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Plant-based foods

Average read time: 13 minutes

Delicious plant-based foods are better for the health of people and the planet. We’ve put them at the heart of our strategy.

Jar of Hellmann's Vegan Mayo beside a wrap containing vegan meatballs and salad.

The benefits of plant-based foods

The EAT-Lancet Commission demonstrates that if people eat more plant-based foods, emissions could be cut by up to 80%. Eating meat and dairy alternatives and vegetables is recognised as being better for the environment – and plant-based diets are not only better for the planet, they’re also good for human health.

We’re convinced of the health benefits of adding more plant-based foods to our diets. We’ve been using our expertise and product knowledge for several years to increase consumer choice, by introducing more plant-based options and increasing sales of a diverse range of protein sources. And we’ve embedded plant-based thinking into our Future Foods commitments.

More plant-based options for more people

Our portfolio of brands is well placed to help millions of people transition to a more plant-based diet. We believe in nutritious diets that include more variety, more seasonal foods, fruit and vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and healthy oils, less meat and more plant-based alternatives.

As well as creating delicious new plant-based recipes, we’re making it easier for people to find vegetarian options in the shops. Since 2021, 4,000 of our products have carried the European Vegetarian Union’s logo. And we’ve set a goal on plant-based foods as part of our Unilever Compass strategy.

We’re committed to offering more products that enable plant-based diets, which was reflected in our €1 billion plant-based sales goal announced in November 2020. To better reflect our plant-based strategy and sustainability agenda, and increase sales of plant-based products, we have now broadened the scope of our original goal to include plant-based products in categories that have traditionally used animal-derived ingredients, such as bouillons.

€1.5bn of sales per annum by 2025 from plant-based products in categories whose products are traditionally using animal-derived ingredients.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

It’s a stretching ambition, and we’re determined to reach it, by increasing our plant-based offer in The Vegetarian Butcher, our Hellmann’s dressings, and within our ice cream portfolios. In 2022, Unilever Nutrition and Ice Cream achieved €1.2 billion in sales from the plant-based products in scope.

In addition, our large global brands are taking the lead in encouraging people to switch to more plant-based diets: most notably, Knorr, our biggest brand in Nutrition accounting for more than €4.5 billion of turnover.

External recognition of our plant-based strategy

There are different reasons why consumers choose plant-based instead of animal products – for example animal welfare, the environment, novelty, availability, affordability and, of course, health. And the move towards plant-based foods is gathering pace. New research by ethical investor network FAIRR shows that all companies assessed are investing in the development of plant-based products.

For the second year running, we were named by FAIRR as the leader in its 2022 benchmark of companies using protein diversification to drive growth and build climate-aligned portfolios.

It’s clear that plant-based alternatives offer huge commercial growth potential. And they offer a simple way of helping consumers transition to more sustainable diets.

Great tasting, non-dairy ice cream

In response to increasing demand, we’ve continued expanding our ice cream portfolio with non-dairy and vegan choices. We offer these options across our global Ben & Jerry’s, Magnum, Wall’s and Cornetto brands. For example, in ‘Veganuary’ 2023, Ben & Jerry’s introduced the Oatmeal Dream Pie Non-Dairy, with Gluten-Free Oatmeal Cookies & Marshmallow Swirls. We also offer water ices and fruit sorbets that are inherently non-dairy.

Our plant-based ice creams are helping to lower the carbon intensity of our value chains. In Sweden, for instance, we renovated our Big Pack family ice cream range, switching dairy milk for a plant-based (pea protein) alternative. The new recipe has a 37% lower carbon footprint than the original, and we’re now aiming for around 20% of all our ice cream products to be non-dairy by 2030.

Knorr – reinventing food for humanity through plant-based options

Bouillons and stocks also have a significant role to play in contributing towards our expanded €1.5 billion plant-based meat and dairy alternatives commitment. Our new Knorr BIO vegetable bouillon, for example, is vegan and ideal as a basis for soups, stews or for seasoning. It can help to refine numerous dishes, enabling cooks to cut out meat without compromising on flavour.

In addition to our plant-based commitment, Knorr is taking action to ‘reinvent food for humanity’. This is a big ambition, and we’ve broken it down into three major shifts that Knorr is driving – more variety in what people eat; more plants and less meat; and foods grown in sustainable, restorative and regenerative ways. We’re doing this through initiatives like Future 50 Foods and regenerative agriculture projects.

A Vegetarian Butcher Chef in the kitchen 

The Vegetarian Butcher – designed for meat lovers, made with plants

​With its brand purpose, ‘sacrifice nothing’, The Vegetarian Butcher is our leading ‘plant-based meat’ brand. The Vegetarian Butcher products are made from soy and wheat, and all its protein sources are plant-based and deliciously satisfying. They are present in both foodservice and retail, and are aimed at the increasing number of consumers who identify themselves as flexitarian. The Vegetarian Butcher grew high double-digit, capitalising on partnerships with quick service restaurants like Starbucks, Subway, Domino’s, and Burger King – where we were named Global Supplier of the Year.

It’s expanded to over 55 countries and provided Burger King’s first plant-based burger. This partnership has proved to be very successful. One in three Whoppers sold in Burger King in Belgium, for instance, are now plant-based, and in some central city restaurants, that figure rises to one in two.

A vegetarian burger from The Vegetarian Butcher on a serving board, with the text 'It’s the tastiest meat without the flip side'.

The Vegetarian Butcher and Burger King also joined forces to successfully launch the Plant-Based Whopper, Junior Whopper, Chicken Royale and Nuggets, which have been introduced across most of Europe. In co-operation with The Vegetarian Butcher, the chain has also opened the world’s first pop-up plant-based Burger King restaurants in cities across Europe and Costa Rica. And in Austria, in an effort to normalise plant-based eating, the chain now offers burger-ordering customers the choice between ‘regular or meat-based’.

In 2022, we introduced a refrigerated range to European retailers, including the ‘Impeckable’ tender vegan fillet, as well as a frozen range in the UK. This includes the ‘Patty on the Back’, recreating the juicy tenderness of a beef burger cooked rare.

In Veganuary 2022, we launched the plant-based Tun’ah sandwich at Starbucks UK, and the Vegeroni pizza ­– with the taste and texture of pepperoni – at Domino’s in six European countries. We also introduced Vegan Nuggets at Burger King UK, making it the first UK fast-food chain to offer this option. And in Veganuary 2023, we launched the plant-based Beef Steak Slices with Subway in nine countries across Europe.

In supermarkets and food stores, we offer plant-based alternatives for different meal occasions, and our products can be found in the refrigerated, frozen and bakery aisles.

In 2022, The Vegetarian Butcher products won no less than six awards across Europe. And our Crispy Chickimicki Burger won gold in the German Vegetarian and Vegan Alternatives Product of the Year Award 2023.

Hellmann’s – same great taste, plant-based mayo

We’re expanding our delicious vegan options as part of our dressings portfolio. Our Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo is our plant-based alternative to our traditional Hellmann’s mayonnaise. We’ve removed the eggs, but not what consumers love about mayo – its great taste. In fact, BBC Good Food named Hellmann’s Vegan Garlic Mayo the best flavoured vegan mayo in 2023. Hellmann’s is the No.1 vegan mayonnaise in the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Greece, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. The range is now available in 33 markets, including Australia and Argentina where Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo was launched in 2022.

Jar of Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise and a squeezable bottle of Hellmann’s Vegan Mayonnaise on a kitchen counter with a spoon of mayonnaise in the foreground

In 2023, we introduced a variety of new choices. In Argentina, we launched two flavoured mayos that are vegan by design – Hellmann’s Smoked and Hellmann’s Garlic. In Europe, we launched the deliciously smoky Hellmann’s Vegan BBQ Sauce. In the UK and Nordic markets, we introduced four plant-based Hellmann’s varieties – the flavour-filled Cheese & Roasted Garlic, Sundried Tomato & Basil, Avocado & Lime, and Garlic & Herb. In Canada, our Hellmann’s Vegan Salad Dressings help to dress up so much more than salad. And we promote Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo alongside our traditional Hellmann’s Mayonnaise in our advertising.

In countries where our mayonnaises were not already available, we launched our new plant-based products from the start. In India, for example, we introduced our full Hellmann’s range as egg-free.

More plant-based ideas for professionals

Through our foodservice business, Unilever Food Solutions (UFS), our brands offer plant-based options catering to all needs to help professional kitchens and catering partners like Sodexo respond to consumer preferences.

UFS North America is helping operators meet customer demand with our range of plant-based, vegetarian and vegan products, including vegan mayo, seasonings, soups and sauces. In fact, in the US and Canada, just under half of our UFS portfolio is plant-based. We offer recipe inspiration on our websites in the US and Canada, which include plant-based, vegetarian and vegan dishes.

In 2022, we introduced Carte D’Or Professional’s vegan dessert range, including the top-selling Brownie and Chocolate Mousse desserts in Spain, Portugal, the UK, Romania and Bulgaria.

UFS also helps chefs around the world to offer more plant-based options on their menus, by providing recipe inspiration, workshops and training – see Nutritious diets, healthy habits for everyone.

Ensuring the nutrition quality of plant-based foods

Through our Future Foods commitments, we promote plant-based foods and diverse diets for better health of people and the planet.

We’ve developed clear nutrition guidelines for our plant-based products to ensure we design nutrient-balanced plant-based options to meet consumer expectations. For example, we design plant-based ice creams that comply with our sugar and calorie commitments for packaged ice cream, and often have a better nutrient profile than their dairy equivalents. And product development of our vegan dressings and foods is guided by Unilever Nutrition Standards (PDF 515.87 KB)

We’ve taken several steps in reformulating The Vegetarian Butcher products to meet our nutrition standards since we acquired the brand.

Alongside new nutritious products and making improvements to older recipes, a review conducted by our Unilever scientists suggested that “both the food and beverage industry and public health bodies have an important role to play in helping consumers transition to a more nutritionally adequate diet.”

Young couple preparing food together in a kitchen

The next generation of meat and dairy alternatives

At our Global R&D Centre in the UK, as well as Hive Foods Innovation Centre at Wageningen University campus, we’re working on formulating the next generation of meat and dairy alternatives and plant-based protein products. This means making plant-based foods not only with great taste, texture and nutrition, but also finding future ingredients, such as a diverse range of protein sources in our products and recipes, that respect the planet.

Hanneke Faber

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.

Hanneke Faber, our President, Nutrition

Positive nutrition and fortification explains how we’re making our products even healthier.

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