Siân Harrington
Unilever is to use sustainability as an advertising message for the first time as part of a £25m push behind its Birds Eye brand.
The E52bn company has decided to promote its sustainability credentials after initial success in its Sustainable Agriculture Project (SAP), developed in conjunction with Forum for the Future (FFF).
Birds Eye Wall's chairman James Hill said it was now evaluating whether to use the message for peas or fish. Every day 10% of the population consumes a BEW product and the average consumer munches through 9,000 peas a year.
Hill said the decision was part of a strategy to show there was a business case for sustainability.
"This gives us an edge over our competitors," he said.
But Hill added that sustainability was not a pre-eminent issue among consumers, with factors such as taste, convenience and value for money seen as more important. "But I don't believe it is the right thing to ignore it," he said. "Far-sighted business people can help education. After all, 20 years ago people never thought it would be possible to sell a car on the back of safety and now it is one of the key issues."
According to Hill, a corporate social responsibility and environmental record is proving a major discriminator in whether the best new talent wants to work at Unilever.
"Young people are dramatically more passionate about these issues," he said.
As part of the strategy, Birds Eye is to build sustainability targets into its R&D programme and plans to extend SAP from 19 to all its 480 UK pea growers.
At a conference organised by Unilever and FFF, Hill unveiled the results of the five-year pilot programme, which finds ways of managing the environmental impacts of growing commercial crops without growers losing competitive advantage.
Participants have seen a 30% reduction in energy costs and harvesting efficiencies up by 20%.
There has also been improved flora and fauna and threatened bird species have been encouraged to the land.
But Unilever senior vice-president, corporate development, Iain Ferguson warned farmers needed ongoing support from the entire food chain if sustainable agriculture was to have a future.
Minister for Food and Farming Lord Whitty and FFF director Jonathan Porritt welcomed Unilever's sustainable project.

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