Sustainable fruit & vegetables

A wide range of fruit and vegetables is essential to the great tastes of our brands. Ensuring that we source them sustainably not only secures our supplies to meet consumer demand - it also enables us to make a positive environmental and social impact, while making a difference to thousands of lives.

Tamarind farmer

Our foods depend on 50,000 growers

We want our foods to be both delicious and nutritious - which means securing a reliable and sustainable supply of the best ingredients. Our largest brand, Knorr, 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 other brands, in particular our ice creams, we buy high quality strawberries, guava, mango, raspberries and bananas among other fruits, while apples are an important ingredient for our savoury and dressing brands.

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.

This scale and diversity is a great opportunity to make a positive environmental and social impact. It also brings challenges - especially since international certification standards for fruit and vegetables do not currently exist.

That means working in partnership with others is critical if we are to reach our target of sourcing 100% of our fruit and vegetables sustainably. We work closely with our farmers and suppliers to help them meet our Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) standard, while also playing our part in wider partnership initiatives to drive improvement in the sector. More information on the programmes we run to enhance livelihoods among smallholder farmers can be found in Inclusive Business.


Manisha Dhatrak of Varun Agro with a tomato farmer in India
Increased tomato yields drive success for farmers & for Unilever

More than 5,000 smallholders grow the tomatoes we buy from our Indian supplier, Varun Agro, to make Kissan ketchup, India’s market-leading ketchup. Working with Varun Agro founder Manisha Dhatrak and the Maharashtra government, we've helped train 5,000 farmers, covering 9,000 acres of land, in sustainable agriculture practices. Plans are in place to extend this to another 5,000 farmers. 

Besides India, we source from farmers large and small in the world’s main tomato-growing areas, including Europe, the US, Chile and China. We buy around 2% of the world’s tomatoes for processing, and by the end of 2016, almost 100% of our tomatoes were from sustainable sources.

Focusing on impact

Since we launched our SAC and started using it to guide our work with farmers and suppliers, we've seen significant improvements in the sustainability of many of our most important ingredients.

Alongside this progress we have welcomed the growth of supplier-led sustainability agendas as well as the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, which we helped establish and which 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 – including fruit and vegetables – in a pre-competitive manner.

Our vision is for sustainable agriculture to become mainstream, with a focus on actively changing practices in farms to make them more sustainable. To achieve this, we continue to work with governments, NGOs, and other businesses, as well as with suppliers and farmers, and consumers - see Inspiring consumers.

Knorr - showing leadership

Our largest food brand, Knorr, is sold in nearly 90 countries and used by 320 million people every day. It has worked closely with farmers for more than 175 years.

Quality, sustainable ingredients are important to the brand. According to Knorr’s Foods Attitude study in 2013, 76% of consumers are more likely to buy products with sustainably sourced ingredients, and 74% of people believe that sustainably sourced ingredients mean better quality food.


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 around 40 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 Partnerships Fund spends up to €1 million a year co-funding sustainable farming projects with suppliers to help improve their sustainability practices. By the end of 2016, the Fund had approved 106 projects with suppliers in 27 countries.

Funding improvements for farmers

In 2015, we developed our Enhancing Livelihoods Fund (ELF), 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 bring about a social impact whilst 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, which 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.

The Enhancing Livelihoods Investment Initiative 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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