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A man and a woman holding Cornetto ice creams while taking a selfie.

Reducing salt, sugar and calories

Average read time: 11 minutes

We’re cutting salt, sugar and calories from our products but keeping their great taste.

A young girl feeding her dad breakfast across the table

A worldwide obesity challenge

Many people realise that what they eat influences their health, their mood, and how much they can get done each day. In fact, there’s never been more interest among consumers in nutrition and health.

2 billion Adults worldwide are overweight or obese

Despite this, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 2 billion adults are overweight or obese, and 41 million children are overweight. The obesity pandemic needs urgent attention and a change of the food system to address this. Food manufacturers clearly need to further drive down salt, sugar, saturated fat and calories, which is one part of this complex puzzle. Tackling this issue needs a multifaceted approach, with many stakeholders playing a role and having a responsibility.

Healthier products must be part of the solution

We know that many people need to eat less salt, saturated and trans fats, and sugar. And we agree with dietary guidance that a balanced, healthy diet can contain occasional treats, such as an ice cream.

The cover of our 10 Years of USLP

Our Nutrition Journey (PDF 9.53 MB)

We’ve set out the challenges we faced in achieving our ambitious Unilever Sustainable Living Plan nutrition goals over 2010–2020. See Downloads for an accessible version of this document.

Our Nutrition Enhancement Programme has been cutting nutrients of concern in our products, such as salt and sugar, since we launched our Global Nutrition Policy back in 2000. A few years later, we launched the first nutrient profiling model to help with product innovation and reformulation, as well as portfolio improvement.

Over the years, we’ve learned that to maximise our impact, we need to focus on products that are consumed most frequently and in the greatest volumes. We’ve also learnt that taste is crucial if consumers are to accept these changes.

Our popular Knorr range, for example, uses top quality, delicious vegetables as core ingredients, providing vitamins and minerals. In 2021, Unilever Food Solutions North America introduced five new Knorr Soup du Jour varieties, which are all compliant with our Highest Nutritional Standards (PDF 542.44 KB) (HNS) and provide between a quarter and a half cup of vegetables per serving. We also continue to reformulate our other soups; for instance, we've recently improved Knorr soups in Spain and our top-selling soups in Turkey, all of which are now HNS compliant.

Small improvements can bring a big health impact

15,000 t Less sugar in our ice creams – enough to encircle the world

By the end of our Unilever Sustainable Living Plan (USLP) in 2020, achieving our targets meant we removed 37 million tonnes of salt from our foods – enough to fill nearly 15,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And we’ve removed the equivalent of around 170 billion sugar cubes from our ice tea drinks. We also took out over 15,000 tonnes of sugar from our ice creams. That’s enough to create a band of sugar cubes right round the world – 40,000 kilometres.

We’re continuing our ambition on meeting international standards as part of our Unilever Compass.

70% of our portfolio to meet WHO-aligned nutritional standards by 2022.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals
An illustration of a woman looking down a microscope

Our progress by country

Our USLP commitments covered our worldwide Foods & Refreshments business. As well as reporting our global results, we’ve tracked our progress across key countries.

In 2021, we achieved 63% against our goal of 70% of our portfolio meeting our HNS, which are in line with WHO guidelines.

We’re pleased that our approach to reformulation has been endorsed externally for many years, for example by the respected Access to Nutrition Index and more recently by the new World Benchmarking Alliance’s Food & Agriculture Benchmark.

We’re sharing our knowledge on reformulation and behaviour change with others. For example, through Scaling Up Nutrition’s (SUN) Business Network, we help other members deliver improved nutrition in developing markets.

And we’re not slowing down. In 2020, as part of our Future Foods commitments, we set ourselves new goals to lower calorie, salt and sugar levels even further across all our products. These goals are part of our Unilever Compass (PDF 3.47 MB) .

More taste, less salt

The WHO recommends a daily intake of no more than 5 g of salt (that’s just under a teaspoon). But around the world, people eat on average 9–12 g a day, roughly twice the recommended amount.

85% of our Foods portfolio to help consumers reduce their salt intake to no more than 5 g per day by 2022.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

We support the WHO’s recommendation and have clearly set out our salt reduction position (PDF 124.32 KB) . By 2021, 81% of our Foods met salt levels that enable intakes of 5 g per day.

How do we reduce salt?

We improve our foods based on scientifically sound benchmarks and reduce salt levels in a variety of ways. We replace salt with other ingredients, such as aromas, spices, herbs, and the natural salt replacer, potassium salt.

New products must meet the target to enable a salt intake of 5 g per day, and we aim to reduce salt when our existing products are renovated. Over the past decade, we’ve cut sodium in Knorr Rice and Pasta Sides, and in the US, all dishes in this range have recently achieved HNS compliance.

Cutting calories in ice cream

Treats contribute to wellbeing and pleasure, which we believe are important in life.

An illustration of a Magnum Almond ice cream on a pink background

As the world’s leading ice cream company – selling much-loved brands like Wall’s, Magnum, Cornetto, Ben & Jerry’s, Max/Paddle Pop and Breyers – we know how important it is to lower calories without sacrificing taste and we've set ourselves a goal to achieve this.

95% of packaged ice cream to contain no more than 250 kcal per serving by 2025.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

By the end of 2021, 94% of our packaged ice creams did not exceed 250 kcals per serving. (A serving refers to a pre-packed, single-serve ice cream product meant to be consumed in one go. It also refers to 100 ml when ice cream is sold in larger packaging such as tubs.)

In 2021, we introduced new Kwality/Wall’s ice creams to India, offering creamy kulfi with a traditional nutty flavour – the majestic Shahi Kulfi has a hint of cardamom while the Desi Twist comes with a rosy swirl. We also launched a number of new ice creams in Pakistan, including Wall’s mango, pistachio, vanilla, tutti fruity, strawberry, kulfi and chocolate. These options not only hit the spot when it comes to refreshing ice cream, but were also designed to meet our calorie commitment.

A refreshing sweet treat, with less sugar

95% of packaged ice cream to contain no more than 22 g total sugar per serving by 2025.

This is one of our Positive nutrition goals

We're already re-working some of our most-loved recipes to reach our goal. At the end of 2021, 89% of our packaged ice creams met this commitment.

In 2021 in Europe, we reformulated Magnum White to meet no more than 22 g of total sugar and in the UK, we managed to reduce sugar in Soft Scoop Vanilla by 20%, making it compliant too. In Mexico, we lowered the sugar in our Cornetto Chocollage by over 19%, reducing total sugar from 22 g to 17 g per serving. And our Magnum ice creams with no added sugar – which we'd already introduced in Europe in vanilla and fruits of the forest flavours – were launched in Latin America as an alternative to the Magnum Classic.

In addition, 100% of our kids’ ice creams are HNS compliant. Take Twister for kids for example, a range of popsicles that are loved by kids for their great taste, fun shapes and exciting colours, and have no more than 100 kilocalories per serving. It’s our mission to offer permissible treats and empower parents and caregivers to make better choices that also bring happiness, joy and excitement to kids.

We’re tackling ‘portion distortion’

Helping people understand what an appropriate portion size looks like is crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. We know that portions are getting bigger and as a result, people are eating more. ‘Portion distortion’ is unfortunately becoming the norm.

To achieve our commitment that by 2025, 95% of our packaged ice cream will contain no more than 250 kcal per serving, we will need to continue to reduce portion sizes.

We’re also sponsors of the Portion Balance Coalition, which is focused on increasing understanding of the role of portions in day-to-day lives. We’re collaborating with industry, policymakers, public health groups and academic researchers to co-create consumer awareness messaging on how to balance portions as part of a healthy lifestyle. The coalition is responding to the increasing number of food-insecure households with a culturally relevant health education programme called Eat for You: Let Portions Be Your Guide.

The sweet truth

The WHO advises limiting free sugar (meaning any added sugar, as well as natural sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juices) to below 10% of total energy intake.

We support the WHO’s position. In 2010, we extended our earlier sugar reductions by setting out to remove 25% of the sugar in our ready-to-drink teas. By our target date of 2020, we’d achieved a reduction of 23%.

By 2025, 80% of our global Beverages portfolio will contain no more than 5 g per 100 ml of total sugar, as explained in our position statement on sugar. By the end of 2021, 76% of these products met the target.

We are doing this through a combination of using naturally sweet ingredients like fruit, low energy sweeteners to fully or partially replace sugar, as well as offering great-tasting products with less sugar and varying levels of sweetness.

Consumers love our lower sugar options. In Germany, for instance, Pepsi-Lipton Less Sweet was named product of the year in the non-alcoholic beverages category and in China, Lipton Dandelion Green Tea won the Foodaily iSEE Food Innovation Award.

Different levels of sweet tooth

Some people have a sweet tooth, and some people don’t. So we’re working hard to give people a choice in the level of sweetness of our ready-to-drink tea, powdered iced tea, milk tea products and other beverage products.

In 2021, for instance, we introduced new Horlicks Diabetes Plus, our first-ever product in the Foods for Special Dietary Uses category. The drink can help people with diabetes to help manage blood sugar, help reduce blood cholesterol and support weight management. And in Sri Lanka, we introduced Chocolate Horlicks with a 56% reduced sugar formula. We also introduced sachets of our Horlicks Rs and Boost Rs drinks, helping to make the product accessible to low-income consumers in India.

We’ve also reformulated Horlicks options, such as Boost Plus with 30% less sugar, Protein Plus Chocolate with 32% less sugar, and Protein Plus Vanilla with a 48% sugar reduction. All the products were already HNS compliant, but our reduction of added sugar continues.

We’ve developed more teas that meet our Highest Nutritional Standards (HNS) of 5 g or less of sugar per 100 ml. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, we reformulated our Lipton Iced Tea Peach (4.5 g sugar/100 ml), which complies with our HNS and contains 22% less sugar than the original recipe. We reduced sugar by up to 50% (meeting 2.2 g/100 ml) in several Lipton ready-to-drink products across Europe. And we reduced sugar by up to 13% in several Lipton and Brisk ready-to-drink products in the US, bringing them under 5 g sugar/100 ml, all meeting our HNS.

In addition to reformulations, we’re also creating new ready-to-drink teas with less sweetness. In North America, for example, we introduced Pure Leaf Slightly Sweet Cold Brew Black Tea (3.8 g/100 ml). And we introduced several new zero sugar iced teas across Europe, such as Lipton Green Tea Lemon, Lipton Black Tea Lemon, and Lipton Black Tea Peach.

In some of our teas, we use non-nutritive sweeteners like Stevia (steviol glycosides). And we’re collaborating with universities and other organisations to get a better understanding of people’s preferences for different levels of sweetness.

We also brought new unsweetened products to the market, from Pure Leaf Unsweetened Mango Hibiscus Herbal Tea, Pure Leaf Chamomile Raspberry Herbal Tea, and Pure Leaf Unsweetened Cold Brew Black Tea in the US to Lipton Unsweetened Black Oolong Fresh Brew Tea in Taiwan.

Savoury can also be sweet

Most of the sugar in our savoury food products occurs naturally from vegetables like tomatoes and carrots. However, we’re working where we can to lower sugar in our foods too.

Great taste, less sugar

We’ve lowered sugar in our sauces and dressings, for example, Amora ketchup in France contains 30% less sugar, 50% less salt and 25% more tomatoes. Nielsen considered it one of the best new product launches of 2021.

And our Hellmann’s ketchup with Stevia contains up to 45% less sugar and meets our HNS. We’re making it available in an increasing number of countries in Europe. In Chile, we offer Hellmann's Ketchup Light with 60% less sugar, making it HNS compliant while keeping its appealing flavour.

We’ve also reduced added sugar in our range of bouillons and soups, such as our Unox soups.

 A squeezy bottle of Amora ketchup

Our trans fats story

Unilever has always taken a leading role in reducing dietary intake levels of trans fatty acids (TFA), which are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease. We were the first manufacturer to produce margarines virtually free of TFA, a move widely commended by the scientific and business communities.

Starting in the mid-1990s, we developed the science to create fat-containing products with the same mouthfeel, product stability and cost level but without the TFA. Since then, we’ve reformulated thousands of our recipes.

By 2012, we had removed trans fats from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (PHVO) across our portfolio to less than 1 g per 100 g of product. To promote transparency, we published our definition and approach to this and committed to the WHO REPLACE programme to share our technical knowledge.

In May 2019, we made a global commitment to the World Health Organization that by 2023, industrially produced Trans Fatty Acids (iTFA) would not exceed 2 g per 100 g of total fat or oil in any of our foods. To fulfil this commitment means working closely with our suppliers. Alongside sharpening our specifications for iTFA, we’ve found alternative ingredients that meet the WHO threshold to use in our product reformulations.

We're also continuing to cut saturated fat in our products.

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