Unilever - under fire over fortified food claims

Unilever - under fire over fortified food claims

Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant Unilever is facing criticism from pressure groups over its nutrition claims in Latin America.

A report published today (17 September) by the Changing Markets Foundation, Proyecto Alimente and ContraPESO claims that the Marmite, Ben & Jerry's ice cream and Colman's Mustard manufacturer, is "failing to keep its own global commitments on nutrition" in relation to fortified food products sold in Mexico.

In response, Unilever said it is "carrying out additional, third-party testing to ensure they [the products in question] comply with the ingredients and fortification levels declared on pack".

The three organisations claim their research finds a "glaring lack of consistency between Unilever's commitments and its business practice when it comes to fortification".

They say their research found Unilever is not fortifying its Maizena Natural cornflour product in Mexico, despite claims all its cornflour products in Latin America are fortified. 

The groups point out micronutrient deficiencies are a health concern in Mexico, where one in four children under five suffer from anaemia (an iron deficiency) and nine out of ten women do not get enough iron in their diet. 

Micronutrients are only added to Unilever's flavoured atole hot drink mixes, the report says, and it suggests some of the nutrient levels in the flavoured Maizena products were "found to be significantly less than the level given on the package".

Alice Delemare Tangpuori from the Changing Markets Foundation said: "Unilever claims to be committed to addressing micronutrient malnutrition around the world, however this report shows that the company is failing to translate these commitments into practice.

"Unilever must explain why its natural cornflour product is unfortified, seemingly in direct contrast to its global communications on fortification, and why the levels of iron and zinc in its atole products do not appear to match the levels stated on the packaging.

"The company has ambitions to provide more than 200 billion product servings with at least one of the five key micronutrients by 2022, but if Unilever is serious about addressing micronutrient deficiencies and increasing its customers' consumption of essential vitamins and minerals, it must take action to resolve the glaring inconsistencies in implementing its public commitments."

In a statement sent to just-food, a Unilever spokesperson said: "We fully recognise the important role that we play in providing fortified food as part of helping people prepare and enjoy nutritious meals. When fortifying our products, we aim to provide at least 15% of the recommended dietary allowance per serving, based on international guidelines. Our approach to the fortification of our Maizena Flavors products is fully aligned to this. 

"We are engaging with Changing Markets about their research into our Maizena products and are carrying out additional, third-party testing to ensure they comply with the ingredients and fortification levels declared on pack. We will take immediate action if there are any discrepancies."