Improving nutrition

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Responsible Consumption and Production
  • Climate Action
  • Life Below Water
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  4. Reducing our environmental impact in Foods and Refreshment

Reducing our environmental impact in Foods and Refreshment

We are cutting food and packaging waste, and the amount of water and energy to make our products and refrigerate ice cream.

Man carrying box of tomatoes on his shoulder

From eating greens to eating green

When choosing what to eat, people are primarily focused on taste, and for the more health conscious, eating vegetables and a balanced diet. Nowadays, many people also think green while eating. What do we mean by this? People are increasingly concerned about preserving our planet and limited natural resources. They want to eat well and do the right thing for the environment at the same time.

We believe that by focusing on preserving our planet through sustainable sourcing and production practices, we can help people throughout our value chain to thrive. We are developing creative solutions to reduce food waste in the kitchen, inspiring consumers and chefs to do the same. And we are reducing our waste and packaging, water use and emissions from sourcing through to manufacturing, distribution and selling.

Real farmers, real ingredients

Sustainable agriculture is a key component of our overall mission to make sustainable living commonplace. Ever since we learnt that about half of our environmental footprint globally comes from growing the ingredients for our products, we’ve been working hard with farmers to expand our sustainable farming practices even further.

When growing fruit, vegetables, herbs and spices for our products, we encourage responsible use of limited natural resources. Knorr supports farmers in meeting our rigorous sustainability standards, reducing fertiliser use, and protecting soil and water better. Our Knorr Partnership Fund invests €1 million every year in co-funded projects with suppliers for their farmers. This helps them meet, or go beyond, our Sustainable Agriculture Code requirements. So far, we have funded over 100 projects. Farms that demonstrate the highest standards are awarded Knorr Landmark Farm status.

Anthony Azevedo, a garlic farmer at one of our Landmark Farms in the US says, “The biggest challenge we face is water. So we had the Knorr partnership, which was an irrigation trial. We can irrigate a whole field in one day, versus sprinklers where it would take five or six days to get across the fields. We’ve set up the ranch for the future by switching to drip irrigation. My boys will be the fifth generation farming this land, so we’ve been here for a long, long time, and we want to keep it going for our future generations.”

Soil health has been identified as an environmental hot spot in our supply chain. In Iowa, for example, we are trialling regenerative agriculture techniques to improve soil health through cover crops/third crop rotation key practices. By the end of 2017, we had engaged 160 farmers, planting over 25,000 acres with cover crops. Studies show this approach could use 88% less manufactured fertiliser, and through diverse rotation, six times less herbicide use.


Hands holding grains

Not just rice

When you walk into your local supermarket and look at the array of rice on offer, not many people realise how much effort goes into the production of this popular side dish. None more so than the rice produced at The Isbell Farms, one of our premiere suppliers, providing rice for Knorr® Rice Sides and new Knorr® Selects. The Isbell family shares our commitment to sustainability and sustainable sourcing, and enjoys Landmark Farm status.

The Isbell’s have been innovating sustainable farming techniques for years. For example, they alternate soil wetting and drying, which means letting a field dry out completely after flooding it. Just one drying a season stops the anaerobic state of the soil’s bacteria, which may halve the production of methane – a potent greenhouse gas. Mark Isbell is working with the University of Arkansas on a multi-year measurement study to assess exactly how much this process helps.

The family uses cover crops to improve soil health and reduce fertiliser usage, while employing no-till farming. This means leaving more natural plant matter on top of the soil to prevent erosion and reducing CO2 emissions by ploughing less. Other farmers supplying Unilever ingredients also use this method, but the Isbell’s were pioneers.

“I think innovation is just ingrained in me, I love it,” says Chris Isbell. “If I had to farm like everybody else, I wouldn’t do it.”

“There’s just something about the closeness of a family working together,” explains Judy Isbell. “The land has been good to our family, and we need to do anything we can do to give it back to our children and our grandchildren.”

Why food waste is not a throw-away issue

If food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions behind the US and China. Climate change is accelerated and precious natural resources squandered in growing and transporting uneaten food. In fact, global food waste is estimated to cost more than US$940 billion every year.1 Cutting waste would significantly reduce environmental damage, bring economic gains and, crucially, help feed the 815 million people who still go to bed hungry every night.

Sustainable Nutrition means minimising food waste from farm to fork. That is why we helped shape the Consumer Goods Forum’s (CGF) Resolution on Food Waste. Through this, companies commit to halving food waste by 2025. In 2017, we also signed CGF’s commitment to switch to a standardised system of food expiry dates by 2020. The aim is to tackle food waste by avoiding the confusion around date labels that often causes people to throw away good food.

Due to efficiencies, implemented as part of our 2008 Zero Waste to Landfill commitment, only 0.75% of food waste from our food manufacturing sites is disposed into landfill, sewer and incineration without energy recovery. Since this number is very low, we have agreed with the CGF that it is not impactful to focus on halving it by 2025.

Instead, we will continue to report our disposed food waste from manufacturing and focus our efforts on reducing food loss and waste across our value chain. We will do this by engaging with suppliers, retailers and consumers and advocating for food system reform.

For instance, food waste is one of five UN Zero Hunger Challenge pillars, to which we have signed up. Furthermore, our former CEO Paul Polman is a Champion 12.3: a coalition of global leaders advocating for action to help achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3 – which focuses on halving per capita food waste by 2030 and reducing food loss across the value chain.

We also value national partnerships, like our work in Argentina with Carrefour, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Ministry of Agroindustry. Together, we ran the ‘Let’s save food’ campaign at point of sale, reaching 8 million people. We are now looking to scale this with the FAO in other countries.

By working with others, we know we can do more. For example, we’ve partnered with the Global FoodBanking Network to redirect food and other products to those in need. We have been working with the European Federation of Food Banks since 2014, and we have invested in developing food banks across Central and Eastern Europe. In the UK, we support Oxfam and The Trussell Trust’s food bank networks. And in the US, we support Feeding America, the leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Across the world, over 8 million people benefit from our food bank partnerships and hunger relief activities.

Our brands play their part

Wherever possible, we look to cut waste through our brands. For example, seed husks are removed from our Maille mustard and reused as animal feed. Our new Hellmann’s Red & Green Tomato Ketchup is made with any colour tomatoes, saving an estimated 2.5 million green tomatoes a year from potential waste. And Hellmann’s ‘Easy-Out’ technology has reduced the average amount of leftover mayonnaise in a bottle from 13% to just 3%. This means roughly 5,000 tonnes of mayonnaise landing on the plate instead of landfill every year.

Our foodservice business, Unilever Food Solutions and food supplier, Sodexo, are further helping chefs and caterers around the world to cut waste. We have developed the Wise Up on Waste app, which allows chefs to track waste in their kitchens and on plates. In 2016, this was used 27,000 times across six countries. Unilever Food Solutions also launched WasteWatch, a global programme to reduce waste across our operations. So far, this has reduced waste across 14 sites by 16.5 tonnes – equivalent to approximately 1,900 binbags of rubbish.

Top tips to cut food waste

Learn about my food logo


For the past three years, Unilever in the US has worked with 11 ‘agents of change’ – highly respected and influential dietitians. Here, they offer tips on how to cut food waste…

Marisa Moore advises planning before you shop. “Take a good look inside your fridge and pantry, plan to add one or two things, and this will help you use food before it goes bad.” She learned the value of the freezer from her grandmother, who froze in-season produce for later use. I even freeze bread - it’s great for toast and grilled cheese.”

Rachael Hartley suggests ‘meal preparedness’, a loose, realistic plan for the week that incorporates leftovers, ripe produce, and pantry ingredients into easy meals. Kylie Mitchell agrees, saying “Don’t shop as if you are going to cook dinner every night if you know you usually eat out three times a week.”

Annessa Chumbley advises keeping produce front and centre in your fridge. “Don’t banish fruits and vegetables to the produce-bin graveyard.” She devotes her fridge’s top shelf to green onions kept in a glass mason jar and strawberries packed in a clear plastic bag with a paper towel inside to absorb moisture, so they last longer.

Even scraps can be used

Mia Syn suggests reusing produce scraps. She saves and sautés the green tops of beets, carrots, and radishes, then tossing them into salads and stir-fries. “People will discard these scraps thinking they are not edible - we need to educate them.”

Manuel Villacorta invests in quality storage. He cooks his favourite Peruvian dishes for dinner, then brings the leftovers to work for lunch. “I make just enough to last for a couple of days,” he says. “Nothing gets thrown out.”

You can read about their stories on our ‘learn about my food’ website.

Less packaging, less waste

By 2025, we will ensure that all our plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable. We are taking action to reduce packaging for our foods and drinks. In Spain, for example, our 400g Hellmann’s glass jar light-weighting programme has saved 367 tonnes of glass and resulted in a 10% lighter jar. In China, to remove the plastic film in our ice cream cartons, we developed the more sustainable matt UV varnish. This will save over 300 tonnes of packaging waste every year and will be introduced for our ice creams across Asia in 2018.

In South Africa, we now make Knorr dressing bottles from 35% recycled plastic water bottles. This means 900 metric tonnes less plastic will be used each year, equivalent in weight to 15 elephants. And in Brazil, we introduced recycled plastic for our refreshments, reducing the thickness of the packaging and saving 35 tonnes every year.

Protecting natural resources

We are taking action across our Foods and Refreshment portfolio to protect natural resources. We encourage our factories to ‘close the loop’ and return resources to the local environment where they can.

Our Knorr factory in Argentina does this through a project which helps local vegetable farmers. We produce an organic soil conditioner by combining loose soil shaken from the vegetables with nutrient-rich effluent. This soil conditioner is then used on the same fields where the vegetables were originally grown. In this way, we have reduced waste from this factory by 430 tonnes, and we are helping to care for the quality of the local soil.

To save water in our supply chain, we have helped to implement over 4,000 water management plans with our growers around the world. We do this through our sustainable sourcing programme. This helps farmers, for example, to introduce drip irrigation, which cuts water use by up to 50%. By creating optimal growing conditions, this can boost yields by 25–35% and – because the soil is not completely soaked – reduce the spread of fungal and bacterial diseases and weeds. In humid regions this means the use of fungicide can be cut by up to 50%, lowering costs for farmers.

We are also taking action to lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Argentina, for example, many of our food products are shipped without going through a distribution centre, taking 19 trucks and 15 tonnes of CO2 off the road every month. In Spain, we’re pioneering sustainable Frigo ice cream freezers. Globally, by the end of 2017, we had purchased over 2.6 million freezers containing natural hydrocarbon refrigerants.

In the US and India, we have been trialling solar-powered ice cream cabinets, which can be recharged at night using grid electricity. And we are developing more products that can be stored at room temperature, for example, through Unox’s partnership with The Vegetarian Butcher in the Netherlands.

Find out more about how we are reducing the environmental impact across our portfolio.

1The business case for reducing food loss and waste: a report on behalf of Champions 12.3 (PDF | 700KB)

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