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Our nutrition philosophy and approach

Average read time: 12 minutes

The fundamentals that underpin our nutrition strategy and how we make decisions and work with others.

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Everyone deserves access to good food

We believe in offering healthier options that are affordable and accessible to all, and we’re continuously improving the nutritional profile of our foods and refreshment products.

It’s important to us that everything we do is underpinned by leading-edge science. Our nutrition standards follow international dietary guidelines and apply to our whole portfolio – covering every country, brand and product.

We also believe it’s our duty to have clear principles to ensure we’re responsible in our marketing , labelling and communications with consumers.

And, as one of the largest food manufacturers in the world, we’re taking action to help shape a global food system that’s fair for everyone and the planet. We’re driving this through our Future Foods Positive Nutrition Action Plan (PDF 229.83 KB) . But we know we can’t transform the food system alone, so we advocate and partner with others to drive change.

We aspire to be a force for good in food

We know that to have a healthy business, we need a healthy society. We’re making sure that our brands are part of the solution. Hellmann’s, for instance, aims to help people ‘make taste, not waste’ by tackling food waste. Knorr is ‘reinventing food for humanity’ by motivating people to change the world by changing what’s on their plate, alongside its focus on sustainable sourcing. The Vegetarian Butcher wants to ‘sacrifice nothing’, and Horlicks aims to ‘nourish a billion lives’, while Wall’s heart-shaped logo (and company) stands for bringing happiness to the whole community, with consciously produced ice cream that's good for people and the planet.

Through our brands, our vision is to be a world-class force for good in food – but what does this mean in practice?

It means helping people to make healthier choices, while still offering food and beverages that they can enjoy without compromising on taste. We can’t tell people what to eat, but we can provide more low calorie and high nutrition content products to make it easier for people to have healthy diets.

Our nutrition improvement journey began over 20 years ago when we published our Nutrition Policy, followed by our Nutrition Enhancement Programme. We reviewed all our products worldwide to assess their salt, sugar and saturated fat content and defined actions for improvements. This led to us setting time-bound targets in our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, and by the end of 2020, we had doubled the size of our portfolio of products that meet our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS).

Our Strategy and goals explains how we’re now going even further with our Future Foods strategy. And we’re proud that our steps so far towards being a world-class force for good in food have been recognised with our rankings by ATNI, FAIRR and the World Benchmarking Alliance.

Healthy options for a healthy diet

We’re ensuring our products are made responsibly – with a focus on taste and the planet, and of course good nutrition underpins our approach.

Future Foods

Future Foods is our plan to help people transition towards healthier diets and reduce the environmental impact of the food chain.

Through Future Foods, we are continuously improving our entire portfolio. We do this based on science and delivering it through our brands with purpose as well as partnerships.

Our Future Foods strategy
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Our innovation approach

To help fix our broken food system, serve consumers and grow our business sustainably at the same time, innovation is crucial. Our teams draw on insights from consumers, plus the best and brightest thinking from specialists inside and outside Unilever, to develop food and beverage products that enable people to choose healthier diets for themselves and the planet.

Science-based strategy and innovation

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Our Future Foods strategy and our approach to innovation are based on the latest scientific understanding of the role of nutrition for good health and wellbeing.

We use this science to develop great-tasting products that meet the nutritional needs of our consumers and that deliver their health and wellbeing needs. We also use science to underpin all our nutrition commitments, claims and communications, and to help ensure that external guidelines, regulations and policies are based on the best science.

We seek to work with others and invite people to share knowledge and best practice through our innovate with us portal.

From topics like plant-based foods, sustainable nutrition and the gut microbiome , to mental wellbeing, life stages, behaviour change and precision nutrition, we stay on top of the latest scientific evidence. We share our findings through peer-reviewed publications (PDF 382.44 KB) and presentations at scientific conferences.

Take our Unilever Nutrition Standards as an example

Science and dietary guidance underpin our Unilever Nutrition Standards and we have two standards which guide our portfolio improvement. The first is our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS), which are intended to limit nutrients of concern in our products. The second is our Positive Nutrition Standards (PNS) which aim to increase dietary recommended nutrients and ingredients that consumers should eat more of, for their and the planet’s health.

We’ve based both standards on WHO dietary guidelines and road-tested them with guidance from external experts in nutrient profiling to ensure they’re robust.

Our standards tackle three key elements.

We’ve explained more about the science underpinning our standards in our Unilever Nutrition Standards booklet (PDF 540.15 KB) .

We have also assessed our product portfolio globally and for 16 key strategic markets against six Nutrient Profile Models (NPM) and reported the results here (PDF 199.65 KB) .

Science also underpins our claims, marketing and labelling

We’re careful to ensure we can fully support any claims we make. We first introduced our Unilever Nutrition and Health Claims Framework in 2005, providing guidance for nutrition and health claims on our products. Today, this framework ensures a solid scientific and legal basis for our claims, ensuring they are credible, compelling, differentiating and comply with regulatory requirements.

Our Claims Substantiation Committee provides governance, ensuring that the nutrition and health claims we make are underpinned by sound science. We use our Highest Nutritional Standards as guidance for nutrition and health claims and, if local regulations or voluntary industry standards are stricter than our Unilever Standards for nutrients of concern, we follow the stricter standard for any claims. Our global position on claims explains more.

We’re also committed to promoting healthy diets by marketing and advertising our nutritious products responsibly. We’re guided by our General Marketing Principles and our Principles on Responsible Food & Beverage Marketing to Children, Advertising and Marketing details our approach.

Our nutrition labelling policy covers our entire Nutrition and Ice Cream portfolios, which means we apply it in all countries (even if those countries have no labelling regulations). It stipulates that we must provide key information on pack and adhere to regulations. Currently, 99.7% of our sales volume provides nutritional information that’s in line with our policy. ​

We also take exceptional care to include accurate allergen information that complies with local regulations.

We support the implementation of front-of-pack labels.

Strong governance = high standards

To make sure we maintain our high standards, and that everything we do is based on leading-edge scientific evidence, it’s essential that we have a strong system of governance in place. Governance in nutrition (PDF 224.88 KB) sets out how we do this.

Strong governance structures and clear lines of accountability ensure we deliver our Future Foods commitments. When we consider acquiring new brands, such as Horlicks for example, we look at the fit of the portfolio against our nutrition standards.

We also draw on insights from external experts to challenge our thinking. For example, we asked external experts for their opinions on our Positive Nutrition Standards and the new Unilever Science-based Nutrition Criteria (USNC) which will replace our current Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS) from 2023.

We’ve modelled our new criteria against dietary surveys in five of our major markets. We’ve published the results of this modelling in a scientific journal, which show potential public health impact in all of them. We continue to set product-specific standards, taking into account the role of the product, and we’re pleased that these were well received as they incentivise further reformulation. These external experts also complimented us on our leadership in product improvement.

We also draw on insights from external experts to challenge our thinking. For example, we asked external experts for their opinions on the next iteration of our new Highest Nutritional Standards which we plan to launch when our current HNS commitment expires at the end of 2022. We continue to set product-specific standards, taking into account the role of the product, and we’re pleased that these were well received as they incentivise further reformulation. The experts also complimented us on our leadership in product improvement.

We’re working in partnership

To make a difference to the multifaceted problems the food system faces – not least changing people’s eating habits – we need to work together with governments, health authorities, academia, retailers, civil society, consumer pressure groups and the media.

This means working in partnership with others, and advocating for improvements to be made, backed by science.

We’re encouraging others to join us

We work with others to create a positive external environment within which we can grow responsibly and deliver our ambitions. So that it gives us the freedom to operate, to help shape the future, and to be proactive in sharing our nutrition story and inspiring others in our industry to join us. Some of the key areas are explained in our advocacy and policy asks below.

To encourage people to eat more plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, for instance, which is better for the health of people and the planet, we’re advocating plant-based, food diversification and food that’s better for the planet to be included in international dietary guidance.

To help deliver positive nutrition, we want to create an enabling environment where people can inform themselves about the benefits of plant-based products and fortified foods in consumer-friendly language.

And to ensure less salt, sugar and saturated fats are consumed, we want reformulation targets to be aligned with WHO guidelines, with incentives to create smaller portions.

More plant-based options

Our Compass goal sets out to reach €1 billion annual sales from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives by 2025–2027.

Advocacy and policy asks

  • Stop proposals that constrain the labelling of alternative proteins and protect denominations and repurpose public subsidies to promote more plant-based diets.
  • Support for making plant-based foods mainstream, including investment in plant-based food innovation and direct public procurement of plant-based foods.
  • No standards of identity that hamper the development of dairy/meat alternatives.
  • Definitions for ‘plant-based’ and ‘100% plant-based’ that inspire consumer trust.
  • ISO definitions for vegan and vegetarian as a blueprint for new legislation.
  • Plant-based/food diversification/food that’s better for the planet as an integral part of dietary guidelines.

Positive nutrition

Our Compass goal seeks to double the number of products sold that deliver positive nutrition by 2025.

Advocacy and policy asks

  • Creating a regulatory environment that is harmonised across regions with regard to the vehicles that are allowed for fortification, and the levels and types of fortificants.
  • Creating an enabling environment where consumers can be informed about the benefits of fortified foods in consumer-friendly language.
  • Educating consumers on the benefits of micronutrients for health and creating awareness of how they can achieve an adequate intake of micronutrients.
  • Ensuring availability of data on micronutrient intake in order to develop effective and safe fortified foods.

Reducing calories, salt and sugar

Through our Compass goals, we’re continuing to lower calories, salt and sugar across all our products.

Advocacy and policy asks

  • We want to work with governments to define best measures to address the challenge of obesity, diabetes and ‘overnutrition’.
  • Science-based reformulation targets recognising that the nutritional quality determines the ‘healthiness’ of a product and not the level of processing.
  • Reformulation targets to be aligned with WHO guidelines for saturated fats, salt and sugar, with the incentives to create smaller portions; maximum levels in products rather than the % reduction targets.
  • Food and beverage taxation that drives reformulation – with revenues targeted to address the challenge.
  • Nutrient profiles underlying reformulation and other measures like front-of-pack labelling, marketing and promotions restrictions to be based on product group-specific standards or servings.
  • Within regulated limits, free use of non-nutritive sweeteners to lower sugar and energy content of products.

Championing regulatory change

To make a difference, sometimes we need to champion regulatory change. Take fortification as an example. It’s not just about making fortified products. It’s also important we address consumer barriers, ensure labelling transparency and encourage the removal of any regulatory hurdles.

For instance, most authorities now widely recommend iodised salt instead of conventional salt to help prevent iodine insufficiencies. Many countries have also regulated the levels of iodine in salt, as well as the type of salt. However, this isn’t harmonised across the world.

In the US, we’ve asked the authorities to approve potassium iodate as iodised salt, the most accepted mineral source of iodine globally. We’re also calling for harmonised legislation and regulations across the world. These should clearly indicate that all salt used in the manufacture of processed foods should be iodised, preferably with the same level of iodine and type of iodised salt.

We advocate the importance of iodised salt during presentations at key scientific conferences, like the Asian Congress of Nutrition (PDF 523.4 KB) , supporting the WHO’s call for action on iodised salt in processed foods. We’re also working in Europe with NGOs and trade associations to remove regulatory hurdles.

The food system transformation has begun

We want to see the global food system transformed . So we’re working with partners to develop science-based targets, technical solutions and advocating for policy change at a national and global level. For example, Unilever was a principal partner of the COP26 Climate Summit in 2021. Our food brands Hellmann’s, The Vegetarian Butcher and Knorr were all there, calling for a huge step-up in climate action. Or, as The Vegetarian Butcher would say, #Climeat Action, with The Elephant in the Room campaign raising awareness of the huge impact of meat consumption on our planet.

We also co-hosted the pre-summit Bold Actions for Food as a Force for Good in November 2020. Leaders from all five UN Summit action tracks attended, as well as thousands of participants from over 300 organisations in almost every country in the world.

We partnered to help make the UN Food System Summit 2021 a success by seconding resources to the World Economic Forum (WEF) and World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD). We participated in the summit where we engaged with other leaders to help steer and join a number of important coalitions for action:

  • We pledged €30 million towards the GAIN-led Zero Hunger Pledge behind high-impact programmes such as agricultural interventions to support sustainable practices that are economically viable for farmers and in water-scarce regions.
  • We have led the design of the Innovation Hubs and galvanised the involvement of countries and more than 20 private and public sector organisations. Hubs have been launched in Europe, Latin America, Africa, India and Vietnam. As part of the Africa Hub, we launched a new partnership with Farm to Market Alliance to scale Future 50 Foods in Africa with smallholder farmers.
  • We co-led the creation of the Innovation Policy document, released by the UN. Our proposal for countries to allocate 1% of their food systems budget (GDP) to innovation, research and development was widely shared and supported by various stakeholders including the Science Committee’s publication in Nature.

We submitted six commitments to the Nutrition for Growth summit in December 2021. These include a continued reduction of calories, salt and sugar in products, delivering more positive nutrition and plant-based offerings, helping people to eat more nutritious meals, responsible marketing and workforce nutrition.

Playing our part in change

We believe in global partnerships, as well as local and regional ones, to bring about change on the scale that’s needed.

Engaging with stakeholders explains more about our external engagement, including the trade associations to which we belong.

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