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
  1. Home
  2. ...
  3. Improving health & well-being
  4. Improving nutrition

Improving nutrition

Our vision is of Sustainable Nutrition – foods and refreshments that taste good, 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 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.

Unilever has a long heritage of quality food and drink products. Our brands such as Knorr, Hellmann’s, Lipton and Blue Band have been offering good nutrition with great taste for over 100 years. For more than a decade, we have been working to make our products – like Ben & Jerry’s, Wall’s, Brooke Bond and Flora – even healthier by increasing the goodness and reducing nutrients of concern like sugar, salt and saturated fat. We also use the power of our brands to empower people to make responsible choices.

Everything we do is underpinned by evidence-backed scientific research, with a focus on the people who use our products. We want our products to appeal to people who enjoy a healthy diet and still include occasional treats. We are committed to ensuring our products, such as our children’s ice creams, are clearly labelled with nutritional information, available in appropriate portion sizes, and marketed responsibly. And we continue to support education and behaviour change through our nutrition programmes.

The world’s food system is broken

The way the world produces and consumes food today is unsustainable. From over-exploitation and climate change, to waste and poor diets, the food system needs fixing. By the middle of this century, farms will need to feed an extra 1.5 billion people.1 Today, around one in nine people – 800 million – go to bed hungry every night.2 Meanwhile, one-third of food is never eaten. That’s the equivalent of sub-Saharan Africa’s entire annual harvest, costing the global economy $750 billion and 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, not to mention lives lost.

As the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (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. Business has a critical role to play in making sustainable and healthy foods and drinks the norm, and giving consumers more choice.

Nutrition is central to achieving the SDGs – especially Zero Hunger (SDG2). The Global Nutrition Report 2017 says without addressing nutrition-related issues such as undernutrition, obesity, sustainable agriculture and food waste, it will be impossible to achieve many of the SDGs – including No Poverty (SDG1), Gender Equality (SDG5) and Climate Action (SDG13). The business case for action is clear: for every £1 spent on nutrition, at least £16 is returned in economic benefits.

When our CEO, Paul Polman, joined global leaders in New York in September 2017 for the UN General Assembly, he affirmed the role of business in helping to deliver the food system transformation needed.

Next to our moral obligations to address food system challenges, it is an enormous business opportunity. Achieving food security could create 80 million jobs and unlock 14 major business opportunities worth $2.3 trillion annually by 2030.

Paul Polman, Unilever CEO

Our Sustainable Nutrition Strategy

A man spreading butter on toast

To mend the world’s broken food system, our vision is of Sustainable Nutrition – foods and refreshments that taste good, feel good and are a force for good. Sustainable Nutrition is a commitment from farm to fork – to produce accessible and affordable nutritious food and drink with respect for ecosystems, benefiting the livelihoods of food producers and improving the health and well-being of those who enjoy our products. Find out more about Sustainable Nutrition here.

Continuing our work on Highest Nutritional Standards

One of the key strands of Sustainable Nutrition is to continue with the work we started in 2003, under the pioneering Nutrition Enhancement Programme, which we formalised in 2010 as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP).

To deliver on our USLP nutrition targets which aim to reduce key nutrients of concern such as sugar, salt and saturated fat, we take a comprehensive approach. We have assessed and continue to assess every brand and product (including joint ventures) sold in every channel, in every country. We measure them against our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS), which are based on guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO).

This means all our consumers will benefit from the progress against our nutrition targets. That is also why we measure our progress on a volume (% sales volumes) rather than an SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) basis, as a better estimate of what people actually eat. Setting our targets based on volumes encourages us to grow sales of products that meet our HNS.

We consider nutrition factors as well as sustainability and ethical criteria as part of food and drink acquisitions. For example, the acquisition of Sir Kensington’s showed perfect alignment between our strategy and its mission and products. Sir Kensington’s delicious food delights consumers, has less impact on the environment, and promotes nutritious cooking.

Progress to date on Highest Nutritional Standards

At least 60% of our portfolio will meet our HNS by 2020. So far, 39% by volume3 already meets these standards and we are on track to achieve this ambitious target. A great deal of reformulation is underway in all our product categories and we have made significant progress on reducing salt, saturated fat, calories and sugar.

In 2017, the salt levels in 63% of our food products (by volume) meet benchmarks consistent with WHO recommended intakes of 5g of salt per day. 80% of our global portfolio of soft vegetable oil spreads4 contained no more than 33% saturated fat and at least 67% good unsaturated fat. Globally, 90% of our packaged ice creams now contain no more than 250 kcals per portion. And since 2010, we have reduced sugar in our sweetened tea beverages by 15%.

We continually share our progress and approach with nutrition and public health experts so that they can talk about the benefits of our products with consumers. And our approach to reformulating our portfolio has been endorsed externally: we were named number two in 2018’s Global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI), an independent rating of the nutrition programmes of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers and their contribution to tackling obesity and undernutrition. And in India, we were ranked second in ATNI’s 2016 India Spotlight Index.

A leading role in food system reform

We know that to achieve Sustainable Nutrition for all, we need to work with others in the food and related industries – NGOs, governments, farmers, suppliers and importantly, consumers – to change the relationship between the production and consumption of food and drink. Only by reconnecting people to the food and drink they consume will we build a new food system that supports the health of people and the planet.

At the heart of Sustainable Nutrition is our work with a range of different organisations to help deliver food system reform for a number of years. For instance, as part of the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) New Vision for Agriculture we have advocated sustainable agriculture, contributing to food security, environmental sustainability and economic opportunity. We have worked through WEF to partner with the G7 and G20 at a global level.

To help develop science-based targets, technical solutions and policy at national and global level, Paul Polman chairs the Food and Land Use (FOLU) coalition. This brings together over 30 organisations from academia, government, civil society and business to unlock new models of Sustainable Nutrition that work for people and the planet.

Unilever is playing a leading role in the Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH) coalition. This was established by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the EAT Foundation to support FOLU’s ambition by developing business solutions across the food value chain. As part of this, a Director from Unilever’s Chief Sustainability Office was seconded to the WBCSD for a year to lead the initiative.

We are also working closely with the SDG2 Advocacy Hub – a coalition of nutrition-focused NGOs and businesses – to use our brands, consumer insights and behaviour-change expertise to build public awareness and advocate for food system reform.

Contributing to scientific progress

We contribute to the latest scientific thinking on nutrition security and sustainable diets. In 2017, for example, we held a joint workshop on sustainable nutrition with the Sackler Institute for Nutrition Science. Participants included experts in food systems, environmental science, nutrition and food science, waste management, marketing and consumer behaviour. We discussed a number of issues including metrics for measuring the environmental impact of production, how to create demand for sustainable, affordable and healthful food, and research needs to further inform sustainable nutrition strategies.

Scientific understanding is constantly evolving, so we collaborate with prominent research partners such as the Top Institute Food and Nutrition in the Netherlands and the Harvard School of Public Health in the US. We research motivators for behaviour change, for example with the International Union of Nutrition Sciences.1 When we conduct research, we make sure we apply the highest standards of integrity. And we share our findings through scientific conferences and peer-reviewed publications (PDF | 275KB).

We use our knowledge to play a leading role in industry-wide, self-regulating initiatives that encourage better products, better diets and better lives. We take part in trade associations such as the International Food & Beverage Alliance (IFBA), Consumer Goods Forum (CGF), FoodDrinkEurope (FDE), Better Business Bureau (BBB) in North America and Food Industry Asia (FIA). And we support broad coalitions and partnerships, such as the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Future challenges

"The global food system needs an overhaul. With 8.5 billion mouths to feed by 2030, the time to act is now." Nitin Paranjpe, President Foods & Refreshment, Unilever

The Global Nutrition Report 2017 showed that progress, by governments, health authorities and industry, is not being made fast enough to address the dual burden of malnutrition: overnutrition and undernutrition. We need more collective action from a wide range of stakeholders to help people change their eating habits. In addition, we are seeing increased regulation on the food industry as a tool to help drive change and force quicker action on nutrients of concern.

We have a firmly established programme of driving down salt, saturated fat, sugar and calories in many products. We will ensure that they continue to meet people’s taste and quality expectations, as healthy food that is not chosen by consumers has no impact.

We are stepping up our work on micronutrient fortification, for example, through iron-fortified bouillon cubes in Nigeria and Kenya. This will ensure our products reach more people, including those in lower income groups. We are also focusing more on digital promotion of healthy recipes for our brands, using consistent standards that emphasise key nutrients as well as healthy ingredients.

While we know that much more work needs to be done, and are determined to play our part, we are pleased that our work to date has been recognised and will continue our efforts towards Sustainable Nutrition.

1 FAO (p.5) http://www.fao.org/fileadmin/templates/wsfs/docs/expert_paper/How_to_Feed_the_World_in_2050.pdf (PDF | 627KB)

2 UN Global Food Insecurity Report 2014

3 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 | 144KB)

4 For 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.


Expand for more on Improving nutrition

Taking action

We are delivering even better products so that we can have a bigger positive impact on heart health, obesity and undernutrition, and we follow a responsible labelling and marketing policy.

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 2017, 39% of our portfolio by volume met the Highest Nutritional Standards, based on globally recognised dietary guidelines. 

Our perspective

Meeting HNS – a more stringent approach by Unilever based on national nutritional recommendations – is a significant commitment. It involves reformulating our products to make great-tasting food and beverages that consumers enjoy while meeting our stretching targets.

The majority of our portfolio already meets benchmarks based on national nutritional recommendations. We are on track to meet our more stringent 2020 commitment, which means that 60% of our foods and beverages portfolio by volume and across all countries will meet our HNS (against a baseline of 30%). By 2017, 39% met these standards.1 This equates to well over half of the servings that we sell.

A great deal of reformulation is underway in all our product divisions and we have made significant progress on reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat, while also delivering positive nutrition as part of our Sustainable Nutrition strategy. We continually share our progress and approach with nutrition and public health experts so that they can also talk about the benefits of our products with consumers.

Our approach to reformulating our portfolio has been endorsed externally: we were named number two in 2018’s Global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI), an independent rating of the nutrition programmes of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers and their contribution to tackling obesity and undernutrition. And in India, we were ranked second in ATNI’s 2016 India Spotlight Index.

We are working hard to deliver these improvements for the millions of people who enjoy our food and beverages every day. See a summary of our performance against our global nutrition targets in our top countries in 2017. 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 in 2017 by PwC (PDF | 607KB). See Independent Assurance for our approach to assurance.

Independently assured by PwC.

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 | 144KB).


  • Achieved 3

  • On-Plan 3

  • Off-Plan 0

  • %

    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 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.

63% of our Foods portfolio was compliant with the 5g target in 2017.


Our Perspective

We are on track towards our 2020 target. Our Foods and Refreshment category and Food Solutions professional catering business continue to implement agreed salt reduction plans, while delivering great taste. Consumer acceptance is a key success factor for salt reduction. Great-tasting products will have the most impact because we know consumers will not give up taste for health. We also continue to work with governments, health authorities and healthcare professionals to address the triggers and barriers that people experience in adopting healthier habits, given that current population salt intakes significantly exceed recommended levels.

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

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


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

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


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.

89

80% of our global portfolio of soft vegetable oil spreads1 contained no more than 33% saturated fat and at least 67% good unsaturated fat in 2017.


Our Perspective

The proportion of our global portfolio of soft vegetable spreads meeting our target increased slightly from 79% in 2016 to 80% in 2017. This is 10% short of our goal, meaning we missed our target. The demand for our spreads containing less saturated fat increased less than we expected.

While our spreads that are low in saturated fat still appeal to consumers, many of our lower saturated fat products are competing with products higher in saturated fat, such as butter which has a different taste and consistency. Indeed, some of our newly formulated products now contain more saturated fat than our target, to deliver the taste and culinary performance consumers want. This was a difficult decision, but our vegetable spreads are still the healthier option in the market compared to butter.

We believe our efforts have made a meaningful contribution to reducing saturated fat in people’s diets. For example, we have found that promoting awareness of heart health is often more effective in collaboration with health authorities and healthcare professionals. We are confident this legacy will continue once our Spreads business is under new ownership.

1 For 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.

Good fats and oil from plants

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.

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 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.

Good fats and oil from plants

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

15% sugar reduction across all our sweetened tea-based beverages in 2017 since 2010.


Our Perspective

We are on track to meet our 2020 target. In 2017, we continued making progress, reducing sugar levels in many existing products, and launching new products with lower sugar content in many markets. This led to a 2.8% sugar reduction in 2017 compared to 2016. 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.

100% of our children’s ice creams contained 110 kilocalories or fewer per portion in 2014. This achievement has been maintained every year since, including in 2017.2


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

91% of our packaged ice cream by volume contained 250 kilocalories or fewer per portion in 2015. This achievement was maintained, with 90% meeting target in 2017.2


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 2017. 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 achieved our packaged ice cream target in 2015 and 2016, with 91% of our packaged ice cream by volume contained 250 kilocalories or fewer per portion. This exceeded our target of 80%. In 2017, 90% of our packaged ice creams contained no more than 250 calories (calculated based on 94% of global ice cream sales volume).

The sales volume for indulgent products (those over 250 calories) has increased in 2017 compared to prior years. As a result, the percentage compliance has decreased slightly to 90%, as the total sales volume of products under 250 calories per portion has not grown at the same rate. However, our performance is still well above our 80% target. We continue to demonstrate our responsible approach across our ice cream business, aiming where possible for products to be under 250 calories per portion, and at least 80% compliant in every market.

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 2017, this increased to 94%.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 consumers 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 2017, 94%2 of our portfolio was fully in line with our commitment. Besides providing nutritional information on pack, we also provide information via our branded digital platforms and consumer carelines.

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 full coverage of our portfolio.

As several countries develop their approach to a front-of-pack labelling system, we continue to engage with governments, NGOs and other relevant public health stakeholders. Together, we are working towards globally harmonised transparent labelling systems that drive consumers towards the healthy choice.

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 sales volumes from 1 April 2017 to 30 June 2017 of our Foods and Refreshment categories (this includes those parts of the Pepsi Lipton business where Unilever is responsible for marketing and distribution). It also includes the sales volumes of products from Unilever Food Solutions, and excludes products marketed through other joint ventures and distributor own brands.

Nutrition labelling
Back to top

CONNECT WITH US

We're always looking to connect with those who share an interest in a sustainable future.

CONTACT US

Get in touch with Unilever PLC and specialist teams in our headquarters, or find contacts around the world.

Contact us