Unilever to accelerate transition to healthy foods in wake of mounting investor pressure 

UK – UK food manufacturing giant Unilever has made a commitment to ramp up its efforts towards creating a healthier food products portfolio. 

The pledge comes in the wake of mounting pressure from investors who have criticised the maker of Marmite spread and Magnum ice cream for lagging behind some of its food manufacturing peers. 

The London-based company will work with UK charity and ESG advocate ShareAction to set new healthy nutrition benchmarks for its food and beverage brands in a project encompassing 16 global markets. 

Unilever will measure its performance against six “government-endorsed nutrient profile models”, a move that will make it the first global Foods company to do so publicly. 

Some of the Models that Unilever plans to focus on include the high fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) initiative in the UK and NutriScore in wider Europe, with its first assessment to be published in October. 

The company has also pledged to set “timebound targets” for plant-based sales and to cut salt, sugar and calories across its portfolio, as well as increasing the sale of “healthier positive nutrition products”.  

The Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream maker revealed that the new goals will be published by October. 

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ShareAction and its Healthy Markets Initiative was among a 100-strong group of individuals and 11 institutional investors with US$125bn in assets that last week criticised Unilever for trailing peers on healthier food and beverages. 

The group claimed that Unilever only had 17% of its portfolio dedicated to such food and drinks, compared to 61% for Danone, 43% for Nestlé, 36% at Kraft Heinz, 29% for General Mills and 26% at Kellogg. 

Hanneke Faber, the president of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment division, said: “We welcome the constructive dialogue we have had with ShareAction and the Healthy Markets Initiative. 

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I am confident that with these new initiatives, we will set a new benchmark for nutrition transparency in our industry and accelerate our positive impact on public health.” 

Around 25,000 individual Unilever products will be covered by the project in the US, UK and Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, France, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 

 Also amongst the 16 markets are Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, South Africa, Indonesia, India, China and Australia. 

Catherine Howarth, the CEO of ShareAction, added: “A food manufacturer as large as Unilever has the power to improve the health of millions of people across the world. Responsible investors are challenging such companies to step up. 

“We welcome Unilever’s new commitments. The transparency promised sets a new standard for the industry. We hope and expect that others will follow.” 

Over the last year, Unilever has hiked up its efforts to expand its business partnerships and investments with a focus on health. 

Last January, the company partnered with specialist Holobiome, securing next level access to the “microbiome vault” of knowledge about specific food ingredients that interact with key gut bacteria. 

The owner of the Knorr brand of soups and cooking aids said it will update and strengthen its specific targets that expire at the end of 2022. 

It further said it will “consider both HNS and at least six different NPMs to determine which is the most stretching target benchmark to increase sales of healthier products in a way that maximises positive impact for global consumer health”.

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