Hand holding a bowl of chickpeas and vegetables with mint

This issue relates to the following Sustainable Development Goals

  • 2 - Zero Hunger
  • 3 - Good health and well-being

Plant-based foods

Average read time: 7 minutes

Delicious plant-based foods are better for the health of people and the planet. We’ve put them at the heart of our strategy.

Jar of Hellmann's Vegan Mayo beside a wrap containing vegan meatballs and salad

Eating your greens really is ‘green’

The EAT-Lancet Commission Opens in new window showed that if people eat more plant-based foods, emissions could be cut by up to 80%. Eating meat alternatives and vegetables (whatever their colour) really is a ‘green’, or environmentally-friendly, thing to do.

Eating a plant-based diet also benefits human health. Different studies Opens in new window have shown that plant-based diets can prevent diseases by improving glycaemic control, reducing the risks of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and being overweight. There are also strong scientific indications that plant-based diets Opens in new window are generally associated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, overall cancer incidence and/or mortality.

We’re convinced. We’ve been using our expertise and product knowledge for several years to increase consumer choice, by introducing more plant-based options. We’ve now embedded plant-based thinking into our new Future Foods commitments and position statement.

More plant-based options for more people

We believe in nutritious diets that include more variety, more seasonal foods, fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and healthy oils, less meat and more plant-based options. Our portfolio of brands is well placed to help millions of people with this.

As well as creating delicious new plant-based recipes, we’re making it easier for people to find vegetarian options in the shops. We’ve added the European Vegetarian Union’s logo to over 1,300 of our products.

And we’ve set a goal that between 2025–2027, we’ll hit €1 billion in sales of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. That’s about a fivefold increase on our 2020 figures – an ambitious goal that we’re determined to reach.

Plant-based foods are set to grow

The move towards plant-based foods is gathering pace. New research by ethical investor network FAIRR Opens in new window, for example, highlights that two in five global food manufacturers now have dedicated teams to develop and sell plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy.

Pioneering plant-based foods

We were named by FAIRR as a pioneer in its 2020 list of the best prepared companies for the shift towards plant-based proteins, coming second as the best performing manufacturer. We also won their best practice award for our strategy Opens in new window to help people transition to more plant-based diets.

Unilever has a clearly articulated agenda for improving the sustainability of its portfolio and has aligned its commercial and sustainability objectives.

FAIRR

It’s clear that plant-based alternatives offer huge commercial growth potential. And they offer a simple way of helping consumers transition to more sustainable diets.

Knorr is reinventing food for humanity

This is a big ambition, and we’ve broken it down into three major shifts that Knorr is driving – more variety in what people eat; more plants and less meat; and foods grown in sustainable, restorative and regenerative ways.

By 2025, 50% of Knorr’s portfolio will be plant-based. 25% will contain the Future 50 Foods Opens in new window (foods that are good for us and the planet), and 100% of Knorr’s vegetables, herbs, grains and top five spices will be sustainably sourced.

We’ve introduced Knorr Vego Balls, for example, across several European markets. In South Africa, Knorrox has been a staple for years and we’ve introduced new soup and stock powders, all plant-based and always with a meaty taste.

Knorr Vego Balls packet

And Knorr’s #TodayIsMyVeggieDay range in Germany features classic ‘meat dishes’ prepared with lentils, Future 50 ingredients and on-pack claims about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings. For example, our Lentil Bolognese Opens in new window pack explains: ‘If you prepare this meal with lentils instead of beef once a month for a year, you will save 25 kg of GHG emissions – that’s like driving 177 km, or the distance from Frankfurt to Bonn emission-free.’ We won the 2020 Marketing for Future Award for this campaign.

Understanding good food with Knorr’s Good Food Lab

We’ve teamed up with students and experts at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to create the Knorr Good Food Lab. Our aim is to conduct research into how we can shift people’s thinking and behaviour towards food that is better for health and the planet. We will make our learnings available to the wider food community.

So what have we learned already?

Our research shows that there is strong evidence that the younger generation is very open to changing their attitudes and behaviours towards good food. Diet is one of the areas that 18- to 24-year-olds are most willing to change for the benefit of the planet, with 90% saying they are willing to eat less meat.

Designed for meat lovers, made with plants

​The Vegetarian Butcher is our industry-leading ‘plant-based meat’ brand. It’s expanded to 45 countries and provided Burger King’s first plant-based burger, the Rebel Whopper.

Now, The Vegetarian Butcher and Burger King have joined forces again to create the plant-based Vegan Chicken Nugget.

The Vegetarian Butcher products are aimed at the increasing number of consumers who identify themselves as part-time vegetarians or flexitarians. The products are made from soy and wheat, and all its protein sources are plant-based and deliciously satisfying.

But don’t take our word for it. In 2020, The Vegetarian Butcher’s Chickened Out Burger won a Vegan Food Award from animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Deliciously vegan dressings

We’re introducing delicious vegan options to our Dressings portfolio too.

Our Hellmann’s Vegan Dressing & Spread, for example, is our plant-based alternative to the traditional Hellmann's mayonnaise. We’ve removed the eggs, but not what consumers love about mayo – its famously creamy taste. In the UK, we added three tasty flavours to our Hellmann’s vegan mayonnaise range Opens in new window – chipotle, garlic and baconnaise. And Nielsen named Hellmann’s vegan mayonnaise as one of its 2020 top 25 breakthrough innovations in Europe.

Pack shot of Sir Kensingtons Classic Vegan Mayo

Our award-winning Sir Kensington’s Vegan Mayo also tastes just like the real thing but contains no eggs. Instead, it’s made with 100% sunflower oil and aquafaba – the natural egg substitute made simply from chickpeas and water.

Mouth-watering, dairy-free ice cream

In response to this increasing demand, we’ve continued expanding our ice cream portfolio with non-dairy and vegan offerings.

Two Vegan Magnums on a green leafy background

Our award-winning Magnum Vegan

Our Magnum Vegan ice creams contain all the indulgence of a Magnum but without the dairy ingredients – and they’re still below 250 kcal and 20 g of sugar per piece.

They’re certified as suitable for vegans by the European Vegetarian Union and Vegan Action. And Magnum Vegan Almond has received the Best Vegan Product award from the Dutch Vegan Society, and Best Vegan Ice Cream from PETA in the UK.

Pint of Ben & Jerrys sunflower butter dessert, Milk & Cookies variety

Sunflower butter

In the US, Ben & Jerry’s has introduced new frozen desserts based on sunflower butter Opens in new window.

Vegan non-dairy now makes up over 25% of Ben & Jerry’s pint flavours in the US – and non-dairy flavours are increasing in other markets too. In Germany, Nielsen awarded Ben & Jerry’s plant-based offering among the top 25 breakthrough innovations of 2020.

Tub of Swedish Glace soy ice cream

Swedish Glace

Since 1990, Swedish Glace has been making ice cream that tastes deliciously creamy even though it contains no milk or cream.

Made with soy, it’s the number one in its category in the UK & Ireland and Nordic countries.

More plant-based ideas for professionals

Our foodservice business, Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), offers plant-based products to help professional kitchens respond to consumer demand.

Knorr Professional, for example, is our range of 100% natural, complete and balanced mixes of rehydratable grains and vegetables. It allows chefs to create exciting and nutritious plant-based dishes easily. The Vegetarian Butcher also offers new 100% plant-based products, such as Ding Dog gourmet vegetarian hot dogs.

UFS also helps chefs around the world offer more plant-based options on their menus by providing recipe inspiration, workshops and training – see Healthy habits, nutritious diets for more.

Finding the next generation of meat and dairy alternatives

At our €85 million Foods Innovation Centre, Hive, on Wageningen University’s campus in the Netherlands, we’re working on formulating the next generation of meat and dairy alternatives, and plant-based proteins.

We’ve partnered with Algenuity, for example, which has created a new type of microalgae. Algae as a source of sustainable nutrition is nothing new, as it’s packed full of protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. However, microalgae have never really made it into the mainstream because of their bitter taste and smell. Algenuity’s microalgae not only taste and look good, they also perform well in cooking. We think this could be a gamechanger as a viable, vegan and climate-friendly protein alternative.

It’s not up to us to decide for people what they want to eat, but it is up to us to make healthier and plant-based options accessible to all.

Hanneke Faber, our President, Foods & Refreshment