You would think that a business that triples its turnover in under three years would be making headlines.
However, Unilever Professional (UPro), the professional arm of the company’s Home Care business group, and a Unilever self-built start-up, has been enjoying its impressive growth curve and quietly becoming a serious player in the professional cleaning space, largely unnoticed.
“The way I see it, sometimes we pop the champagne too early,” says Deniz Yamanel, Unilever Professional Head of Marketing. “We know that the hardest part is the scaling up, building the portfolio, creating the content, creating the demand, and finding a route to market. But now I feel we have earned our stripes.”
Tapping into the huge potential of the B2B cleaning white space
It may still be a small business, but UPro has big ambitions. Committed to tapping into the huge potential offered by the B2B professional cleaning space which is estimated to hit an approximate $55billion by 2026, UPro is making the most of a buoyant market that has stabilised at a higher post-Covid baseline than expected. And with hygiene and safety remaining a big deciding factor for consumers in the out-of-home space, there is no sign of this upward trend slowing any time soon.
Present in 45 countries on six continents, UPro has successfully leveraged the power of Unilever’s Home Care brands and expertise to tap into an industry white space: small and medium-sized operators, such as food services and hotels too small to be serviced by big corporate hygiene companies.
How the #NotACoincidence mindset is fuelling growth
“Almost all our markets are growing double digit,” says Deniz. “We are the No.1 player in Brazil, and we are expecting strong growth in the future.”
These are impressive numbers, but all the more impressive when you consider that this has all been achieved with a slim portfolio of 40–50 products.
So far UPro has hit or surpassed most of its targets, and this Deniz insists is not a coincidence. “#NotACoincidence has become the team motto… but it is true, the success wasn’t an accident and if you put the right building blocks, it will come.”
#NotACoincidence has become the team motto… but it is true, the success wasn’t an accident and if you put the right building blocks, it will come.
Product, planet and people: Building blocks of success
For Deniz the first of these blocks is product. Despite a huge stable of market-leading Unilever home care products at their disposal, it became clear early on to the team that these would need to be re-engineered to meet the needs of the commercial operator.
“The requirements are so different,” explains Deniz. “In your kitchen, you can leave pots to soak overnight. In a professional kitchen, you need products that will get everything clean in time for the next shift. And then there is exposure to the product. In some markets, people are washing up for eight hours straight. The effect a dishwashing detergent has on your hands when you are washing up four plates is very different to when you are washing up for a restaurant.”
This is just one of the many insights to emerge from extensive research undertaken by UPro, focusing on the needs of their three priority sectors: laundrettes, hospitality and food services. Over 300 restaurant owners, cleaners and building service contractors contributed information that helped create a product portfolio tailor made to their needs.
“We then scoped which Unilever brand products offered the most opportunity,” explains Deniz. “These would be re-engineered before being tried and tested in target markets.
“The Perfect White laundry range, for example, was designed especially for hospitality and laundrettes. The full range of super-concentrated laundry products deliver unbeatable stain removal while guaranteeing the perfect white that guests expect and appreciate,” explains Deniz.
In fact, operator understanding is still key at UPro, with teams connecting weekly with operators around the globe to uncover pain points that can then be addressed through innovations and brand messaging.
A Clean Future portfolio
But it is not enough for products to clean well. In line with Unilever’s Clean Future initiative, products have to be kind to the planet as well. To this end, UPro continues to favour ‘no rinse’ cleaning products, laundry detergents that are effective at low temperatures and ‘no iron’ formulations, while also committing to increasing the amount of PCR and recyclable plastic in its packaging.
People first and foremost
The third pillar of UPro’s approach is of course people. “At a time when cleaning has never been more important, cleaners are still undervalued,” says Deniz. “We are committed to changing that by putting the needs, safety and health of people who clean at the centre of everything we do.”
This philosophy can be seen at all levels of UPro’s activity, from creating formulations which reduce exposure to chemicals to colour coding products to help those who may not be able to read instructions.
“Research showed us, for instance, that in India, half of the people who work as cleaners were illiterate, so we used video models, icons and colour coding to help them get the best results safely,” explains Deniz.
The start-up mindset road to success
It has been an impressive few years for the business, but UPro is not resting on its laurels. More new product lines to tackle industry pain points are in the pipeline.
“I am really proud of what we have achieved, not least because this is a homegrown success story that we have built from the ground up,” says Deniz, reflecting that it is the team’s start-up mindset that has defined UPro’s hunger for growth.
“We are completely focused on how to best serve our customers,” she says. “But we also have a lot of fun.”