We continue to innovate and enhance the nutritional quality of our food portfolio. Through communication with consumers we can encourage changes in everyday behaviour, resulting in healthier lifestyles and improved diets.
As a food manufacturer and one of the world's largest advertisers, what should our role be? For Unilever, it is about how we formulate our products and then how we communicate with consumers.
Our approach is therefore to:
make improvements in nutritional quality across our portfolio
focus our innovation efforts on products that deliver positive health benefits
expand consumer choice.
Ultimately, eating a healthy diet and living an active lifestyle is a matter for individuals, but we can help consumers make the right choices. In our marketing and communication, we:
provide simple, clear nutritional labelling and consumer information
market our products responsibly, particularly to children
encourage changes to everyday behaviour to promote a balanced diet and an active lifestyle.
Enhancing nutritional quality
The aim of our Nutrition Enhancement Programme (NEP) is to improve the nutritional quality of our food and beverage products by assessing levels of four nutrients: saturated fat, trans fat, salt and sugar. The nutrition benchmarks used in this assessment are based on international dietary guidelines.
In 2005 we started a fundamental review of our entire portfolio. By 2007 we had assessed all our 22 000 products. The exercise identified clear opportunities for reducing levels of fats, salt and sugar for more than half our portfolio.
Our initial review showed that over a third of our products were in line with internationally accepted guidelines for saturated and trans fat, sugar and salt. With the additional improvements we have made, this increased to 43% by the end of 2008, representing an increase of 15% since 2005.
The NEP has led to significant changes in many of our products over 2007-2008. For example:
We have reduced by up to 20% the added sugars in our range of children's water ices such as the Calippo and Twister brands.
We relaunched Lipton Ice Tea in seven European countries with 15% less sugar.
A ready to drink Green Ice Tea was introduced in four European countries with 30% less sugar
Salt levels in soups have been cut, with an average reduction of 10% in European dry soups and 7% in Latin America.
Knorr and Lipton side dishes in North America have also seen reductions in salt of 10-15%.
The Pot Noodle range in the UK and Ireland now has up to 50% less salt per pot.
The majority of our Family Goodness (Rama/Blue Band) products in Latin America and Asia have optimised their mix of vegetable oils in order to reduce saturated fat content by up to 25%.
Breyers ice cream launched 'fat free' and 'light' ranges in North America with up to 50% less saturated fat.
In making these reductions we have had to balance nutritional content against how a product tastes so that we do not spoil consumers' enjoyment of our foods. This is a difficult task for our product developers since in blind tasting consumers often prefer well-salted products or those with higher levels of fat.
Salt reduction strategy
Currently, many countries recommend a daily salt consumption of no more than 6 g, whereas the World Health Organization recommends a daily intake of 5 g per day. We recently committed to a strategy to further reduce the salt content of our global foods portfolio. We have translated this daily target into specific reductions for our entire portfolio of food products, aiming to reach 6 g per day by 2010, with a further reduction to 5 g per day by 2015.
In making reductions, we have to balance the optimum nutritional content with consumers' taste preferences. This is a delicate balance to achieve since blind tasting shows that consumers often prefer well-salted products to those with reduced levels of salt.
We keep our portfolio under regular review and will explore opportunities for increasing healthy offerings as new technologies emerge. For example, Hellmann's Extra Light mayonnaise with only 3% fat was made possible thanks to a new technology using natural citrus fibre which reduces calorie content while maintaining a creamy texture.
Developing new products and increasing choice
Our innovation is increasingly focused on new products that make a positive contribution to people's diets, for example by helping meet daily requirements for fruit and vegetables or increasing intake of fibre or other important nutrients. Around three-quarters of the products in our foods R&D pipeline have what we call 'vitality benefits' – such as specific nutritional or health benefits.
In Europe we have launched a spread and a fruity shot specifically developed to help manage blood pressure. Studies show that a high potassium intake lowers blood pressure as it removes excess salt from the body, protecting it from the harmful effect of too much sodium. Flora/Becel pro.activ Blood Pressure products are enriched with potassium and provide consumers with a convenient opportunity to improve the sodium/potassium balance of their diet.
This builds on the success of Flora/Becel pro.activ Cholesterol, which is the leading cholesterol-lowering brand with sales of over €345 million in 2008.
Moo/Milk Time is a range of ices made with milk. Available in Australia, Thailand, South Africa and Europe, they provide around a third of the recommended daily intake of calcium.
To increase choice, we also provide variants of many of our products, for example, full fat and low fat recipes, sweetened and unsweetened options and smaller portion sizes.
Innovation also carries uncertainties and does not always lead to a positive outcome. During 2008, having invested €20 million in R&D, Unilever abandoned plans to use the slimming extract hoodia in a range of diet products. We stopped the project because our clinical studies revealed that products using hoodia would not meet our strict standards of safety and efficacy.
Improving consumer information
Clear and easy-to-understand information is essential if consumers are to make healthier choices. Our labelling policy commits us to:
provide information on eight key nutrients (energy, protein, carbohydrates, sugars, fat, saturated fat, fibre and sodium) on our packs
present nutritional information on a per portion basis, where possible, as well as per 100 g/ml
show calorie content on the front of packs either as a total amount or as a proportion of guideline daily amounts (GDA).
In some countries we go beyond these standards. For example in Europe we are participating in a voluntary CIAA (Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the European Union) initiative, which commits us to show percentages of GDA for five key nutrients on pack. By the end of 2008, around 90% of eligible products were labelled.
We are extending this approach to other regions too where market conditions allow. In Australia, for example, we follow the CIAA approach. In the UK, along with all major manufacturers and most retailers, we mark GDA on the front of pack too.
Choices front-of-pack stamp
The Choices Programme, co-founded by Unilever in 2006, uses a front-of-pack stamp to enable consumers to identify healthier products – food and beverages that are in line with internationally accepted dietary guidelines on saturated and trans fat, sugar and salt and in some cases, energy and fibre too.
Choices complements our own labelling approach. It is open to all companies and is governed by the Choices International Foundation. An independent Scientific Committee periodically reviews the nutritional benchmarks. Former EU Commissioner, Pavel Telička, was appointed independent chairman of the Foundation in 2008.
Over 120 companies in 50 countries now participate in the programme and the stamp appears on around 3 000 products.
Encouraging behaviour change
Brand communication can be a powerful force for behaviour change. Through it, we have the opportunity to promote healthy lifestyles among our millions of consumers.
Eating margarine and mayonnaise is a simple, tasty way to consume essential fats and fat-soluble vitamins, yet many consumers see these products as unhealthy. During 2008 we continued to roll out our Goodness of Margarine campaign to 12 countries to give consumers a more informed view of our products' contribution to public health. For mayonnaise, we continued our global communication that Hellmann's mayonnaise is made with real, simple ingredients and is naturally rich in omega-3.
In 2008, Becel in Canada became the founding sponsor of the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation's Heart Truth initiative. The campaign specifically aimed to reach women through TV advertisements and sponsorship of the Red Dress Fashion Show. In three months, awareness of heart disease among women nearly doubled. The campaign also drove up sales of Becel by 10%.
In the UK and Ireland, Flora has worked with cholesterol charity, HEART UK, on a range of initiatives to encourage people to make heart-healthy choices. Results from Flora pro.activ Testing the Nation roadshows were analysed and published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice in 2008 by Oxford University under the auspices of HEART UK. The findings helped to inform the development of national policy on cardiovascular health including the Government's new vascular risk check programme for everyone from 40-75 years. See Download for more details.
In Australia, Flora pro.activ's Testing the Nation campaign offered free cholesterol checks to people in local supermarkets with more information online. Almost 65 000 consumers took advantage of the free checks during the four-day campaign and the website received more than 150 000 hits.
In early 2009 Unilever and the International Union of Nutritional Sciences (IUNS), a leading NGO, announced a three-year partnership aimed at communicating scientifically-based nutrition principles to the public, while developing future leaders in nutrition and health.
Through our marketing and advertising we have the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of our products and innovations. At the same time we acknowledge the influence of marketing on consumers and take our responsibilities seriously. For example, people in many parts of the world have concerns about advertising food to children.
Our Food and Beverage Marketing Principles provide guidance to our brand managers. Any advertising to children under the age of six is prohibited and advertising to children aged six to 12 is limited to products that meet strict nutritional criteria. This principle has also enabled us to take a leading role in agreeing cross-industry voluntary commitments and pledges to restrict advertising to children in regions such as the US and Europe. Specific guidelines for school education programmes ensure that food products will not be promoted as part of these programmes.
In 2007 Unilever introduced a global guideline banning the use of size zero models or actors in all our marketing and advertising. Only models/actors who have a body mass index between 18.5 and 25 were to be used in our advertising, a range in line with United Nations guidance on what is considered healthy.
In May 2008 Unilever was presented with the AED Corporate Leadership Award by the Academy for Eating Disorders in recognition for our responsible marketing campaign in advancing the awareness and treatment of eating disorders.
Tackling under-nutrition is a complex challenge with a range of socio-economic causes. Rising fuel and commodity prices in early 2008 exacerbated the difficulties, making food less affordable for millions of people.
Unilever provides products that make up an important part of people's everyday diets, such as spreads, cooking oils and stock cubes. Our brands can play a role in tackling under-nutrition and in particular, micronutrient deficiencies.
For example, our Rama/Blue Band spreads are a good source of vitamins A, D and E and our Amaze products contain important nutrients (iron and iodine) for children's mental development. Annapurna iodised salt helps prevent iodine deficiency-related diseases and is sold in India, Ghana, Nigeria and Malawi.
However, selling fortified products at affordable prices while maintaining adequate margins is not always easy. Such constraints led us to cancel some new fortification projects, but we will continue to explore innovations in local sourcing, manufacturing, packaging and distribution, in partnership with others.
Our contribution to solving the issues of under-nutrition goes beyond the nutritional value of our products. The complex social and public health challenges of poor nutrition can only be solved by working in partnership with others.
In December 2006 we joined the UN World Food Programme in a three-year partnership, Together for Child Vitality, which aims to improve the health and nutrition of school children in developing countries.
We are a board member of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition and we chair the GAIN Business Alliance. Through this partnership we are exploring a range of fortification initiatives and new business models to combat micronutrient deficiencies.
Unilever is financing the Micronutrients and International Health Chair at Wageningen University in the Netherlands for five years. This is to support research on micronutrient deficiencies in the developing world. As part of this research programme, we also fund three PhD and six master's level scholarships for students from developing countries, helping them to become future nutrition experts in their home countries.
Find out more on the Working with others page. [embedded link to Nutrition – Working with others page]