Reducing food waste
We're addressing food loss and waste across our value chain through innovation and collaboration.
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, after having steadily dropped 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% 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 also a major business opportunity, valued at US$405 billion.7
Tackling the global food system on waste
Tackling food waste is an opportunity to address food insecurity and mitigate climate change – and it requires a global approach. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls for a dramatic reduction in food waste.8 It means focusing on the systems by which food is produced, consumed and disposed of, by our industry and others.
That's a major challenge, and one we cannot address alone. Although we’re working to reduce wasted or lost food in our value chain – from farm to fork – we’ve got a long way to go. That’s why we're working with partners towards this wider systemic change.
To this end, Unilever is part of the business collaboration called Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH), which focuses on achieving SDG Target 12.3 dedicated to halving per capita consumer food waste and reducing food losses along the value chain.
Alan Jope, our new CEO, and Paul Polman, our former CEO, are both members of Champions 12.3, a global coalition of leaders from governments, businesses and civil society, dedicated to accelerating progress toward achieving target 12.3 of the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
Consumer Goods Forum Food Waste Resolution
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, as well as supporting food waste reductions at consumer level and across supply chains.
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, so that we can aim to be as efficient as possible in our manufacturing. 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.
In 2016 – our benchmark year for our food waste footprint – we disposed of 363g food waste per tonne of food produced from our 165 food manufacturing operations. In 2018, we disposed of 328g food waste per tonne of food reduced from 157 food manufacturing operations – this is a 10% 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 0.67% of the waste from our food sites in 2018 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 and focus our efforts on reducing food loss and waste across our value chain. We will do this by engaging with suppliers, retailers and consumers and advocating for food system reform.
On the side of food: too good to be wasted
We’re on the side of food – and believe it's too good to be wasted. Our Hellmann’s brand is championing the true value of food, tackling food waste through behaviour change campaigns and innovative recipes.
Food waste in Brazil is no throwaway topic. 61% of Brazilians dispose of unused food weekly, with 78% reporting “fridge blindness” (the inability to see the possibilities in your fridge) as a contributory factor. To tackle this, the Hellmann’s team launched a campaign in 2018 to inspire people to turn their leftover ingredients into delicious meals. The team kicked off the campaign with the launch of the first-ever “Bring your own food” restaurant: a pop-up eatery proving that virtually any left-over ingredients in the fridge can be turned into an excellent meal, with the help of Hellmann's mayonnaise.
The pop-up eatery went live in August 2018 and, unlike other restaurants, there were no menus, no prices, no restaurant food. The eatery simply offered just delicious possibilities hiding in people's fridges. The event generated widespread coverage across the press, bloggers, vloggers and consumers, showcasing the movement against food waste. The campaign also encouraged people to share recipes and tips on social media with the Unilever campaign hashtag “#foodhasvalue.”
Several years ago, our Hellmann’s brand decided that a traditional rule among ketchup producers needed to be broken: if a tomato wasn't red, it wasn't going in. But selecting only red tomatoes meant that up to 10% of the harvest was discarded. So instead of separating the fruit as usual, our tomato supplier 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 has received positive consumer feedback. The innovation is potentially preventing around 2.5 million tomatoes being wasted each year.
This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goal
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.
We funded an IT pilot project in 2017, aimed at improving inventory management systems in Panama. We’re working with the local food bank Banco de Alimentos Panama, GFN and Accenture Development Partnerships. Improving inventory systems helps food banks distribute products efficiently and ensures no products are discarded because they have reached their expiry date. In under four months, the food bank saved more than 30,600kg of food.
#DontWasteFood: wasting less in Argentina
No one wants to see food thrown away when there are people struggling to get by – and the best way to address food waste is in partnership with others. In Argentina, where 16 million tonnes of food is wasted each year9, we’re working with consumers, retailers, non-governmental organisations, the UN and the Argentine Ministry of Agroindustry to ensure less food is thrown away.
Food banks play a vital role. We have been working with the Buenos Aires Food Bank since 2004, donating more than 6,500 tonnes of food in that time and reaching over 110,000 people every day. It is a relationship that makes sense commercially as well as socially. By donating food that would otherwise be destroyed, we avoided more than €436,000 in destruction costs during 2018 and reached the people who needed the food instead.
Spreading the message
During the last three years, we have broadened our work to reduce food waste through the #DontWasteFood campaign. Our partnership with Carrefour, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the Ministry of Agroindustry offers people tips on how to buy food, plan meals, cook smarter and use leftovers, while avoiding food waste. Through our Hellmann’s brand we shared recipes and tips for using up food leftovers – with the help of our products – through our “Save the food” social media and advertising campaign.
In 2018, we built on our work to date and intensified our approach to tackling food waste. Miguel Kozuszok, Executive Vice President of Latin America, participated in the Business 20 (B20) Summit in Argentina. B20, the private sector’s voice of the G20 community, focuses on major challenges that are impacting the world, such as food accessibility and undernourishment. At B20, we included the topic of food waste in the number of recommendations to be raised to the G20 countries and the EU.
As part of our partnerships with Carrefour, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the Secretary of Agroindustry, we established an Alliance with the Parliamentary Front against the Hunger of Argentina in 2016 and have been working since then to promote a bill to create an official National Day Against Food Loss and Waste.
As the end of 2018 approached, and with the festive season in mind, we launched a new phase of our “Save the food” campaign to reach more consumers. We ask ourselves the question “Why do we waste food?” and using these insights, we worked with lifestyle and chef influencers through digital content, to encourage people to reduce their food waste. We shared videos, surveys, recipes and tips to help people avoid wasting food.
We also sent a group of influencers a “Save the food” kit to enable them to also encourage people to reduce their food waste, and share tips for doing so in the process. In total, we reached over 3.3 million people through the campaign.
This work contributes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
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. The web-based app has 1,370 registered users across the UK, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The site was accessed 31,114 times in 2018 and 54,243 diary entries were recorded for 2018 across 651 sites.
In the UK, we ran a pilot for the tool with a large contract caterer for two months in 2018; it resulted in a 15% reduction in food preparation waste and a 20% reduction in food plate waste.
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 2018. Also in 2018, we worked with 3000 Australian and New Zealand food service operators through the Food Collective programme to tackle food waste.