Plant-Based Food Products: The Rise of Sustainable Spreads

plant-based diet
plant-based diet

Imagine a future where every meal you eat tantalizes your taste buds and contributes to our planet’s health. Sounds too dangling to be true? Well, it’s not only possible, it’s happening right now. In 2018, a significant shift occurred in the landscape of plant-based spreads when Unilever transferred its plant-based spreads division to KKR, a private equity firm.

This move effectively reduced Unilever’s carbon footprint by over 3 million tonnes. However, these emissions are projected to persist for ten years. Upfield, in its recent ESG summary, announced its goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across its operations and supply chain by 2050. This target is somewhat less ambitious than what would have been expected if Upfield had remained under Unilever’s umbrella, which was set to achieve net zero by 2039.

Unilever’s Strategic Move: The Divestiture of a Less Carbon-Intensive Business

Companies can make rapid progress towards net-zero targets by offloading assets with high emissions. However, this could potentially transfer the emissions burden to the next owner with varying strategies for tackling them. A spokesperson from Unilever stated that their plant-based spreads division was less carbon-heavy than their other businesses in 2016. Post-acquisition, Upfield completely revamped its climate strategy, according to Sally Smith, the firm’s Global Director of Sustainability and ESG. KKR, the new owner, embarked on an extensive revamp of Upfield’s operations, investing over €1.5 billion in system, product, and supply chain upgrades, which included the purchase of plant-based cheese enterprise, Violife, for €500 million.

Upfield’s Progress: A 12% Reduction in Emissions

Upfield has committed to achieving net-zero emissions in its operations by 2030. However, a significant portion of their supply-chain emissions originates from agricultural materials, necessitating changes from numerous suppliers worldwide. Upfield managed to cut emissions from its operations and supply chain by 12% last year, a trend that Ms. Smith anticipates will accelerate due to recent investments. She mentions an extensive list of over a hundred initiatives across their facilities aimed at reducing energy use, transforming carbon, and increasingly adopting more efficient technologies.

Health Debate: Plant-Based Diet

Upfield faces challenges due to varying studies on the health benefits of plant-based spreads. While these products generally have less saturated fat than dairy, the processing and emulsifiers used in their production have raised consumer concerns. Upfield aims to highlight the environmental benefits of its spreads – they have a smaller methane footprint compared to butter and cheese due to lower livestock emissions. However, this has been a difficult selling point for plant-fed meat producers. Plant-based sectors, like renewable energy, are crucial for meeting Paris Agreement sustainability goals.

Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by News Editor

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