Denise Morrison's sudden retirement as CEO of Campbell Soup highlighted the struggles that all consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are having in today's rapidly changing markets.
Except one: Unilever.
Since Paul Polman assumed the helm as CEO in January 2009, Unilever has risen above the pack with a long-term vision and consistently strong performance. In many ways, Unilever is the epitome of PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi's model of "Performance with Purpose." As consistently strong as its performance has been the past five years under Nooyi's leadership, even PepsiCo's stock price has struggled in the last two years.
The chart below illustrates the dramatic difference in stock price performance for the consumer packaged goods giants:
In recent years CPG companies have struggled to keep pace with dramatic changes in both consumer preferences and the retail environment. On the consumer side, millennials have asserted themselves with their rejection of traditional brands in favor on smaller new brands featuring healthy and sustainable ingredients. Meanwhile, retailers have also struggled with millennials' preference for buying online as Amazon takes an ever-greater share of consumer wallets, triggering price wars and a shift to private label merchandise among big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and Target.
What has enabled venerable Unilever to avoid these pitfalls, and come out on top?