Unilever aims to ‘make sustainable living commonplace’ with responsibly produced packaged goods [Interview]

8 Nov 2022

Thanks to their sheer scale, multinational corporates can have a positive impact when they adopt sustainable practices. Unilever aims to do so via regenerative agriculture, plant-based products, food waste reduction, and nutrient fortification, says Dorothy Shaver, global food sustainability director at the company.

Soup-to-soap manufacturer Unilever has set itself the target of hitting net zero emissions from all products to point of sale by 2039. It aims to achieve this through various action points, including regenerative agriculture, packaging changes, food waste reduction, meat reduction and plant-based products.

“Unilever’s ambition is to make sustainable living commonplace,” Shaver told Ingredients Network. “Therefore, [we] produce products made with ingredients that are grown and sourced sustainably and regeneratively in packages that cause less environmental harm and produce less waste.”

Unilever aims to ‘make sustainable living commonplace’ with responsibly produced packaged goods [Interview]
Dorothy Shaver, global food sustainability director at Unilever

Shaver will be a keynote speaker at Fi Europe this year, held from 6 to 8 December in-person in Paris. Click here to register.

“The 2019 EAT-Lancet report showed that a diet rich in plant-based foods and with less animal-sourced foods offer both health and environmental benefits,” she added.

Unilever’s nutrition and ice cream business groups are headquartered in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Unilever has a number of food brands that offer plant-based options, including Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Magnum ice cream, and Knorr soups and seasonings, while the Vegetarian Butcher, a Dutch plant-based brand that Unilever acquired in 2018, has a full range of plant-based meat replacements.

Supporting regenerative agriculture practices

The company is working with suppliers and farmers to grow ingredients in ways that protect and regenerate the land and its resources while improving the livelihoods of farmers. It has established a roadmap to grow key ingredients in food and ice cream products following Regenerative Agriculture Principles.

Knorr, which is Unilever’s largest food brand, has set a goal of growing 80% of its key ingredients following Unilever’s Regenerative Agriculture Principles by 2026.

In Spain, for instance, the multinational has partnered with tomato farmers to use cover crops to improve soil health and reduce dependence on chemical inputs. In the US, it is working with its suppliers to grow rice in ways that will reduce its demand for water and cut methane emissions.

“This means they are grown using less water, pesticides, and fertilizers, following practices that improve soil health and biodiversity with lower climate impact,” Shaver said.

Science-backed solutions for healthy eating habits

Unilever is also making products healthier by increasing the nutrient content via fortification and using more nutritious ingredients, with the commitment to double the number of products with positive nutrition by 2025.

As a registered dietitian, this is a topic that is close to Shaver’s heart.

“Eating habits are personal and deep-rooted,” she said. “I aim to inspire people to eat a wide variety of vibrant, nutrient-packed plants for the betterment of people and the planet. I love leafy greens, beans, a mix of grains, lots of nuts and a little sweet treat. I work to help others – in my personal and professional life – to also love these foods.”

In addition to her role at Unilever, Shaver is a founding board member of the Food for Climate League. It is a Food for Climate League is a trailblazing, women-led nonprofit working to make climate-smart eating the norm.

“We create toolkits, programs, and campaigns — founded in original behavioral science research — to shift the perception of climate-smart eating and drive engagement. We do this by connecting the dots between sustainable food culture and people's unique needs, values, and cultures.”

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