History of Unilever

Unilever is one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. With Anglo-Dutch origins, its famous brands include Dove soap, Wall’s ice creams and PG Tips.

Today I read Charles Wilson’s ground-breaking History of Unilever 1945-65. It was revolutionary because Wilson’s history of the company firmly established business histories as an academically respectable pursuit in Britain.

Here are a few interesting nuggets I gleamed from the book:

* Rising living standards in Britain saw sales of fish decline at the expense of meat. Whilst sales of fish in Germany grew with the economy during the same period, the working class in Britain moved away from fish, which had a down-market reputation due to the proliferation of fish and chip shops.

* Household staples Fairy Liquid and soap, Domestos, Lucozade and Be-Ro flour have their origins in Newcastle upon Tyne. Domestos was invented in 1930 by Geordie firm W A Handley. It was delivered to households and stored in stoneware jars. The product was an outgrowth of the North East chemicals industry. The company lacked sufficient capital to expand, and in 1961 was acquired by Unilever. In 1965, production was relocated to Port Sunlight.

* Dare I say it, but frozen food today is not really regarded as the most upmarket of products. But in 1949, when home freezers were the preserve of the wealthy, Birds Eye was regarded as an upper middle class brand!

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