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Taking a Cue From Dove, Sunny Jain Sets Goals for Unilever Beauty

The new Positive Beauty strategy chimes with Unilever chief executive officer Alan Jope’s wish for the company to become “the global leader" in sustainable business.

LONDON — In his first major move since joining the company in 2019, Sunny Jain has thrown down the green gauntlet and laid out a new sustainability and sociallyminded strategy for Unilever’s Beauty and Personal Care division.

Jain and his team will be making myriad moves as part of a new Positive Beauty strategy, erasing the word “normal” from products’ packaging; refusing to alter marketing images, and challenging “narrow beauty ideals,” as the division advocates for more diversity and inclusivity in the sector.

The new strategy aims to impact 1 billion people by 2030, and stretches far beyond product and marketing. (According to Unilever, 1 billion people use its beauty and personal care products every day, and even more see the advertising.)

The division is also committing to broader sustainability targets, too, with plans to “protect and regenerate” 1.5 million hectares of land, forests and oceans by 2030; contribute 1 billion euros to Unilever’s Climate & Nature fund, and ensure that all plastic is “recyclable, reusable or compostable” across every brand worldwide by 2025.

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In addition, the division will continue to campaign for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics by 2023. Already, 23 of its beauty and personal care brands are PETA-approved, with more working toward certification.

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The new Positive Beauty strategy chimes with Unilever chief executive officer Alan Jope’s wish for the corporate giant to become “the global leader in sustainable business.”

In an exclusive interview, Jain called the strategy “an exciting new vision for the beauty and personal care here at Unilever. We believe that Positive Beauty is going to champion the new era of beauty, which aims to do more good — and not just less harm.”

He said the new strategy was aimed at improving the welfare of “people and the planet,” and was crafted in response to consumer demand — and market trends. Unilever well knows that consumers want products with a purpose, and it is determined to meet those demands.

Jain reiterated that Unilever’s “purposeful brands” grow two times faster than its “non-purposeful” ones, “and this is why I’m very, very excited about Positive Beauty because it’s not just a vision for beauty, but its a vision for faster growth for the division.”

In an interview late last year, Jain had hinted at his new strategy, and said it was the reason he joined Unilever. “We’re going to actually do things on the ground. We’re going to do positive things for the planet. It’s about doing better,” Jain said in December.

The vision, he added at the time, taps into the consumers of today, and tomorrow.

“Younger consumers don’t care about brands that are just providing functional benefits, they want to associate themselves with brands that are doing good for the people in society, and the planet,” said Jain. “This is a future-fit vision, one that is going to be enduring over time.”

Jain president of Unilever’s Beauty and Personal Care division, which had sales of 21.1 billion euros in 2020, a little less than half of the company’s overall turnover. Brands under its umbrella include Dove, Suave, Vaseline, Pond’s, Sunsilk, Lifebuoy and Glow & Lovely. The prestige division includes Hourglass Cosmetics, Dermalogica, Kate Somerville SkinCare, Ren, Murad, Living Proof and Tatcha

In the 12 months to Dec. 31, beauty and personal care grew 1.2 percent, with the prestige portfolio, “the best-performing luxury beauty business in the market,” said Jope.

Suave is one of many Unilever brands to go cruelty-free. Courtesy

The prestige portfolio is now a 700 million euros business.

In his latest interview, Jain said the prestige brands will be a big part of the Positive Beauty strategy going forward and that continuing R&D across all products was crucial. He wants to continue marrying “deep consumer knowledge with great science, technology — and purpose. When you can do that you can bring amazing products to life and also drive fantastic growth rates,” he said.

Jain pointed to Melé, a Unilever brand that launched last year in the U.S. “It was co-created with dermatologists of color, and it’s really designed to give melanin-rich skin the attention it deserves. It was a hugely successful, and the growth rates are exceptional,” he said.

A large part of Positive Beauty is based on the work that Unilever is already doing in the areas of sustainability and inclusion. Positive Beauty has also been inspired by Dove and its Campaign for Real Beauty, according to Jain. Dove is the largest beauty brand in the world, and Jain said it’s consistently one of the fastest-growing mass consumer brands.

The Campaign for Real Beauty launched in 2004 in response to a global study that showed only 2 percent of women would describe themselves as beautiful. The campaign was groundbreaking, with ads showing women of various shapes and sizes dressed in just their underwear, and women talking openly about their facial and figure flaws.

“Dove embodies what we’re trying to do with Positive Beauty across the entire division. What we love about Dove is that it goes beyond advertising and marketing to take real action on the ground,” Jain said. He pointed to the Dove CROWN Act, which was created in 2019 by Dove and the CROWN Coalition.

The act ensures protection from discrimination because of race-based hairstyles, and has so far been passed and accepted as law in seven states, including California, New York, New Jersey and Virginia.

With Dove in mind, Jain commissioned his division’s latest piece of research: a global survey of people’s experiences of the beauty industry. It polled 10,000 people across nine countries, Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, U.K. and the U.S.

It found that 56 percent of people think the beauty and personal care industry can make people feel “excluded,” while seven in 10 people said that using the word “normal” on product packaging and advertising had a negative impact. For those aged 18 to 35, that figure rose to eight.

The research also showed that 69 percent of people said they would recommend a beauty brand to their friends and family if it caters to a wide range of skin and hair types. Half of respondents said they would pay more for these products.

The survey shed light on other themes, too: Some 74 percent of respondents said they want to see the beauty and personal care industry focusing more on making people “feel” better, than just “look” better.

More than half said they now pay more attention to a company’s stance on societal issues before buying products.

“Our research is telling us that inclusivity matters more to people than ever before, and younger generations feel that it’s time for brands to show even more responsibility,” Jain said. “We know we have the power to make a real difference, and by doing so, we will become a stronger, more successful business.”