Formerly the CEO of Ben & Jerry’s, Jostein Solheim took the helm of Unilever’s Health & Wellbeing division in June 2021. He’s drawing on over 30 years of experience at Unilever to guide the 4-year-old division through its acquisitions, which have so far included wellness and supplements brands including Nutrafol, Liquid I.V. and Olly. The company has high hopes for the new division with “well north of €1 billion” in net sales annually, he said. On this week’s episode of the Glossy Beauty Podcast, Solheim weighs in on what’s driving “the fusion of wellness into beauty and beauty into wellness,” as he puts it; how wellness brands are breaking taboos on topics like women’s hair loss; and which wellness trends Unilever is looking at for future acquisitions. Below are some highlights from the conversation.
What’s driving the global wellness boom
“Clearly, the overarching theme for everyone is empowerment: ‘I want to be in charge of my own health; I want to optimize my own outcomes.’ Health is not the absence of disease. Health is, ‘I am positively feeling good.’
I do think that the impact of the health-care systems is more subtle. The trend of taking control of your health and wellbeing, and not thinking of yourself as healthy just because you’re not sick, is a global trend. And we’re seeing that everywhere. And that’s something that people everywhere aspire to.”
Approaching the stigma around women’s hair loss with Nutrafol
“You have to be very sensitive if you want to address taboos and really understand your rights to speak your perspective. How is it perceived by others? How can you be truly supportive? This can’t be about selling more product. Because if it is about selling more product, it’s not authentic, and I don’t feel you have that right. So we really try to separate that. We try to be very pure about, ‘How can we address the taboo around hair loss? How can we support people on that?’”
“To acquire one company, we typically engage with about 60. It’s a very big funnel. We are constantly looking for people that do amazing and unique things, and there’s a lot happening in our industry. So we are definitely looking to expand further.
The area of the microbiome is exploding in our knowledge, learning and understanding — not just the gut microbiome, which is super powerful, but also the face, arms, hair. We have a really interesting area of science, and there are a lot of powerful products that we can bring into that space.
I do think women’s health is a very powerful space. And there’s a lot of work going in to supporting all the different life stages and addressing some of the taboos in women’s health that are not talked about, where we can help and support.
There’s a lot more to ‘beauty from within,’ [including] hair, skin health, etc. We believe there’s more potential there.
The area which we haven’t looked at yet, really, is longevity — or I like to call it ‘healthy years,’ versus ‘longevity.’ I don’t think people necessarily want to live forever, but they want to live for as long as possible in a healthy state. And there’s a lot of science going into that at the moment. The question is, ‘When can we have products that truly help with, support and drive impact in that space?’ We haven’t found that yet. But I’m sure it’s out there.”