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Reducing salt, sugar and calories

Average read time: 10 minutes

We’re cutting salt, saturated fat, sugar and calories from our products but keeping their great taste.

A worldwide obesity challenge

Many people realise that what they eat influences their health, their mood, and how much they can get done each day. In fact, there’s never been more interest among consumers in nutrition and health.

Despite this, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2 billion adults are overweight or obese, and 41 million children are overweight. The obesity pandemic needs urgent attention and a change of the food system to address this. Food manufacturers clearly need to further drive down salt, sugar, saturated fat and calories, which is one part of this complex puzzle. Tackling this issue needs a multifaceted approach, with many stakeholders playing a role and having a responsibility.

Healthier products must be part of the solution

We know that many people need to eat less salt, saturated and trans fats, and sugar. And we agree with dietary guidance that a balanced, healthy diet can contain occasional treats, such as an ice cream. As a global player in the foods industry with sizeable Nutrition and Ice Cream portfolios, we believe we have a responsibility to increase the nutritional quality of our products.

Our Nutrition Enhancement Programme has looked to limit certain nutrients in our products, such as salt and sugar, since we launched our Global Nutrition Policy back in 2000. A few years later, we launched the first nutrient profiling model to help with product innovation and reformulation, as well as portfolio improvement.

Over the years, we’ve learnt that to maximise our impact, we need to focus on products that are consumed most frequently and in the greatest volumes. We’ve also learnt that taste is crucial if consumers are to accept these changes.

Small improvements can bring a big health impact

Our Nutrition Journey was steered by Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2020. We’re now continuing our ambition on meeting international standards as part of our Unilever Compass.

70% of our portfolio to meet WHO-aligned nutritional standards by 2022.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

All of our new food and drink products, as well as children’s ice creams, should meet our Highest Nutritional Standards (PDF 154.56 KB) (HNS). We are continuing our reformulation journey, which also includes products from acquisitions that do not yet meet our nutritional standards. Reformulation roadmaps are put in place to help guide the nutritional improvement of the product, and the gradual reformulation approach helps people adapt to the new products.

As a result of our efforts, at the end of 2022, in India currently, 67%* of our products by volume meet our HNS, while 50% of our portfolio by volume helps consumers reduce their salt intake to no more than 5g per day. Due to the pandemic, unprecedented supply chain challenges and raw material shortages, we haven’t been able to innovate and reformulate our products at the pace or scale we had planned.

*Excluding Salt Business

An illustration of a woman looking down a microscope

Our progress by country

Our USLP commitments covered our worldwide Foods & Refreshment business. As well as reporting our global results, we’ve tracked our progress across key countries.

However, we’re pleased that our approach to product improvement has been endorsed externally for many years, for example by the respected Access to Nutrition Index, and more recently by the World Benchmarking Alliance’s Food & Agriculture Benchmark.

And we’re not slowing down. In 2020, as part of our Future Foods commitments, we set ourselves new goals to lower calorie, salt, saturated fat and sugar levels even further across all our products. These goals are part of our Unilever Compass (PDF 501.03 KB).

More taste, less salt

The WHO recommends a daily intake of no more than 5 g of salt (that’s just under a teaspoon). But around the world, people eat on average 9–12 g a day, roughly twice the recommended amount.

85% of our Foods portfolio to help consumers reduce their salt intake to no more than 5 g per day by 2022.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

We support the WHO’s recommendation and have clearly set out our salt reduction position (PDF 124.32 KB). By 2022, in India 50% of our Foods portfolio by volume met salt levels that enable intakes of 5 g per day, falling just short of our target due to the supply chain challenges explained above.

How do we reduce salt?

We improve our foods based on scientifically sound benchmarks (PDF 426 KB) and reduce salt levels in a variety of ways. For instance, we replace salt with other ingredients, such as aromas, spices, herbs, and the natural salt replacer, potassium salt.

New products must meet the target to enable a salt intake of 5 g per day, and we aim to reduce salt when our existing products are reformulated.

Cutting calories in ice cream

Treats contribute to wellbeing and pleasure, which we believe are important in life.

As global leader in ice cream market with brands like Kwality Wall’s Magnum, Cornetto, we know how important it is to lower calories without sacrificing taste. We have set ourselves on a mission to achieve this.

95% of packaged ice cream to contain no more than 250 kcal per serving by 2025.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

By the end of 2022, 100% of our packaged ice creams and frozen desserts in India have a serving size under 250 kcal. (A single-serve, pre-packaged ice cream product meant to be consumed all at once is referred to as a serving. Additionally, it refers to 100 ml when ice cream is offered in bigger containers designed for many servings, like tubs.)

A refreshing sweet treat, with less sugar

95% of packaged ice cream to contain no more than 22 g total sugar per serving by 2025.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

By the end of 2022, in India, 100% of our packed frozen desserts/ice creams have complied with our sugar pledge, and we had guaranteed that our most popular recipes would accomplish this.

We are also proud to announce that our effort does not end here, and we have taken it very seriously to work with new technology and ingredients to achieve better nutrition without compromising on Indulgence. Our forthcoming projects are heavily influenced by the philosophy of "better for the people and better for the planet”.

We are committed to crafting new products to contain no more than 250kcal and 22g of total sugar per serve. We debuted our brand-new Innovation Trixy Cookie and the popular Cadbury crackling tub in 2021, respectively. We released the wonderful Black Forest Feast in 2022, which was well-liked by the public. At the same time, we launched Indian dessert lines, including Nolen Gur, Gulab Jamun, and Milk Cake, and cemented our place in the hearts of our Indian audience.

The best news, then? All these fresh solutions not only satisfy our cravings for cool ice cream but also adhere to our goals for ice cream calories and sugar.

The sweet truth

The WHO advises limiting free sugar (meaning any added sugar, as well as natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juices) to below 10% of total energy intake.

We support the WHO’s position. By 2025, 80% of our global Beverages portfolio by volume will contain no more than 5 g per 100 ml of total sugar, as explained in our position statement on sugar. By the end of 2022, globally 75% of these products met the target.

We’re achieving this through a combination of using naturally sweet ingredients like fruit, as well as low energy sweeteners, to fully or partially replace sugar. We offer great-tasting products with less sugar and varying levels of sweetness.

Different levels of sweet tooth

Some people have a sweet tooth, and some people don’t. So we’re working hard to give people a choice in the level of sweetness of our ready-to-drink tea, powdered iced tea, milk tea products and other beverage products.

In India, for instance, Lipton SipNDigest leaf tea has been an instant hit, with its natural green tea and real ingredients like ginger, tulsi and rock salt to ease digestion – full of flavour and no sugar. Brooke Bond Red Label Maa Care is a decaff tea, without added sugar and a delicious alternative for pregnant and lactating women. And Red Label Spice Tea is a pre-mix of milk, tea and a limited amount of sugar, giving you the same tasty tea every time you make it, with the goodness of ginger, tulsi and cardamom.

Kissan Hazelnut choco peanut spread is an healthier alternative to chocolate spreads in the market with 50% lower sugars and 2X more protein and can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Also in India we’ve renovated our entire Horlicks Plus range, including Horlicks Protein Plus, to make them all with no added sugar.

Our trans fats story

Unilever has always taken a leading role in reducing dietary intake levels of trans fatty acids (TFA), which are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. We were the first manufacturer to produce margarines virtually free of TFA, a move widely commended by the scientific and business communities.

Starting in the mid-1990s, we developed the science to create fat-containing products with the same mouthfeel, product stability and cost level but without the TFA. Since then, we’ve reformulated thousands of our recipes.

By 2012, we had removed trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVO) across our portfolio to less than 1 g per 100 g of product. To promote transparency, we published our definition and approach to this and committed to the WHO REPLACE programme to share our technical knowledge.

In May 2019, we made a global commitment to the World Health Organization that by 2023, industrially produced Trans Fatty Acids (iTFA) would not exceed 2 g per 100 g of total fat or oil in any of our foods. To fulfil this commitment means working closely with our suppliers. Alongside sharpening our specifications for iTFA, we’ve found alternative ingredients that meet the WHO threshold to use in our product reformulations.

We’re also continuing to cut saturated fat in our products in line with our Unilever Science based Nutrition Criteria.

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