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May 19, 2022

Unilever to ‘warm up’ its freezers to cool down the planet and spark industry change

The drive for Unilever to become more sustainable is aligned with heightened consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products and services.

By GlobalData Consumer

Unilever has launched a new initiative to increase the temperatures of its ice cream freezers from -18°C to -12°C, in a bid to reduce its carbon footprint. Unilever states that emissions from retail ice cream freezers account for 10% of the company’s total greenhouse gas footprint, so innovation in this sector is vital for its organisational sustainability goals to be met. The drive for Unilever to become more sustainable is aligned with heightened consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products and services, as half of global consumers are always or often influenced by how environmentally-friendly a product or service is, and 31% deem sustainability to be essential when making a purchase.*

The initiative will be trailed in a select few countries where Unilever’s carbon footprint is the highest, as the company aims to explore the impact that the temperature change will have on its ice cream products. The trial is important as Unilever needs to ensure that the quality is not affected to ensure consumers’ expectations are still met. In the confectionery and desserts category, 44% of global consumers deem high quality to be essential when purchasing these products, highlighting the importance to Unilever of ensuring product quality remains the same despite the change.*

Ensuring that the consistency, taste, and texture of the ice cream product remains the same will be a key challenge. While most consumers are not aware of changes to the manufacturing process behind the scenes without an extensive marketing campaign, they will recognise a flavour change in their favourite dessert. With leading ice cream brands in its portfolio, such as Ben & Jerry’s, consumers gravitate towards these products due to familiarity and quality assurance. Over a quarter (27%) of global consumers are influenced by how familiar and trustworthy a product is, therefore the preference for products to be unchanged is high and may take precedence over sustainability credentials, particularly if the initiative is not properly promoted.*

Overall, this initiative is in line with Unilever’s mission to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030 and is necessary to reach the growing base of consumers looking for more environmentally friendly products. Ultimately, if the trail is successful, this could revolutionise the ice cream freezer aisle, as Unilever has stated that it plans to collaborate with retailers for industry wide change. There is real impetus for retailers and other industry players to adopt similar initiatives, as 17% of global consumers said sustainable policies influence where they do their grocery shopping.** Given the right marketing, this could really boost the appeal of retailers and brands.

Despite the challenges that controlled environmental changes might have, the initiative is important for Unilever to achieve its sustainability mission and meet consumer demands for sustainable innovation.

*   – GlobalData 2022 Q1 Consumer Survey – Global

** – GlobalData 2021 Q4 Consumer Survey – Global