How Unilever Uses AI & Digital Solutions in its Operations

Unilever's Global Headquarters in London, England. Pic: Unilever
From Harnessing the Power of AI to Trialling Blockchain Tech to Drive Sustainability Ambitions, we Highlight how Unilever is Using AI and Digital Solutions

Every day, 3.4 billion people around the world use Unilever products. The consumer goods leader has been innovating for over 100 years – from re-inventing soap in the late 19th century to pioneering sustainable living today.

And as consumer expectations of our products and brands continue to evolve, Unilever is working to meet these demands, against a backdrop of supply chain disruption, cost inflation and the impact of an escalating climate crisis.

Today, its experts are keeping Unilever at the forefront of innovation by applying the latest digital technologies to help create better experiences for customers. From using AI solutions to make the shopping experience more accessible to trialling blockchain tech to drive sustainability ambitions, we highlight how Unilever is using technology solutions in its operations.

Unilever making significant investments in developing AI solutions

Like many businesses globally, Unilever has been harnessing the power of AI to drive innovation. In November 2023 it announced it had established its first AI Horizon3 Lab in Canada, with Andy Hill, Chief Data Officer of Unilever, saying Unilever was “making a significant investment in developing and deploying AI technology across the business”. 

“The launch of Unilever’s first AI lab will expedite the progress we are making globally and enable us to have the right focus on some of the big questions we want to answer with AI,” he said.

Unilever has also recently partnered with the accessibility app specialist Be My Eyes, the developer of accessibility solutions apps that connects people who are blind or low-vision to a world network of volunteers and AI-powered virtual assistance, to expand its use of AI technology, adding powerful new tools to the cooking experience of their products for shoppers who are blind or have low vision.

Unilever is working with Be My Eyes to train its volunteers and provide specific product information and data to the Chat GPT-4 AI bot. Unilever’s customer support team will also be integrated into the Be My Eyes app experience, allowing shoppers the option to be automatically connected to the Colman’s careline team for further support if needed.

“We’ve accelerated digitising our packs to offer new opportunities for brand engagement and elevated shopping experience and now we’re also focusing on how we can also use digital experiences to make our products more accessible,” said Rachana Dongre, Senior Digital Engagement and Strategy Lead Nutrition & Ice Cream at Unilever. “Zappar’s AQR codes means we can support blind and low vision shoppers to have equal access to information and integrating Be My Eyes into these codes offers a totally new way to make the full experience of our products more inclusive, from the shopping aisle right through to cooking at home.”

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In April 2023, Unilever announced that, with Accenture and Microsoft, it had completed one of the largest and most complex cloud migrations in the consumer goods industry, helping Unilever become a cloud-only enterprise.

With Azure as its primary cloud platform, the transformation means Unilever can accelerate product launches, enhance customer service and improve operational efficiency, while helping Unilever meet its sustainability commitments.

“Unilever is a truly data-powered organisation,” commented Steve McCrystal, Chief Enterprise and Technology Officer of Unilever. We’re using advanced analytics to make better-informed decisions quicker than ever before. Working with Accenture and Microsoft on this global transformation project, we can respond to ever-changing consumer needs faster, allocate our resources more effectively to focus on what drives growth, and bring services and products to the market faster.”

Technology helping drive sustainability ambitions

As Unilever describes, sustainability is one of its fundamental principles. Its ambitious targets are powered by its research and development teams globally.

This R&D is powering Unilever’s move away from petro-chemicals, stopping plastic pollution and fixing the broken food system, in collaboration with its extensive network of partners.

Unilever’s goal is to make a Clean Future, which is plans to achieve by replacing 100% of the carbon derived from fossil fuels in its Home Care products with renewable or recycled carbon.

In one initiative, in2018 Unilever ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s trialled a carbon offsetting scheme using blockchain technology, as part of an effort to reduce its carbon footprint.

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