Consumer goods giant Unilever was the only UK firm to appear on a list of the world’s 50 most innovative companies.

The company, which ranked 49 on the list, spends nearly £1 billion a year on creating new technologies, employing 6,000 people in R&D. Co-headquartered in London and Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Unilever owns big-name brands such as Lynx, Ben and Jerry’s and Dove.

UK firms Virgin and BP appeared on the 2013 list but dropped out of the rankings this year.

US and Asian tech firms dominated the top 10 places on the list, with Apple ranking first, Samsung second and Google third. Microsoft, IBM, Amazon, Facebook and Sony also appeared in the top 10. 

The list was compiled by US-based Boston Consulting Group, which surveyed 1,500 global senior innovation executives from businesses with more than $100 million (£62 million) turnover annually about which companies they admire, and how they judge their own firm.

“Too many companies want to shoot for the moon while their innovation programs are barely airborne,” said Kim Wagner, a BCG senior partner and co-author of the report. “Breakthrough innovators are especially effective at bringing together the pieces required for radical innovation and organising them for high impact.”

Three-quarters of those surveyed reported that innovation is among the top three priorities for their companies, while 61 percent indicated that they are spending more on innovation this year than in 2013.

The most significant change since the 2013 report was released occurred in the automotive sector, where car manufacturers reported a 26 percent decline in innovation priority as they tighten their budgets. The number of car manufacturers in the top 50 fell from 14 to nine.

Neil Crockett, CEO of the government's Digital Catapult Centre, which aims to support UK tech companies with taxpayer's money, said: "The UK has the potential to become a global digital powerhouse. There are many innovative companies across the nation all building and creating at a feverish pace. We now need to ensure this innovation continues over the next fifty years to help startups reach their potential and become the next Google or Facebook.

“Collaboration in the digital economy will drive the UK to the forefront of digital innovation. The sharing of innovative ideas, knowledge and skills can often be the difference between ideas remaining a pipe dream and hitting the market. By bringing the full digital ecosystem together in collaborative physical environments, more companies can innovate faster and at less risk.

"By creating strong connections between stakeholders working in this industry we can accelerate the nation’s progress to become the digital innovation powerhouse of Europe.”

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