- Unilever and Maersk inked a four-year partnership to manage the CPG's ocean and air transport starting in 2022, Maersk announced Thursday in an emailed news release. The companies did not disclose the value of the partnership.
- The agreement includes developing and managing Unilever's control tower, which centralizes its ocean shipping and air transport. Maersk will manage the transport with the aid of its digital supply chain platform, NeoNav.
- The goal of the partnership is three-fold: to improve visibility across Unilever's supply chain, to boost efficiency throughout operations and to cut down on emissions. Unilever aims to become carbon neutral by 2039.
Managing a mammoth global supply chain like Unilever's demands a unified structure to view all the moving pieces. That's where a control tower factors in. The technology not only pulls in data, but also analyzes it, models scenarios and predicts outcomes.
Control towers "[stitch] together complex and siloed supply chains, thus providing more visibility," Gartner wrote in an opinion piece.
Visibility is one of the benefits Unilever highlighted of its newly minted partnership with Maersk. More visibility will help the CPG mitigate risk and improve agility across its 190-country footprint, Michelle Grose, vice president of global logistics and fulfilment at Unilever, said in the news release.
Agility became an imperative for many firms during the pandemic, as they battled volatile supply and demand in all corners of their supply chains. In fact, for Unilever, agility rose above forecasting on the priority list, Chief Supply Chain Officer Marc Engel said.
"Every dollar we spent on agility has probably got a 10x return on every dollar spent on forecasting or scenario planning," Engel told the Reuters Transform Europe virtual conference in July 2020.
Thursday's announcement is not the first time Unilever and Maersk have joined forces. Last year, the two companies, along with Nike, Danone, Microsoft and others, formed the Transform to Net Zero initiative, a commitment to sustainable business and best practices to reach carbon neutrality. Unilever and Maersk have a storied history, with Unilever Chair Nils Andersen formerly serving as Maersk CEO for nearly a decade and Engel sitting on Maersk's board as a member of the Transformation & Innovation Committee.
The control-tower partnership with Unilever is part of Maersk's transformation from ocean conglomerate to end-to-end logistics provider. Airfreight management is a relatively new area for Maersk. The company integrated Damco's air shipping into its portfolio in 2020 and said in November it would acquire air-focused freight forwarder Senator International.
The Unilever deal raises questions about the core services Maersk seeks to offer shippers, as its business model evolves.
"Is Maersk a container shipping company that focuses on technology or a tech company that happens to operate ships?" Simon Yu, who works in ocean import at Mainfreight, wrote on LinkedIn.