Improving nutrition

Unilever's work on improving nutrition supports

7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals

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

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Improving nutrition

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

The world’s food system needs changing

We need food to feed the world’s population – it’s as simple as that. But food also does so much more. It gives pleasure and brings people together. It enables people to connect through a shared passion. It’s an important part of every culture, yet differs from country to country, region by region. For many people, life without delicious and healthy food just wouldn’t be the same.

However, the way the world produces and consumes food today is unsustainable. By the middle of this century, we will need to feed around 10 billion people with limited environmental resources. Malnutrition is already unacceptably high and progress in tackling this is too slow. At the same time, more than 1 billion people are obese. Clearly, something needs to change.

As the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge, responsibility for change is widespread. We need governments, civil society, farmers and chefs to work together to make a change. And food businesses have a critical role to play in making sustainable and nutritious foods and drinks the norm.

How we’re responding to the challenge – and opportunity

As one of the biggest consumer goods companies in the world, with a large Foods & Refreshment portfolio, we’re mindful of the huge impact we can make through our scale and reach.

responsibly delicious products & encouraging nutritious diets

Our well-known global brands, such as Knorr, Hellmann’s, Wall’s and Lipton, have a long heritage of producing quality and nutritious foods and refreshments.

Acquisitions like GlaxoSmithKline’s Health Food Drinks portfolio (which is expected to complete in the first half of 2020 and includes its iconic Horlicks brand in India and other Asian markets), The Vegetarian Butcher and Graze, further strengthen our health and well-being offerings. Our local brands, such as Bango and Robertsons, plus new brands like Pukka Herbs, Sir Kensington’s and Mãe Terra, also support our mission to provide delicious, healthy and sustainable products.

However, our mission goes beyond this – we want our brands to take a stance and act on the things that really matter. For instance, in 2019, Ben & Jerry’s continued its long tradition of climate activism, joining the youth-led climate strike in September. Lipton Tea launched its global You.Me.Tea.Now! campaign to combat loneliness by encouraging more quality connections in people’s daily lives. And Hellmann’s, with its Real Taste, Less Waste programme, has been running educational campaigns to rescue leftover food from being thrown away.

We’re working with governments, NGOs and businesses to align with the SDGs to eliminate hunger and promote health and well-being 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. And as well as benefiting the economy, people and the environment, activities like these also help to raise the profile of our brands among consumers.

Every day, half a billion of our products are consumed, so we can and should lead the transformation of the food system. It is our responsibility to make it easier for people to eat healthy, tasty and more sustainable foods.

Hanneke Faber, our President, Foods & Refreshment

We aim to produce tasty, accessible, affordable and nutritious products, and encourage people to make nutritious choices through clear labelling and balanced portions. But our responsibility goes further than looking only at nutrition: we strive to source our ingredients sustainably and support farmers and others who make their livelihood from working with us. And we’re reducing our environmental footprint, in particular by offering more plant-based options, eliminating food waste as much as possible and reducing the impact of our plastic packaging.

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. We’re ensuring our products are Responsibly Delicious by making progress towards meeting our Highest Nutritional Standards and maximising the goodness of our products. We do this by increasing our plant-based offerings, reducing nutrients of concern, such as salt and sugar, as well as lowering calories. We’ve eliminated trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, and we’re providing essential micronutrients in a growing number of our products.

We’re also working to promote 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 ensure our products are available in appropriate portion sizes, clearly labelled with nutritional information and marketed responsibly, so people can make informed choices. We continue to offer a variety of options, 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. We contribute to the latest scientific thinking on nutrition, and we maintain high standards of objectivity and integrity. We share our findings through peer-reviewed publications (PDF | 368KB) and presentations at scientific conferences, such as the 4th Congress Hidden Hunger. And we collaborate with prominent research partners like Wageningen University & Research, the Top Consortium for Knowledge and Innovation (TKI) Agri & Food.

In 2019, we opened Hive, our state-of-the-art global Foods Innovation Centre in the Netherlands. This €85 million investment is located on the campus of Wageningen University & Research (known as the ‘Silicon Valley of Foods’). The building is also close to start-ups, scale-ups and other external partners. As an agri-food research hub, its design encourages interaction and shows the outside world our whole foods innovation process in a transparent way. From there, we’re working on the next generation of science and innovations, focusing on more plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives, nutritious foods and sustainable food packaging.

Future challenges

As well as reducing nutrients of concern and increasing micronutrients in the diet, one of the biggest challenges in the future will be to encourage people to make the dietary shift towards a more planet-friendly diet. For our food system to be sustainable, we need many more people to opt for plant-based foods.

Focusing on more plant-based options, products with lower salt, sugar and fat, and foods containing essential micronutrients, requires action from individual food companies. It is the industry’s responsibility to make sure that nutritious foods and refreshments taste great so that people will choose them, rather than less healthy alternatives. We must also focus on increasing transparency in our labelling to help shift consumer preferences.

However, truly transforming our food system to encourage people to eat better will require increased collaboration between governments, NGOs, scientists, retailers and suppliers, as well as the food industry. The key challenge will be facilitating this multi-stakeholder approach towards collective action.

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. 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 2019, 56% of our portfolio by volume met the HNS, based on globally recognised dietary guidelines.

Our perspective

We’re 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 2019, 56% met these standards, an increase of 8% versus 2018.1 This equates to well over half of the servings that we sell.

Our benchmarks are based on globally recognised dietary recommendations. Meeting our HNS 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 meet our targets and that people will love. We’re working hard to deliver these nutritional improvements for the millions of people who consume our products every day. A great deal of reformulation is underway in all our product categories and we have made significant progress on reducing salt, sugar and saturated fat.

 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 | 155KB).

  • 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

Independent Assurance details our assurance programme across the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan.

Reduce salt levels

Our first milestone was to reduce salt levels to 6 g 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 5 g salt per day. In 2013, we clarified our commitment.

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

In 2019, 70% of our Foods portfolio was compliant with the 5 g target.

Our perspective

We’re on track towards our 2020 target, with a 4% increase in the proportion of our Foods portfolio which was compliant with the 5 g target versus 2018. We continue to follow the salt reduction plans that we’ve agreed across our retail and Food Solutions professional foodservice business. Excess salt intake remains a significant public health challenge. So we will 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.

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.

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.


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%.

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.

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 carry out regular reviews of our products to ensure we remain compliant. If products with trans fat originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are found, they are reformulated. Our position on trans fats (PDF | 800KB) details our approach.

As one of the IFBA member companies, we align 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’re committed to achieve this worldwide by 2023 at the latest.

1 We’ve published our definition and approach to removing trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil – 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 doesn’t 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 2019, we had achieved a 23% sugar reduction across all our sweetened tea-based beverages (against a 2010 baseline).

Our perspective

We’re on track to meet our 2020 target. In 2019, 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 3% sugar reduction in 2019 compared with 2018, taking us to a 23% 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 2019.2

  • 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 93% meeting the target in 2019.2

Our perspective

We were one of the first global companies to ensure that all our children’s ice creams are responsibly developed, and maintaining our record remains important. We continuously review our portfolio, combined with a responsible approach to marketing and advertising to children. 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 2019.

We continue to increase the proportion of the portfolio containing no more than 250 kilocalories. In 2019, 93% of our packaged ice creams contained no more than 250 kilocalories (calculated based on 94% 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 like 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.

  • 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.


In 2015, 86% of our portfolio had full nutrition labelling on pack in line with our commitment. In 2019, this increased to 98%.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

In 2019, 98%1 of our portfolio was fully in line with our commitment.

We’ve put in place a global governance model and extensive monitoring activities to check nutrition labelling product by product. We’re working on the final 2% of our target.

As several countries develop their preference for a front-of-pack labelling system, we continue to engage with governments, NGOs and other relevant stakeholders. We want to work towards globally harmonised transparent labelling systems that help consumers make an informed choice. In addition to providing nutritional information on pack, we also offer information via our branded digital platforms and consumer carelines.

1 These figures are based on global sales volumes from 1 April 2019 to 30 June 2019 of our Foods & Refreshment Division. They include 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. They exclude products marketed through other joint ventures and DOBs (distributor own brands) and the Spreads business, which was sold in July 2018.

Informed choices