ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. - Unilever United States has introduced a new nutritional logo called Choices. To qualify for the logo, Unilever products must meet nutrition standards on levels of trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar and cholesterol. The criteria are set by Unilever's global Nutrition Enhancement Program, a product benchmark program based on 20 different sets of dietary guidelines from worldwide health organizations, including the dietary guidelines in the U.S. Appearing on the front of packages, the Choices logo is a blue circle that includes a blue check and a sun rising over it. The words "Eat Smart" or "Drink Smart" appear at the top, while the words "Based on U.S. Dietary Guidelines" are on the bottom. Over one-third of Unilever's portfolio qualifies, including such brands as Ragu, Slim-Fast Optima, Slim-Fast Optima Bonus, Promise, Take Control, Skippy, Lipton Tea, Hellmann's and Bertolli Olive Oil. SN interviewed Mike Polk, president, Unilever U.S., about the new program.
SN: Please discuss the growing emphasis on health and wellness in the food industry.
MP: Over the past few years there has been a real paradigm shift in consumers' behavior toward healthier eating. In the past, it was more of a reaction, responding to a recommendation from their doctor due to an existing health concern. Today, consumers are more proactive about making healthier choices. They want to make healthier choices, but can be easily confused. Choices is a simple way for them to identify healthier choices.
SN: What is Unilever's Nutrition Enhancement Program?
MP: The intent of this program is to assess and enhance the nutritional composition of our global foods portfolio. We developed strict product-specific benchmarks on four major nutrients of concern - trans fat, saturated fat, sodium and added sugars - based on International Dietary Guidelines, including U.S. Dietary Guidelines, and assessed over 16,000 product formulations of our food portfolio worldwide. We took this on because we recognized while there are guidelines for healthy diets, no global guidelines are available on how individual processed foods fit into a healthy diet.
In the U.S., many of our vegetable oil spreads have been reformulated to contain zero grams of trans fat per serving; Ragu Old World Style Sauce was reduced 25% in sodium; a 10% sodium reduction was made for most side dish products under Lipton/Knorr; and a 20%-25% reduction in sugar levels in our Lipton ready-to-drink teas has been completed.
SN: What led to the creation of Choices and how does it work?
MP: Consumers want clear and simple guidance to make healthier food choices. The goal of the Choices program is to help consumers everywhere achieve nutritional balance within their energy needs to help them live vital and healthy lives. Choices translates the work of our Nutrition Enhancement Program into a simple, front-of-pack nutritional logo program for our products. In the U.S., for a product to qualify for the Choices logo, that product needs to meet strict criteria on five nutrients of concern: trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugars and cholesterol. These criteria are based on U.S. Dietary Guidelines for trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, and sugar and the FDA guidelines on cholesterol.
It has been a two-step process as we wanted to make sure we had our portfolio in line with healthier options before we embarked on a marketing campaign for consumers. Today, over one-third of the U.S. foods portfolio qualifies for the logo. Consumers will begin to see our Choices logo on the shelf beginning in end of 2006 and into 2007 with the top-selling stockkeeping units under the brands Ragu, Slim-Fast, Bertolli, Hellmann's, Lipton, Promise and Skippy.
SN: What will the logo tell consumers about the products they buy?
MP: The Choices logo will help consumers identify healthier food choices, and help to make it easier for them to meet U.S. dietary guidelines, which recommends limiting their intake of trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars and cholesterol. The logo in the U.S. consists of a blue circle featuring a big blue "tick" and a golden sun rising over it, signifying vitality.
SN: Please comment specifically on how much emphasis Unilever is placing on health and wellness product and program development.
MP: For Unilever, health and wellness is expressed in our mission to "Add Vitality to Life" by helping people to feel good, look good and get more out of life through our everyday brands. For the consumer, vitality is a combination of physical and emotional well-being, and because of our unique footprint in the store, covering both food and home and personal care categories, we are able to help deliver vitality on many different levels.
SN: Why is it so important for marketers to assist consumers with product choices at store level?
MP: Unilever is in the business of driving category expansion. Increasing category relevance and involvement for consumers helps us and our retail partners to drive growth. The key to success is finding those convergence points between our business, and our customers' and consumers' needs. Consumers want to have healthier options, and healthy eating starts with shopping for healthier groceries. As marketers, we are delivering healthier options for our retail partners' shelves in a simple way that helps make the healthier choice easier for consumers.