• Unilever's dairy-free range.
    Unilever's dairy-free range.

Unilever has released its Future Foods initiative, outlining its commitments to a healthier and more sustainable global food system. The company said it was committed to halving food waste in its direct global operations from factory to shelf by 2025 – five years earlier than previously committed.

It will also double the number of products delivering positive nutrition globally by 2025 – defined as products containing impactful amounts of vegetables, fruits, proteins, or micronutrients like vitamins, zinc, iron and iodine.

And it would continue to lower calorie, sugar and salt levels across products: 85 per cent of its global foods portfolio will help consumers reduce their salt intake to less than 5 grams per day; and 95 per cent of packaged ice cream will bit contain more than 22 grams of total sugar and 250Kcal per serving by 2025.  

At its centre is a €1 billion ($1.63 billion) sales target for plant-based meat and dairy alternatives within the next five to seven years. The growth will be driven by increasing vegan alternatives from brands including Magnum, Streets, Continental, and Hellmann’s, the company said.

Unilever Foods & Refreshment Division president Hanneke Faber said: “As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system.

“It’s not up to us to decide for people what they want to eat, but it is up to us to make healthier and plant-based options accessible to all. These are bold, stretching targets which demonstrate our commitment to be a force for good.

“It is widely recognised that the current global food system is inequitable and inefficient. One billion people around the world are hungry while two billion are obese or overweight. One third of all food produced is thrown away. And animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuels and a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.”

In 2018, Unilever bought Dutch company The Vegetarian Butcher, which it has rolled out to 30 European markets. It offers vegan substitutes for chicken, ground beef, fish and bacon.

About one third of its products are currently plant-based.

Other FMCG juggernauts are also moving into the space. A four-year investor engagement with 25 giant food retailers and manufacturers, led by the collaborative investor network FAIRR, found that two in five global food giants with combined annual revenues of US$459 billion now have dedicated teams to develop and sell plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy; with Tesco and Unilever ranked top.

In September, UK retailer Tesco outlined its sales target for plant-based alternatives, saying it would boost sales by 300 per cent by 2025.

In May, Nestlé invested more than $155 million on its operations in China, developing a new production facility for plant-based products. And in August launched its first plant-based alternative to tuna, Vuna, under its Gourmet Garden brand.

The Good Food Institute said the plant-based food retail market in the US was worth US$4.5 billion in 2018, but grew five times faster than total US retail food sales for the year.

According to FAIRR, venture investments in plant-based proteins have reached US$1.1 billion in 2020, almost double the total investment in 2019, citing COVID-19 as the catalyst to a ‘watershed year’ for plant-based market capitalisation.

FAIRR’s engagement on sustainable proteins has grown to US$13 trillion in assets, growing ten-fold since its launch in 2016, including Northern Trust Asset Management, BMO Global Asset Management and Amundi.

A report by Meticulous Research said the global alternative protein market is expected to grow to $17.9 billion by 2025 at a CAGR of 9.5 per cent.

It said the high growth was largely due to: “growing urbanisation with new consumer aspiration, rising venture investments in alternative protein companies, innovation in food technology, high nutritional value of edible insects, and environmental sustainability with production and consumption of alternative protein.

“The factors such as desire for clean labels, ease of digestion, the need or desire to avoid allergens, compatibility with vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, and concerns about sustainability among the general population are putting the spotlight on plant proteins in alternative protein space.”

On the domestic front:

Unilever also re-iterated its food waste goals, saying it had longstanding programs in place to reduce landfill from its Australian factories, including contributing to the Yume B2B platform which stops useable food going to landfill.

It has also donated almost 700,000 servings of food and beverage products including Continental, Knorr, Hellmann’s, Lipton Ice Tea, Pure Leaf and T2 to Foodbank for distribution across Australia and New Zealand. Furthermore, Unilever has positively contributed to Yume Food’s mission to achieve “a world without waste” by preventing over 4,000 kgs of surplus food from going to waste in the last year.

The Future Foods ambition also support Unilever’s global commitments to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023; invest €1 billion in a new Climate & Nature Fund; and achieve net-zero emissions for all products by 2039. The company has also pledged to ensure 100 per cent of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.


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