Unilever CEO talks up food, talks down terror | business | Hindustan Times
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Unilever CEO talks up food, talks down terror

business Updated: Mar 13, 2009 21:18 IST
Rajendra Palande
Rajendra Palande
Hindustan Times
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There is food for thought from a global corporate chieftain who is trying to increase the share of food in his company’s profits in India: Don’t give in to terror.

Paul Polman, chief executive officer of Anglo-Dutch Unilever PLC is in India not so much to talk business but for a thanksgiving after escaping the terror attack at the Taj Mahal hotel on the Mumbai seafront on November 26 last year.

That was the first visit to India barely a month after Polman was plucked from Nestle to run Unilever. He and the entire top management of Hindustan Unilever were at the Taj when terrorists struck.

“We are expressing gratitude for the help extended to us during the terror attack. We made a number of new friends,” Polman told reporters in Mumbai.

Right now, with a global slump the thoughts weighing on his mind include cutting costs and substantially increase the share of foods in HUL, shifting gears from its soap-and-toothpaste image.

Polman expects the recession in US and Europe to last another 24 months.

“If our global business does the same as HUL, we would be four times bigger,” Polman said as he praised the Rs 15,000 crore India operations.

Unilever says it has not quite felt the pinch of recession.

“Our products are such, we can (amid recession) still grow our business. Our industry is one which is seen as one that will drive the economy. We sell everyday needs,” Polman said.

He said there is tremendous opportunity for HUL to grow its foods business in India, which currently has a low share. And the way to grow the foods business, Unilever believes, is in changing the habits. “We should be the ones to drive habits,” Polman said, suggesting Knorr soups could be positioned as healthy eating for children after school.