Our on-pack labels, as well as more detailed information online, help people understand what’s in our products.
If you’ve ever wondered what all those percentages and charts are on the foods and drinks you buy, you’re not alone. A recent survey1 found that eight out of ten US consumers have no idea what nutrition labels mean, and say the information provided is conflicting and confusing. It’s got to the stage where most people are uncertain about what to eat or avoid.
Despite their difficulty understanding, we know that most people (72% of adults) do try to read nutritional panels to find out about the food they’re buying.2 And governments and consumer organisations around the globe see food labels as a key way to support people to choose healthier products.
That is why in 2017, 94% of our products had nutritional information in line with our nutrition labelling commitment.3 We work hard to make our communication as clear and compelling as possible.
To make it easier for people to understand nutrition labels, we’re working towards the World Health Organization’s ambition of one simple, consistent global standard in front-of-pack labelling. We work with other food companies to develop an industry view on appropriate portion size for labelling purposes and encourage our peers on their journey towards global harmonisation.
We provide consumers with high-quality nutritious products and information on how to improve diets. Labelling, including the nutrition content of our products, is an essential part of our approach. To make sure we provide information accurately and in an easy-to-understand way, we invest in training on labelling. We have designed an online course to help colleagues in marketing, R&D, packaging, and external and regulatory affairs understand the information we are required to provide to consumers. This is important because labelling has a growing role in how consumers view and trust food companies.
Clear labels help people make healthier choices
Our approach to nutrition labelling is consistent across the world, covering all our brands and markets, and our governance model helps us monitor this. In countries where our global labelling approach cannot be completely adopted – due to lack of clarity on regulations, or simply because our packs are too small – we make information available through our brand websites. All health information, including the claims we make, is based on consensus from nutrition scientists and health authorities.
As part of our Unilever labelling approach, we support the use of an industry-wide, voluntary, interpretative front-of-pack logo. Such a logo should be based on globally-agreed nutrition criteria, have recognition from non-governmental organisations and industry, and facilitate consumer understanding of the food’s nutritional aspects. We participate in the Choices Programme by using the front-of-pack Choices logo, in addition to existing nutrition information, to help people make informed choices.
In Europe, Unilever is an active member of the Evolved Nutrition Label project. Together with other multinationals, Unilever has established a taskforce to look into integrating portion sizes in the existing colour-coded reference intakes scheme, as applied in the UK and Ireland. The end goal is to put in place a robust nutrition labelling scheme that helps consumers make balanced and mindful choices.
In Australia and New Zealand, we are progressively implementing the voluntary Health Star Rating logo across our foods portfolio, and children’s and family tub ice cream brands. In 2017, Health Star Rating was available on over 90 Unilever products. In Malaysia and Thailand, we are committed to applying the recently launched Healthier Choice logos. We are also providing technical knowledge and guidance on product criteria where needed.
Our approach to labelling
- ‘Big 8’ nutrients on back-of-pack (energy, protein, carbohydrate, sugars, fat, saturates, fibre and sodium).
- Front-of-pack icon showing energy content as either % contribution to the daily recommendation or as an absolute quantity.
- Per portion (preferred option) or per 100g/ml.
- For small or unusually shaped packs, ‘Big 4’ on back-of-pack (energy, protein, carbohydrate and fat) and energy per portion front-of-pack, provided this is legally allowed. For very small packs, information can often be obtained through websites and carelines.
- For energy, sugars, fat, saturated fat and salt, % contribution to the daily dietary recommendation (PDF | 421KB) is given as an icon or text on back-of-pack.
SmartLabel: Food information at your fingertips
Knowledge is power. And we want to help people make better-informed decisions about the foods they eat. With so many options for food and drinks today, from organic products to gluten-free alternatives, people want to know more than ever what’s in their food. Many are also interested in where the ingredients come from and how the final product was made. But it’s not easy to give so much information when the packaging of the products is usually fairly small.
Our US business has come up with an innovative solution to this problem using SmartLabel™ technology. Whether out shopping or at home in the kitchen, people can use the SmartLabel app to simply scan the product barcode or look on our brand websites. As well as providing information like ingredients and nutrition information, SmartLabel helps people who are looking to find out more.
At the click of a button, people can quickly and easily access information about allergens and any third-party certifications for ingredient standards, as well as user instructions and links to brand content. They can even find out about the growing method and country of origin for key ingredients, all displayed in a consistent, accessible layout on a smartphone or computer.
The SmartLabel app was developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and is available through the sponsorship of Unilever US. All our Foods and Refreshments on SmartLabel can be seen here.4 Plus, we’ve started adding extra information about our fragrance ingredients, so there are now over 1,800 Unilever food and beauty & personal care products that you can find out more about.
Nutrition labelling is good for everyone
There is evidence that supporting front-of-pack nutrition labelling is not only good for helping people improve their health, it’s also good for business.
A study in 2015, supported by Unilever, examined the effects of voluntary adoption of front-of-pack nutrition labelling on companies’ innovation. It examined more than 600 brands and 7,500 US products over a ten-year period.5
Researchers found that companies that adopt front-of-pack labelling introduce more innovative and nutritionally better products than companies that don’t use front-of-pack labelling. And early adopters introduce more new products compared with late adopters.
In addition, the Choices International Foundation conducted research into the impact of different labelling systems. This found that positive front-of-pack labelling drives reformulation. It showed that people are willing to pay more for a product with a positive front-of-pack logo and buy more of that product. It revealed that products with a positive front-of-pack label increase market share over time.
The results of these studies have important implications, not only for companies, but also for policy-makers and consumer welfare.
Nutrition & health claims
In nutrition labelling, accurate health claims are essential to building consumer trust. That is why we have a global position (PDF | 87KB) for making health claims on our foods and beverages.
1 By the International Food Information Council Foundation.
2Source: 'Nutrition 101: Consumers actually do read product labels', the US-based researcher Hartman Group, which specialises in food and beverage culture and trends.
3 This figure is by volume worldwide, Q2 2017 and includes the products from our foodservice business, Unilever Food Solutions, as well as those parts of the Pepsi Lipton business where Unilever is responsible for marketing and distribution; it excludes products marketed through other joint ventures.
4 Products from our Pepsi-Lipton joint venture are expected in 2018.
5 Lim JH, Rishika R, and Janakiraman R. The Effects of Voluntary Disclosure of Product Information on Firm Innovation: The Case of Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling Initiative.