Unilever is setting a target of €1bn (£900m) in annual sales of its plant-based foods through some of its best-known brands, as it seeks to cash in on the growing number of consumers reducing their meat and dairy intake.
The estimated five-fold sales growth over the next five to seven years will be driven by new products from The Vegetarian Butcher meat-free label, and bolstered by expansion of dairy-free ice cream and mayonnaise ranges from Ben & Jerry’s, Hellmann’s, Magnum and Wall’s.
The new global target is part of the food giant’s new “Future Foods” initiative, which it says aims to help people eat more healthily, while reducing the environmental impact of the supply chain.
To achieve this, Unilever is also unveiling plans to halve food waste across its operations by 2025 – five years earlier than previously committed as part of the target set by the global Champions 12.3 coalition of food businesses and retailers.
Hanneke Faber, president of Unilever’s foods and refreshment division, said: “As one of the world’s largest food companies, we have a critical role to play in helping to transform the global food system. 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. These are bold, stretching targets which demonstrate our commitment to being a force for good.”
The move comes as food producers seek to tap into the sharp rise in popularity of plant-based diets. In a similar step, Tesco in Setember became the first UK retailer to set a sales target for plant-based alternatives to meat to give shoppers more sustainable options.
Consumers have been increasingly adopting “flexitarian” diets – cutting down on meat and dairy while eating more plant-based foods.
Research from Barclays last year forecast that the value of the global plant-based food and drink market could soar by more than 1,000% over the next 10 years, to reach $140bn by 2029. It also found that 92% of plant-based meals in the UK are consumed by the UK’s estimated 22 million “flexitarians”.
Unilever has been expanding its plant-based meat and dairy alternatives business for several years. After acquiring Dutch-owned The Vegetarian Butcher in 2018, it has launched the label in more than 30 countries and was last year chosen as the supplier of Burger King’s plant-based whopper and nuggets across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Carina Millstone, executive director of the Feedback food charity, said: “It is great to see Unilever promise to increase its plant-based proteins and dairy alternative range. At the same time, all science points to the need for speedy, significant reduction in meat and dairy consumption to avert catastrophic climate change – not more choice. If Unilever is truly serious about future foods, it must adopt science-based climate targets across its business and offer, and rapidly cut its animal protein and dairy range, alongside any increases in plant-based alternatives.”