Unilever has said it now sources more than a third of its agricultural raw materials sustainably, up from just 14% two years ago and 24% in 2011.
The Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant claims it is moving ahead rapidly with its goal of 100% sustainable sourcing by 2020, having reached 36% in 2012, ahead of the 30% target the company had set when it announced its Sustainable Living Plan in 2010. The plan outlined a strategy to double the size of the business by 2020, from sales of €40bn (sales were €51bn in 2012), while simultaneously reducing its environmental impact.
Unilever’s chief procurement officer Marc Engels said in a statement that the company’s sustainable sourcing policy was important for ensuring a secure ingredient supply in the future, and also to provide a point of product differentiation.
“Climate change, water scarcity, unsustainable farming practices, and rising populations all threaten agricultural supplies and food security,” he said. “Half of the raw materials Unilever buys are from the farming and forestry industries, so ensuring a secure supply of these materials is a major business issue. However, sustainable sourcing is not only about managing business risks, it also presents an opportunity for growth, allowing brands to stand out in the marketplace.”
The company has recently launched a Knorr tomato soup in France, for example, that highlights its tomatoes as sustainably grown under the company’s Sustainable Agriculture Code, the first of Unilever’s products to promote an ingredient on-pack in this way.
“This development has boosted shelf standout and competitive differentiation and now Knorr plans to continue to label other products,” the company said.
Corresponding with FoodNavigator via email, Unilever spokesperson Flip Dötsch said achieving 36% sustainable sourcing for agricultural raw materials represented “great progress while growing the business”.
“It takes time to train farmers, create repeatable models and reach scale,” he said. “Good progress is being made and we learn every day by working with likeminded NGOs, suppliers and partners…Putting sustainability at the heart of your business, we believe, will become the only growth model acceptable to consumers.”
The company has also highlighted that it sourced 43% of its cocoa sustainably by the end of 2012, and 64% of cocoa for Magnum was certified under Rainforest Alliance certification. In addition, all palm oil supplies were covered by GreenPalm certificates, and it now says it aims to source 100% certified palm oil traceable back to source by 2020.