Neath, who was previously deputy president, takes on the role from the start of next year. He replaces outgoing president John Sunderland, the Cadbury Schweppes chairman who held the role for the past two years.
A spokesman for the industry body said that Neath was chosen because he was an 'able and experienced big-hitter' and 'a highly respected senior member of the industry who will be able to provide leadership and advocacy'.
Neath plans to ensure that the food and drink industry is represented at the most senior levels, 'in particular as we work through the implications of the recent White Paper on Public Health'.
The FDF was involved in extensive negotiations with the Department of Health over the 'Choosing Health' White Paper and is expected to put a framework in place to demonstrate how companies should meet the controversial government proposals.
Neath joined Unilever in 1977 and was made UK chairman in July. In 1999 he became chairman of Van den Bergh Foods, which merged with Bestfoods UK in 2001.