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After party. Wasted food laid out on festive wooden table.

Tackling food waste

Average read time: 8 minutes

We're aiming to halve food waste in our operations and helping people to reduce their climate impact by cutting their own food waste.

Chef in a kitchen with a Hellmann’s ‘Bring Your Own Food’ restaurant bag

Food loss and waste is a global crisis with one-third of all food produced lost or discarded. As one of the world’s biggest food producers, we want to protect and preserve food – for everyone across our value chain – starting in our own operations.

Led by our Hellmann’s brand, we’re also raising awareness about the impacts of food waste and inspiring consumers to rethink their relationship with leftover food, and partnering with others for global reform of the food system.

Future Foods: our plan to tackle waste in the food system

We want to help shape a global food system that is fair for everyone. That’s why we launched our Future Foods initiative – it’s our plan to help people transition towards healthier diets and reduce the environmental impact of the food chain.

Our goal – part of the Unilever Compass and our Climate Transition Action Plan – is to halve food waste in our global direct operations by 2025.

Through our Future Foods initiative, we’ll also ramp up plant-based meat and dairy alternatives and we’ve set ambitious nutrition commitments too.

Only if we tackle food loss and waste can we feed the world within planetary boundaries, mitigate climate change, and relieve pressure on natural resources.

Hanneke Faber, President, Nutrition

Halving food waste in our own operations

We’ve committed to halving food waste in our operations by 2025 (versus 2019), in support of the Champions 12.3 initiative. This commitment is part of the Unilever Compass and our Climate Transition Action Plan since reducing food waste will also help to reduce our GHG emissions. Our ultimate aim is to send no food waste to landfill and ensure no good food is destroyed.

By the end of 2021, we’d reduced food waste per tonne of food handled in our operations by 3% versus 2019. Our progress in reducing manufacturing food waste has been hampered by Covid-related disruptions. We're exploring solutions with our engineering teams such as anaerobic digestion, using the biogas generated on-site, composting and using the waste as fertiliser.

Our focus is on making sure no expired products or ingredients are thrown away or wasted in our operations. We want everyone in our business to be a food waste warrior and spot any opportunity to save food. The food-saving techniques we’re using include manufacturing fixes and circular economy approaches. For instance, if our ice cream packaging lines stop working, we store the ice cream safely so it can be packaged when the lines are fixed, rather than letting it become food waste.

We also aim to use every bit of raw materials, so none are wasted. Sometimes an issue with a product label means we can’t sell it, but we look for ways to use up the product instead of throwing it away. For example, in Brazil, our brands including Hellmann’s and Mãe Terra partnered with social media influencers to donate products to charities in need of food, which were chosen by social media users. This helped divert more than 100 tonnes of edible food products from being wasted to those in need.

Our brands are also finding innovative ways to cut food waste in our factories. We have a rich history of putting by-products to good use. This is an approach pioneered by some of our oldest and most-loved brands such as Marmite, since the last century.

Helping consumers cut food waste

No one feels good about throwing food away. Yet around 60% of food waste happens in people’s homes – so it’s clear we can do more to support consumers to change habits and attitudes.

We're using our brands to reach consumers and help them cut waste through great products and innovative ideas.

Hellmann’s is on a mission to inspire people to be more resourceful with their food, turning ingredients they already have into delicious meals so they waste less.

Here are six ways Hellmann’s is encouraging people to eat well and save waste:

  1. Recipes to fight food waste: Inspiring more than 150 million people across the US, Canada and UK to turn simple leftover ingredients into delicious meals with the make taste, not waste campaign – including an attention-grabbing advert at the US Super Bowl in 2021.
  2. Cook clever, waste less: Educating millions of UK households on how to reduce their food waste with a celebrity-backed prime-time TV series called ‘Cook Clever, Waste Less’.
  3. Highlighting food waste on the global stage: Partnering with a multi-disciplinary artist, Itamar Gilboa, to highlight the link between food waste and climate change through an impactful art installation titled ‘The Food Waste Effect’ at COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference.
  4. Understanding the root cause of food waste: Conducting in-depth research into why people waste food at home with more than 1,000 families over eight weeks in Canada and the US, and identifying ways to inspire households to reduce food waste. Participating families reduced their food waste by a third.
  5. Creating fridge heroes: Encouraging 100 million customers in Brazil – and beyond – to see value in their fridge leftovers. In Bring Your Own Food restaurants across the world, celebrity chefs turned diners’ leftover ingredients into five-star meals using Hellmann’s.
  6. Gaming for good: Partnering with Nintendo in Canada to get Animal Crossing gamers to exchange virtual food waste for donations to a real-life food rescue charity.

Good food can get thrown away simply because date labels on food packaging are confusing. We’re working with others to make it easier for consumers to understand if their food is safe and stop food being unnecessarily thrown away. We want to see harmonised regulations that set 'use-by' dates for foods with shorter durability on the basis of safety, and 'best-before' dates for foods with longer durability on the grounds of quality.

In 2021, we supported efforts in the US to introduce a Food Labelling Act to standardise date labels across the food industry and reduce consumer confusion, which would also reduce food waste.

Our brands also partner with others to make sure surplus food isn’t wasted. For example, we work with the food waste app Too Good to Go to help connect people with surplus food from restaurants and shops, at discounted prices in several countries.

We don’t have to persuade people that food waste is wrong. We just have to give people tools so they can use what they have better.

Christina Bauer-Plank, Global Brand Vice President, Hellmann’s

Partnering for a world without food waste

We view partnership as the new leadership and we’re embracing collaboration with others for change – that includes suppliers, retailers, our peers and governments. Together we are advocating for food system reform to address food waste, food insecurity and mitigate climate change.

As a member of the Champions 12.3 10x20x30 initiative, a global coalition of leaders from governments, businesses and civil society, we’ve committed to halve food waste. Together, we’re calling for:

  • Governments and companies to adopt explicit food loss and waste reduction targets that align with Sustainable Development Goal target 12.3.
  • Harmonised regulations that set 'use-by' dates for foods with shorter durability on the basis of safety, and 'best-before' dates for foods with longer durability on the grounds of quality.

Redirecting surplus food to where it’s needed

Food waste costs the UK hospitality and foodservice sector an estimated £3.2 billion every year, three-quarters of which could have been eaten. This amount of food is equivalent to 1.3 billion meals – or one in every six of the meals served each year. No matter what sub-sector of the industry you work in, together we are a sum of its parts. That’s why at Unilever, we’re committed to helping reduce waste across the hospitality and foodservice industry.

Our Unilever Food Solutions (UFS) business is helping chefs and caterers cut their food waste in a number of ways, for example through free training modules about waste management through the UFS Academy and the Wise Up on Waste app. Launched in the UK with the facilities services provider, ISS Food & Hospitality, the app allows chefs to track and reduce food waste. For example, in the UK, regular use of the app has enabled participating chefs to reduce food waste by an average of 15–20% and we’re growing the use of the app across Europe.

UFS works with many partners around the world, such as food banks, start-ups and NGOs. In Australia and New Zealand, our Food Collective loyalty programme – in partnership with local charities Oz Harvest and Kiwi Harvest – rescues excess food and redirects it to those who need it. In the Netherlands, UFS has partnered with Orbisk to introduce the world’s first fully automated food waste monitor for restaurants, which uses AI technology, and is using leftovers to create delicious soups served in food banks with support from social enterprises Samen Tegen and Soupalicious. And in Greece, we work with the WWF to measure food loss and waste in hotels with the WWF Hotel Kitchen Tool.

Hellmann’s created the ‘Unidos Pela Comida’ (United for Food) initiative in Brazil in 2021, to bring together food industry partners and NGOs and turn 68 tonnes of would-be-wasted food into more than 120,000 tasty meals, which were redistributed to those in need.

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