Current Issue 52
Catering for the Changing Tastes Around the World
Backed by a team of dedicated staff, Unilever Food Solutions aim to deliver high quality products and service excellence to remain a market leader in the food industry
Project Manager: Ben Weaver
Unilever is one of the most recognised names in the food industry around the world. If you go to your fridge right now there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find something with the word Unilever somewhere on the label. Among the many facets of the business is Unilever Food Solutions, the professional culinary division which is dedicated to offering products and services to the food service market all over the world. As Managing Director Michel Mellis explains: “We work with powerful global brands such as Knorr, Hellmann’s, Robertsons and Carte d’Or in combination with local names such Marvello, Meadowland and Fine Foods in order to offer culinary solutions to all kinds of operators, ranging from hotels, restaurants, contract caterers to quick service restaurants.”
Of course, while Unilever is a globally recognised brand, Unilever Food Solutions can’t rely on brand recognition alone to bring in business. Its unique selling point, Mellis says, is the “incomparable end results our customers can achieve on meal preparation through our brands and services”. “We don’t just sell top quality products and brands, but we also offer services in the areas of menu organisation, kitchen preparation and guest satisfaction,” he says.
This combination of high quality products and service excellence has been key in consolidating Unilever Food Solutions’ position as a market leader, but the company is still setting its sights higher even in the face of a difficult financial climate. “We feel there are plenty of opportunities to accelerate. The main issue affecting Unilever Food Solutions and the whole industry is a combination of inflation and lower consumer income, which pressures costs on one side and takes value off the market on the other,” Mellis says.
Communicating with the customer
While the economic climate is one thing, Mellis believes the biggest challenge facing the industry right now is something far more prosaic. “Our biggest challenge has been communication,” he admits. “Because the market is so oversaturated and operators don’t follow any specific communication channel exclusively, it is a real challenge to talk to our target food service market. That’s why we must develop multiple forms of communication in search of our customers. Then of course there is also the challenge of operating in the developing market environment of South Africa, where the economy is not particularly strong, there is a high unemployment rate, volatile currency and social inequality.”
In the face of these diverse challenges, the most important thing is for Unilever Food Solutions to have a team with the skills and experience to deliver the very best. For Mellis, ensuring the business has the best talent is an absolute priority. “We make sure we have the best people by attracting the best talents, developing them and making sure they stay with us. The care we take in creating a great work environment has been recognised. In 2013, Unilever was elected best employer to work for, which obviously helps tremendously in finding people who are willing to work for us. We also have probably one of the best development programmes in the market, which includes real global exposure and local training that ranges from market insights to leadership behaviour, as well as on the job coaching/mentoring.”
However, investing so heavily in the company’s staff can be a double-edged sword. When your company has the best talent, it makes them a rich target for head-hunters. “The real challenge becomes preventing other companies tempting our talent away after we’ve worked with them for so long,” admits Mellis.
“We strive to avoid this by offering great career possibilities combined with the pride of working for a company with such high ethical principles. If you are interested in developing your career and are a good performer, a major global company like us will always have a place for your next step.”
Unique value proposition
With top of the range talent and brands that are known and loved the world over, Unilever Food Solutions is in a great position right now, and the business intends to make the most of that. “The future is there for us to make the most of it,” Mellis says. “Specifically for Unilever Food Solution in Africa, we will keep developing our South Africa operations and make a more structured move into Sub-Saharan Africa markets.”
As the company builds on its growth in existing markets and approaches new ones, Mellis is confident in Unilever’s unique value proposition. “We have such well-known and loved brands, which work in conjunction with our unique market approach, subsequently, we are looking to enter new markets like Angola, Nigeria and Ethiopia, just to name a few. The food service market is very promising in this part of the world and we plan to outpace market growth at least at double rate.”
There are clearly exciting prospects ahead for Unilever Food Solutions, but more than the wide recognition of their brands, the quality of their products and service, or even the talents of their people, there is one thing that Mellis believes the company should keep in mind above all else – the consumer.
“The most important aspect of everything that we do is the consumer, and consumers in our market are very local, despite globalisation in many sectors. We at Unilever Food Solutions spend a significant amount of time talking to consumers, investigating market trends and learning through observation. We do all of this in order to pass all this knowledge onto our customers, so that they will always feel empowered and consequently develop the very best solutions for making their guests, and our consumers, happy,” he concludes.
To learn more, visit: www.unileverfoodsolutions.co.za