Providing good fats & oils

We have committed to improving the fat composition of our products. We have removed partially hydrogenated vegetable oils – a source of trans fat – from our portfolio. We continue to increase essential fats and reduce saturated fat.

What can be good about fat?

Fat is an important element of our diet. It helps the body absorb certain nutrients and is a source of energy. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) between 20% and 35% of our energy intake should come from fats.1

WHO and other health authorities recommend replacing dietary saturated fat with omega 6 and omega 3 polyunsaturated fats. In the majority of countries around the world, people currently consume more saturated fat than they should, and do not meet recommended daily amounts for polyunsaturated fats.

You may have recently read debates in the media about saturated fat and the validity of current dietary guidelines. This has been fuelled by some studies that did not take into account which nutrient(s) replaced saturated fat in the diet when its intake was lowered. Replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates from refined starches and added sugar has no benefit for heart health, and may even increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

There is, however, convincing evidence that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats decreases the risk of coronary heart disease.2 It is estimated that if people move 2% of their daily calories from saturated to polyunsaturated fat, they will reduce their risk of heart disease by 5%.

We want to help people choose foods with more unsaturated than saturated fats, while enjoying great tasting products – see our position statement (PDF | 346KB). We also have a commitment to reduce saturated fats and increase polyunsaturated fats in our soft vegetable oil spreads.

Our trans fats story

Trans fats (also known as ‘trans fatty acids’), elevate ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and lower ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol. Health experts recommend that we should reduce our intake of trans fats to as low a level as possible to help prevent heart disease.

Trans fats occur naturally in butter, cheese and meat. In the food industry, a process called hydrogenation is sometimes used to convert vegetable oils into solid fats for greater functionality, stability and shelf life. When a fat is partially hydrogenated, this process produces trans fats. Importantly, however, full hydrogenation does not result in trans fat production.

By 2012, we had removed trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils from across our portfolio, both in retail and foodservice – see our position statement (PDF | 307KB).

We have published our definition and approach to removing trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.3

Introducing ‘cool blending’

Our Blue Band, Becel, Rama and Country Crock spreads are made with oils such as sunflower, rapeseed, linseed and soybean oils – all rich in unsaturated fats.

We know that some saturated fat in spreads is needed to keep the spreads firm and to give pleasant melting and flavour sensations in the mouth.

We are now using a method called ‘cool blending’ for many of our products, for example our Country Crock spread in the US. This means less saturated fat is needed to produce great-quality spreads, which still contain significant amounts of essential fats. It also means that spreads need fewer ingredients, and help meet people’s increasing desire for simpler products.

A better Blue Band

Our Blue Band spreads hold leading positions in margarine markets around the world. For instance, in Indonesia it has been on sale for over 80 years and is well loved by mothers, particularly for breakfast.

In 2015, we successfully relaunched Blue Band margarine in Indonesia, and Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda with at least 25% reduced saturated fat, and significantly increased omega 3 and 6. Our new recipe allows us to make margarine that is rich in essential oils, and stable at high or tropical room temperatures. Previously we had to rely on more saturated fats to ensure that the margarines were not too soft in stores or distribution.

We conducted research together with the University of Indonesia and Bogor Institute of Agriculture, which showed that most Indonesian children do not eat enough omega 3 and 6 polyunsaturated fats. We shared this research with over 100 healthcare professionals at a local symposium, and are raising awareness of the importance of polyunsaturated fats through social media. We also sponsored National Breakfast Week, offering cooking demonstrations and distributing nourishing sandwiches made with Blue Band, while highlighting the importance of breakfast to 6,000 schoolchildren.

In East Africa, Blue Band is the only spread with omega 3 and 6, which together with seven vitamins contributes to improved nutrition for children. The Ministry of Education in Tanzania has approved our programme to increase awareness of the nutritional benefits of Blue Band margarine. We do this by training champion school teachers and brand ambassadors in more than 250 schools, who shared their knowledge with their pupils. Working together with the Ministries of Education, teachers in Uganda and Kenya have also been trained. We have reached a total of 1,000 teachers and aim to reach over 1.3 million children in the region.

Goodness of margarine

Some people are uncertain about margarines, believing them to be artificial. In fact, they are made from plant-based ingredients such as sunflower or rapeseed oils. Misconceptions may hold people back from replacing sources of saturated fat in their diet, as advised by dietary guidelines.4 Addressing these misconceptions is essential to helping people improve their intakes of healthier fats.

We make sure that all our communication is based on the latest scientific consensus and we stimulate discussions among scientists to clarify messages. The benefits of replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats were highlighted to over 350 nutrition experts at the Federation of European Nutrition Societies’ conference in October 2015, and at a Saturated Fats Expert meeting in November 2015. The International Expert Movement (IEM) on Fats & Health aims to improve fat quality in the diets of everyone, everywhere. Through an unrestricted education grant, Unilever NV funds the IEM, whose activities are held under the auspices of the International Union of Nutritional Sciences.

Also in 2015, together with the Lipid Science group of South Africa, we hosted The Lipid Symposium for 180 healthcare professionals. These events were organised in partnership with the University of Freestate and Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The symposium participants agreed that that it is more important to focus communications on the quality of dietary fat rather than the quantity. They also agreed that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat has a positive effect on heart disease, and that margarine can be used as part of a healthy diet.

We know that working with nutrition scientists and healthcare professionals alone is not enough for us to reach consumers effectively. So we are also engaging with food bloggers, writers and NGOs. For example, in 2015 in many of our European markets we took journalists and bloggers to farms that form part of our supply chain. We held demonstrations on making margarine in so-called ‘farm to fork’ events so they could see where our spreads come from.

Becel – delicious & nutritious blend of oils from nature

Our research in the Netherlands showed that many people do not know what Becel products are made from. So in 2015 we launched a pop-up Blend Bar by Becel in the popular Markthal Premium Food Market in Rotterdam, to let people experience first hand just how natural and tasty Becel is. Two-Michelin starred chef Fred Mustert blended fresh spreads on the spot, based on the masterblend of sunflower, linseed and rapeseed oils, selected to bring the optimal mix of omegas 3 and 6.

Our Blend Bar by Becel proved a huge hit, attracting 150,000 people to taste the difference over an eight-week period. After visiting the Bar, 46% of non-Becel users said they had a more positive perception of Becel.

“The Blend Bar by Becel is a unique concept,” says Berend-Jan Taken, responsible for Baking, Cooking and Spreads at Unilever in the Netherlands. “It is particularly special, as oil blending was never considered a craft until now, even though it has been the basis for Becel products and innovations for more than 50 years.”

In 2016, we plan to bring the Blend Bar to other locations across Europe.

Better baking with Becel

The biggest impact we can make to encourage people to eat better-quality fat is by encouraging healthier fats for baking, cooking and spreading. For example, through enticing recipes on websites, TV and social media, we encourage people to bake and cook with our liquid margarines, which are rich in essential fats. Following the success of popular baking programmes on TV, many people are again interested in baking.

In Canada, for example, Becel is promoting ‘Better-for-You’ cooking and baking by switching from hard fats to soft spreads. Consumers are encouraged to replace butter with Becel in their favourite baking recipes, for 80% less saturated fat and no trans fat. To support this we introduced our versatile Becel ‘Anything Goes Cookie Dough’ recipe, offering consumers a better-for-you cookie dough base, which allows consumers to customise based on their taste and dietary needs.

You can access easy recipes at www.becel.ca.

Good news for butter lovers

Taste is central to encouraging people to switch away from products higher in saturated fat. Authorities have welcomed our mélanges approach because it helps people move towards alternatives that are lower in saturated fat. Mélanges are vegetable oil-based spreads with a twist of butter added, offering the taste of butter but with 40% less saturated fat, and the spreadability of margarine.

We are now introducing mélanges with even less saturated fat. For example, in 2015 we launched Becel with butter with 50% less saturated fat than butter, in Finland, Spain, Czech Republic and the Netherlands.

That’s good news for people who love the taste of butter.

1 Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation. WHO Technical Report Series 916. Geneva 2003.

2 Examples of research: Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. Effects on Coronary Heart Disease of Increasing Polyunsaturated Fat in Place of Saturated Fat: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. PLoS medicine. 2010; 7(3); and Jakobsen MU, O’Reilly EJ, Heitmann BL, Pereira MA, Balter K, Fraser GE, et al. Major types of dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease: a pooled analysis of 11 cohort studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009 May; 89 (5):1425–32

3 See Melnikov S & Zevenbergen H, ‘Implementation of removing trans fatty acids originating from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’. New Food 2012; 5: 44–46. This approach focuses on main ingredients in our recipes and does not include traces of trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil that may be found in some flavours or emulsifiers.

4 2012 Nordic Nutrition Recommendations and the recently updated German Dietary guidelines on dietary fatty acids

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