Our history in Australia & New Zealand

Unilever has a long history in Australia and New Zealand. We trace the timeline of major events that have shaped our business.

Australasia's history

Website ANZ History Website ANZ Product History

William Hesketh Lever was the first person to stamp soap with a brand name and wrap it before selling it to the public. The brand was Sunlight soap and the year was 1885. In the late 1880s, Lever Brothers Sunlight soap was first imported to NZ from the UK. In 1899, Lever Brothers began soap production at Balmain in Sydney, followed by the commencement of production in New Zealand in 1919.

On 2 September, 1929, the UK-based Lever Brothers and the Dutch union of fats and oils businesses Margarine Unie, signed an agreement to create Unilever. The businesses initially aimed to negotiate an arrangement to keep out of each other's principal interests of soap and margarine production, but ultimately decided on an amalgamation instead.

The years following saw significant expansion around the world, and Australasia was no exception. In 1959, Unilever acquired McNivens Ice Cream in Australia followed by Streets and Sennitts. In 1963, the business acquired Rosella Foods (established 1896). In 1968, the John West operation began in Australia and in 1971 Unilever acquired Lipton Tea.

Modern history

In 1982, the Rosella factory in Richmond, Victoria, closed and dry foods production transferred to Knoxfield. In 1988, the Bushells, Rosella Lipton and John West businesses combined to form Unifoods in Australia. In the same year, the New Zealand acquisitions of Oxo, Bushells, Faggs and Quality Packers merged with John West to form Unifoods NZ.

In 1989, the Home and Personal Care businesses of Lever & Kitchen and Rexona merged in Australia to form L&K: Rexona, which later changed to Lever Rexona. In 2000, Lever Rexona merged with Unilever Foods to form what is now Unilever Australasia. 

In 2007, Unilever Australasia announced that their Tatura (Victoria) based foods factory would be expanded to accommodate the production from the Knoxfield factory, which was closing. The expanded Tatura plant with its AU$20million investment in infrastructure and equipment was opened in March 2008. Unilever set out to become the 'vitality company' in 2004. 

Two key milestones on this journey have been the roll out of the Unilever brand and the Vitality mission to help helping people look good, feel good and get more out of life.

We also unveiled our new identity in 2004. At its centre is the Unilever logo, made up of 25 icons representing different aspects of our business - everything from palm trees, fish and flowers to tea, hair and spoons. The new logo has been appearing at Unilever sites around the world and from now on will be on all our products: a symbol that represents the diversity of our business, our products and our people.

Today, the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is our blueprint for achieving our vision to grow our business, whilst decoupling our environmental footprint from our growth and increasing our positive social impact. Faced with the challenge of climate change and the need for human development, we want to move towards a world where everyone can live well and within the natural limits of the planet. That’s why our purpose is ‘to make sustainable living commonplace’.

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