Mike Polk, president of Unilever Americas, based in Englewood, N.J., carries weight as part of the $60 billion Anglo-Dutch Unilever conglomerate.
The United States generates about 17% of Unilever group sales. Outside of the U.S. no single country accounts for more than 6% of sales, according to a recent speech delivered by Jim Lawrence, Unilever’s chief financial officer.
That translates into an $18 billion business in North America and Latin America that Polk is responsible for growing. During a turbulent economic environment, Unilever Americas achieved underlying sales growth of 6.5% in 2008. The region reported strong first-quarter sales for the period ending March 31, 2009, up 7.2%, with pricing up 8.3% and volume down 1%.
“The ability to act with speed and manage the business dynamically have been the keys to success over the last 12 to 18 months,” Polk told SN.
Polk deployed the company’s “vitality” strategy to make the organization more resilient and flexible. He fine-tuned the company’s brand portfolio by acquiring the TIGI professional hair-product business and its education academies. “Unilever intends to leverage TIGI’s infrastructure and science and technology to build out a global profe
ssional hair care business,” Polk said.
Unilever entered into two exclusive licensing agreements with Starbucks and PepsiCo/Lipton Tea to manufacture, market and distribute Starbucks ice cream and Starbucks Tazo ready-to-drink beverages.
Polk presided over the disposals of its Lawry’s and Adolph’s seasoning blends and marinades to McCormick; the North American Laundry Business in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico to Vestar Capital Partners; and the Bertolli olive oil business to Grupo SOS. Unilever retained the Bertolli brand for all other categories.
Two of Unilever Americas’ biggest launches this year were the extension of Bertolli Frozen Dinners with a line of Oven Bakes, and the introduction of Axe Hair Care and Styling for men, Polk said.
In the coming year, retailers can expect Unilever Americas to “collaboratively build categories through world-class innovation, breakthrough and objective category management insights and great value creating marketing programs.” Polk mentioned the opening of a new Customer Insight and Innovation Center for the development of joint business plans with retailers.
— Christina Veiders