It's time for responsibility, pragmatism and action
It seems that people have never been as interested in food as they are today. Our appetite to explore new cultures through food appears insatiable, as is sharing our latest food experiences via social media. At the same time, there are mounting challenges to the sustainability of our food system – a system that can appear ‘broken’.
I have recently returned from a trip to Latin America, where – despite being the world’s largest producer of food – many rural communities contain a shocking number of inhabitants suffering from poverty and chronic malnutrition. On a global scale, one in eight people go to bed hungry, while 30% of the planet is now overweight or obese. Perhaps most alarming is that one third of all food produced goes to waste.
It is common in some circles to talk about big and complex system problems, which they undoubtedly are. But in my view, it is time for responsibility, pragmatism and action to ensure we have a resilient, safe and healthy food system for all. As a major consumer products company with a sizeable food portfolio, we are committed to playing our part towards this goal through three key focus areas:
1. Put nutrition first for consumers
At Unilever, we have pledged to reformulate our products so that at least 60% of our portfolio meets the highest standards of nutrition (as set by the World Health Organisation) by 2020. So far, one third of our business already meets these standards. Product reformulation is a vital step forward but, while many in the food industry have pledged to reduce levels of salt, fat and sugar in their products, progress is slow against some ambitious targets and the global picture is still patchy.
Ensuring accessibility and affordability of foods containing good fats, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables, vitamins and minerals – whether fresh, dried or frozen – is crucial. As is the addition of positive nutrients to products that are consumed by those most at risk of micronutrient deficiencies. That is why we have fortified our Knorr bouillon cubes with iron in Nigeria to help women and adolescent girls suffering from anaemia, while many of our spreads contain added vitamins and minerals. And we are accelerating our efforts.
By 2022, we will provide more than 200 billion servings with at least one of five key micronutrients (iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc and iron).
2. Lead with progressive behaviour
We are committed to helping consumers make healthier choices through labelling and our responsible marketing policies. By behaving progressively, food companies can make it easier for consumers to make these healthier choices. In a recent survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation, eight out of ten US consumers said they encountered lots of conflicting information about what to eat or avoid.
Food labels and responsible marketing to children are ways we can support consumers to choose healthier products, which is why, in 2016, 92% of our products contained full nutrition labelling. Our responsible marketing principles are among the widest reaching, covering packaging, point of sale, digital channels, and all other marketing and advertising channels.
We also know that it often takes more than labels and marketing to drive healthier behaviours, which is why we have invested in several behaviour change programmes such as the Knorr ‘conscious eating’ workshop in Mexico, our Salt Consumption Calculator in South Africa, the Blue Band healthy breakfast school campaign in Kenya, the Green Food Steps campaign in Nigeria, and the award winning ‘Change for Better’ campaign in China. Developed by Unilever Food Solutions this campaign inspires chefs to create dishes with more flavour and less salt, using their culinary expertise and a variety of herbs and spices.
3. Food that is good for people and planet
We have committed to the sustainable sourcing of our key agricultural commodities. This means producing safe, high-quality, nutritious food that is accessible to all, with respect for the environment and less waste, benefiting the livelihoods of food growers and helping to improve the nutrition and wellbeing of consumers.
Scalable solutions and impactful partnerships are needed that maximise the skills and expertise of multiple actors – from both the public and private sector – to help achieve this ambition. In North America, Hellmann’s led the demand for cage-free eggs, working with farmers to transform the supply chain and meeting our own 100% cage-free target three years earlier than planned. Knorr has been working with farmers worldwide since 2011 to drive demand for sustainably-grown vegetables and herbs. In 2016, 95% of our top 13 vegetables and herbs were sustainably sourced.
So yes, the food system may be broken, and the issues remain manifold and complex. But we are committed to playing our role, guided by our vision of food that tastes good, does good and doesn’t cost the earth. I invite you to join us on this journey.
Over the next few months, several expert voices will give their perspectives on what is needed to fix the broken food system, culminating in a global call-to-action on World Food Day, 16 October 2017. This month Dr Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Global Food and Agriculture Policy & Ethics at Johns Hopkins University and co-chair of the Global Nutrition report, shares her insights on five key steps to address malnutrition.