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Strong full-year results demonstrate Unilever’s resilience and agility


Average read time: 12 minutes

Today, we announced our results for the full year 2020, which show underlying sales growth of 1.9%. We focused on driving competitive growth through execution against our five growth fundamentals and delivered a step up in competitive performance.

Hellmanns jar
  • Underlying sales growth was 1.9%, with 1.6% volume and 0.3% price
  • Turnover decreased 2.4%
  • Underlying operating profit decreased 5.8%, but increased by 0.7% at constant exchange rates
  • Underlying earnings per share decreased 2.4%, but increased 4.1% at constant exchange rates
  • Diluted earnings per share of €2.12
  • Free cash flow up €1.5 billion to €7.7 billion
  • Dividend maintained through the year and increased in the fourth quarter by 4% to €0.4268 per share
  • Unified the group legal structure under a single parent company
  • View the latest results

Comment from CEO Alan Jope

“In a volatile and unpredictable year, we have demonstrated Unilever’s resilience and agility through the Covid-19 pandemic. I would like to thank the Unilever team, whose dedication and hard work has delivered a strong set of results under the most difficult of circumstances.

“Early in the year, we refocused the business on competitive growth, and the delivery of profit and cash as the best way to maximise value. We have delivered a step change in operational excellence through our focus on the fundamentals of growth. As a result, we are winning market share in over 60% of our business in the last quarter, on the basis of measurable markets. The business also generated underlying operating profit of €9.4 billion and free cash flow of €7.7 billion, an increase of €1.5 billion.

“We progressed our strategic agenda, building on our existing sustainability commitments with ambitious new targets and actions, most recently with our plans to help build a more equitable and inclusive society. We completed the unification of our legal structure under a single parent company and we continue to work on separating out the tea business as we evolve our portfolio.

“Today we are setting out our plans to drive long term growth through the strategic choices we are making and outlining our multi-year financial framework. While volatility and unpredictability will continue throughout 2021, we begin the year in good shape and are confident in our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment.”

Future strategy and multi-year financial framework

As one of the world’s largest consumer goods businesses, Unilever serves consumers through our purposeful brands. Our vision is to be the global leader in sustainable business. We will demonstrate how our purpose-led, future-fit business model drives superior performance, consistently delivering financial results in the top third of our industry.

Our differentiating strengths

Unilever’s success over the last 130 years and its future success are shaped by the strengths that give us competitive advantage. We have a powerful portfolio of leading category and brand positions, with 2.5 billion people using our products every day. We have a strong presence in the markets that will drive global growth in the years ahead and our global leadership in sustainability and commitment to sustainable business is widely recognised.

Our strategic choices

We have made five strategic choices that we believe will support our future growth and help us realise the potential of the business.

  1. Develop our portfolio into high growth spaces, positioning Unilever in the categories that will drive future growth. This will be our guiding strategy behind the choices we make for organic investment and for our acquisitions and disposals.
  2. Win with our brands as a force for good, powered by purpose and innovation. Purpose-led brands have been at the heart of Unilever throughout our history and purpose continues to dominate our thinking and our portfolio today as it becomes even more relevant to consumers. We will underpin our focus on purpose with differentiated science and technology that ensures our brands and products have superior quality and efficacy.
  3. Accelerate in the US, India and China and leverage our emerging markets strength. Unilever has strong brand and category leadership positions in the US, India and China, with around 35% of our turnover coming from those three countries alone, and we believe we can bring sharper focus in those geographies and build even stronger positions. There is also significant opportunity beyond these markets and we will continue to build on our strong operating businesses in the world’s fastest growing economies.
  4. Lead in the channels of the future. Position our business for success in the channels of the future, focusing particularly on e-commerce and digitising the distributed trade, underpinned by advanced shopper insight as the consumer and customer landscape continues to evolve.
  5. Build a purpose-led, future-fit organisation and growth culture. Driving growth through capacity, capability and culture, while continuing to generate fuel for growth.

Multi-year financial framework

We will deliver long term value creation by continuing to evolve our portfolio and driving earnings growth, a strong cash flow and a growing dividend.

  • Underlying sales growth ahead of our markets, delivering USG in the range of 3% to 5%
  • Profit growth ahead of sales growth, on a comparable basis
  • Sustained strong cash flow over the long term
  • Savings of €2 billion per annum from our well-established ‘Fuel for Growth’ savings programmes
  • Restructuring investment of around €1 billion for 2021 and 2022; lower thereafter
  • ROIC in the mid-to-high teens
  • Net Debt to Underlying EBITDA at around 2x

Our markets

The operating environment in our markets has been volatile since the Covid-19 pandemic began in early 2020. In the fourth quarter, we continued to see changes in consumer behaviour and channel dynamics. Strict lock-downs in China and India led to market declines in the first and second quarters respectively, with both markets subsequently returning to growth during the year. China has normalised in many categories, while economic activity in India picked up particularly in the final quarter.

In North America and Europe, elevated demand for food consumed at home has continued to drive market growth, whilst consumer usage of most beauty and personal care categories remains subdued. In Latin America markets were broadly flat for the year and several South East Asian markets contracted.

Unilever overall performance

We focused on driving competitive growth through execution against our five growth fundamentals, responding with agility to changing dynamics driven by the pandemic, and delivered a step up in competitive performance.

For the full year we grew underlying sales by 1.9%, with volumes growing 1.6% and 0.3% from price. In the fourth quarter underlying sales growth was 3.5%, with volumes of 3.3% and 0.2% from price.

Growth was driven by hand and home hygiene products, laundry and in-home food and refreshments. Food solutions and out of home ice cream sales declined, impacted by channel closures. As people stayed at home and had fewer opportunities to socialise, they spent less time on personal grooming which impacted sales in much of the Beauty & Personal Care business, except for hygiene products where demand was high.

Category demand patterns varied throughout the year and by market, driven by the differing status of lock-down restrictions. E-commerce grew by 61%, as we captured demand in online channels, and is now 9% of Unilever.

Emerging markets grew 1.2% as China and India returned to growth, after strict lock-downs in the first half of the year. China returned to growth in the second quarter as restrictions were eased, delivering high single digit growth in the second half. Latin America grew mid-single digit and Indonesia grew slightly, though declined in the final quarter. Developed markets grew 2.9%, led by strength in North American in-home foods. Europe declined for the full year but grew in the final quarter.

Turnover decreased 2.4%, including a positive impact of 1.2% from acquisitions net of disposals and a negative impact of 5.4% from currency movements.

Underlying operating profit was €9.4 billion, a decrease of 5.8% including a negative impact from currency of 6.5%. Underlying operating margin decreased by 60bps. Gross margin reduced by 50bps, including a negative impact of 90bps from additional costs needed to adapt and run our supply chain and adverse mix from Covid-19.

While brand and marketing investment was conserved in the first half during the early lock-down periods, we invested strongly behind our brands in the second half and, for the full year, brand and marketing investment was up €160 million at constant exchange rates. Overheads increased by 10bps, reflecting adverse currency mix and turnover growth.

We delivered free cash flow of €7.7 billion, an increase of €1.5 billion driven by favourable working capital movement, as we increased focus on receivables and re-phased capital expenditure in light of Covid-19.

Beauty & Personal Care

Beauty & Personal Care underlying sales grew 1.2% driven by volume, with flat price.

Skin cleansing saw mid-teens volume-led growth for the year, driven by the important role of hand hygiene in combatting the spread of Covid-19. Our Lifebuoy hygiene brand grew by over 50%, launching H for Handwashing, an educational campaign to teach children the importance of handwashing with soap.

Lock-downs and restricted living in our markets led to lower demand for skin care, deodorants and hair care, which each saw volume and price declines, most significantly in the second quarter. Skin care declined high-single digit and deodorants declined mid-single digit. In hair care, growth in wash and care partially offset a decline in styling products, leading to a low-single digit decline overall.

Oral care grew with price growth more than offsetting negative volumes driven by supply disruption related to lock-downs in key markets in the second quarter.

Our Prestige Beauty business was impacted by door closures in the health and beauty channel, but achieved a shift to over 50% e-commerce, overall declining low-single digit.

Underlying operating margin in Beauty & Personal Care declined by 100bps, with a reduction in gross margin driven by adverse mix and additional costs related to Covid-19. This was partially offset by a reduction in brand and marketing investment, as we conserved spend during lock-down periods, before significantly stepping up investment in the second half.

Home Care

Home Care underlying sales grew 4.5%, with 5.1% from volume and negative pricing of 0.6%.

Our home and hygiene brands delivered high-teens volume-led underlying sales growth. Demand for products with germ-killing and antibacterial benefits has been elevated throughout the year. Domestos grew over 25% as we launched the brand in China and introduced spray and wipe formats.

Our living hygiene range of local brands grew over 50%, led by Lysoform’s educational campaigns in Italy. Within the fabric category, fabric solutions declined slightly, driven by lower consumer prices as we passed on some of the benefits of reduced commodity costs in the second half of the year. Capsules and liquids continued to grow. Low-single digit growth in fabric sensations was led by Indonesia and by Turkey, where our relaunched Snuggle (Yumos) brand performed well.

Underlying operating margin in Home Care declined by 30bps, driven by increased brand and marketing investment as we invested strongly behind our brands in the second half of the year. Overheads and gross margin improved, helped by lower material costs, despite Covid-19 related costs and negative price.

Foods & Refreshment

Foods & Refreshment underlying sales grew 1.3%, with 0.1% from volume and 1.1% from price.

Our retail foods business grew double digit, as restricted living led to more in-home eating occasions for consumers. Food solutions declined by 30% as out of home channels remained closed for much of the year.

Hellmann’s grew high-single digit, supported by its Stay In(spired) campaign, and our plant-based brand The Vegetarian Butcher grew over 70%. Despite significant decline in the out of home business due to channel closures, ice cream grew slightly overall as we rapidly shifted resources towards the in-home business. Ben and Jerry’s performed strongly, teaming up with Netflix on its new ‘Netflix and Chill’d’ variant. Tea grew low single digit.

Underlying operating margin in Foods & Refreshment declined by 50bps. The decline was driven by lower gross margin, due to adverse mix impacts from out of home channel closures, costs related to Covid-19 and higher commodity costs in the second half of the year.

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This announcement may contain forward-looking statements, including 'forward-looking statements' within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Words such as 'will', 'aim', 'expects', 'anticipates', 'intends', 'looks', 'believes', 'vision', or the negative of these terms and other similar expressions of future performance or results, and their negatives, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based upon current expectations and assumptions regarding anticipated developments and other factors affecting the Unilever Group (the 'Group'). They are not historical facts, nor are they guarantees of future performance.

Because these forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, there are important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. Among other risks and uncertainties, the material or principal factors which could cause actual results to differ materially are: Unilever's global brands not meeting consumer preferences; Unilever's ability to innovate and remain competitive; Unilever's investment choices in its portfolio management; inability to find sustainable solutions to support long-term growth; the effect of climate change on Unilever's business; customer relationships; the recruitment and retention of talented employees; disruptions in our supply chain; the cost of raw materials and commodities; the production of safe and high quality products; secure and reliable IT infrastructure; successful execution of acquisitions, divestitures and business transformation projects; economic and political risks and natural disasters; financial risks; failure to meet high and ethical standards; and managing regulatory, tax and legal matters. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this announcement. Except as required by any applicable law or regulation, the Group expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in the Group's expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based. Further details of potential risks and uncertainties affecting the Group are described in the Group's filings with the London Stock Exchange, Euronext Amsterdam and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, including in the Annual Report on Form 20-F 2019 and the Unilever Annual Report and Accounts 2019.

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