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Our nutrition philosophy and approach

Average read time: 13 minutes

The fundamentals that underpin our strategy and how we make decisions and work with others across our Nutrition and Ice Cream businesses.

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Everyone deserves access to good food

We believe in offering healthier options that are affordable and accessible to all, and we’re continuously improving the nutritional profile of our foods and refreshment products.

It’s important to us that everything we do is underpinned by leading-edge science. Our nutrition standards follow international dietary guidelines and apply to our whole portfolio – covering every country, brand and product.

We also believe it’s our duty to have clear principles to ensure we’re responsible in our marketing, labelling and communications with consumers.

We are one of the world’s largest food businesses and we’re taking action to help shape a global food system that’s fair for everyone and the planet. We’re driving this through our Future Foods Positive Nutrition Action Plan (PDF 223.65 KB). But we know we can’t transform the food system alone, so we advocate and partner with others to drive change.

We aspire to be a force for good in food

Our brands aim to be part of the solution for healthier people and planet. Hellmann’s, for instance, aims to help people ‘make taste, not waste’ by tackling food waste. Knorr is ‘reinventing food for humanity’ by motivating people to change the world by changing what’s on their plate, alongside its focus on sustainable sourcing. The Vegetarian Butcher wants to ‘sacrifice nothing’, and Horlicks aims to ‘nourish a billion lives’, while Wall’s heart-shaped logo (and company) stands for bringing happiness to the whole community, with consciously produced ice cream that's good for people and the planet.

Through our brands, our vision is to be a World-Class Force for Good in Food – but what does this mean in practice?

It means helping people to make healthier choices, while still offering food and beverages that they can enjoy without compromising on taste. We can’t tell people what to eat, but we can provide more low calorie and high nutrition content products to make it easier for people to eat healthy diets.

Our nutrition improvement journey began over 20 years ago when we published our Nutrition Policy, followed by our Nutrition Enhancement Programme. We reviewed all our products worldwide to assess their salt, sugar and saturated fat content and defined actions for improvements. This led to us setting time-bound targets in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, and by the end of 2020, we had doubled the size of our portfolio of products that meet our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS).

A comprehensive strategy

Beyond consumers’ desire for better nutrition, many organisations support our Future Foods approach.

  • The Global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) has considered that Unilever is taking a comprehensive approach to tackling all forms of malnutrition, and that our Future Foods commitments aim to support a global food systems transformation. In the recent ATNI US Index 2022, we were ranked number 1 out of 11 of the largest food and beverage manufacturers.
  • Our strategy has also been recognised by investor network FAIRR, who ranked us first for our engagement on promoting diverse, sustainable proteins in 2021, and again in 2022.
  • The World Benchmark Alliance’s 2021 Food and Agriculture Benchmark placed us first out of the world’s 350 most influential food companies for our environmental, social and nutritional impact.

Healthy options for a healthy diet

We’re ensuring our products are made responsibly – with a focus on taste and the planet, and of course good nutrition which underpins our approach.

Future Foods

Future Foods is our plan to help people transition towards healthier diets and reduce the environmental impact of the food chain.

Through Future Foods, we are continuously improving our Nutrition and Ice Cream portfolios. Our approach is based on science and is delivered through our brands as well as partnerships.

Our Future Foods strategy
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Our approach to innovation

To help fix our broken food system, serve consumers and grow our business sustainably at the same time, innovation is crucial. Our teams draw on insights from consumers, plus the best and brightest thinking from specialists inside and outside Unilever, to develop products that enable people to choose healthier diets for themselves and the planet.

Science-based strategy and innovation

Woman making a heart shape with her hands over her stomach

Our Future Foods strategy and our approach to innovation are based on the latest scientific understanding of the role of nutrition for good health and wellbeing.

We use this science to develop great-tasting products that meet the nutritional needs of our consumers and that deliver their health and wellbeing needs. Science also underpins our nutrition claims, commitments and communications, as well as our guidelines and policies.

We seek to work with others and invite people to share knowledge and best practice through our Innovate with us portal.

From plant-based foods, sustainable nutrition and the gut microbiome, to mental wellbeing, life stages, behaviour change and precision nutrition, we stay on top of the latest scientific evidence. We share our findings through peer-reviewed publications (PDF 382.44 KB) and presentations at scientific conferences.

Our Unilever Nutrition Standards are based on science

Science and dietary guidance underpin our Unilever Nutrition Standards and we have two standards that guide our portfolio improvement. The first is our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS), which are intended to cap nutrients to limit in our products. The second is our Positive Nutrition Standards (PNS), which aim to increase dietary recommended nutrients and ingredients that consumers should eat more of, for their and the planet’s health.

We’ve based both standards on WHO dietary guidelines and road-tested them with guidance from external experts in nutrient profiling to ensure they are robust.

Our standards tackle three key elements.

We’ve explained more about the science underpinning our standards in our Unilever Nutrition Standards booklet (PDF 515.87 KB).

We are also working with partners to incentivise reformulation at scale and enhance the impact on public health. As a step towards this, in 2022 we were the first global food company to publicly report on the performance of our product portfolio against six different externally endorsed Nutrient Profile Models and reported the results here (PDF 192.66 KB). We are advocating for an industry-wide standard Nutrient Profile Model against which every food company can report.

Deep link to Responsible treats

Science also underpins our claims, marketing and labelling

We’re careful to ensure we can fully support any claims we make. We first introduced our Unilever Nutrition and Health Claims Framework in 2005, providing guidance for nutrition and health claims on our products. Today, this framework ensures a solid scientific and legal basis for our claims, ensuring they are credible, compelling, differentiating and comply with regulatory requirements.

Our Claims Substantiation Committee provides governance, ensuring that the nutrition and health claims we make are underpinned by sound science. We use our Highest Nutritional Standards, which are aligned with WHO recommendations, as guidance for nutrition and health claims and, if local regulations or voluntary industry standards are stricter than our Unilever Standards for nutrients to limit, we follow the stricter standard for any claims. Our global position on claims (PDF 102.47 KB) explains more.

We’re also committed to promoting healthy diets by marketing and advertising our nutritious products responsibly. We’re guided by our General Marketing Principles and our Principles on Responsible Food & Beverage Marketing to Children. Advertising and Marketing details our approach.

Our nutrition labelling policy and position (PDF 139.71 KB) covers our entire Nutrition and Ice Cream portfolios, which means we apply it in all countries (even if those countries have no labelling regulations). It stipulates that we must provide key information on-pack and adhere to regulations. As of the end of 2022, 99.8% of our sales volume now provides nutritional information that’s in line with our policy. We also take exceptional care to include accurate allergen information that complies with local regulations.

We support the implementation of front-of-pack labels.

Strong governance = high standards

To make sure we maintain our high standards, and that everything we do is based on leading-edge scientific evidence, it’s essential that we have a strong system of governance in place. Governance in nutrition (PDF 58.44 KB) sets out how we do this.

Strong governance structures and clear lines of accountability ensure we deliver our Future Foods commitments. When we consider acquiring new brands, such as Horlicks, we look at the fit of the portfolio against our nutrition standards.

We also draw on insights from external experts to challenge our thinking. For example, we asked external experts for their opinions on our Positive Nutrition Standards and the new Unilever Science-based Nutrition Criteria (USNC), which will replace our current Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS) from 2023.

We’ve modelled our new criteria against dietary surveys in five of our major markets. We’ve published the results of this modelling in a scientific journal, which show potential public health impacts in all of them. We continue to set product-specific standards, taking into account the role of the product, and we’re pleased that these were well received as they incentivise further reformulation. These external experts also complimented us on our leadership in product improvement.

We’re working in partnership

To make a difference to the multifaceted problems the food system faces – not least changing people’s eating habits – we need to work together with governments, health authorities, academia, retailers, civil society, consumer pressure groups and the media.

This means working in partnership with others, and advocating for improvements to be made, backed by science.

We’re encouraging others to join us

We work with others to create a positive external environment within which we can grow responsibly and deliver our ambitions. This helps to give us the freedom to operate, shape the future, and be proactive in sharing our nutrition story and inspiring others in our industry to join us. Some of the key areas in which we do this are set out in our advocacy and policy asks below.

Championing regulatory change

To make a difference, sometimes we need to champion regulatory change. Take fortification as an example. It’s not just about making fortified products. It’s also important we address consumer barriers, ensure labelling transparency and encourage the removal of any regulatory hurdles.

For instance, most authorities now widely recommend iodised salt instead of conventional salt to help prevent iodine insufficiencies. Many countries have also regulated the levels of iodine in salt, as well as the type of salt. However, this isn’t harmonised across the world.

In the US, we’ve asked the authorities to approve potassium iodate as iodised salt, the most accepted mineral source of iodine globally. We’re also calling for harmonised legislation and regulations across the world. These should clearly indicate that all salt used in the manufacture of processed foods should be iodised, preferably with the same level of iodine and type of iodised salt.

We advocate the importance of iodised salt during presentations at key scientific conferences, like the Asian Congress of Nutrition (PDF 523.4 KB), supporting the WHO’s call for action on iodised salt in processed foods. We’re also working in Europe with NGOs and trade associations to remove regulatory hurdles.

The food system transformation has begun

We want to see the global food system transformed. So we’re working with partners to develop science-based targets, technical solutions and advocating for policy change at a national and global level. For example, Unilever was a principal partner of the COP26 Climate Summit in 2021. Our food brands Hellmann’s, The Vegetarian Butcher and Knorr were all there, calling for a huge step-up in climate action. Or, as The Vegetarian Butcher would say, #Climeat Action, with The Elephant in the Room campaign raising awareness of the huge impact of meat consumption on our planet.

We also co-hosted the pre-summit Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good in November 2020. Leaders from all five UN Summit action tracks attended, as well as thousands of participants from over 300 organisations in almost every country in the world.

We partnered to help make the UN Food System Summit 2021 a success by seconding resources to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). We participated in the summit where we engaged with other leaders to help steer and join a number of important coalitions for action:

  • We pledged €30 million towards the GAIN-led Zero Hunger Pledge behind high-impact programmes, such as agricultural interventions to support sustainable practices that are economically viable for farmers in water-scarce regions.
  • We have led the design of the Innovation Hubs, and galvanised the involvement of countries and more than 20 private and public sector organisations. Hubs have been launched in Europe, Latin America, Africa, India and Vietnam. As part of the Africa Hub, we launched a new partnership with Farm to Market Alliance to scale Future 50 Foods in Africa with smallholder farmers.
  • We co-led the creation of the Innovation Policy document, released by the UN. Our proposal for countries to allocate 1% of their food systems budget (GDP) to innovation, research and development was widely shared and supported by various stakeholders, including the Science Committee’s publication in Nature.

We submitted six commitments to the Nutrition for Growth summit in December 2021. These include a continued reduction of calories, salt and sugar in products, delivering more positive nutrition and plant-based offerings, helping people to eat more nutritious meals, focusing on responsible marketing and workforce nutrition.

Playing our part in change

We believe in global partnerships, as well as local and regional ones, to bring about change on the scale that’s needed.

Engaging with stakeholders explains more about our external engagement, including the trade associations to which we belong to.

Downloads

Our Nutrition Improvement Journey: Accessible Version (PDF 176.79 KB)

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