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“Providing people with good nutrition is a privilege”


Authored by Annie Heremans

Annie Heremans, Unilever’s Vice President of Nutrition, on how we’re improving the nutritional profile of our brands, why it’s up to businesses to take the lead, and why it matters so much to her personally.

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Unilever has been named No.2 in the Global Access to Nutrition Index, which ranks foods businesses on their contribution to tackling obesity and undernutrition. Here Annie shares how our work around the world is making an impact.

Why is the Global Access to Nutrition Index so important?

Every two years, the Global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) ranks the 20 largest food companies on their contribution to tackling obesity and undernutrition. It’s an independent benchmarking tool for investors, health advocates and companies themselves.

Every company is measured against three factors:

  • Corporate strategy, management and governance related to nutrition
  • Formulation and delivery of appropriate, affordable and accessible products
  • And the company’s positive influence on consumer choice and behaviour, through nutrition information, food marketing and labelling, as well as stakeholder engagement.

What were we recognised for in the latest ranking?

Among the key factors that won recognition were our consistent focus on health and nutrition in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP), our responsible approach to marketing, our Global Maternal Wellbeing Standard and addressing undernutrition around the world.

What are Unilever's key aims when it comes to nutrition?

We have two overarching goals. The first is to meet consumers’ wishes for healthier, more sustainably sourced foods and drinks, and the second is to responsibly address the challenges of obesity and undernutrition. We are also committed to working with governments, NGOs, retailers and other manufacturers to align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals to eliminate hunger and promote health and wellbeing around the world.

How does this fit with our commitments in the USLP?

We are on track to deliver our USLP commitment that 60% of our portfolio will meet Highest Nutritional Standards – a nutritional benchmarking for our products which is based on World Health Organization recommendations – by 2020. To do that we’re reformatting products to make great-tasting foods and drinks that consumers enjoy, while meeting our stretching targets.

What have we done to improve nutrition in our products?

We’re constantly improving nutrition across our portfolio. Here are a few examples:

In Foods, we are addressing iron-deficiency anaemia – a condition that affects 30% of the world’s population, mostly women and teenage girls. We’re teaching communities across Africa how to increase the amount of iron in their recipes with enriched Knorr stock cubes and leafy greens.

In Asia, we’ve introduced Bango Light dressings which contain 30% less sugar than the original formula, and in the US, our Make Meals That Do More in-store programme teaches consumers how to make affordable, healthy food choices.

In Tea, we acquired Pukka organic herbs last year. Their range includes natural, organic and health and wellness variants. As an alternative to water, health authorities recommend drinking unsweetened tea for good hydration, which is essential for wellbeing.

Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, our ‘30 Days to a lighter you’ campaign encouraged healthy living in three steps: replacing sugary drinks for Lipton Green Tea, eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and exercising for at least 30 minutes per day. The campaign reached 12 million people via digital channels.

In Ice Cream, last year we acquired the Australian ice cream brand, Weis, which uses a minimum of 25% real fruit in its fruit-flavoured options.

In Brazil, we launched our new mango and strawberry Fruttare sorbet, with higher fruit content (as pulp and pieces), meeting our Highest Nutritional Standards. Also in Brazil, we offer three new Cornetto options with reduced portion sizes and calories, while in India we introduced a treat-sized 36g Mini Magnum.

We also launched Breyers Delights in the US last year. The range offers four flavours of low-fat ice cream that provide a good source of protein and calcium per serving.

And finally, in Unilever Food Solutions, we’re supporting chefs in care homes and hospitals with training and tools to develop tasty recipes to meet the nutritional needs of older people. One-third of older people admitted to these facilities are at risk of malnutrition and their nutritional needs differ from younger adults.

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What's next for Unilever in this space?

We are accelerating our fortification efforts, and by 2022 we have committed to provide more than 200 billion servings with at least one of the five key micronutrients (iron, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D and zinc). We also want to continue bringing even more positive, sustainable nutrition to our Foods & Refreshment brands.

How do we work with external partners to achieve goals?

We collaborate with a wide range of partners to deliver our nutrition goals. This ranges from food bloggers and chefs to amplify product benefits to international organisations like the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the World Food Programme (WFP), and prominent research partners such as the Top Institute Food and Nutrition in the Netherlands and the Harvard School of Public Health in the US. And that’s just a few examples.

How does your personal purpose inspire your work in nutrition?

My role is to drive our goals and ensure we provide foods that help consumers make responsible, informed and better choices. As a medical doctor, my primary purpose has always been to enable every person to live a healthy happy life. Providing people with good nutrition is core to this mission, and the opportunity to give consumers access to healthy and enjoyable foods and drinks is, for me, an immense honour and a privilege which inspires me every day.

In ten years, what change would you like to see?

I’d love to see Unilever as a leader in sustainable nutrition, with a visible impact, inspiring consumers to make choices that are better for them and for the planet.

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