Addressing the challenge of sustainable nutrition

05:04 AM November 15, 2017

The recent commemoration of World Food Day reminds us that we live in a time of increasing demand for food in the face of an equally increasing global population, particularly in developing nations. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2050, some nine billion people will demand 70 percent more food than what we are consuming today. Feeding this growing population in a nutritious and sustainable manner requires a different way of operating.

This challenge can be solved only by managing production and consumption as two essential and inseparable parts of the same equation. How we can adequately provide food for the future by ensuring the health of the soil and safeguarding the health of communities will potentially define our generation.


Our commitment at Unilever is to produce safe, high-quality and nutritious food that is accessible to all—generating less waste, benefiting farmers and improving the wellbeing of our consumers. We leverage on our scale to enable people to eat healthier by making it easier for them to choose products that are right for their diet, lifestyles and budgets.

Today, when we look at our industry profile of food consumption, we see that it is the middle class driving consumption and total industry growth. The poor spend less than half of Class ABC+, which spends an average of P75.29 on food per household per day. In contrast, Class DE spends from P47.60 to as low as P35.42 per household per day. Is the D-E market then viable for us to invest in? The question that we at Unilever ask ourselves is: Can our products act as catalysts for this segment to consume more nutritious meals? Given the limited budget of the lower segment of our society, we have to make sure that their hard-earned money is spent well—on the right products that can provide their families with affordable, nutritious and flavorful food.


For us the issue is clear: The food industry cannot operate in a society where 20 percent of the population does not have access to nutritious food. In the Philippines, poverty is an evident driver of malnutrition. And when we go to the communities, we also see that malnutrition is largely due to inadequate knowledge of nutrition. Thus, we believe that malnutrition can be addressed in part when the primary influencer in children’s nutrition are empowered and engaged: mothers.

When all Filipinos have access to nutritious food thrice a day, we are unlocking a business opportunity that makes the case for sustainable investments in nutrition. We have put in place a framework for sustainable nutrition, recognizing the imperative to manage links between agriculture, environment, food, nutrition and health, at the same time, tapping the potential of mothers as primary influencer in households and communities.

A brand like Knorr best exemplifies this, whose sustainability efforts are captured in its Farm to Fork to Fortune framework. “Farm” is about enhancing the livelihood of smallholder farmers, ensuring that they practice sustainable farming methods to meet our strict ingredient requirements. “Fork” is about improving the way people eat and ensuring that we deliver on nutrition through recipes that every Filipino can afford. “Fortune” is about partnering with like-minded groups toward a more inclusive and sustainable food industry. For example, we have partnered with Mano Amiga, a nongovernment organization that provides livelihood to mothers by teaching them to cook affordable and nutritious meals that are distributed to office workers.

As with any advocacy, the challenge for us is how to scale up for impact. While our Knorr feeding program has been running for 15 years and has taken more than 750,000 kids out of malnutrition, we are now looking at broadening both our base and reach by educating a larger number of mothers on nutritious cooking habits.

We have partnered with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute to teach more mothers the basics of proper nutrition, as well as the preparation of delicious and nutritious meals. Our ultimate goal is to create communities of mothers who reinforce the right choices and behaviors when it comes to nutrition, continuously learning and sharing their ideas. We have piloted this project in Taguig City, with the support of the local government.

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Ed Sunico is VP for sustainable business and communications of Unilever Philippines.


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TAGS: Ed Sunico, Inquirer Commentary, sustainable nutrition, Unilever, World Food Day
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