The target is part of Unilever’s Future Foods, a global strategy seeking to help the transition to healthier diets and reduce the environmental impact of the food chain
Hanneke Faber of Unilever
Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment

Unilever is gearing up for an annual global sales target of €1 billion from plant-based meat and dairy alternatives within the next five to seven years. The FMCG giant is bullish on this growth will be driven by the roll-out of The Vegetarian Butcher as well as increasing vegan alternatives from brands including Hellmann’s, Magnum and Wall’s.

The target is part of Unilever’s ‘Future Foods’ ambition, launched globally today with two key objectives: to help people transition towards healthier diets and to help reduce the environmental impact of the global food chain.

Unilever, which also makes Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s and Knorr, has also committed to:

  • Halve food waste in its direct global operations from factory to shelf by 2025 – five years earlier than previously committed.
  • Double the number of products delivering positive nutrition globally by 2025 – defined as products containing impactful amounts of vegetables, fruits, proteins, or micronutrients like vitamins, zinc, iron and iodine.
  • Continue lowering calorie, salt and sugar levels across products.

Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever’s Foods & Refreshment division, said: “As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system. 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 argued that, as the 2019 EAT-Lancet report showed, a diet rich in plant-based foods and with less animal-sourced foods offer both health and environmental benefits.

Jessica Fanzo of Johns Hopkins University and a co-author of the EAT-Lancet report, said: “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. 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.” 

Plant-based transformation

Unilever has been expanding its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives business for several years. After acquiring The Vegetarian Butcher in 2018, Unilever took the brand to more than 30 countries and was last year chosen as the supplier of Burger King’s Plant-Based Whopper and Plant-Based Nuggets across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 

In 2019, Unilever made an €85 million investment in The Hive, a foods innovation centre at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The centre supports research into plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives, efficient crops, sustainable food packaging and nutritious food.  

The Foods & Refreshment division’s targets also support Unilever’s global commitments to achieve a deforestation-free supply chain by 2023. The business unit will invest €1 billion in a new Climate & Nature Fund, and seeks to achieve net-zero emissions for all products by 2039. 

The company has also pledged to ensure 100% of its plastic packaging is reusable, recyclable, or compostable by 2025.

Date published: 19 November 2020

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