Unilever takes stake in U.K. research firm

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[london] Package-goods giant Unilever has taken a 40% stake in U.K. automated-research business BrainJuicer through its venture-capital arm.

BrainJuicer, Cambridge, England, is the seventh U.K.-based company to win backing from Unilever Ventures. The venture was started with $40 million last fall to provide funding and management skills to young companies and start-ups that could benefit from Unilever's expertise in food, home and personal-care products and services, but that don't require the company's full management attention.

Unilever Ventures, which invests between $200,000 and $3 million in each business, was started after Unilever attempted to start separate service businesses based on its brands.

One venture closely identified with Unilever is Persil Services, a dry-cleaning and laundry business within supermarket chain Sainsbury. Persil, a Unilever brand, is the U.K.'s No. 1 laundry detergent.

Another investment, a company called Rocket, is a producer and retailer of fresh chilled meal kits sold to commuters from train-station kiosks and office buildings. Another company, Fariba Wraps, is promoted as a healthy fast-food business that sells hot and cold wraps.

automated results

BrainJuicer is the first move into market research. According to Unilever Ventures, BrainJuicer's patented system converts proven psychological questioning techniques into automated results. The system claims to combine the deep insight of focus groups with the quantitative breadth of traditional surveys, but in shorter times and at less cost than most other conventional methods.

"The clever bit is in simplifying the most incredibly complicated processes" traditionally used in market research, said BrainJuicer founder and CEO John Kearon, a graduate of Unilever's management program and a former ad agency planner. Clients include Nike, Renault, Allied Domecq, Publicis Groupe and Diageo.

Lionel Knight, exec VP-strategic planning at Publicis Groupe's Publicis Worldwide, Dallas, was the company's first client and is expected to be the first to take on the "Juicing Center" software in March. A similar software contract with Unilever in the U.S. is also in the works, according to Mr. Kearon.

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