India’s top packaged goods company Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL), on Wednesday committed to reducing food wastage and pledged to improved nutritional content of its packaged foods in line with the company’s parent, Unilever’s, “Future Foods” initiative, that promises to aid consumer transition towards healthier diets and limit environmental impact of the food chain.
Under its newly set targets for its foods and refreshment business worldwide, Unilever said it plans to double the number of products delivering positive nutrition—defined as products containing impactful amounts of vegetables, fruits, proteins, or micronutrients like vitamins, zinc, iron and iodine—by 2025.
Apart from that, it will continue to slash calorie, salt and sugar levels across all products. “85% of Unilever’s Foods portfolio will support a diet providing a maximum of 5g of salt intake a day by 2022. In packaged ice cream, 95% of products will contain no more than 22g of total sugar and 250 Kcal per serving by 2025,” the company said as it set out future goals for its foods business.
“It is widely recognized that the current global food system is inequitable and inefficient,” the company said as it also set a target of achieving €1 billion in annual sales from its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives business in other markets.
The commitments draw significance for India—among Unilever’s top markets for food and refreshments—where its blockbuster merger of GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare Limited (GSKCH) has added brand Horlicks to HUL’s portfolio and set the company on track for cornering a greater share of the country’s packaged food and beverages market. HUL’s brands account for an estimated 25% of all food advertising on television in India. It also sells brands such as Knorr soups, Kissan jams and ketchups and Kwality Wall’s ice-creams, apart from a wide range of packaged tea and coffee brands.
In India, the company’s new nutrition portfolio including Horlicks and Boost, mayonnaise brand Hellmann’s along with Kissan, Knorr and Brooke Bond Red Label will lead these fresh commitments through innovations and communication, said Sudhir Sitapati, executive director, Foods and Refreshment, Hindustan Unilever Limited.
The pandemic has accelerated in-home consumption of branded packaged foods and has prompted companies to re-look at their food portfolio, a trend that only reinforces the need for companies to commit to better foods.
Speaking on the differences between India and the West in terms of food, Sitapati said that in the West food wastage is in the plate. “In India, a lot of the waste is in the farm so here we talk of food processing. Again, in the West the focus is on a more balanced diet with less animal protein and more plant-based protein. In India, the problem is just the lack of protein and micronutrients,” he said.
“India has a disproportionately high prevalence of health issues like wasting and stunting, anaemia and diarrhoea caused by unbalanced nutrition and an unhygienic environment,” said Sitapati.
While he declined to share future pipeline of products that will commit to the newly set targets, Sitapati said that the company has recently launched three good-for-you products.
“There’s a new peanut butter. We are also re-launching a small brand of the Horlicks portfolio called Protein Plus, a high protein health drink. And we’ve also launched mayonnaise which is very good on low saturated fat. We have several (products) in the pipeline,” he said.
Unilever pledged to cut back on sugar and salt, from its foods products back in 2003 with its Nutrition Enhancement Programme that hoped to minimise nutrients of concern in its products. It formalized this in 2010 as part of the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) laying out nutrition goals for its portfolio and promising to cut back on trans-fat, sugar, salt, calories, saturated fat and promote transparent labelling.
In India, said Sitapati, the company has been cutting back of such ingredients for a while now.
“So, you will find across the category our products are very, very responsibly formulated. I think what you will see increasingly more of our products that we introduce into the market that are fundamentally ‘good for you’. Our direction is going to be, you know, on more protein, more good fat, more micronutrients,” he said.