How our €1 billion+ Health & Wellbeing business keeps growing
Unilever’s Health & Wellbeing Collective just reported its ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth in our latest financial results. We caught up with its CEO, Jostein Solheim, to find out what’s behind this booming business – and what’s next.
Jostein Solheim became CEO of our Health & Wellbeing business in 2021, after more than three decades at Unilever, including eight years as CEO of Ben & Jerry’s.
Now four years old, the Health & Wellbeing Collective sits within Unilever’s Beauty & Wellbeing business group – a €12 billion global division.
Jostein, how would you introduce the Health & Wellbeing Collective?
It’s a €1 billion+ portfolio of seven fast-growing lifestyle brands disrupting the industry at the convergence of scientific credibility, personalisation, and transparency. We’ve got:
- – the No.1 powdered hydration brand in the US
- – America’s No.1 gummy vitamin brand
- – the No.1 dermatologist-recommended hair growth supplement brand in the US
- – the No.1 gummy multivitamin brand on Amazon and in the Natural channel, known for transparency in ingredients and science
- – an authority on nootropics/brain supplements in the US
- – an Italian wellness brand specialising in natural ingredients
- – a disruptor in the first-aid category with flex fabric bandages designed to stay on through playtime
Our brands are growing consistently – we reported 10.2% growth in Q1 2023, our ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit, volume-led growth, and we contributed over €1 billion in turnover in 2022.
Health and wellbeing have always been priorities for Unilever. Ever since the business was established over 100 years ago, we’ve set out to improve people’s lives through brands powered by purpose and innovation.
Now the health and wellbeing industry is going through a cultural shift, transforming from its clinical roots into a lifestyle-led category, fitting right into Unilever’s sweet spot.
The Health & Wellbeing Collective reported another quarter of double-digit growth for Q1 2023. What were some of the success stories behind the numbers?
Across our portfolio, 100% of our brands are growing. That’s an achievement, but what makes it particularly strong is that the health and wellness market is still experiencing short-term lapping after a surge during Covid. The market has slowed down a bit but our brands are growing rapidly.
Some of our Q1 highlights include our latest acquisition, Nutrafol, the No.1 dermatologist-recommended hair growth supplement brand in the US, launching in prestige beauty retailer Sephora.
SmartyPants Vitamins introduced its most innovative launch to date – Sugar Free Multi & Omega gummies that are completely free from sugar alcohols.
Onnit just launched Alpha Brain Pre-Workout, designed to help charge up both the mind and body ahead of exercise.
And Liquid I.V. delivered very strong growth while announcing the next phase in its Clean Water Grants purpose programme, to invest $1.3 million in grants to non-profit partners.
Across our portfolio, 100% of our brands are growing.
What has made Unilever’s portfolio so resilient despite a short-term dip in the health and wellbeing sector?
Despite the short-term challenges, we anticipate continued long-term market growth. Our model and our future-fit brands are uniquely positioned to win.
Our presence is particularly strong in high-growth spaces and formats such as gummies, powders, functional hydration, sleep, beauty from within, women’s health, kids’ health, and super ingredients such as probiotics.
We also have a portfolio of digitally native brands that are driving great results in ecommerce channels. Our business contribution from ecommerce is 1.6x the category average and it’s getting bigger.
It sounds like ecommerce is thriving, but the brands are expanding their reach in bricks and mortar stores too?
Absolutely. More than 50% of growth in this category is projected to come from ecommerce and we’re in a great place with our brands. They’re established in digital and direct-to-consumer channels and very connected to their users so they can understand what they want and need.
Social media is big for our brands too and the power of being digitally native is that our brands can inform, educate and engage with followers – they have stories to tell and endorsement from a community of consumers who love the products is incredibly powerful.
But it’s not all about online. We’re unlocking further growth through traditional stores too – like Sephora for Nutrafol. It’s the brand’s largest retail expansion to date and an important step as it reshapes the hair health category.
Having a presence in stores and building relationships with retailers is a real strength of Unilever.
All the brands in the Health & Wellbeing Collective were acquired. How has being part of Unilever helped them grow?
When we acquired our brands, most of them were around seven years old. Three years later, at the age of ten, their sales have more than doubled. That’s proof that our model works.
This is a very young, entrepreneurial business and every brand in the Collective was very carefully chosen because they’re brilliant at what they do. As Unilever, we don’t get in their way. Instead, we support in areas like sales, analytics, ecommerce and talent to help them evolve and scale up.
For example, when we acquired Liquid I.V. it had 40 people. Now a team of 160 work on the brand and in terms of turnover, it’s four times larger than it was prior to our acquisition.
So what makes Unilever Health & Wellbeing different from competitors?
We have a very focused, very sharp approach when it comes to our vitamins, minerals and supplements business. Health as a lifestyle is what Unilever knows well, and we’re staying within that as a boundary.
As people shift from thinking about health as the absence of disease to seeing it as a more positive, proactive lifestyle pursuit, then health and wellbeing starts to encompass so much more – and that’s where we are so strong.
We’re growing our business by bringing together a group of companies that remain 100% focused on serving their customers and consumers, while being able to unlock scale benefits through the power of Unilever. And we understand the importance of science-based products, growing our impact in the world and retaining an entrepreneurial spirit.
Our ambition is to become a €3 billion business in the next few years.
And finally, how would you like to see the Health & Wellbeing Collective continue to grow?
Our ambition is to become a €3 billion business in the next few years. With the organic growth trajectory that we’re seeing in the US, the new innovations in the pipeline, and the work we’re doing to increase awareness, penetration and availability, I’m feeling very confident.
Our OLLY and SmartyPants Vitamins brands are in China and we have a dedicated team on the ground there to build that part of the business. Nutrafol has just become our third brand to reach China, launching on 24 May, less than a year after acquisition.
And of course we’re keeping an eye on expansion into other parts of the world too. The demand is certainly there. Health and wellbeing is a global mega-trend, so I hope we can build on the growth we’ve seen in the US across many other markets.
And I think there’s always an opportunity to explore new acquisitions in high-growth, benefit-led spaces. I’m sure there are a few companies that would fill the remaining gaps in our portfolio.
Based on sales via MULOC (multi-level outlets and convenience stores) and on Amazon. IRI Unilever custom functional hydration hierarchy L52 weeks PE26 March 2023. ClearCut Custom Hierarchy Functional Hydration L52 PE 1 April 2023.
No.1 gummy VMS brand in Amazon dollar sales and MULO (multi-level outlets – the largest bricks and mortar channels in the US) combined. Also the No.1 gummy VMS brand in MULO.
SmartyPants is the No.1 gummy VMS brand on Amazon and the No.1 gummy multivitamin brand on Amazon. Source: ClearCut Custom Hierarchy Functional Hydration L52 weeks PE 1 April 2023. SmartyPants is the #1 gummy multivitamin brand in the Natural Channel. Source: Spins VMS hierarchy L52 weeks PE 26 March 2023.