Reducing food waste
We're addressing food loss and waste across our value chain through innovation and collaboration.
Changing the food system: a global opportunity
We all know how precious – and essential – our food is. For the first time in decades, world hunger is on the rise yet nearly 700 million people are obese and each year, one-third of the total food the world produces – around 1.3 billion tonnes – is wasted.
That is not just a waste of the world's natural resources. It is also a huge part of the world's carbon footprint – around 8-10% of global emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in its 2019 report renewed its calls for a dramatic reduction in food loss and waste.
Tackling food waste is an enormous opportunity to address food insecurity and mitigate climate change. And it is a challenge that has to be met at a global level, focusing on the complex systems by which food is produced, consumed and disposed of, by our industry and others.
We’re working to reduce wasted or lost food in our value chain – from farm to fork. We know we’ve got a long way to go – and that we can't transform the global food system on our own. So alongside our work in our own operations and value chain, we're working with a wide range of partners to help shape the change we want to see.
Five reasons the world must tackle food loss and waste
- There is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone, yet 821 million people go to bed hungry every night.1 And this number has been increasing since 2015, despite reductions between 2005 and 2015.
- Around a third of the food produced globally is lost or wasted – that's about 1.3 billion tonnes each year.2 According to the EAT-Lancet Commission’s January 2019 report, we cannot achieve a sustainable food system without addressing the challenge of food loss and waste.3
- 28% of the world's agricultural area is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.4
- Food loss and waste contribute heavily to climate change, making up around 8-10% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Around 1 billion tonnes of CO2e per year could be avoided if, globally, humanity tackled food loss and waste across the value chain.5
- Food waste costs the global economy around US$940 billion each year.6 Reducing this waste across the value chain is a major business opportunity, valued at US$405 billion.7
Working with partners to shape change and cut waste
Our partnership work includes the business collaboration called Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH), which focuses on achieving Sustainable Development Goal target 12.3 of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development, which aims to halve per capita consumer food waste and reduce food losses along the value chain. And Alan Jope, our CEO, is a member of Champions 12.3, a global coalition of leaders from governments, businesses and civil society, dedicated to accelerating progress toward achieving SDG target 12.3.
In 2015, we helped to shape the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Food Waste Resolution. This Resolution commits to halving disposed food waste by 2025 in retail and manufacturing operations, and to supporting food waste reductions at consumer level and across supply chains.
Reporting against the Food Waste Resolution
During 2016-17, we worked with the CGF and the World Resources Institute (WRI) to develop our reporting methodology (PDF | 333KB) to measure our food waste footprint in our direct operations. We use the Global Food Loss and Waste Standard, an accounting and reporting guide that helps quantify how much food is lost or wasted in our manufacturing operations. This means we can aim to be as efficient as possible in our manufacturing.
In 2016, our benchmark year, we disposed of 363 g food waste per tonne of food produced from our 165 food manufacturing operations. In 2019, we disposed of 193 g food waste per tonne of food produced from 141 food manufacturing operations – a 47% reduction compared to 2016. We send most of our food waste for reuse, recycling and energy recovery – that is, energy generated from the incineration process. Only 0.39% of the waste from our food sites in 2019 was disposed to landfill or sewers or incinerated without energy recovery.
As most of our food products have a long shelf-life – products such as mustard, ice cream and stock cubes – we don’t produce much food waste in our direct operations. However, we’re continuing to reduce the amount of waste we generate.
For example, if our ice cream packaging lines stop working, we store the ice cream safely so it can be packaged when the lines are fixed, rather than letting it become food waste. And when raw materials are not used in finished goods, we don’t want to waste them. In Argentina, for example, we use vegetable waste as soil fertiliser.
Since our food waste footprint 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 while focusing our efforts on reducing food loss and waste across our value chain. We will do this by engaging with suppliers and retailers, and by advocating food system reform.
In 2017, we signed the CGF commitment to switch to standardised food expiry dates by 2020. The aim is to tackle food waste by avoiding the confusion around date labels that often cause people to throw away good food. We're also using our brands to reach consumers – and helping them cut waste through great products and innovative ideas.
Love them or hate them: brands are saving on waste
You may not have heard of ‘aquafaba' – but you may well have thrown it away. It is the leftover liquid from cans of chickpeas, and it can be whipped in a similar way to egg whites, making a great base for a vegan mayonnaise. That's made it the secret sauce in Fabanaise, the vegan mayonnaise made by our Sir Kensington's brand – saving a valuable ingredient that would once have been poured away.
Making good use of a by-product isn't a completely new idea, of course. However you feel about Marmite, everyone should love the fact that it has been using leftover yeast from the breweries of Burton on Trent to make its pungent spread since 1902.
And around the world, our Hellmann’s brand is championing the true value of food, tackling food waste through behaviour change campaigns, innovative recipes, and through its support for organisations and charities such as OLIO and the Trussell Trust who are tackling food waste and helping fight hunger.
Hellmann's: on the side of food
With Hellmann's, all sorts of delicious meals are possible with leftovers. We’re on the side of food – and believe it's too good to be wasted.
Turning pulp from juicing into a burger. Making a delicious leftover breakfast hash. Creating a nut roast toastie. These are just some of the recipe suggestions the brand has shared in its campaign to help fight food waste.
And Hellmann's is always looking for ways to reach out to consumers and inspire them to eat well while reducing waste. Here are just a few examples:
A great match: feeding a stadium, making a point about waste
Every minute, enough food is wasted in Canada to feed a stadium. So Hellmann’s rescued food from local suppliers and turned it into delicious meals that were fed to an entire stadium free of charge. In a big screen reveal, the audience was made aware that the food they enjoyed was rescued.
To tackle this issue, Hellmann’s launched the Bring Your Own Food restaurant in São Paulo and Prague to inspire people to turn leftover ingredients into delicious meals. Celebrity chefs turned these ingredients into five-star meals using Hellmann’s.
Going green (on tomatoes) for more taste, less waste
Ketchup producers used to have a rule: if a tomato wasn't red, it wasn't going in. But selecting only red tomatoes means that up to 10% of the harvest was discarded. So instead of separating the fruit as usual, our tomato supplier in Spain, Agraz, adapted its process so red and green tomatoes could be processed together. The result was Hellmann's Red and Green Tomato Ketchup, launched in April 2017, which is preventing up to 2.5 million tomatoes being wasted each year.
Treating 'fridge blindness' with a touch of Hellmann's
You look in the fridge, and you think there's nothing to eat. That's what is known as ‘fridge blindness’. Hellmann’s wanted to inspire people with ways to tackle this waste – so we launched Bring Your Own Food restaurants in São Paulo and Prague, where celebrity chefs turned leftover ingredients into five-star meals using Hellmann’s.
Instead of a bill, diners received a recipe of the ingredients used. Every dish became a recipe video – and people can share recipes and tips on social media with our campaign hashtag “#foodhasvalue.”
This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
Turning organic waste into compost – & a factory garden
Southern Brazil, an area known as the breadbasket of the world, is also the location of our Pouso Alegre site where 1,100 of our employees manufacture some of our leading food brands. As well as manufacturing Hellmann’s and Knorr products, the factory has production lines for Arisco broths, Mãe Terra, one of the Brazil’s best-known brands for natural and organic goods, and plant-based beverage AdeS for Coca-Cola.
Around 80% of the factory’s waste is mineral-rich, plant-based, recyclable organic matter. Our team began focusing on ways to achieve zero organic waste disposal and started to brainstorm ideas around circular economy. They realised that organic waste contains all that’s needed to create a great compost. A south-facing green space was found in the factory grounds and an external company was contracted to build some greenhouses and a recycling area, using recycled materials as much as possible. Five people were assigned to the gardening team, who were responsible for caring for the crops and deciding what seasonal varieties to grow.
The garden’s secret ingredient is the compost made from factory waste which provides quality soil and natural pest control. It normally takes 120 days to create compost from organic matter. But using the technology on the site the team reduced the time needed to ten days by simply putting everything in a mixer and using peat and calcium hydroxide to accelerate the exothermic reaction and incorporate beneficial bacteria.
90% of the garden’s harvest is used in the factory’s cafeteria and 10% is given to a local community care home that looks after 80 senior residents and a nursery which educates 217 local children. Factory staff are also free to take lettuce home for their own use. Our Knorr brand’s work on Future Foods and raising awareness of plant-based crops means that beetroot, spinach and purple cabbage may soon be grown in the factory’s greenhouses.
Achieving zero waste and additional revenue opportunities provide the factory with strong commercial benefits. Through using circular economy thinking, our Pouso Alegre team have looked at our manufacturing processes differently to create something new.
Tackling food waste and food needs together
Food banks play a part in addressing food waste while also helping people who live in poverty. Thanks to our broad portfolio of brands and the reach of our operations, we are in a unique position to contribute to food banks, by redistributing surplus stock that would otherwise have gone to waste.
We work with several food bank organisations. Since 2014, we have been working with the European Federation of Food Banks (FEBA), helping food banks develop and extend their reach through organising educational programmes, financial assistance, purchasing new equipment and, in the south of France, sponsoring cooking lessons for families. In 2015, we partnered with The Global FoodBanking Network (GFN), an international non-profit organisation. In the UK, we work with Oxfam to support setting up new community food banks and redistributing surplus food. And in the US, we support Feeding America, the leading domestic hunger-relief charity.
Unilever Food Solutions – helping chefs cut waste
In the UK, food waste costs the food and hospitality industry £2.5 billion each year. Around 920,000 tonnes of food – equivalent to 1.3 billion meals – is thrown away annually, despite the fact that three-quarters of it could have been eaten. Through our foodservice business, Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), we’re using innovation to help chefs and caterers cut their food waste and see how much money they can save in the process.
Our Wise Up on Waste app – launched in the UK in 2013, in partnership with the facilities services provider, ISS Food & Hospitality (F&H) – allows chefs to track and reduce food waste. For example, in the UK, regular use of the app has enabled participating chefs to reduce food waste by an average of 15-20%. The web-based app continued to grow in 2019 and now has 1,983 registered users across the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In 2019, the site was accessed 47,378 times and 95,271 diary entries were recorded across 846 sites.
We run our Food Collective loyalty programme in partnership with Oz Harvest, a leading Australian food rescue NGO, and Kiwi Harvest and Kaibosh, two New Zealand food rescue NGOs. With our partners, Food Collective brings chefs and food suppliers together to reduce excess food and redirect it to those who need it.
Oz Harvest, Kiwi Harvest and Kaibosh collect quality perishable surplus food through Food Collective and distribute it to local charities. Through this programme, we donated AUD$100,000 to Oz Harvest and $30,000 to Kaibosh and Kiwi Harvest in 2019. Also in 2019, we worked with 3,000 Australian and New Zealand food service operators through the Food Collective programme to tackle food waste.
And Unilever Food Solutions in the Netherlands has partnered with social enterprises Samen Tegen and Soupalicious to serve 1 million bowls of soup to food banks and has committed to halving the amount of food waste within the business by 2030.