Unilever launched its Sustainable Nutrition Manifesto on World Environment Day (5 June), to outline how governments, businesses and consumers need to recreate food systems to reduce the strains of food waste and finite resources.

“Being a progressive food company involves helping to ensure that such ingredients are widely available, affordable and grown sustainably,” Unilever’s presidents of foods Amanda Sourry said. “For a food system to be fully sustainable, it means looking beyond the farm gate as well – to the energy, water and other natural resources used when food is transported, stored, processed and consumed.

“Agriculture, food, nutrition, health, livelihoods, and the environment are all intimately interconnected. Focus on one without the others and the whole system literally collapses. A sustainable food system has to be the answer. And now has to be the time.”

The manifesto focuses on a “farm to fork” approach, that sees Unilever account for the energy, water, resources and transportation linked to food production and consumption.

Farming is responsible for around two-thirds of global water consumption, while one-third of arable land is used for farming. The agriculture sector is also having an impact on climate change, with around one-seventh of all emissions linked to meat production alone.

The manifesto also focuses on reducing food waste, which generates $940bn in global economic losses annually. Unilever is citing examples from its own brands as to how it can revamp ingredients and production processes to reduce waste.

Farm to fork

For example, Hellmann’s ketchup has introduced green tomatoes as a new ingredient. Beforehand, around 10% of the whole tomato harvest was rejected, but by adding green tomatoes alongside other herbs, an estimated 2.5m tomatoes will be saved from waste annually.

The farm to fork aspect of the manifesto will be rolled-out as part of a series of blogs, videos and infographics that highlight the need for large-scale changes. The series will culminate on World Food Day (16 October).

In the first blog post of the series, WWF’s senior vice president of food & markets Dr Jason Clay outlined how food waste was a “pre-competitive” challenge that needed to be tackled at the production phase.

Unilever has already created a viable business case for promoting sustainability within food brands. The consumer goods firm’s ‘Sustainable Living’ brands, which include Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s, delivered more than 60% of its growth last year, and grew at twice the rate of the rest of the company.

Last year, Unilever teamed up with social enterprise charity Hubbub to launch a collaborative, social media-driven project aimed at eliminating food waste.

The partnership was supported by input from 240 organisations and builds on public polling conducted with more than 2,000 households – and aims to tackle food waste at a consumer, business and policy level.

Matt Mace

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