Unilever has announced plans to dramatically increase sales of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives over the next seven years as part of a new sustainability program designed to shrink the environmental footprint of its food brands.
The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant said last week that it plans to sell more than $1.2 billion worth of plant-based foods and dairy alternatives within the next five to seven years, largely by boosting sales from its The Vegetarian Butcher brand and increasing the number of vegan alternatives across its extensive portfolio.
Unilever acquired plant-based meat company The Vegetarian Butcher in late 2018 and since has expanded the brand into more than 30 countries and secured a major supply deal for the firm's vegan patties and nuggets with Burger King. In the same time frame, it has launched a number of vegan products for its most high profile brands, including Hellman's, Magnum and Ben & Jerry's.
"As one of the world's largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system," said Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever's food and refreshment division. "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."
The plant-based meat market is expected to expand rapidly in the coming years to meet burgeoning consumer demand for sustainable food products, with one analysis from Barclays predicting the market will grow by more than 1,000 percent over the next 10 years to reach $140 billion by 2029.
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.
Unilever also announced plans to bring forward its goal of halving food waste from its global operations by five years to 2025, a move commended by Liz Goodwin, senior fellow and director of food loss and waste at the World Resources Institute.
"Food loss and waste have massive impacts in terms of cost to the global economy, the environment and society," she said. "We know that food loss and waste contributes about 8 percent of global greenhouse emissions as well as wasting the land and water used in production of food. We need as many companies as possible to step up and prioritize the issue of food loss and waste and take action to reduce it."
In addition, Unilever committed to lowering calorie, sugar and salt levels across all its products and doubling the number of products that deliver "positive nutrition" globally by 2025, which it defines as products containing "impactful" amounts of vegetables, fruits, proteins or micronutrients such as vitamins and iron.
Jessica Fanzo, associate professor of global food and agriculture at John Hopkins University, commended Unilever for its commitment, which she said would encourage people to embrace more sustainable diets.
"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," she said. "By improving food production and food environments, transforming eating habits, and reducing food waste, we can begin to solve these problems."