Reducing salt, sugar and calories
Average read time: 10 minutes
We’re cutting salt, sugar and calories from our products but keeping their great taste.
A worldwide obesity challenge
Many people realise that what they eat influences their health, their mood, and how much they can get done each day. In fact, there’s never been more interest among consumers in nutrition and health.
2 billion Adults worldwide are overweight or obese
Despite this, according to the World Health Organization (Opens in a new window) (WHO), 2 billion adults are overweight or obese, and 41 million children are overweight.
Healthier products must be part of the solution
We know that many people need to eat less salt, fat and sugar, and more good oils. And we agree with dietary guidance that a balanced, healthy diet can contain occasional treats, such as an ice cream. Our position statement sets out our approach to tackling obesity.
The nutritious ingredients in our products already provide goodness and have a positive impact on health. For example, Knorr and Kissan (Opens in a new window) use vegetables as core ingredients, providing vitamins and minerals. Hellmann ’s mayonnaises are made with high-quality sunflower seed, rapeseed or soybean oils – all containing essential fats. And our teas are a rich source of flavonoids.
Our Nutrition Enhancement Programme has been cutting nutrients of concern in our products, such as salt and sugar, for a number of years. To maximise our impact, we focus on products that are consumed most frequently and in the greatest volumes. We’ve also learnt that taste is key if consumers are to accept these changes.
Small improvements can add up to a big health impact
We exceeded our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) (PDF 8.02MB) (Opens in a new window) target of at least 60%, with 61%* of our portfolio meeting our Highest Nutritional Standards (PDF 155KB) (Opens in a new window) (HNS) by 2020, in line with WHO guidelines.
And we’re pleased that our approach to reformulation has been endorsed externally for many years.
We were ranked second in the 2018 ATNI (Opens in a new window), an independent rating of the nutrition programmes of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers. Hindustan Unilever Limited has also been ranked joint first in the India Access to Nutrition Spotlight Index 2020 (Opens in a new window).
We’re also sharing our knowledge on reformulation and behaviour change with others. For example, through Scaling Up Nutrition’s (SUN) Business Network (Opens in a new window), we help other members deliver improved nutrition in developing markets.
And we’re not slowing down. As part of our Future Foods commitments, we’ve set ourselves new goals to lower calorie, salt and sugar levels even further across all our products.
- 70% of our portfolio to meet WHO-aligned
nutritional standards by 2022.
- 95% of packaged ice cream to contain no more than 22 g total sugar per serving by 2025.
- 95% of packaged ice cream to contain no more than 250 kcal per serving by 2025.
- 85% of our Foods portfolio to help consumers reduce their salt intake to no more than 5 g per day by 2022.
More taste, less salt
The WHO recommends a daily intake of no more than 5 g of salt (that’s just under a teaspoon). But around the world, the average person eats 9–12 g a day, roughly twice the recommended amount.
We support the WHO’s recommendation and have clearly set out our salt reduction position. By 2020, 77% of our Foods met salt levels that enable intakes of 5 g per day. Through our Future Foods commitments, we’re now aiming to stretch this to 85% by 2022.
How do we reduce salt?
We improve our foods based on scientifically sound benchmarks and reduce salt levels in a variety of ways.
We reduce salt every time one of our existing products is renovated. Over the past decade, for instance, we’ve cut sodium in Knorr Rice Sides and Knorr Pasta Sides by an average of 25% and 20% respectively. In India, we’ve replaced Kissan sauces with Knorr, which are compliant with our Highest Nutritional Standards. And in South Africa, our Knorrox range of soups, stock cubes, sauces and gravies now contain less salt, and we’re partnering with the Heart and Stroke Foundation to increase salt awareness.
New products must also meet the target to enable a salt intake of 5 g per day. In fact, our new Knorr salad grains range contains no added salt and meets our Highest Nutritional Standards.
We replace salt with other ingredients such as aromas, spices, herbs, and the natural salt replacer, potassium salt.
First salt-free bouillon cube for Brazil
Bouillon cubes, powders and liquid seasonings offer a time-saving and accessible shortcut to gives meals that extra oomph. However, Kantar research showed that 55% of people who stopped cooking with bouillons did so over concerns about salt content and health.
In Brazil, the government set a target to reduce the average Brazilian's salt intake from 12 g to 5 g per day by 2020, and asked the food industry to help. In January 2020, we set ourselves an ambitious mission – to create Brazil's first zero salt bouillon range in three flavours: chicken, red meat and vegetables.
This was a big challenge. Salt not only adds flavour; it also plays a role in keeping bouillons’ shape. Our Netherlands-based R&D team were striving towards a similar goal, so daily check-ins between them and Brazil accelerated our progress.
Six months and a global pandemic later, our new bouillon cubes hit the supermarkets in Brazil.
Sales, much like the new range itself, have been healthy – a promising indication of success to come. And the range is now being introduced in other Latin American markets.
The sweet truth
The WHO advises limiting free sugar (meaning any added sugar, as well as natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juices) to below 10% of total energy intake.
We support the WHO’s position. In 2010, we extended our earlier sugar reductions by setting out to remove 25% of the sugar in our ready-to-drink teas. By our target date of 2020, we’d achieved a reduction of 23%.
By 2025, 80% of our global Beverages portfolio will contain no more than 5 g per 100 ml of total sugar, as explained in our position statement on sugar.
Different levels of sweet tooth
Some people have a sweet tooth and some people don’t. So we’re working hard to give people a choice in the level of sweetness of our ready-to-drink tea, powdered ice tea and milk tea products.
We’ve developed more drinks that meet our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS) of 5 g or less of sugar per 100 ml. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, we reformulated our Lipton Iced Tea Peach (4.5 g sugar/100 ml), which complies with our HNS and contains 22% less sugar than the original recipe. We reduced sugar by up to 50% (meeting 2.2 g/100 ml) in several Lipton ready-to-drink products across Europe. And we reduced sugar by up to 13% in several Lipton and Brisk ready-to-drink products in the US, bringing them under 5 g sugar/100 ml, all meeting our HNS.
In addition to reformulations, we’re also creating new ready-to-drink teas with less sweetness. In North America, for example, we introduced Pure Leaf Slightly Sweet Cold Brew Black Tea (3.8 g/100 ml). And we introduced several new zero sugar iced teas, such as Lipton Green Tea Lemon, Lipton Black Tea Lemon, and Lipton Black Tea Peach across Europe.
In some of our teas, we use non-nutritive sweeteners like Stevia (steviol glycosides). And we’re collaborating with universities and other organisations to get a better understanding of people’s preferences for different levels of sweetness.
We also brought new unsweetened products to the market, from Pure Leaf Unsweetened Mango Hibiscus Herbal Tea, Pure Leaf Chamomile Raspberry Herbal Tea, and Pure Leaf Unsweetened Cold Brew Black Tea in the US, to Lipton Unsweetened Black Oolong Fresh Brew Tea in Taiwan.
Lipton iced teas – less sugar, just as refreshing
Through our Pepsi-Lipton joint venture, we’ve reduced sugar from our Lipton ready-to-drink iced teas by 29% over the past decade – that’s equivalent to 170 billion sugar cubes and approximately 2,700 billion calories.
Savoury can also be sweet
Most of the sugar in our savoury food products occurs naturally from vegetables like tomatoes and carrots. However, we’re working where we can to lower sugar in our Foods.
We’ve lowered sugar in our sauces and dressings, and cut out added sugar entirely from our range of bouillons and soups. Knorr Germany, for example, has introduced tomato and paprika, thyme and parsley, and mushroom and leek bouillons made purely from natural ingredients with no added sugar.
Our Hellmann’s ketchup with Stevia is available in more countries in Europe and contains up to 45% less sugar, and meets our HNS. And in Chile, we offer Hellmann's Ketchup Light with 60% less sugar, making it HNS compliant while keeping its appealing flavour.
Cutting calories in ice cream
Treats contribute to wellbeing and pleasure, which we believe is important in life.
As the world’s leading ice cream company – selling much-loved brands like Wall’s , Magnum , Cornetto (Opens in a new window), Ben & Jerry’s (Opens in a new window), Max/Paddle Pop and Breyers – we know how important it is to lower calories without sacrificing taste.
We achieved our USLP targets for calories in ice cream early. And in 2020, 93% of our packaged ice creams did not exceed 250 kcals per portion. (A portion refers to a pre-packed, single-serve ice cream product meant to be consumed in one go. It also refers to 100 ml when ice cream is sold in larger packaging such as tubs.)
In North America, Breyers CarbSmart includes options with only 60 kcals per ice cream – a good choice for people following low-carb and low-calorie lifestyles. In North Asia, So Good Low Fat Cups come in chocolate, oolong tea and mixed berries flavours, and contain only 80 kcal per cup. In Turkey, people can enjoy our new Algida (Wall’s) Kefirli ice lolly without added sugar and with only 62 kcal per ice cream. And in Asia, our popular Asian Delight range takes inspiration from local ingredients like coconut, corn, taro and black bean, and contains only 90–110 kcal per ice cream.
However, we haven’t stopped there. Through our Future Foods commitments, we’re ensuring that by 2025, 95% of our packaged ice cream products will contain no more than 22 g of total sugar, and 95% will contain no more than 250 kcal per serving.
Many of our ice creams also support good causes
When people buy our Pippi’s Tjolahoppglass (Pippi Longstocking) Responsibly Made for Kids (PDF 887KB) (Opens in a new window) ice cream, they are supporting refugee girls, through our collaboration with Save the Children. And Streets (Wall’s) has partnered with WIRES Wildlife Rescue to launch a new Koala Choc Caramel Paddle Pop which supports Australia’s koala populations. And both meet our Highest Nutritional Standards.
Providing good fats
According to the WHO, between 20% and 35% of people’s energy intake should come from fats (Opens in a new window). The majority should be unsaturated fat, as too much saturated fat can increase the risk of developing heart disease. And trans fats should be eliminated from our diets altogether.
We use unsaturated plant-based oils in our mayonnaise and salad dressings – or a blend – like soybean, canola, rapeseed, avocado, sunflower and olive oil.
We also continue to cut saturated fat in our other products, as explained in our position statement on saturated fats, such as in our ice creams, as part of our calorie reduction programme.
Our trans fat story
In 2012, we removed trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from across our portfolio to less than 1 g per 100 g product – see our position statement on trans fats.
To promote transparency, we published our definition and approach (Opens in a new window) to this. We also committed to the WHO REPLACE (Opens in a new window) programme to share our technical knowledge.
While we achieved our goal, we know we have more work to do to minimise industrially produced trans fats in our products.
As one of the International Food & Beverage Alliance members, we agree with the WHO recommendation that industrially produced trans fat should not exceed 2 g per 100 g of total fat or oil in all foods. We will achieve this worldwide by 2023 at the latest.