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Unilever plans to create and improve more products from its new research and development (R&D) facility that opened at the Indonsa factory in Durban this week.

The R44 million R&D facilities will operate as a pilot plant for the Unilever research and development team, who through the facility would be able to improve on products such as Omo, Lux, Dove, Knorr and Robertsons among others.

This week Unilever had its global chief of research and development, Geneviève Berger, in South Africa to open the plant.

Globally, Unilever has employed about 6 000 scientists, engineers, chefs and technicians in 20 countries. “Brands and innovation are at the heart of everything we do. At Unilever research and development is the home of breakthrough technology for bigger, better, faster innovations,” Berger said.

Ross Plumbley, the vice-president of research and development in South Africa, said the pilot plant would serve as a unit performing research to improve products for the Durban region and also for the African market at large.

The pilot plant will also help Unilever to deliver new products quicker into the market and also maximise its growth.

Plumbley said tests would be done on a smaller scale and once it had been approved they would be done on a larger scale. “The plants’ testing equipment is aligned to our global facilities including our African operation so that when we carry out tests and decide on a particular product, we do so together.”

Plumbley said Unilever was confident of its African operations which were growing at an expected rate. “We have played an important role in capturing the R35 billion worth of the consumer market in the continent,” he added.

He said the company was planning to double its business in more African countries over the next five years.

Unilever owns more than 1 700 different brands and has carried out about 240 improvements on different products in the past year.

“Success for us means creating products that keep pace with changes in consumer lifestyles and that appeal to people at all income levels. Unilever’s key goal is to double the size of our business while reducing the overall environmental impact, and innovation is core to that aim,” Berger added.

The plant’s priorities will involve developing great quality brands, and to obtain scientific proof that all products deliver on their claims.

“Innovations are also supported by clinical trials to ensure safety for consumers and compliance with international regulations,” she added.

The pilot plant is equipped with testing apparatus, boilers, laboratories and even washing machines to test improved washing powders. It is expected that researchers would run trials at least twice a week.