Unilever Chief Executive Officer Paul Polman said Europe is facing 10 years of economic stagnation while the U.S. grapples with the rise of an “emerging poor” class dependent on government benefits.
“We are in for at least 10 years of slow economic growth in Europe, and I don’t see that changing,” Polman said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York.
“If you run a business like mine and don’t assume that, you are fooling yourself. I hope for the benefit of Europe I am proven wrong, but even then we are in a better position by taking that as our starting point. The key thing is to see reality in the eye.”
Polman said declining consumer confidence in the U.S. has “people worried” and the recovery in the world’s largest economy will be muted, with GDP growth of 2 percent “if you’re lucky.” With 46 million people relying on government benefits to buy food, he said, “people scrape by until the end of the month.”
The maker of Axe body sprays and Hellmann’s mayonnaise generates about 16 percent of its 50 billion euros ($65 billion) in annual sales in the U.S. and about 25 percent in Europe, according to estimates from analysts at Berenberg Bank and RBC Capital Markets.
The London- and Rotterdam-based company has adapted to deteriorating economic conditions by cutting costs, expanding in emerging markets like Indonesia and pushing lower-cost brands like Suave shampoo, Polman said.
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