Providing essential micronutrients
Through our brands, we are helping people get the nutrients they need.
Our ambition: 200 billion servings
We can make a difference in improving nutrition. Leading economists have identified food fortification as one of the most cost-effective approaches to meet the nutritional needs of populations throughout the world. Fortification is the practice of adding small and safe amounts of essential micronutrients to staple food and condiments.
We offer fortified foods at an affordable price, develop products using nutritious ingredients like vegetables, fruit, dairy and vegetable oils, and promote nutritious cooking. Find out more about how we are providing essential micronutrients in a series of infographics (PDF | 6MB).
The Access to Nutrition Index Scorecard has acknowledged our work in addressing undernutrition as a strong focus within Unilever’s commercial strategy. And we are accelerating our efforts in providing essential micronutrients.
Our ambition is that, by 2022, we aim to provide more than 200 billion servings with at least one of the five key micronutrients vitamin A, D, iodine, iron and zinc. We will achieve this through dietary diversification (providing products with nutrient-rich ingredients), through the use of iodized salt instead of regular salt and through deliberate enrichment (adding essential nutrients) of common consumer products such as bouillon cubes.
With our portfolio, we sell more than 400 million servings of savoury products per day. These include seasonings, bouillons, soups and meal makers. Approximately 20% of these products are already made with iodized salt i.e. products in South East Asia, Europe and Latin America so we already make an important contribution to iodine intakes! Yet we want to do more.
We will also address iron-deficiency (anaemia), which affects 30% of the world’s population – mostly women and teenage girls. This will help to meet the Sustainable Development Goal target of halving the prevalence of anaemia in women by 2025.
Our products provide essential micronutrients
The nutritious ingredients in our products provide micronutrients that people need as part of a balanced diet. For example, our Knorr soups and meal kits use vegetables as core ingredients. In Europe, we provide around 700 million servings of vegetables every year through our soups alone, providing essential vitamins and minerals.
In 2018, we incorporated even more vegetables into our products. For example, we introduced Knorr Veggie Pots across Europe. Each portion is made with natural ingredients and delicious spices. The pots, such as PrepCo pots in the UK, contain enough vegetables to meet one of the recommended five portions a day, and are also a source of protein and fibre.
Locked in goodness: the benefits of dried vegetables
Many people believe that dried food isn’t real food. However, a study based on EU data shows that the opposite is true. This study shows that the nutritional value of dry vegetable soups is comparable to home-made soups from fresh vegetables1. Dry vegetable soups can be considered a suitable source of vegetables and nutrients and can deliver a significant contribution towards the daily recommended vegetable intake in an environmentally sustainable way.
Vegetables like tomatoes, pumpkins, lentils and onions are hero ingredients in many Knorr products. Each year, we provide more than 100 billion servings of vegetables via our Knorr products. Our Knorr dried vegetable soups, for example, deliver up to 290g of vegetables per serving. They provide similar amounts of nutrients as soups made from fresh supermarket vegetables, making these Knorr dry soups as nutritious as home-made soups.
We believe that’s because we treat our high-quality ingredients with respect. By harvesting vegetables at their peak of ripeness and drying them gently, we are able to lock in their nutrient goodness. A good example of this is pumpkins, like in our Knorr Pumpkin creme soup in Germany.
“Because we retain the nutrients of our ingredients, we don’t need to add colourants,” says Leo Abrahamse, our R&D expert. “The soup’s orange colour comes from the (pro-) vitamin A that’s naturally present in the pumpkins we’ve used. Vitamin A is good for boosting the immune system and for vision.”
1 Van het Hof, Karin; Grun, Christian; Basendowski, Silke; Spraul, Martin; van Buren, Leo; Vollmer, Gabi; Newson, Rachel. Nutrition quality of dried vegetable soups. Ann Nutr Metab 2017;71(Suppl):368
Making our products even more nutritious
We maximise our impact on public health by choosing popular, affordable products to fortify with micronutrients, which are consumed by the people who need them most. We also choose products that are generally accepted by regulations as suitable vehicles for fortification. Over one-third of our fortified products are sold in developing and emerging countries where micro-nutrient deficiency is most prevalent.
Our internal guidelines for food fortification are based on the World Health Organization and Food and Agriculture Organization. All Unilever's fortified products must comply with international and local regulations and guidelines, such as CODEX. When fortifying our products, we aim to deliver a meaningful amount, striving for at least 15% of the recommended dietary allowance per serving, in line with regulations. Finally, safety is a crucial consideration when deciding on fortification, for both the target and non-target population.
We consider nutrient content and the potential for fortification (as well as other sustainability criteria) when making Foods and Refreshment acquisitions. For example, we recently acquired the Health Food Drinks portfolio of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in India, Bangladesh and 20 other predominantly Asian markets. These are all fortified and affordable for people on low incomes. The portfolio includes the iconic brand Horlicks, which has been the leader in its category in India, and an everyday staple in South Asian households for generations. Horlicks contains nine nutrients (Vitamin B6, B12, C, D, Copper, Folic Acid, Iron, Selenium and Zinc) which are scientifically proven to support immunity. These products are compliant with our Highest Nutrition Standards for beverages and provide a good opportunity for further fortification.
Get your iron up!
Teenagers are more vulnerable to nutrient deficiencies, especially iron deficiency anaemia in girls. Evidence shows that when malnourished adolescent girls get pregnant, they are also more likely to give birth to malnourished children.
We fortify our Knorr cubes – or Royco as they are known in Kenya – with iron. There, they are both popular and affordable, so it’s a good way to increase iron intakes. To encourage more people to cook with Royco and other ingredients high in iron, we started the ‘Get your iron up!’ programme in the Coastal Region. This follows the success of a similar programme with Knorr in Nigeria.
Together with our partner, Christian Aid, we’re empowering adolescent girls and mums to grow iron-rich vegetables and cook healthy meals, improving nutrition for the whole family. The campaign specifically contributes to Sustainable Development Goal 2.2, to end all forms of malnutrition by 2030 and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons.
So far, we’ve reached over 36,000 adolescent girls and 18,000 mums through schools and community centres. We’ve trained 78 community health volunteers and 50 teachers on preventing anaemia. With the help of brand ambassador, Grace Msalame, and media personality Jacky Vike (Awinja), we’ve also recruited ‘Iron Ladies’ around the country – champions for creating iron-deficiency awareness. Through media coverage and social media, we’ve reached 6.5 million people in total. And going forwards, we hope to scale up our partnership even more with Christian Aid.
“Partnering with Unilever gives Christian Aid the opportunity to work with a company that shares our values and the goal to improve nutrition for adolescent girls, targeting the most vulnerable communities. By working together, we will have a stronger voice and create the linkages needed for engaging policy makers on nutrition.” Philip Galgallo, Country Manager, Christian Aid Kenya
This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal
Our advocacy efforts for fortification
To deliver our fortification commitment, it’s important we address consumer barriers, ensure labelling transparency, and encourage the removal of regulatory hurdles where they exist.
Iodine, for example, is one of the five essential micronutrients. Replacing salt with iodized salt is part of our strategy that contributes to our fortification commitment. Food grade salt fortified with iodine can be used in food products in most countries. And many countries have regulated the levels of iodine in salt, as well as the chemical substances used for iodine fortification.