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Anglo-Dutch blue chip food and household company Unilever has been investigating plant-based foods. Across 141 studies, conducted between 2000 and 2020, the company has pulled together a review of key data. The chief takeaway is that plant-based food, and a transition towards it, should be a global priority. The diet has been shown to increase vitamin and nutrient intake while lowering food production’s impact on the climate.
The findings have led Unilever to suggest that public health authorities need to use the information proactively. Strategies should point people towards plant-based diets, with nutrition companies needing to play their part as well. Gaps in consumer knowledge were revealed as being stumbling blocks to balanced and beneficial diets.
Education is key
Unilever’s research showed that all diets, whether plant-based or omnivorous, have shortcomings. All diets studied proved to have nutritional deficiencies of some kind. As a result, Unilever has identified that consumer education needs to be a priority. People need to understand how to supplement and support their own nutrition. With a fully plant-based diet, for example, B12 intake is a concern. A previous study conducted by YouGov and backed by Arla revealed that 66 percent of consumers in the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, and Germany do not think about nutrition as part of a sustainable diet. NutritionInsight highlighted the issue of “nutrition blindness”.
“Both the F&B industry and public health bodies have an important role to play in helping consumers transition to a more nutritionally adequate diet,” Ans Eilander, lead scientist and study author for Unilever told NutritionInsight. “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.
The nutrition industry also has an important role to play in helping consumers shift to a diet consisting of more plant-based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, pulses and nuts.”
Practicing what it preaches
Unilever has set a $1 billion sales target for its plant-based ranges. The figure should be reached by 2025-2027. The target is part of the company’s “Future Foods” initiative. It has been designed to help consumers make an easy and seamless transition towards more plant-based foods, while enjoying the brands they love. As such, numerous vegan and vegan-friendly brands are being acquired. The Vegetarian Butcher, Ben & Jerry’s, Hellmann’s, Magnum, and Wall’s are already on board. There is “a commitment to double the number of products delivering positive nutrition globally by 2025” also in place, according to Eilander.
Last year, Unilever revealed that its The Vegetarian Butcher brand saw sales increase by 70 percent. This was mostly due to multiple global partnerships with Burger King in Germany and throughout Asia. More recently, the brand launched in retail outlets in Singapore, following a successful breakthrough via the foodservice industry. Earlier this week, a U.K. collaboration between The Vegetarian Butcher and Burger King was announced, in the form of vegan-certified chicken nuggets for Veganuary.
Unilever acquired The Vegetarian Butcher in 2018 and has aggressively grown its presence. It is currently available in more than 30 countries worldwide. The brand’s meat alternatives are fortified with B12 as part of a reported company-wide focus on nutritional support.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.