Unilever, the renown manufacturer of Magnum, Cornetto, Wall’s and Viennetta ice cream brands, will continue to focus on China market in terms of investment and growth. President of Unilever’s ice cream business, Matt Close said, “We have a deep commitment to the Chinese ice cream market which has been growing steadily over the last 3 years at 5 to 6% annually.”
To succeed in a challenging market like China, there must be continuous product innovation, strategic investment and adapting to local tastes.
According to iiMedia Research, China’s ice cream market surpassed Rmb 160 billion (US$22.4 billion) in sales in 2021, growing at 8.84% annually. This represents almost 30% of the global ice cream market valued at US$77.5 million. Unilever has been ramping up its ice cream production capacity in China to maintain its growth amidst the growing market.
In January 2022, the ‘Lighthouse Factory’ of Unilever in Suzhou’s Taicang, Jiangsu province, started operations. The facility, built with a massive investment of US$110.8 million, embodies many artificial intelligence-enabled production scenarios, making it the first lights-off operation system of Wall’s in North Asian markets. Meanwhile, an all-category smart manufacturing base in Guangzhou which also allows customised production will start operation in 2025.
Close added that China is a market that values customisation. Unilever has been utilizing flexible production facilities to meet local needs, with the flexible production line at the Taicang factory as a prime example, as the facility is capable of switching fast across different ice cream categories and flavors, enabling more personalized and customized production. One example is the launch of mini versions of Magnum and Cornetto ice cream to meet the different needs of consumers who are calorie-conscious.
Unilever is also giving more emphasis on the e-commerce business for ice cream in China to cater to growing demand for online shopping.
Research and development is the key to Unilever’s success since its establishment with its Shanghai R&D center being credited for innovations catering to local tastes.
Unilever has expanded its presence in China. One example is Wall’s brand which is now found in 119 cities in 2023, instead of just 35 in 2018.
Mintel has ranked Unilever as one of the top 3 players in the ice cream market alongside domestic giants like Yili and Mengniu.