Multilingual Business Communication

February 15, 2009

Survival of the fittest

Filed under: crisis communication, marketing communication, Valérie Debrauwere — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 5:31 pm


In these volatile times, battles are fought on every level of society. The latest power struggle takes place between Delhaize and Unilever. On the one hand, retailers try to entice customers by providing them with alternatives to more expensive products. They stress the combination of quality and cheapness and create more private labels. On the other hand, companies are having difficulties coping with inflation and the rising cost of raw materials to manufacture their products. Consequently a lot of brands undergo a price rise which is felt by both retailers and customers.


Delhaize refuses to continue to accept this and now boycotts the products from Unilever. The products are banned from Delhaize’s shelves, while other brands are being suggested to the customer through in-store marketing campaigns. Unilever from their side have started a campaign to promote the availability of their products in other stores. There are only two possibilities left: The customer could switch to other in-store brands or he could seek his much sought after goods elsewhere.


Another aspect that, to my opinion, could determine the outcome of this “fight” is: What’s the most important for the Belgian customer (according to the marketing theory of shopping motivation)? Is he looking for an overall shopping experience, a nice atmosphere and the possibility to try or taste the product, something Delhaize is quite known for? Or is the range of products offered by a shop and the easiness in obtaining them, his main concern?  Whatever the answer to these questions may be, I think neither of them will profit from this decision. Some customers might well be impressed by Delhaize’s decision for now, but how long will it last? Other customers might also not like this patronizing attitude and would want to retain the opportunity of free choice.


Delhaize or Unilever? Only the strongest will survive.




(Valérie Debrauwere)



  1. Both Unilever and Delhaize are suffering from this. The advertising agency Brandhome carried out a research via the Internet with more than three thousand Flemings. This research shows that consumers are not fed up with these boycotts.
    This research also shows that Colruyt is the third dog in the proverb two dogs fight for a bone, and a third runs away with it. 40 per cent of the respondents say that they now do their groceries at Colruyt.

    Nathalie Poelaert

    Comment by meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie — March 6, 2009 @ 9:26 am

  2. I also believe that the Delhaize boycott of Unilever products will affect both companies. However, I doubt the results of the Brandhome research. On the Brandhome website, Eric Saelens, strategic communication manager of Brandhome, claims that if Delhaize customers start shopping at other supermarkets, it is very unlikely that they will return to Delhaize. I wonder whether this assumption is correct. As Valérie mentioned in her post: does your choice of supermarket depend more on the range of products or the overall shop experience? Even though lots of brands want to see it the other way around, it is generally assumed that customers are more loyal to their favorite shop than to their preferred products. Now that Delhaize and Unilever have come to an agreement, won’t Delhaize customers return to Delhaize? At any rate, the sales figures will tell who eventually turned out to be the fittest!

    Comment by Elisa Van Peteghem — March 21, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  3. On March 6, 2009, Unilever and Delhaize settled their dispute. In the beginning of the crisis in February, a public war was waged in the Belgian press. To announce the end of the dispute however, Unilever and Delhaize sent out a common and sec press release stating that the conflict was resolved. This is a much better way of communicating. As a costumer myself, I was not pleased with the aggressive way in which both parties tried to sneak clients from each other. Probably the two companies noticed that this hostile situation could tarnish their image, and decided to solve the dispute in a more decent way.

    Séverine De Ryck

    Comment by meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie — March 22, 2009 @ 11:45 am

  4. It seems that Delhaize and Unilever didn’t suffer from their battle after all! The retailer group has just published its results for 2008; Delhaize has achieved 13,9% more profit than in 2007. As for Unilever, its turnover has increased by 2.2%. Unexpectedly, neither of the two giants has suffered harm from the conflict. After their childish fight, I personally don’t think they deserve this positive outcome…

    Sophie Naveau

    Comment by meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie — April 5, 2009 @ 12:39 pm

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