Healthy Markets Initiative – Unilever AGM

Castlefield have been signatories to ShareAction’s Healthy Markets Initiative since its formation. This collaborative engagement initiative joins multiple investors and asset owners from a variety of backgrounds together under the common goal of addressing the obesity crisis. In the UK, two in three adults and one in three children are now obese or overweight.[1] NHS costs as a result of this are significant and given that obesity is one of the few preventable risk factors in the severity of COVID-19 cases, addressing this is of vital importance.  This crisis is being fuelled by the food options currently available to consumers, which in many cases are high in fat, sugar or salt. Through increasing the availability and affordability of healthier alternatives, consumers benefit from more choice, and therefore can lead healthier, happier and more sustainable lifestyles. The food and drinks sector is highly concentrated, with only a handful of companies responsible for a large proportion of the production and subsequent retail of products.[2] One of those companies is Unilever, a company that is held within our CFP Castlefield B.E.S.T. Sustainable fund range.

Unilever are at the forefront of many sustainability topics and at this year’s AGM are acting on climate by putting a long-term strategy towards net zero to a shareholder vote. The company wants to reduce its emissions early to remain competitive as a business in anticipation of increasing carbon pricing globally. This is not surprising from a company that aspires to be a global leader in sustainable business and is actively engaged on many topics across the whole sustainability spectrum.

On nutrition and health, unarguably an area of key importance for a food manufacturer, achieving progress towards a healthier product portfolio has been slower. Unilever ranked second on the 2018 Access to Nutrition Index of major global food and drink manufacturers after being judged to have a robust and comprehensive strategy covering most aspects of nutrition and health.[3] Paradoxically, while its nutrition policies may be market leading, the company’s product portfolio and associated sales continue to be predominantly linked to its least healthy food and drink products. The same ATNI ranking showed that only 10% of Unilever’s global food and drink sales derived from healthier products.[4] This suggests that Unilever is as dependent on its least healthy food and drink products for revenue at the moment as companies such as Mars (8%) and Mondelez (7%) , and more so than competitors such as Coca-Cola (13%), Pepsi (19%), Nestle (19%), Kellogg’s (24%), Campbell’s (40%) Kraft (41%) Danone (41%) Friesland Campina (89%).

Drawing similarities with climate change, there are now more sugar taxes worldwide than carbon taxes.[5] Many Latin American countries such as Mexico and Chile are imposing tobacco-like health warnings on ‘least healthy’ product categories. Europe is also introducing mandatory nutritional labelling requirements and, in the UK, forthcoming legislation at retail level may mean that many Unilever products will be prevented from being the subject of promotions at supermarkets or advertised online, yet this is one of the manufacturer’s key methods for increasing their sales.

Through increasing the proportion of healthy products in their portfolio, and focusing their marketing activities to drive healthy sales, food and drink manufacturers have a significant opportunity both to improve the population’s health and to future-proof their business.[6] This is why at this year’s AGM, Castlefield, in collaboration with ShareAction, EQ Investors and Polden Puckham Charitable Foundation, are asking Unilever’s Board to develop a long-term plan to ensure a majority of its sales are derived from healthier products in the future.



[2] Ibid


[4] Ibid


[6] ShareAction. A Healthy Investment: The Importance of Prioritising Health in the Food and Drink Manufacturing Sector. July 2020.


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