UNILEVER Zimbabwe is considering resuming exports into the southern Africa region as capacity utilisation is expected to double to 70% following the installation of a new plant, says a company official.
On Wednesday, Unilever commissioned a US$500 000 high-tech packing line at its refurbished Harare factory, which is expected to have a multiplier effect in the local economy by replacing imported products.
It is also expected to increase the opportunity to purchase local materials such as packaging and spices. This will see the company’s capacity utilisation doubling from the current level of between 30% and 40%.
Unilever managing director Hillary Muzondiwa told businessdigest on the sidelines of the plant commissioning that his company needed to export so as to earn the much-needed foreign currency required to increase its production levels.
Unilever was forced to abandon bulk exports in the 1990s due to the prolonged economic crisis.
“It’s an egg-and-chicken situation. We need foreign currency to produce and we need to support our local market before we can export. We are currently relooking at that. We used to export laundry powders to Mozambique and Madagascar. We need to do more of that but we need to balance the equation,” he said.
Muzondiwa said the company now has the capacity to produce more and the potential to export but was currently weighed down by challenges.
While the company is failing to meet local demand, he said they had engaged the central bank to enable them to secure raw materials, which have seen the company suspending the production of Sunlight liquid soap in the last two weeks.
However, Muzondiwa said he is optimistic that the company will be able to meet local demand during the course of the year upon resolving the issue of foreign currency shortages. In total, 35 lines of Unilever’s production have been affected by foreign currency shortages over the years.
Officiating at the same event, central bank deputy governor Kupukile Mlambo said through the Monetary Policy Statement, the bank will channel more resources towards industries and prepare more companies for competition now that the country is open for business.
Unilever has invested in excess of US$8 million in the factory.