Chairman Antony Burgmans announces Unilever Research Prize winners

“Tomorrow’s consumer is seeking health and well-being, individual solutions and indulgence. Applied market research and consumer science enable us to make a reliable estimate of what tomorrow’s consumer wants: vitality, convenience and pleasure.” These words were spoken today by Antony Burgmans, chairman of Unilever, during the annual presentation of the Unilever Research Prizes in Vlaardingen.

To meet the everyday needs of people, everywhere. That is Unilever’s main mission. An ongoing dialogue with the consumer is therefore of the utmost importance to predict trends and translate those into products. It is not only essential “to react to short-term consumer needs; you also have to anticipate wishes over the long term. You have to respond to specific trends for the future. And then in such a way that the resultant product is distinguishing for both the consumer and the competition. Only then can we achieve sustainable profitability. Therefore, by using creativity, science and technology we should translate the abstract trends into distinguishing, real innovations,” said Burgmans.


Time for ourselves

Today, Western consumers are spending more and more time on themselves. Burgmans: “We spend more time on sports, personal care, pleasant things such as walking, film and television, but less on group activities. We spend less time preparing a meal ourselves and eat in restaurants more. In Western Europe 29% of all food is bought and consumed outside the home. For the United States this is about 50% and the percentage is increasing. And we do fewer household chores.” Consumers of today want taste, convenience and health and would like to be pleasantly surprised and spoiled all the time.


The consumer’s motivation

The stress of modern-day living, the increased life expectancy, the change in traditional structures and roles, the total feeling of well-being, the globalisation process and the increasing multicultural society, these are all factors that influence the consumer. From these factors we can distil the trends that characterise the consumer of tomorrow, trends which basically equate with consumer perceptions, said Burgmans. The perception of vitality, convenience and pleasure applies to all consumers in the world, but its interpretation will definitely differ for each region, he continued. As a local multinational Unilever therefore aims to continue to develop new products which are as close as possible to the local market and which meet the wishes of the local individual consumer in the best possible way.


Translating into products

Vitality, convenience and pleasure cannot be translated directly into products. We must ensure that our brands radiate these perceptions and we must then support those brands with our products, explained Burgmans. Vitality, for example, can be found in what are known as functional foods. Those are foodstuffs with a beneficial health effect. Convenience translates into, say, a detergent in tablet form: the right amount and concentration of detergent in a ready-to-use tablet. Lastly, pleasure is reflected in the small cups of soup which are consumed as a snack in response to our physiological need for a savoury or hot drink.


Knowledge of the consumer

Building a better understanding of the consumer requires a multidisciplinary approach. This was advocated by Jan de Rooij, director of the Unilever laboratory in Vlaardingen. Patterns of behaviour, for instance, can be determined on the basis of the choice of foods. That choice is measured with the aid of sales data and is based on preferences. Preferences which emerge not only via consumer panels but which are also being increasingly supported by psychological, sociological and anthropological research methods. As a result we gain a better insight into why people behave as they do and we enhance our ability to predict consumer trends. In addition, nutritional science provides knowledge about the choice of foods. More recently we have seen an increase in the knowledge of metabolic processes and of the mechanism of taste and smell receptors. “Instead of consumer panels, which measure only one aspect of smell or taste, and consumer interviews, we will have to devote more attention to behaviour studies – for instance in sales outlets – as well as to sciences such as psychology, sociology, anthropology, neurophysics, genetics, physiology and nutritional sciences, and to organoleptic principles”, said De Rooij.


Unilever Research Prizes

The annual Unilever Research Prizes are intended to stimulate high-quality scientific research and also to foster good relations between Unilever and the universities. The prizes, each worth five thousand guilders, were presented for the 45th time this year to nine young academics who have conducted important research in the fields of chemistry, biotechnology and mechanical engineering at Dutch universities. By awarding the Research Prizes, Unilever aims to encourage promising young talents at Dutch universities in their further scientific development.


The nine prizewinners in 2001 are:

Jan van Meerveld (Eindhoven Technological University)
Chris Oostenbrink (Amsterdam Free-Reformed University)
Joris Smit (Twente University)
Heine Deelstra (State University of Groningen)
Dirk Aarts (Utrecht University)
Monique van Abel (Maastricht University)
Yves Rezus (Nijmegen Catholic University)
Aleidus van ’t Hof (Delft Technological University)
Mieke van Kester (Wageningen University).

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