Unilever chief: 'We have to shift our thinking to New Delhi not New York'

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Paul Polman: Unilever's chief executive officer
Paul Polman: Unilever's chief executive officer

CANNES 2011: Unilever is shifting its organisational focus to emerging markets to better anticipate the needs of a growing but "ever more demanding" class of consumer, CEO Paul Polman told delegates at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this morning.

Polman outlined the company's strategic shift to the Far East and the Bric countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to capitalise on their burgeoning populations.

Polman told a packed auditorium: "We need to anticipate the needs of the one billion consumers in the East and the South – [and ask] are we truly organising ourselves to meet the challenge?

"We have to shift our thinking to New Delhi, not New York."

Unilever's brands are sold in 180 countries and 56% of its revenues come from outside Europe, but Unilever expects this to rise to 70%-75% by 2020. "You're beginning to see the size of the task for us and our agencies partners," Polman said.

Polman was talking after Unilever announced a major restructure broadening its category organisation to four divisions and the promotion of Harish Manwani to chief operating officer.

Polman said: "There's a shift of economic power from West to East ... and it’s moving fast," and cited an IMF report that revealed Asia had experienced 8.5% growth last year, led by China and India.

Together with Russia and Brazil, these countries "will be home to the world's [fastest growing] populations and their consumers will be ever more demanding."

The "superconnectivity" of the internet "provides us with enormous commercial opportunity to reach the next one billion consumers [who] are coming in," said Polman, adding that the "influence of Facebook cannot be understated ... when I'm in Indonesia I see everyone on Facebook".

Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP chief executive and chair of this morning's Q&A session with Polman and Unilever CMO Keith Weed, said the promotion of India-born Harish Manwani to chief operating officer, and the decision to base him in Singapore, were significant.

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