LONDON — Unilever PLC has started making New Year’s resolutions a little early. The global food and beverage manufacturer said Nov. 18 it has set a goal of achieving $1 billion in the sales of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives in the next five to seven years. Brands that will play a role in the initiative include Hellmann’s, Magnum, Wall’s and The Vegetarian Butcher.
Citing a 2019 EAT-Lancet report, the company said a diet rich in plant-based foods with less animal-sourced foods offers both health and environmental benefits.
“As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system,” said Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment Division. “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 being a force for good.”
Unilever has made progress in expanding its meat- and dairy-alternative product portfolio. The company acquired The Vegetarian Butcher business in 2018 and has expanded the brand into more than 30 countries. Last year, the brand was chosen as the supplier of Burger King’s plant-based Whopper and plant-based nuggets across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Both the Ben & Jerry’s and Magnum brands feature a growing list of plant-based product applications. Hellmann’s offers a vegan variety of mayonnaise.
In 2019, Unilever made an €85million investment in The Hive, a food innovation center at Wageningen University in the Netherlands to support research into plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives, efficient crops, sustainable food packaging and nutritious food.
Additional goals set by Unilever include halving food waste in its direct global operations from factory to shelf by 2025, five years earlier than previously planned, and doubling the number of products delivering positive nutrition globally by 2025. “Positive nutrition” is defined by the company as products containing impactful amounts of vegetables, fruits, proteins, or micronutrients like vitamins, zinc, iron and iodine. Unilever will also continue to reduce the calorie, salt and sugar levels in its products.
"The average person’s daily diet will need to change drastically during the next three decades to make sure everyone is fed without depleting the planet,” said Jessica Fanzo, Bloomberg Distinguished Associate Professor of Global Food & Agricultural Policy and Ethics at Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of the EAT-Lancet report. “By improving food production and food environments, transforming eating habits and reducing food waste, we can begin to solve these problems. Unilever’s commitments are integral to helping people make changes to their diet, with healthier and more sustainable food products that are accessible and affordable for their consumers.”