The invitation from Unilever read, “Allow us to whisk you away on a weekend of limitless possibilities. We look forward to spending three days in paradise with you.”
The venue was Pangulasian Island, El Nido—tagged as a must-visit destination for 2013 by Conde Nast Traveler and The New York Times—so we gladly packed our bags last week, bearing in mind the 10-kg limit for both our check-in and carry-on luggage.
The three-day event, orchestrated by Apples Aberin, Unilever’s head of PR, Personal Care; and Gina Lorenzana, vice president for Personal Care, was the conglomerate’s first PC (Personal Care) Summit. Its aim was to make us, and hopefully more Filipinos, realize that the different personal-care products manufactured and distributed by Unilever are all backed by a strong R&D team consisting of 6,000 people worldwide, and that it helps the communities which the company benefits from.
Over breakfast at Pangulasian, Peter Cowan, chair and CEO of Unilever Philippines, told Inquirer Lifestyle they make it a point to source 100 percent of the agricultural produce they use, like tamarind for their Knorr Sinigang mixes and ube (purple tubers) for Selecta ice cream, from local farmers.
He then explained how this category, Enhancing Livelihoods, is just one of the three pillars set out by the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). The other two pillars are Health and Well-Being, and Environmental Impact.
For Health and Well-Being, they have taught proper hand washing and oral hygiene to thousands of school-age kids, while for Environmental Impact, the R&D department develops ways to reduce water use with easy-rinse products and tackle sachet and other residual waste.
“Those sachets, which are very popular in the Philippines, often end up clogging waterways or get tossed in the sea,” Cowan said. “We provide an incentive to people who collect these used sachets and bring them back to us.” The collected sachets are used to make bricks that can then be used to build houses for the farmers.
“We don’t make any distinction with the sachets, they can come from any source,” Aberin said.
Unilever management makes sure that the company is guided by the three pillars.
The three-day celebration of long meals, trips to nearby islands and lagoons, and themed parties (crisp white, sunset hues or standout black and white) was a prelude to Unilever’s unveiling of its personal-care products which cater to people’s needs from top to toe.
Brand managers and their teams led us to “pavilions” where they presented their product ranges. At the Dove gazebo, we were treated to a hilarious skit between two women who suddenly appeared in front of us and began chatting away. In rapid-fire fashion, they talked about how they felt about their underarms, frizzy hair and skin.
There was no mention of the brand, and in the end, the two women realized they were fine as they were, which is basically the Dove mantra.
At the Vaseline pavilion, blogger Laureen Uy showed us the new Vaseline lotion variant, a nonsticky sunblock with SPF 30. The orange bottle became the favorite of many that weekend, since it stayed true to its claim—it was easy to slather on arms and shoulders, and did not feel sticky at all.
Our next stops were the Rexona pavilion, where we saw how the brand has evolved from being the deodorant that “won’t let you down,” to one that advocates a healthy “Do: More” lifestyle.
At the Close-Up lounge we listened to some of the tunes that are now inextricably linked to the toothpaste brand. And at the Hair Supremacy Pavilion, stylist Lourd Ramos demonstrated how to come up with a no-fuss ’do on Unilever’s Nikki Abella.
The following day was devoted to Cream Silk, the firm’s biggest seller across all brands, while Sunday breakfast was spent with athletes Chris Tiu and Phil and James Younghusband, who represented the men’s product.
Despite being Unilever’s cash cow, Cream Silk is still intent on getting more women to try the brand, and hopefully, go beyond just shampoo and conditioner and try the hair treatment products. Carlos Corrales, assistant brand manager for Cream Silk, said they want to grow the brand even more, hence the recent launch of a conditioner and treatment product in one.
“We believe that limitless possibilities can be unlocked with truly beautiful hair. This has propelled us forward in our mission to give Filipinos hair that is beyond beautiful,” Corrales said.
While chair and CEO Cowan admits that, at the end of the day, they have to move products, they are serious about giving back to the communities they benefit from daily.
“It’s really about ‘pagmamalasakit’ or empathizing with others. This is something I learned when I took the post at Unilever Philippines,” he said.
Pagmamalasakit is something that Lorenzana is fully aware of. The soft-spoken VP for Personal Care said she returned to the Philippines last year after decades spent working abroad for Unilever in different capacities.
“I realized that I was needed here, because even after so many years, most of my countrymen are still poor,” she said.
The PC Summit might seem like an unlikely place to start addressing the plight of the less fortunate, but the conglomerate knows what it is doing. After 86 years in the Philippines, it just has to.