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‘Coronavirus is not good news for Unilever,’ says CEO Alan Jope

Unilever, the London-based consumer products giant, is not benefiting overall from the coronavirus crisis even though many of its soap and hand-washing brands are seeing increased demand, CEO Alan Jope told CNBC on Tuesday.

“Coronavirus is not good news for Unilever. We’re seeing shift in demand for sure,” he said in a “Squawk on the Street” interview. “We’re seeing a big reduction in out-of-home food consumption of ice cream and restaurant products.”

Unilever makes Breyers and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream as well as Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Lipton and Pure Leaf teas. The conglomerate also makes consumer staples such as Dove and Lifebuoy antibacterial soaps.

“Yes, we’re seeing increases in demand in some of the hygiene products,” Jope said. However, the net effect of the outbreak for the company at large is “certainly not good news for us on a commercial basis,” he added.

Jope said panic buying and hoarding of supplies is largely an American phenomenon. “Only in the U.S. are we seeing this kind of dramatic pantry loading. I think the U.S. consumer has typically a bigger house and more appetite for credit card debt than elsewhere in the world.”

The U.K. also saw some stocking-up behavior, but much less so in continental Europe, he said, adding that the unifying trend globally is an increase in consumption.

“People are definitely washing their hands more, so we see stepped up demand for hand-washing products,” he said.

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