The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Sustainability Series: Unilever Food Solutions

Sustainability Series: Unilever Food Solutions

Sustainability

March 25, 2012

Unilever Food Solutions helps chefs and caterers of all sizes to simplify what goes in the kitchen – without compromising flavor. Their ingredients are some of the staples of professional kitchens in 74 countries around the world, including Knorr, Hellman’s, Lipton and more. Their recently launched “United Against Waste” campaign is designed to help the foodservice industry tackle the issue of food waste. We talked to Kara Phillips, Channel Marketing Manager for Unilever, about setting ambitious goals for sustainable living.

 
How does your business define sustainability?

At Unilever, our sustainability mission includes the following: 

•    We help people feel good, look good and get more out of life with brands and services that are good for them and good for others.
•    We will inspire people to take small, everyday actions that can add up to a big difference for the world.
•    We will develop new ways of doing business with the aim of doubling the size of our company while reducing our environmental impact.

How are you incorporating sustainable practices into your business?

Sustainability is a fundamental initiative for Unilever Food Solutions. The brand is dedicated to addressing the problem head-on through its enhanced consultation services, specifically the “Your Kitchen” service. Our company, Unilever, as a whole, places importance on sustainable practices through our Sustainable Living Plan. The Unilever Sustainable Living Plan is designed to reduce impacts across the whole lifecycle of our products. The ambitious plan contains over 50 concrete targets that are focused on achieving three big goals by 2020. 

What are your short term and long term goals?

Our long term goals that we are aiming to achieve by 2020 are: Help more than one billion people improve their health and well-being, halve the environmental impact of our products and source 100% of our agricultural raw materials in a sustainable manner. 

Where do you think you’ll have the biggest impact?

Over half of Unilever’s sales are in developing countries, the very places that face the greatest sustainability challenges – deforestation, water scarcity and poor sanitation. These countries represent major growth markets for Unilever. If we can develop products today that help people adapt to the changing environment of tomorrow, it will help us grow faster in the future.

How do you measure your progress?

In 2008, we developed a set of metrics for our four priority environmental impact areas across the value chain: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, water, waste and sustainable sourcing. These metrics are designed to measure the impacts of our products when used by consumers, such as grams of greenhouse gas per single usage occasion. These metrics have formed the basis of the targets we have set in our Sustainable Living Plan.

In 2009 we also started to develop a set of metrics covering social impacts. For those of our brands with social missions, the metrics seek to measure the benefits they bring to society. Lifebuoy piloted the metrics during 2010. The exercise provided valuable feedback from brand teams around the world and will be used to refine the metrics further. This will ultimately help us track our performance against our Sustainable Living Plan goals.

How do retailers factor into your efforts?

We recognize that many retailers have sustainability goals of their own. They need the support of suppliers like Unilever if they are to achieve them. Our collaboration is broadening and deepening the relationships we have with our customers.

Why are sustainable business practices important to the food industry?

For chefs and caterers it is increasingly important to offer a guest experience in line with a diner’s expectations that their consumption choices are making a contribution to the world and their local community. It is about tasty and nutritious dishes made with natural ingredients and sourced in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Equally important, it is about cooking in a more efficient way generating less waste and using less energy. From a Unilever Food Solutions perspective, we work with chefs and operators to develop innovative solutions to help match guests’ health and environmental demands. For instance, we look for new techniques to become more efficient in meal preparation and presentation. We provide support and advice on how to use less water and reduce energy and waste. Of course, in these services, taste and health stay top-of-mind.

Our support to healthier solutions can take several forms. For example, we help to boost the consumption of vegetables by making these more appealing. We develop healthier foods that are attractive and convenient alternatives. So we are progressively reducing salt in our products by changing recipes, using salt replacements and enhancing flavors with other ingredients like herbs and spices. Nutritional training for chefs and caterers and for our own people is high on our agenda. 

Why are sustainable business practices important to the consumer?

Our research shows consumers not only want to be reassured that the products they buy are ethically and sustainably produced; they also want to choose brands that are good for them and good for others. People are looking for products they can trust. They want products from companies that are transparent in their communications and behavior. They want to feel that their consumption choices are making a contribution to the world and their local community.

With consumer use accounting for nearly 70% of our greenhouse gas footprint, inspiring our consumers to change their behavior will be key to achieving our mission of creating a better future every day.

In upcoming issues, we will feature interviews with food companies that are making strides in their sustainability efforts. If you are interested in telling us more about what your company is doing to get involved please contact Allison Bloom atallison@foodnutritionscience.com.