Global consumer brands company Unilever announced today a new series of commitments, including pledges to disclose progress on its goals to improve the health and nutrition profile of its portfolio of food products, and to set more ambitious nutrition targets.
The announcement follows an investor campaign led by responsible investment NGO ShareAction, and engagement with ShareAction’s Healthy Markets Initiative. In January, ShareAction that it had coordinated the filing of a shareholder resolution at Unilever, urging the company to disclose the proportion of its sales linked to healthier products, in alignment with government-endorsed nutrient profiling models, and to set 2030 targets to significantly increase the share of healthier products, with a progress reviews to be published annually. The resolution was co-filed by institutional investors including Candriam, ACTIAM, and Castlefield Investment Partners, among others, along with over 100 individual shareholders.
Unilever launched a series of food-related sustainability initiatives in 2020, under its “Future Foods” ambition, aimed at helping people transition towards healthier diets and reducing the environmental impact of the global food chain. Commitments and goals included in the program included targets to reach €1 billion from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives within 5 – 7 years, double the number of products delivering positive nutrition globally by 2025, and lowering calorie, salt and sugar levels across its food products. While Unilever reported last year that over 60% of its food and drink sales were derived from products with High Nutritional Standards, ShareAction said that an independent review indicated that only 17% of the company’s food and beverage sales were derived from healthier products.
Unilever stated that it will publicly report the performance of its product portfolio against at least six different government-endorsed Nutrient Profile Models (NPM), and against its own Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS) benchmark. The company has committed to publish an assessment on an annual basis, both globally and for its key strategic markets, reporting both by volume of product and by sales revenue. Unilever also said that it will update and strengthen its targets, considering both its HNS benchmark and “at least six different NPMs to determine which is the most stretching target benchmark to increase sales of healthier products in a way that maximises positive impact for global consumer health.” NPMs include classifications such as High Fat Salt Sugar (HFSS) used in the UK, Nutri-Score used in countries including Germany and France, and Health Star Rating, used in Australia and New Zealand.
Hanneke Faber, Unilever’s President of Foods & Refreshment, said:
“We welcome the constructive dialogue we have had 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. 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.”
Following today’s announcement, ShareAction stated that the shareholder resolution has been withdrawn.
Louisa Hughes, Engagement Manager at ShareAction said:
“We welcome Unilever’s willingness to engage with the shareholder group and we are pleased to see their commitment to set stretching targets to increase their sales of healthier products in response to our proposal. The next seven months are crucial for ensuring that this commitment is translated into ambitious long-term goals, with concrete policies to deliver these. We encourage investors to make their expectations known to the company. Whilst our resolution has been withdrawn, we may consider further action next year if we are unsatisfied with the company’s progress.”