Fri, Jan 21, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Understanding Taiwan's consumers is key: Davies

The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Taiwan operations in Taipei yesterday. Many Unilever brands -- such as Pond's, Dove, Lux, Mod's Hair, Lipton and Snuggle -- have made a deep impression on local consumers. Richard Davies, chairman of Unilever Taiwan Ltd, sat down yesterday with `Taipei Times' reporter Jackie Lin to talk about how the company manages its brands here, and its strategies to grab market share.

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Richard Davies, chairman of Unilever Taiwan, Ltd.

PHOTO: JACKIE LINE, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: How would you rate your company's performance here last year with NT$7 billion (US$220 million) in sales created? What do you expect for 2005?

Richard Davies: We had good performances in quite a few categories that we operate. There is no doubt that last year was not the easiest year. But we had some good wins in key markets, like hair care, skin care, soups and food. The outlook for 2005 is good. We've got lots of new products across all of the categories that we're operating.

TT: Do you expect double-digit growth this year?

Davies: In this market, double-digit growth isn't easy. We had double-digit growth in the past, so there is no reason why we can't get it in the future.

TT: Will you introduce new brands or products into Taiwan on top of the nine brands currently marketed here?

Davies: I can't get into details as they're confidential, but we do have heavy innovation programs for this year. There is potential to bring in more brands given that we have more than 400 brands globally. But we'll only introduce the brands that we think are relevant to the market; make sure we do our homework, make sure that consumers are interested in the brand, the formulation is right, pricing and communication is right. Then we'll be successful.

TT: Can you elaborate on "heavy innovation" and specific methods to expand the market share and boost sales?

Davies: There is no doubt that Taiwanese people are very discerning and sophisticated consumers. The only way for businesses here to grow is to continuously deliver for them products that meet their expectations. That means we'll need to be able to take shares from competitors.

The other strategy is to develop new markets by introducing new segments, like the Snuggle spray. We also made it in the shape of small bags which you can hang in the car or wardrobe. This is how we can develop the market.

TT: You always say, "There are only globalized multinational companies, but no globalized consumers." How do you practice this corporate spirit and promote new products in this market?

Davies: First of all, we have to know what local consumers want. The Taiwanese consumers are different from those in China, Korea and Japan. I've worked in these markets and I know the differences sometimes are quite little, sometimes quite a lot. Taiwanese people have different requirements, say, in hair conditioning or moisturizer because the climate is different from that in Korea, Japan or China. So we have to understand those differences and make products that meet their expectations and needs.

One of the advantages Unilever has here is we have a laundry and personal care factory in Taoyuan, and a food factory in Hsinchu. This way, we are able to make products specifically for Taiwanese consumers. Some of our competitors think Taiwanese consumers are the same as those in Japan, Korea, Thailand and Europe. That just won't work.

TT: How would you operate the pricing policy to gain a bigger market share especially when P&G Taiwan has been your tough competitor?

Davies: We actually focus more on improving the quality of the goods we offer. Taiwanese consumers are very smart. They know what good value is and what bad value is. We don't believe competing just by reducing the price.

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