ben & Jerry’s took an aggressive anti-Israel stance, from which Unilever was forced to beat a retreat. But woke capitalism marches on, a hard-to-kill zombie.