The 21st century starts with the launch of Path to Growth – a strategy to transform the business – which is followed in 2004 by our next five-year strategy, Unilever 2010, and the launch of our Vitality mission.

Shoppers passing by a Ben & Jerrys storeForging new paths

Path to Growth quickly leads to more acquisitions and the rationalisation of manufacturing and production sites to form centres of excellence. By the end of 2003 operating margins have risen, the integration of Bestfoods is complete, and the portfolio is radically reshaped through the sale of 140 businesses, with the result that the leading brands represent 93% of sales.

At the beginning of the century we open the Unilever Health Institute (UHI) – a centre of excellence in nutrition, health and Vitality. UHI quickly plays a leading role in creating nutrition-based foods and providing evidence to support the nutritional health claims of our brands.

Environmental issues remain a high priority and in 2002 we launch the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative in partnership with Danone and Nestlé, to promote sustainable agriculture practices.

Our new mission 'to meet everyday needs for nutrition, hygiene, and personal care with brands that help people feel good, look good, and get more out of life' was launched in 2004. Focusing the business on 'bringing Vitality to life' provides new opportunities to grow by meeting consumer needs for a healthy lifestyle, convenience and occasional indulgence. Launching the new mission with the new Unilever brand helps clarify what Unilever stands for around the world.



Bestfoods is acquired in the second-largest cash acquisition in history. Other acquisitions include Slim.Fast Foods, Ben & Jerry's and the Amora-Maille culinary business in France. 

Becel/Flora pro.activ spreads with cholesterol-lowering plant sterols are launched and become the first functional food to win FDA and EU approval.

The Unilever Health Institute – a centre of excellence in nutrition, health and Vitality – is launched.

Unilever screens the first interactive advertisement: it’s broadcast on Sky's Open channel and promotes Chicken Tonight. 


By 2001 Unilever has cut its brands from 1,600 to 900. DiverseyLever, Elizabeth Arden and Unipath are sold.

Unilever Bestfoods establishes its Global Nutrition and Health Network.

Unilever screens the first interactive TV commercial on a mainstream terrestrial channel in the UK; it promotes Colman's and Olivio.


The portfolio is reshaped and enhanced through acquisitions and the sale of 87 businesses without acceptable growth or margin potential, generating €6.3 billion of sale proceeds.

The Skin, Hair and Deodorant businesses grow by nearly 11%, partly through the continuing success of Rexona, Lux and Dove. Dove sales are well in excess of €2 billion and its extension into the hair category is rolled out across Europe and Latin America.

Unilever Australia wins a Cannes Media Lion Grand Prix award in recognition of excellence in advertising for Magnum's Seven Deadly Sins campaign.

The successful launch of Becel/Flora pro.activ continues.


Unilever Health Institute opens regional centres in Bangkok and Accra, Ghana.

Unilever is consulted by the WHO regarding the development of a Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity and Health (published May 2004).

Our Nutrition Policy and Nutrition and Health Academy are launched.

Unilever leads a UK cross-industry initiative to reduce salt levels in soups and meal sauces and the Healthy Heart Brand signs a three-year sponsorship deal with the World Heart Federation.

By the end of 2003 the business is buying half its fish from sustainable sources and water consumption per tonne of production is down by 13%.


The Vitality mission is launched and the new Unilever brand rolled out, including the new logo which represents the diversity of Unilever, our products and our people.

At the end of Q3, Unilever revises its earnings guidance for the year to low single-digit earnings per share growth (beia) and announces that the development of leading brands is likely to be lower in Q3 than Q2.

A variety of factors have led to this, including further decline in Home & Personal Care markets in Western Europe and competition remaining intense in Laundry and Hair in Asia. Unilever’s popular weight management system, Slim.Fast, is also hit by huge new consumer interest in low-carbohydrate diets, particularly in the US.

Simplification and cost-saving activities proceed and Unilever chairmen Antony Burgmans and Niall FitzGerald comment that “We are stepping up our marketplace activity, including putting additional A&P funds behind a number of high priority marketplace initiatives.”

Axe Touch is launched with great success in the US and Sunsilk is rolled out in Europe.


In February, Unilever announces a series of changes to streamline its management and leadership. Antony Burgmans becomes non-executive chairman of both Unilever N.V. and Unilever PLC while Patrick Cescau takes on the new role of group chief executive, responsible for all operations. A review of the Group structure is also announced.

The changes are designed to provide greater clarity of leadership and a platform for Unilever to focus on the needs of customers and consumers, and so reignite growth.

In May, Unilever sells its global prestige fragrance business, Unilever Cosmetics International (UCI), to Coty Inc, of the US. The sale is in line with Unilever’s strategy to focus on core categories.

The Nutrition Enhancement Programme is completed, through which 16,000 products have been assessed for levels of trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and sugars, and where necessary, action taken. 

Other Foods highlights include:

  • Becel/Flora pro.activ proves so effective in improving heart health as part of a balanced diet that the Netherlands’ largest health insurer, VGZ, offers policy-holders financial rewards when they buy Becel/Flora pro.activ products. 
  • Knorr Vie mini shots are launched in Europe – a convenient way to contribute towards your daily fruit and vegetable needs. 
  • In Latin America, new fruit variants are introduced to AdeS - the nutritionally rich soy-based drink. 
  • With quality another innovation driver, gourmet-standard Bertolli Dinner for Two frozen meals are a major success in the US. 

In the Home & Personal Care category:

  • In Asia, the Home Care and Hair businesses recover well, partly due to technological breakthroughs. 
  • Dove and Rexona extend their leadership in the US with launches such as Dove Cool Moisture and Rexona 'teens'. 
  • In China we continue to develop the fabric conditioners market where Comfort is the market leader. 
  • We launch the world’s first centre-filled gel toothpaste in Vietnam. 
  • Axe becomes the top male deodorant brand in the US just three years after launching, while Rexona is now the number one male deodorant brand in Russia and the Ukraine.