Unilever’s position on food fortification
Average read time: 5 minutes
As one of the world’s biggest and most influential food companies, Unilever is passionate about championing better ways to eat and cook. We’re committed to improving the nutritional quality of our foods and beverages, and one of the most important steps we’ve taken is to offer consumers a range of fortified foods at an affordable price.
Read on to find out why food fortification is so important in a global food system that simply does not deliver the vital micronutrients human populations need to ensure good health – and how Unilever’s working with governments, NGOs and others to drive transformational change towards a more sustainable global food system.
Why micronutrient deficiencies are a critical global health issue
Worldwide, it’s estimated that more than two billion people do not get enough vitamins and minerals. This is more than a quarter of the world’s population. Women, infants and children in particular are vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies, with severe consequences for their health. What’s more, vitamin and mineral deficiencies contribute substantially to the global burden of diseases and impair the healthy growth and development of children.
The most widespread globally are those related to iron, iodine, zinc and Vitamin A. In addition, inadequate intakes of Vitamin D, Vitamin B12, folate and calcium are also known significantly to impact people’s health.
The good news is that micronutrient intake can be increased by promoting diverse diets, providing dietary supplements, and fortifying foods, which is the practice of adding small and safe amounts of essential micronutrients to food products.
Leading global economists and health authorities have identified large-scale food fortification as one of the most cost-effective approaches to meet the nutritional needs of populations throughout the world. In the World Health Organization’s Essential Nutrition Actions Plan, published in 2019, fortification of condiments and staple foods with micronutrients is recommended as a multi-sectorial approach to combat micronutrient deficiencies.
What Unilever’s doing to address micronutrient deficiencies
We are committed to helping tackle micronutrient deficiencies in several ways, in both developed and developing countries. We offer fortified foods at an affordable price: for example, by using iodised salt in our savoury products, and producing Maizena porridges with 12 micronutrients.
In addition, we recognise the importance of diverse, sustainable and healthy diets. Therefore, we develop products with nutritious ingredients such as vegetables, fruit, dairy and vegetable oils, and we promote nutritious cooking through our recipes.
We’re continuously increasing our offering of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, continuing to lower calories, salt and sugar across all our products, and doubling the number of products that deliver positive nutrition.
For fortification of our products, we have the following guiding principles:
- We choose commonly consumed, affordable products that are part of the diet of people who are most in need, and which are generally accepted as suitable vehicles for fortification. Our fortification efforts thereby deliver the best possible benefit for consumers.
- Our internal guidelines for food fortification are applicable to our global portfolio, and are based on the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) directions. All Unilever’s fortified products must comply with international and local regulations and guidelines, such as .
- When fortifying our products, we aim to deliver at least 15% of the recommended daily intake per serving, unless regulated differently.
- Finally, we ensure that our fortified products are always safe to consume.
Working with others
To maximise our impact, we believe that it’s important to work in partnership with public health organisations and governments. By building transparent and effective partnerships, establishing clear responsibilities and promoting an enabling legislative environment, we can address barriers to fortification, achieve a more sustainable food system through food fortification, and contribute to a healthier future.
Some of the ways we’re working these goals include:
Informing consumers of the benefits of fortified foods
Consumers should be educated about the benefits of micronutrients for health, and also strategies for achieving an adequate intake of micronutrients. It’s essential that consumers can make informed choices based on information in reader-friendly language on packs of fortified products. For example, we apply government endorsed local logos for fortification, and we launch our products together with campaigns to increase awareness of micronutrients and teach consumers to make meals more nutritious.
Using data on micronutrient intake to develop effective and safe fortified foods
Data on micronutrient intake and status of different population groups is essential to indicate the needs and track progress of fortification efforts. We encourage governments and health authorities to monitor the micronutrient status and intake of their populations in order to ensure that fortified foods are effective and safe.
What we’ve already achieved
In 2017 we launched our Fortification Commitment: ‘By 2022, we’re aiming to provide more than 200 billion servings with at least one of the five key micronutrients, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, iodine, iron and zinc’.
By the end of 2020, we had delivered over 125 billion servings of products in both developed and developing countries that are fortified with at least one of the critical micronutrients.
Local recipes to try
At Unilever South Africa, we have two fortified products that provide consumers with 15% RDA for the fortified nutrient. Click on the links below to try our tasty recipes!