BY SHARON PORTA, Times of Northwest Indiana
HAMMOND | Cleanup efforts for today's 75th anniversary celebration shouldn't have been too daunting at the lakefront Unilever plant. After alll, it does, claim to be the largest bar soap factory in the world with a production rate of 2.5 million bars of soap per day.
Still, much has changed since the plant was commissioned in 1930 on the shores of Lake Michigan, close to its needed supply of water. The company then was called Lever Brothers, with the name changed to Unilever in 1995. The company also used to produce many different products, including Mrs. Butterworth syrup; Imperial and Promise margarine; All and Rinso detergents; Spry, Sunlight and Lux dishwashing liquids; and many different brands of bar soap.
Today, that lineup has been streamlined solely to the production of Dove, Caress, Lever2000 and Suave bars of soap.
"We make all the Dove soap that is distributed in North America," said Christopher Cole, human resources manager at Unilever's Hammond plant. "There are 30 Unilever plants in the United States, with over 15,000 employees in this country, but we're the biggest soap producers."
Today Unilever (NYSE: UL, UN) is one of the world's largest consumer products companies with products for nutrition, hygiene and personal care. Each day, consumers around the world purchase 150 million Unilever products. In the United States, these brands include such recognized names as: Ben & Jerry's, Bertolli, Breyers, Caress, Country Crock, Degree, Dove personal care products, Hellmann's, Lipton, Knorr, Popsicle, Promise, Q-Tips, Skippy, Slim-Fast, Snuggle, Suave and Vaseline. Unilever generated approximately $10 billion in sales in 2004.
"In the past 25 years, the company has invested over $180 million in the factory and built two state-of-the-art manufacturing complexes," Cole said of the Hammond facility. "With an operating budget of over $60 million, improvements here are continual."
Currently, the company has 350 local employees, but during the '70s, the plant employed approximately 1,600. More than 1,500 employees have retired from Unilever-Hammond, Cole said, with 672 still living.
Today, in recognition of the plant's diamond jubilee, the families of current employees will be given a plant tour. They will then enjoy food, carnival games and fire engine rides, along with a raffle and music. Snuggle Bear will make an appearance, as will the Ben and Jerry's ice cream truck.
Known throughout the area for its generosity to local schools and organizations, Unilever is donating $2.6 million in products to aid in the personal care and feeding of those affected by Hurricane Katrina, along with a cash donation of $1 million. The company also has set up its own Katrina Disaster Fund that allows employees to donate voluntarily to either the American Red Cross or America's Second Harvest food bank, with a company 2-for-1 match.
"We make donations to local festivals, the United Way, the Hammond Environmental Program," Cole said. "The company is very generous to the people of Whiting and Hammond. Matching employees donations 2 to 1 is very unusual, and really something that sets this company apart.
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