Our on-pack labels and online information help people understand what’s in our products.
People are more and more interested in what’s in the food products they buy. And governments and consumer organisations around the world see providing transparent and fact-based nutrition information as a key way to help people choose healthier products.
We agree and that’s why labelling is an essential part of our approach. We aim to provide the nutrition content of our products, and information on how to improve diets, in an understandable way. We also want to help people work out what a balanced portion of a food is, to help them maintain a healthy weight.
Providing nutrition information
Our approach to nutrition labelling is consistent across the world, covering all our brands and markets, and our governance model helps us to monitor this. In 2019, 98% of our products (covering 99.6% of sales volume) provided nutritional information in line with our nutrition labelling commitment.
Our nutrition labelling commitment means we show:
- ‘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 a percentage contribution to the daily recommendation or as an absolute quantity.
- Per portion (preferred option) or per 100 g/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 sodium, the percentage contribution to the daily dietary recommendation (PDF | 421KB) is given as an icon or text on back-of-pack.
As well as our nutrition labelling commitment, allergy labelling is important to both our retail and foodservice businesses. To make sure we provide information accurately and in an easy-to-understand way, we invest in training our employees on the topic of labelling. This is important because labelling has a growing role in how people view and trust food companies. We’ve designed an online course to help colleagues in marketing, external affairs, R&D, packaging, and regulatory affairs understand the information we’re required to provide to both chefs and consumers.
Allergen labelling saves lives
For the increasing number of people who have diagnosed food allergies or intolerances, understanding allergen labelling on packaged products can literally save lives.
Across all our products, we take care to include accurate allergen information. Our new Knorr Essentials range, for instance, includes the claim ‘no allergens to declare and gluten and lactose free’.
However, avoiding allergens can be particularly challenging when eating out. It’s especially important that chefs and foodservice operators understand allergens and allergy labelling, so they can not only advise their customers on what to avoid, but also prepare dishes and meals according to allergen restrictions.
Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) works with cooks across the world to help them better understand allergen labelling. We partner with food operators, chefs and kitchen staff in the US and Europe to provide training and materials that help them inform their guests about key allergens in the meals they serve. For example, UFS’ website provides guidance and tips to help operators deal with allergens in their kitchens, such as its Gluten Free Guide.
“Allergens has been a hot topic in the foodservice industry for some time now, and it will continue to be, as policies change and customers demand more from establishments,” says Joy Dubost, our Head of Nutrition, North America. “However, food allergies can be serious and need to be treated in a different way than dietary preferences and customisation requests.”
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goal
Front-of-pack labels help people make healthier choices
Front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labels are designed to provide simplified nutrition information to consumers at a glance. They’re considered an effective way to help people make healthier food choices. And they encourage food companies to improve the nutritional quality of their products (Guiding principles and framework manual for front-of-pack labelling for promoting healthy diets, WHO 2019).
However, numerous types of FOP labels have been developed and implemented in different countries. Some convey a positive, encouraging message, like the Healthy Choice logo in some Asian countries. Others contain warning signs, like the scheme in Chile, and there are also colour-coded % Guideline Daily Amount schemes, like the UK’s traffic lights.
We apply several voluntary FOP labels across the world. For example, we use Healthy Choice logos (in Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia), the Health Star Rating, UK traffic lights, Keyhole, and SmartLabel online in the US, aligned with local government endorsement.
Positive, encouraging labels work best
We encourage governments to conduct real-life scientific studies to evaluate the effectiveness of front-of-pack labelling schemes, so we can best help people to make healthier choices.
Any scheme should be part of a comprehensive approach that includes educational campaigns to help people make healthier product choices. We believe colour-coded schemes that provide people with an easy to understand interpretation of the nutritional composition of the products work best (EC report on additional nutrition declaration, May 2020).
We don’t support warning labels as we believe this approach is counter to Codex Alimentarius (the FAO and WHO’s Food Code). Among other principles, this states that claims ‘shall not arouse fear with the consumer’. Where mandatory labelling schemes are in place, we do not provide any additional nutrition labelling or nutrition information front-of-pack which could confuse consumers or dilute the impact or effectiveness of the mandatory scheme.
“We support front-of-pack labelling schemes based on product-specific criteria or portions, which best reflect our ‘golden rules of front-of-pack labelling’,” explains Els de Groene, Global Director of Nutrition Standards & Advocacy. “We’re ready to collaborate with governments to further build evidence for front-of-pack labelling schemes and better understand the impact on actual behaviour change of consumers.”
We believe in the seven golden rules of front-of-pack nutrition labelling
- Good differentiation within a product group – this means that people can easily choose the healthier variant of a product, such as the mayonnaise with lower fat and calories. A light mayonnaise would have a better score than a full-fat version. Product reformulation should be rewarded with a better score.
- In line with dietary guidelines – this means that foods that are encouraged in dietary guidelines should be encouraged by a label. For example, small portions of unsalted nuts or olive oil should have a positive score. Larger portions should be discouraged.
- All-inclusive model – this means that it should be applied to all products and not leave out any specific product groups. For example, excluding artisanal unwrapped cheese but labelling packaged cheese.
- Good differentiation between product groups – this means that the approach should differ by product groups, taking their role in the diet into account (ice cream vs soup).
- Focus on nutrients of concern – this means that the scoring is based on the levels of fat, saturated fat, salt, sugar and calories. Scoring for positive nutrients, like fibre or protein, can be possible, but the level of nutrients of concern should prevail in the scoring. For example, a sweet candy (high in sugar) fortified with vitamin C cannot have a positive score.
- Stimulate behaviour change – this means that the front-of-pack label should encourage the consumer to choose the better option. It’s not meant to prevent consumption of certain foods or food groups.
- Result in behaviour change – this means that front-of-pack labelling should ultimately contribute to healthier behaviour by consumers. Not as a stand-alone measure, but as part of a broader approach. Currently, there is no evidence that any front-of-pack labelling scheme has led to sustained healthier behaviour, simply because schemes haven’t been in the market for very long.
The importance of portions
Helping people understand what’s in the foods they eat is crucial to eating a healthy diet. And so is knowing what an appropriate portion size looks like. We know that portions are getting bigger and as a result, people are eating more. ‘Portion distortion’ is unfortunately becoming the norm.
We are partners in the Portion Balance Coalition, which aims to change this. Together, we’re helping to build consumer awareness and demand for portion balanced food and beverage options. We’re collaborating with industry, policymakers, and public health groups to offer and promote balanced portions to support a healthy lifestyle. Sharing research, best practices and lessons learned is a key part of this.
In 2019, the coalition carried out the groundwork to understand consumer needs, and motivation hurdles and triggers. In 2020, we’ll begin piloting consumer messaging campaigns on portion sizes.
This work contributes to the following UN Sustainable Development Goals
Nutrition & health claims
Accurate health claims are essential in building consumer trust. That’s why we have a global position for making nutrition and health claims (PDF | 87KB) on our foods and refreshments.
The intention of our claims must be to provide people with product nutrition information to help them make informed, healthier choices. This applies to health claims made on-pack or through other marketing channels, and the information we provide must be relevant and concise.
In 2019, for example, we continued our Lipton Love Your Heart campaign in the US. This features a front-of-pack logo on our green teas with the health claim, ‘can help support a healthy heart’. In 2019, we updated our branding and artwork on-pack, as well as our consumer information website. This tells people about the health benefits of drinking tea and includes recipes for everyday tea inspiration.