Improving nutrition

This work supports the following UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • Zero Hunger
  • Good Health and Wellbeing
  • Partnership For The Goals

Responsibly delicious

We believe in offering products that provide great taste and goodness.

Pot of food on a table

Good nutrition matters

Many people realise that what they eat influences their health, their mood, and how much they can get done each day. In fact, there’s never been more interest among consumers in nutrition and health.

Despite this, according to many health authorities, including the World Health Organization, one in three people lacks key micronutrients. At the same time, 2 billion adults are overweight or obese (see our position statement on how we’re tackling obesity (PDF | 127KB)), and 41 million children are overweight. This overnutrition and undernutrition is known as the double burden of malnutrition.

In December 2019, a WHO series in The Lancet concluded that low- and middle-income countries are affected by overnutrition and undernutrition at all levels of the population. The report called for action to address these challenges simultaneously.

Healthier products must be part of the solution

We believe that we can play an important role to help tackle the double burden of malnutrition. This means introducing more variety, consuming more plant-based foods and drinks, and balancing our consumption of meat depending on local needs. Many people need to eat less salt, fat and sugar, and more good oils. We also agree with dietary guidance that a balanced, healthy diet can contain occasional treats, such as an ice cream.

The nutritious ingredients in our products already provide goodness and have a positive impact on health. For example, our teas are a rich source of flavonoids. Knorr and Kissan use vegetables as core ingredients, providing vitamins and minerals. And Hellmann’s mayonnaises are made with high-quality sunflower seed, rapeseed or soybean oils – all containing essential fats.

Continuing our work on Highest Nutritional Standards

Back in 2003, we began our pioneering Nutrition Enhancement Programme to minimise nutrients of concern in our products, such as salt and sugar. We formalised this in 2010 as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP). Our goal is for at least 60% of our portfolio to meet the Highest Nutritional Standards (PDF | 155KB) (HNS) by 2020, in line with WHO guidelines, and we are on track to achieve this.

Since we introduced HNS, nutrient profiling schemes have been developed by other organisations, such as the Health Star Rating (HSR), which has been adopted by the Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) to score the healthiness of a product portfolio. We’ve compared the two schemes and found that in some cases HNS is stricter than HSR, and in others HSR is stricter. In addition, HSR compensates for positive ingredients such as protein, whereas HNS is currently focused on nutrients of concern. HSR also excludes tea, which is an important category for us.

We want our products to be good for people’s health and for the planet. As the importance and awareness of positive nutrition and eating more plant-based foods increases, we believe we should also include these elements into our nutrition standards, and we’re currently reviewing our HNS to reflect this.

Small improvements can add up to a big health impact

We recognise that to maximise our impact, it’s important to focus on products that are consumed most frequently and in greatest volumes, and we know that taste remains a key factor. We’re pleased that our approach to reformulation has been endorsed externally for many years. We were ranked second in the most recent (2018) ATNI, an independent rating of the nutrition programmes of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers.

Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) has also been ranked joint first in the India Access to Nutrition Spotlight Index 2020, for its approach to nutrition. HUL leads the way in four categories – Governance, Accessibility, Lifestyle and Nutrition Labelling. This is a strong endorsement of the steps taken by HUL with respect to its nutrition governance, practices and disclosures.

We’re focusing on three main areas. Firstly, making our products responsibly nutritious, which means less salt over time, less sugar and fewer calories. The second is positive nutrition, as too many people just don’t get enough nutrients. And the third is offering more plant-based foods. When we make even small changes, we can make a big difference.

Els de Groene, our Global Director of Nutrition Standards & Advocacy

We continually review our approach to reformulation and made many enhancements in 2019, offering more plant-based ingredients in our products, reducing salt, sugar and calories, and providing good fats – see below for our progress. And we’ve been strengthening positive nutrition by providing essential micronutrients. These improvements can add up to a big impact on the health of the people who enjoy our products. We are also responding to consumer demand for organic product choices by reformulating in the relevant markets.

Progress on our nutrition commitments of 2019

As well as nutrients of concern in our products, we are committed to encouraging people to make healthier choices through clear labelling and balanced portions. Larger portion sizes – portion distortion – are becoming the norm. We want to help consumers to understand what a balanced portion is to help them maintain a healthy weight.

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