We can’t tell people what to eat, but we can offer tastier, healthier and more sustainable foods to choose from 

The facts are clear: our food system isn’t working as well as it should be for people or planet.

Too many people are going hungry whilst too much food is going to waste. Too many of us are not consuming a balanced diet and too much of the food we eat contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. When I look to the future challenges our children will be facing, it brings it home how much we need to do together to lead for change.

We all know the global food system is unsustainable and unless the average person’s diet changes drastically by 2050, we are in danger of depleting the planet. The statistics are sobering: one billion people around the world are hungry; two billion are obese or overweight; one third of all food produced is thrown away and animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to move even faster as an industry to build a system which recognises a ‘better for you, better for the planet’ approach. As part of our new global food strategy, Future Foods, we have two clear objectives: to help people move towards healthier diets and to reduce the environmental impact of our global food chain. We are actioning this by setting ourselves a €1bn sales target for plant-based meat and dairy alternatives in the next five to seven years, raising nutritional standards across our brands and halving food waste in our direct operations by 2025.

These ambitions are grounded in the ethos of our business. In the UK we already have ambitious shared commitments on food waste and carbon reduction as part of the 2025 Courtauld Commitments. We’ve also been expanding our plant-based meat and dairy alternatives business for several years, as well as increasing vegan alternatives from our brands.

As a responsible manufacturer, it’s not only about reducing our impact on the planet and tackling food waste, it’s about driving healthier choices for people. We understand the urgency with which we need to tackle these issues, and while we can’t tell people what to eat, we can offer tastier, healthier and more sustainable foods to choose from.

We are committed to reformulating our products to reduce sugar, salt and calories, as well as reducing portion sizes and creating healthier options. However, it’s not just about the products we sell, it’s the way we market them which will help us with this ambition. Simply put, shoppers need to learn about healthier options through advertising and promotions. That’s why we have committed that before the end of 2021 we will also include the healthier version of our core product alongside the core in all of our food and refreshment advertising here in the UK. We’re all creatures of habit and we need to be able to inspire and engage in order to get people to try something new.

We absolutely share the government’s ambition to tackle the obesity crisis. There is of course a role for regulation, but it needs to be evidence-based, proportionate and have a demonstrable impact on positive outcomes for consumers. Crucially, it needs to provide incentives for manufacturers to invest resources into innovation at a time when this is more important than ever. This incentive is removed if we’re unable to advertise and promote the vast majority of our reformulated or healthier products, which are included in the government’s proposed ban on online advertising and in-store promotions of high fat, salt and sugar foods.

Innovation and renovation is the life-blood of our industry and is fundamental to the positive changes we, as manufacturers, can all lead for. We want to continue to make improvements to our products, tell people about those products and empower people to make responsible choices. We want to use our world-class insight and understanding of our consumers to drive positive behaviour change and encourage people to eat healthier diets.

But more broadly, we want to work hand in hand with retailers, manufacturers, NGOs and government to ensure the UK food ecosystem is more sustainable. We hope these stretching global targets mean Unilever can play a meaningful part in making that happen.