1940 - 1949: Focusing on local needs

During the war years Unilever is effectively broken up, with businesses in German and Japanese-occupied territory cut off from London and Rotterdam.

Boys queuing for free Lifebuoy washrooms in the 1940s

This leads to the development of a corporate structure in which local Unilever businesses act with a high level of independence and focus on the needs of local markets.

After the war, Unilever's interests in Eastern Europe are lost with nationalisation and the control exerted by the Soviet Union. The Chinese market is affected in a similar way.

Yet throughout the 1940s Unilever continues to expand in the food market. New businesses with a diverse range of products are acquired, and resources are put into research and development for new materials and production techniques.



During the Blitz, Lifebuoy soap provides a free emergency washing service to Londoners. Lifebuoy vans equipped with hot showers, soap and towels visit bomb-struck areas of the capital to offer much-needed mobile washing facilities.


Unilever becomes the majority shareholder in Frosted Foods which owns Birds Eye and the UK rights to a method of food preservation new to mass markets - deep-freezing. Years later, freezing will enjoy a resurgence of popularity when it's shown to be one of the best ways of naturally preserving the goodness of fresh food. Around the same time Unilever acquires Batchelor's, which specialises in freeze-dried vegetables and canned goods.


At the end of the war, Unilever is able to regain control of its international network although remains shut out from Eastern Europe and China. The decentralisation of the business that was unavoidable during wartime is continued as a policy decision.


Birds Eye launches the first frozen peas in the UK. At this time meat, fish, ice cream and canned goods account for only 9% of Unilever's total turnover.

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