Unilever has rejected suggestions that it is reducing its commitment to research and development (R&D) after a decision to slash more than 20% of its research jobs in Europe.
A reorganisation of food R&D will see activities consolidated into six centres of excellence in the UK, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands and will result in 240 job losses.
While the move was designed to create "a more competitive cost structure", it was not simply a money-saving exercise, insisted Unilever. "We had a science and technology review as part of the overall company restructuring and we felt that yes, the people were great and we had strong capabilities, but actually, does R&D deliver really innovative products? The answer was not as often as it should.
"The new structure will focus people working in the same areas in the same place and build up critical mass in key research."
Under the restructuring, which will commence in 2007 and be completed by the end of 2008, 40 jobs would be created at Unilever's Colworth R&D facility in Bedford. However, slightly more than 40 jobs would be lost elsewhere in the UK.
Unilever's operating margin in Europe was down 1.8% on the previous year, because of higher energy and raw materials costs, competitive pricing, restructuring costs and more spending on promotions and advertising. However, the UK had moved back into growth in the third quarter.
A site in Leatherhead, Surrey, for a new UK head office, which will bring food, household and personal care and ice cream and frozen foods together, has also been identified.