The maker of Dove soap and Knorr stock cube said its board would start a formal search for his successor, considering both internal and external candidates. It comes roughly two months after activist investor Nelson Peltz joined Unilever's board.
A source familiar with the matter said Unilever's 'unusual' decision to tell the market more than a year before Jope leaves stems from concerns that the news would have leaked before being officially announced.
Unilever's search begins at a time of soaring food and energy prices which are hitting household budgets and hurting consumer confidence. The company also faces competition for a new CEO from Reckitt, the maker of Dettol products and Finish dish soap.
Unilever chairman Nils Andersen commented, “Unilever has seen improved performance, enabled by its clear strategic choices and a significant company transformation.
"The board will now conduct an orderly succession process and support Alan and the management team in further driving the performance of Unilever."
The Year So Far
Unilever has had a rocky start to the year under Jope, who in January mounted three bids for the consumer health arm of GlaxoSmithKline. The move was met with disapproval from shareholders, some of whom also criticised Unilever for prioritising sustainability over core growth.
The company in January also announced it would cut about 1,500 management jobs and reshape its business to focus on five main product areas, days after it was revealed that Peltz, via his Trian Partners vehicle, had built a stake in Unilever.
Trian did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"Our immediate concern is that this leaves 15 months until his retirement with a CEO who might be seen to have lost credibility with employees and other stakeholders," RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones said.
"This at a time when Unilever will be implementing and bedding down a fundamental reorganisation, not to mention dealing with a challenging macro-economic environment."