Unilever commits to annual nutritional report

Dive Brief:

  • Unilever will publish annual reports on its product portfolio’s performance against several government endorsed nutritional indicators and the company’s internal Highest Nutritional Standards. These reports will look at Unilever as a whole, as well as in 16 key strategic markets. The first report will be published by October.
  • The company also will set stretch goals for nutritional targets it announced in 2020. These include $1.2 billion in annual plant-based sales in the next three to five years, bringing salt intake to 5 grams daily or less for 85% of products by this year, and having no more than 22 grams of total sugar and 250 calories per serving in 95% of packaged ice cream options by 2025.
  • Unilever says it is the first global food company to make such a stringent reporting commitment for its portfolio’s nutritional performance.

Dive Insight:

In the last decade or so, several CPG companies have made big commitments around sustainability, from cutting carbon emissions to improving packaging. But these goals miss something important: how healthy the products actually are. Consumers can look at basic nutritional information on food packages, but it’s not always clear how a product fits into a consumer’s recommended healthy diet by looking at percentages and ingredients lists.

Two groups — ShareAction, which uses its shareholder power to push for companies to adopt responsible policies, and the Healthy Markets Initiative, which works with investors to help them promote reforms — worked extensively with Unilever toward this announcement, the release says. ShareAction investors had previously requested that Unilever introduce a resolution on nutrition at its annual general meeting, but it was withdrawn along with the announcement.

Hanneke Faber, Unilever’s president of Foods & Refreshment, said in a written statement that the company has had “constructive dialogue” with ShareAction and the Healthy Markets Initiative.

“We share a common belief in the importance of having an ambitious long-term strategy for nutrition and health, and that companies should publish ambitious targets to deliver against,” Faber said. “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.”

Unilever pledged to use at least six government-endorsed Nutrient Profile Models for its measurements, including the U.K.’s High Fat Salt Sugar initiative, which prohibits promotional prices for less-healthy foods; Europe’s report card-like NutriScore; and Chile’s front of pack logos. Its own Highest Nutritional Standards were developed in 2018 and show the company’s target calories, as well as sodium, saturated fat and sugar content for a variety of categories ranging from sauces to snacks.

Unilever is already well-positioned in terms of improving the healthfulness of its portfolio. According to the Access to Nutrition Initiative’s 2021 Global Index, Unilever is the world’s second-highest-ranked company when it comes to policy, commitments, practices and disclosure surrounding healthy eating. But even so, there is much for Unilever to improve upon. The report ranks Unilever’s product healthfulness closer to the middle of the pack at 17, and estimated about 15% of its global retail sales in 2019 qualified as healthy products.

With the announcement of this report, Unilever seems to have challenged other CPG companies not just to say they will make their products healthier, but to actually measure what they are doing against standards set by governmental bodies. Studies have shown that processed foods can increase health risk, and even increase the risk for early death. These kinds of annual reports can be used to show that food companies are concerned about their consumers’ health and build their trust.

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