Partnerships for Relevant Innovation

Responding to water shortages in India, Unilever launched Surf Excel Quick Wash, a low-foaming hand washing laundry product that requires minimal rinsing. In response to the need for sustainability in the detergent sector, the company’s Small & Mighty brand has been concentrated and requires just half the packaging of earlier iterations. When it comes to addressing global consumer needs, relevant innovation rules the day. Knowing which innovations to pursue requires vast consumer insight, including understanding how consumers feel about brands and technical brand claims. These insights define consumer needs, spurring research.

Unilever perpetually seeks new technologies with functional benefits, particularly in terms of aromatic tenacity, liquid concentration, improved solubility and sustainability, says Isabelle Esser, vice president of fragrance capability. And much of this work is carried out in cooperation with its fragrance house partners. “We have a process that’s internal,” she says, “but we also work with open innovation. All of those ideas go to the table.” Once an idea is generated it goes through several stages—including regulatory and safety, patent process, tech impact, and sustainability impact assessment—carried out by the company’s team of materials scientists, microbiologists, ecologists, etc.

One capability Unilever does not maintain in-house is fragrance formulation. As a result, says Esser, the company is “embedding fragrance in the way we work,” in order to leverage the best, newest and most on-trend technology supplied by fragrance houses. Unilever, she adds, approaches projects in such a way “to bring both roles together to build on one another.” As a result of this effort, the company aims to launch products with scents that are better than good—that provide an advantage and, even, a new business model.