Unilever boss hints that outgoing Keith Weed will be directly replaced

FMCG giant's CEO was talking during Q1 results call.

Dove: brand owned by Unilever
Dove: brand owned by Unilever

Unilever chief executive Alan Jope has hinted that speculation that outgoing chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed would not be directly replaced is off the mark.

Although Jope would not explicitly comment on industry speculation "around management changes", he told Campaign: "It's very hard to imagine that a marketing-led company like Unilever is not going to have a marketing voice at the executive table." Weed is due to retire from Unilever next month.

"I'll say no more, but that's a pretty strong hint," Jope added.

Jope was speaking during a conference call to journalists about Unilever's first-quarter results.

The FMCG group, whose brands include Dove and Marmite, has reported underlying global sales growth of 3.1% in the first three months of 2019, with Europe – encompassing the UK – delivering one of the weakest performances.

While sales in Asia, the Middle East and eastern Europe were up 6%, Unilever's more established markets performed less strongly. Europe experienced a 0.7% rise in underlying sales, while North America saw sales increasing by just 0.4%.

Speaking more broadly about marketing at Unilever, Jope told Campaign: "We are a brand consumer product company, so marketing is the lifeblood. The nurturing of innovation and crafting of our proposition is really at the heart of Unilever's long-term success."

Looking ahead, he cited "huge structural changes happening around what marketing is".

Jope continued: "I believe, for 100 years, we've been on an evolutionary journey all centred around interruption-based advertising. We believe that model has completely changed and have a point of view on the future. It begins with purposeful brand content, not advertising."

Unilever must "reorganise our structures and capabilities to stay true to that shift".

Elsewhere, Unilever's results showed that while central and eastern Europe continued to "grow well", the UK and Italy were "helped by strong ice-cream performance". Overall turnover was down 1.6% to €12.4bn, driven by the disposal of the spreads business.

The strongest-performing category globally was home care, which saw sales up 6% to €2.7bn, followed by beauty and personal care (up 3.1% to €5.2bn) and food and refreshment (up 1.5% to €4.5bn).

Looking ahead, Jope said: "For the full year, we continue to expect underlying sales growth to be in the lower half of our multiyear 3-5% range – an improvement in underlying operating margin that keeps us on track for the 2020 target and another year of strong free cash flow."