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Sustainable fruit & vegetables

We couldn't make our food brands without high quality vegetables and fruit from all over the world.

Tamarind farmer

Our brands rely on a network of growers & suppliers

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People a day use Knorr products

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Growers provide the fruit and vegetables we buy from 500 suppliers

Securing a reliable supply of the best ingredients is essential to the long-term future of food brands that people can trust on taste, nutrition and sustainability.

We’ve defined vegetables as one of the priority crops for our business, and our Knorr brand uses the most vegetables in its soups, sauces and other food products. We buy significant quantities of tomatoes, onions, pumpkins, leeks, green beans, mushrooms, potatoes, celeriac, peas and carrots, as well as herbs such as basil, parsley and chives.

For our other brands, in particular our ice creams such as Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, Carte d’Or and Breyers we buy a range of high quality fruit including strawberries, guava, mango, raspberries and bananas. Apples for example are an important ingredient for our savoury and dressing brands such as UK favourite Colman’s Bramley Apple Sauce.

Such a wide range of ingredients requires a diverse supply chain. We buy fruit and vegetables from around 500 suppliers, who in turn buy from around 50,000 growers and farmers.

Supplier partnerships bear fruit ... & vegetables

As our expert buyers seek the best quality ingredients worldwide, the scale and diversity of our supply chain is a great opportunity to make a positive environmental and social impact. But since international certification standards for fruit and vegetables do not currently exist, working in partnership with others is critical if we are to source these ingredients sustainably.

We work closely with our farmers and suppliers to help them meet the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) standard, and we support many wider partnership initiatives to drive improvement in the sector. For example, as a result of working with Radboud University, we’ve taken a big step forward in our understanding of the greenhouse gas emissions from tomato growing.

We've seen significant improvements in the sustainability of many of our most important ingredients – and we've welcomed the growth of our suppliers' own sustainability agendas where they meet our standards, because we believe that supplier-led change is the best and most efficient way to achieve sustainability across the industry.

To find out more about the Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code, see Our sustainable agriculture programme.

Groundbreaking study shows tomato farmers cutting GHG emissions

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Reduction in GHG footprints on tomato farms using our Sustainable Agriculture Code

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Of the world’s production of tomatoes for processing

We want our Sustainable Agriculture Code to make a real difference to the environmental impact of our products - including the impact of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions created by agriculture. But how can we tell if it is working?

The data we collect on the environmental performance of our suppliers gives us a unique opportunity to measure our progress scientifically. In 2017, we published the findings of a study we conducted with researchers from Radboud University in the Netherlands. The study investigated the GHG emissions associated with the production of tomatoes in our supply chain.

While any set of agricultural data is complex because of the many variables involved, the results are highly encouraging as they showed an overall 25% decrease in GHG footprints in the sampled farms in the three years examined (2013–2015).

The study itself is groundbreaking: the first to provide an integrated analysis of the variability of GHG emissions in global production of a crop.

It looked at 890 observations from farms growing tomatoes according to our Sustainable Agriculture Code across 14 countries over 2013–2015. That adds up, on average, to 3% of the annual global production of processing tomatoes ¬– a significant sample that can help us, and others, gain insights on how farming and sourcing practices can reduce the impact of agriculture on the climate.

How can we make sustainable agriculture commonplace?

Raising standards across the industry is also the focus of the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, which we helped establish. It helps us identify links with other fast-moving consumer goods companies with whom we have suppliers in common. This enables us to boost the implementation of our sustainable agriculture agenda in a pre-competitive manner.

We’ve defined our purpose as a business as making sustainable living commonplace - and our vision for sustainable agriculture is that is becomes a mainstream practice. To achieve this transformation at scale means working with governments, NGOs, and other businesses, as well as with suppliers and farmers, and with the people who eat our foods and ice creams - see Connecting consumers and sustainability. For more information on the programmes we run to enhance livelihoods among smallholder farmers see Inclusive Business.

Knorr – partnering with farmers

Knorr, is sold in around 90 countries. It’s used by 320 million people every day, so as well as being our largest food brand, it’s one of the world’s largest cooking brands too. Knorr has worked closely with farmers for more than 175 years and today it’s making a positive change across the food system – from the way food is grown to the way it’s consumed.

High quality, sustainable ingredients are vital for Knorr’s delicious, nutritious food – and its Landmark Farms and Sustainability Partnership Fund are just two of the ways it’s promoting change for the better.


Growing sustainably for Knorr

Landmark Farms showcase sustainability

Knorr Landmark Farm status is given to farmers who meet our SAC standards and pioneer new technology or sustainable farming methods. Knorr works with Landmark Farmers to help inspire consumers, journalists and local communities about sustainable agriculture.

Worldwide, there are over 30 Landmark Farms that share knowledge and help other farmers realise the positive impact that sustainable agriculture can have on the quality of their produce, the efficiency of their operations, and their local environment and wildlife.

Knorr’s Sustainability Partnership Fund spends up to €1 million a year co-funding sustainable farming projects with suppliers to help improve their sustainability practices. A number of the Fund’s projects have supported better irrigation – as we see farmers are having to adapt to droughts as rainfall becomes more unpredictable and groundwater aquifers run low. In 2017 it invested in eight sustainable agriculture projects in seven countries as far apart as Belgium and Peru.


Cauliflower growing

Tackling water problems

In Belgium, farmers growing potatoes, leeks and cauliflower for Knorr in West Flanders typically use surface water for irrigation. This means farmers sometimes have to drive as far as 10km away to transport water by truck when the surface water is not available. Meanwhile Ardo, a Knorr supplier of frozen vegetables, creates 600,000 cubic metres of wastewater every year that could be used to irrigate fields.

Knorr’s Sustainability Partnership Fund is contributing €200,000 over two years to a major infrastructure project to construct a reservoir and pipeline. This will provide 47 vegetable growers with irrigation water that has been recycled from the Ardo factory, giving them a more sustainable, reliable source of water. The project will also support farmers to use irrigation water more efficiently.

Construction of the €2.6 million project started in 2017 for completion in 2019. It is being funded by the European Union, the local province of West-Vlaanderen, Ardo and a co-operative of local farmers.

At the other side of the world in an arid region of Peru, a herb farmer growing the parsley, basil and other herbs we need for Knorr is currently using flood irrigation. The system is inefficient, which means he’s only able to irrigate half his farm. Our Fund is co-funding drip irrigation to enable the farmer to save around 100,000 cubic metres of water a year, irrigate all 12 hectares of the farm and significantly increase yields.

Enhancing Livelihoods Fund

We developed our Enhancing Livelihoods Fund (ELF) in 2015, in partnership with Oxfam and the Ford Foundation. Through the fund, we enable investment in innovative projects in our supply chain that improve the agricultural practices and livelihoods of smallholder farming communities, with a specific focus on empowering women. The fund provides a mix of loans, guarantees, and grants intended to incentivise investment in new processes that make a difference to communities while improving agricultural practices and crop yields.


Impact of gherkin programme

A mobile education

One of the first suppliers to receive support from the Enhancing Livelihoods Fund was Marcatus QED. It used this investment alongside its own funding to research and develop a gender-inclusive responsible farming curriculum designed to help double the yield in its Indian gherkin supply chain within three years.

The Marcatus Mobile Education Platform uses simple technology to help families learn about sustainable agricultural practices through locally-made farmer videos.

To assess the impact of its video-based training methodology, Marcatus QED collected data from a randomised selection of farmers in over 1,200 villages between November 2015 and April 2016. The results demonstrated a 63% adoption rate of practices shown through group video screenings; 20% average increase in yields compared to a group of non-participants; and a 24% increase in net income compared to a group of non-participants.

Another of our major partnerships is The Enhancing Livelihoods Investment Initiative. This is a partnership between Unilever, Acumen and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (CGEP) which aims to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and their communities in Africa, South Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Launched in 2015, the fund’s first investment of $800,000 went to BURN Manufacturing to bring their new low-cost, energy efficient wood-burning cook stove to smallholder and plantation workers in tea estates in Kenya and Tanzania.

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