Improving nutrition

Unilever's work on improving nutrition supports

6 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Unilever's work on improving nutrition supports 6 of the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals. 

Select one of the goals to find out how we're taking action.

Find out how we’re realising the business opportunity from the SDGs

Improving nutrition

Our mission is to provide products that taste good, make people feel good and are a force for good.

Food is essential to life

Food nourishes us every day. Not only does it sustain life, it also gives pleasure, brings people together and is an important ingredient in every culture. Life without delicious and healthy food just wouldn’t be the same – and many people are as passionate about food and drink as we are.

However, the way the world produces and consumes food today is unsustainable. By the middle of this century, the planet will need to feed an extra 1.5 billion (PDF - 627kB) people. The Global Nutrition Report 2018 says that the double burden of malnutrition across the world is already unacceptably high and progress in tackling this is unacceptably slow. However, it also concludes that the opportunity to fix the world’s food system has never been greater, with the UN’s Decade of Action on Nutrition and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) providing impetus for action.

As the SDGs acknowledge, responsibility for bringing about change is widespread. Governments need to start working together more. Farmers and producers need to become more efficient and adopt sustainable practices. And food businesses have a critical role to play in making sustainable and nutritious foods and refreshments the norm, while giving people more choice.

Nutrition is central to achieving the SDGs. Without addressing nutrition-related issues, it will be impossible to achieve many of them. This is especially true for Zero Hunger (SDG 2) and Health and Wellbeing (SDG 3), but also No Poverty (SDG 1), Gender Equality (SDG 5) and Climate Action (SDG 13). These are all interlinked with food production and consumption.

Our strategy

Hellmanns Mayonnaise

As one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world, we’re mindful of the huge impact we can make through our scale and reach.

We do this through our well-known global brands, such as Knorr, Hellmann’s, Wall’s and Lipton, which have a long heritage of producing quality and nutritious foods and refreshments. Our local brands, such as Bango and Robertsons, plus B Corp acquisitions, like Pukka Herbs, Sir Kensington’s and Mãe Terra, also support our mission.

Recent acquisitions such as GlaxoSmithKline’s Health Food Drinks portfolio, including its iconic Horlicks brand in India and other Asian markets, The Vegetarian Butcher and Graze further strengthen our portfolio in the key strategic area of health and wellbeing.

We are committed to working with governments, NGOs and businesses to align with the SDGs to eliminate hunger and promote health and wellbeing around the world. The business case for action is clear. Studies have shown that for every $1 spent on nutrition, at least $16 is returned in economic benefits.

As one of the largest manufacturers of foods, ice cream and tea in the world, we believe we can have a big positive impact on people’s health and well-being. By using the scale and reach of our brands, we can play our part in helping address the enormous challenges faced by the global food system. We want to live up to our mission to produce products that taste good, make people feel good, and are a true force for good.

Nitin Paranjpe, our President, Foods & Refreshment

We’re committed to producing tasty, accessible, affordable and nutritious products, as well as to encouraging people to eat nutritious diets. In addition, we strive to source our ingredients sustainably and support farmers and others who make their livelihood from working for us and with us. Lastly, we are reducing our environmental impact, in particular by minimising food waste, reducing our packaging impact and greenhouse gases from our freezers. Our work in these areas is explained throughout other sections of the Sustainable Living Report.

Responsibly delicious products & encouraging nutritious diets

For more than a decade, we’ve been working to improve the nutritional quality of our products as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. The Responsibly Delicious section of this report describes how we are making progress towards meeting our Highest Nutritional Standards and maximising the goodness of our products. We do this by reducing nutrients of concern, such as salt and sugar, as well as lowering calories. We’ve eliminated trans fats originated from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, we’re also providing essential micronutrients (PDF | 4MB) and increasing our plant-based offerings.

You can also read about how we’re promoting Nutritious Diets, using the reach and power of our brands to empower people to make responsible food and refreshment choices, and adopt healthier habits. We’re committed to ensuring our products are clearly labelled with nutritional information so people can make informed choices available in appropriate portion sizes, and marketed responsibly. We continue to ensure we offer a variety of choices, at premium to affordable prices, even in the most remote locations across the world. And to achieve our mission, we’re working in partnership with others.

Everything we do is underpinned by evidence-backed scientific research, with a focus on the people who use our products. We contribute to the latest scientific thinking on nutrition, maintaining high standards of objectivity and integrity. We share our findings through scientific conferences and peer-reviewed publications (PDF | 371KB). And we collaborate with prominent research partners like Wageningen University & Research, the Top consortium for Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) Agri & Foods to help us to stay on top of continually evolving scientific understanding.

Future challenges

We continue to focus on reducing nutrients of concern ensuring that our foods and refreshments continue to meet people’s taste and quality expectations. This is important because only when products are chosen can they affect people's diets. We learned this lesson with our fat reduction initiatives, where relatively limited consumer acceptance of low saturated fat spreads, compared with less healthy alternatives such as butter, prevented us from reaching our goals.

We have seen a shift in consumer preference for positive nutrition. Going forwards, we will place even greater emphasis on providing essential micronutrients through our products either because these are naturally there or through fortification. We aim to provide at least 200 billion servings containing essential micronutrients by 2022, for example, through iron-fortified Knorr/Royco bouillon cubes in Nigeria and Kenya.

And we’re tackling affordability and accessibility to ensure our products reach more people, including those in lower income groups. We’re also focusing more on digital promotion of nutritious recipes for our brands, using consistent standards that emphasise key nutrients and healthy ingredients.

The Global Nutrition Report 2018 highlighted that more collective action is needed from a wide range of stakeholders. In addition, we’re seeing increased regulation of the food industry as a tool to help drive change and force quicker action on nutrients of concern. We will continue to work with partners to make our products even more responsibly delicious, and to encourage people to eat more nutritious diets. While we know that more work needs to be done, we’re determined to play our part.


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Taking action

We want to have a bigger positive impact on people’s health and well-being. We’re improving our products to make them more responsibly delicious, at the same time as making it easier for people to choose nutritious diets.

Improving nutrition
Our commitment

We will continually work to improve the taste and nutritional quality of all our products. The majority of our products meet, or are better than, benchmarks based on national nutritional recommendations. Our commitment goes further: by 2020, we will double the proportion of our portfolio that meets our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS), based on globally recognised dietary guidelines. This will help hundreds of millions of people to achieve a healthier diet.

Our performance

In 2018, 48% of our portfolio by volume met the HNS, based on globally recognised dietary guidelines

Our perspective

Meeting our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS) – our benchmarks in Unilever are based on globally recognised dietary recommendations – is a significant commitment. It involves reformulating our products – with limited amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fat and calories – to make great-tasting food and beverages that people enjoy. We are working hard to deliver these nutritional improvements for the millions of people who consume our products every day.

We are on track to meet our 2020 commitment, which means that 60% of our total Foods & Refreshment portfolio by volume and across all countries will be compliant with our HNS. By 2018, 48% met these standards, an increase of 9% versus 2017.1 If we exclude our spreads business which was sold in 2018, 50% of our portfolio was compliant.

Our significant step up in HNS performance is the result of multiple reformulations in all our product categories in response to consumer demand for healthier products with less sugar, salt and saturated fat. In particular, we have accelerated our sugar reduction efforts in ready-to-drink tea and made significant progress in salt reduction in our dressings and savoury categories.

We assure performance on the pillars and targets of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan on a rolling basis. The most recent assurance of our nutrition pillar was carried out by PWC in 2017 (PDF | 6MB). See Independent Assurance for our approach to assurance.

1 To measure our progress in nutrition, we use a reporting period that runs from 1 October to 30 September. See our Highest Nutritional Standards (PDF | 155KB)


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  • On-Plan 3

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    Of target achieved 4

Key to our performance
  • Achieved

    This is the number of targets we have achieved

  • On-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are on track to achieve

  • Off-Plan

    This is the number of targets we are currently not on track

  • %

    Of target achieved

    This is the percentage of the target we are on track to achieve

Our targets

Please see Independent Assurance for more details of our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Reduce salt levels

Our first milestone was to reduce salt levels to 6g per day by the end of 2010. This required reductions of up to 25%. In 2010, we stated that our ambition was to reduce salt by a further 15-20% on average to meet the target of not more than 5g salt per day. In 2013, we clarified our commitment.


  • By 2020, 75% of our Foods portfolio will meet salt levels to enable intakes of 5g per day.

In 2018, 66% of our Foods portfolio was compliant with the 5g target.


Our Perspective

We are on track towards our 2020 target. We continue to follow the salt reduction plans that we have agreed across our retail and Food Solutions professional foodservice business. Excess salt intake is a significant public health challenge therefore we will need to continue our engagement with relevant stakeholders, such as governments, health authorities and healthcare professionals, to address the triggers and barriers that people experience in adopting healthier habits.

More taste, less salt

Reduce saturated fat

We are committed to improving the fat composition of our products by reducing saturated fat as much as possible and increasing levels of essential fats.


  • By 2012 our leading spreads will contain less than 33% saturated fat as a proportion of total fat.
92

By 2012, 92% of our leading spreads by volume contained less than 33% saturated fat as a proportion of total fat.


  • A daily portion will provide at least 15% of the essential fatty acids recommended by international dietary guidelines.
92

By 2012, 92% of our leading spreads by volume provided at least 15% of the essential fatty acids recommended by international guidelines.


We want to improve further the fat quality of all the soft vegetable oil spreads that we sell in tubs. In 2013, we extended our commitment.


  • By 2017, 90% of our complete global portfolio of soft vegetable oil spreads1 will contain no more than 33% fat as saturated fat and at least 67% as good unsaturated fat.

In tropical areas, without chilled distribution, the maximum saturated fat content will be set at 38%, as a slightly higher saturated fat level is required to maintain stability of the spreads.

80

By 2017, 80% of our global portfolio of soft vegetable oil spreads contained no more than 33% saturated fat and at least 67% good unsaturated fat.


Our Perspective

We no longer report on progress against this target following the sale of our spreads business in July 2018. By the end of 2017, the proportion of our global portfolio of soft vegetable spreads that met this target prior to the sale date was 80%. This was 10% short of our target.

1For all other products in our spreads portfolio, including our mélanges, we strive for the lowest saturated fat level possible without compromising on product performance and consumer and customer expectations.

Providing good fats

Remove trans fat

By 2012, we will have removed from all our products any trans fats originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

By 2012, 100% of our portfolio by volume did not contain trans fats originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.1


Our Perspective

By 2012, we had met our target to eliminate trans fat originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil from our products worldwide. We undertake regular reviews of our products to ensure we continue to be compliant. If products with trans fat originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are found, they are reformulated. See our position on trans fats (PDF | 800KB) for more information on our approach.

1 We have published our definition and approach to removing trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. See: Melnikov S & Zevenbergen H. "Implementation of removing trans fatty acids originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils". New Food 2012; 5: 44-46. This approach focuses on the main ingredients in our recipes and does not include traces of trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil that may be found in some flavours or emulsifiers.

Providing good fats

Reduce sugar

Prior to 2010 we had already reduced sugar levels in our ready-to-drink teas. By 2020, we will remove an additional 25% sugar in ready-to-drink teas. In 2014, we extended this target to include our powdered ice tea and milk tea products.1

By 2018, we had achieved a 20% sugar reduction across all our sweetened tea-based beverages (against a 2010 baseline).


Our Perspective

We are on track to meet our 2020 target. In 2018, we made significant progress, reducing sugar levels in many existing products and launching new products with lower sugar content in many markets. This resulted in a 6% sugar reduction in 2018 compared with 2017, taking us to a 20% sugar reduction since 2010 across all our sweetened tea-based beverages. We will continue to reduce sugar levels in our tea-based beverage portfolio, and to offer beverages and innovations with lower sugar content, while maintaining the taste that consumers enjoy.

1 Our sugar reduction target applies to all ready-to-drink teas, powdered ice tea and milk tea products, liquid concentrates, retail and foodservice and any new formats that are sweetened for the total time period of 2010 to 2020.

Less sugar, fewer calories

Reduce calories

  • By 2014, 100% of our children’s ice creams will contain 110 kilocalories or fewer per portion. 60% will meet this level by 2012.

In 2014, 100% of our children’s ice creams contained 110 kilocalories or fewer per portion. This achievement has been maintained every year since, including in 2018.2


  • By 2015, 80% of our packaged ice cream products will not exceed 250 kilocalories per portion.1

In 2015, 91% of our packaged ice cream by volume contained 250 kilocalories or fewer per portion. This achievement was maintained, with 92% meeting the target in 2018.2


Our Perspective

We reached our children’s ice creams target in 2014, with 100% of our children’s ice creams containing 110 kilocalories or fewer per portion. This achievement has been maintained every year since, including in 2018. We were one of the first global companies to ensure that all our children’s ice creams are nutritionally responsible. Maintaining 100% compliance remains an important goal.

We continue to demonstrate our responsible approach across our ice cream business with an increased proportion of the portfolio containing no more than 250 kilocalories in 2018 compared with the previous year. In 2018, 92% of our packaged ice creams contained no more than 250 calories (calculated based on 95% of global ice cream sales volume).

1 A portion is defined as: a pre-packed single-serve ice cream product meant to be consumed in one go, or 100 ml when sold in packaging aimed at multi-consumption moments such as tubs.

2 Our children’s ice cream target was assessed at the end of Q4 2014; our packaged ice cream reporting assessed progress from Q4 2015 to Q3 2016. We continue to measure progress against our targets for transparency.

Less sugar, fewer calories

Provide healthy eating information

Our aim is to provide clear, simple labelling on our products to help people make choices for a nutritionally-balanced diet. Our products in Europe and North America provide full nutritional information.


  • By 2015, this will be extended to cover all our products globally. We will include energy per portion on the front of pack plus eight key nutrients and % Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) for five nutrients on the back of pack.

Our targets will respect local or regional industry agreements as well as the law in each market.

86

In 2015, 86% of our portfolio had full nutrition labelling on pack in line with our commitment. In 2018, this increased to 95%.1 We are working with relevant authorities to create a positive climate for labelling and to drive further change on our products, as well as to help people choose healthier products.


Our Perspective

We fell short of our target in 2015, however we remain committed to advancing nutrition labelling on our products. In 2018, 95%2 of our portfolio was fully in line with our commitment.

Our target is stretching, covering all our brands and markets. We have put in place a global governance model and extensive monitoring activities to check nutrition labelling product by product. However, while we continue to drive our labelling commitment across our total food and beverages portfolio, we have yet to reach our target in full.

As several countries develop their preference for a front-of-pack labelling system we continue to engage with governments, NGOs and other relevant public health stakeholders to work towards globally harmonised transparent labelling systems that drive consumers towards the healthy choice. Besides providing nutritional information on pack, we also offer information via our branded digital platforms and consumer carelines.

1 A portion is defined as: a pre-packed single-serve ice cream product meant to be consumed in one go, or 100 ml when sold in packaging aimed at multi-consumption moments such as tubs.

2 These figures are based on 96% global sales volumes from 1 April 2018 to 30 June 2018 of our Foods & Refreshment Division, including those parts of the Pepsi Lipton business where Unilever is responsible for marketing and distribution. categories as well as the sales volumes of products from Unilever Food Solutions. It excludes products marketed through other joint ventures and DOBs (distributor own brands) and the spreads business which was sold in July 2018.

Informed choices
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