Unilever Food Solutions calls on industry to defuse obesity time-bomb


  • 66% of consumers worldwide want healthier options when eating out
  • 43% of people think that healthier options usually sound less appetizing
  • 57% of diners say healthy options tend to be more expensive and
  • 45% think they aren’t filling The “Nutritional Knowledge Gap” is widest in South Africa  

The food service industry needs to face up to its responsibilities in tackling the global obesity epidemic, according to a new report launched today by Unilever Food Solutions. With one billion overweight adults and a staggering 300 million cases of obesity worldwide, this figure will rise to 1.5 billion by 2015* unless all parties, including the food service industry, take action now. In South Africa, 68% of the population is overweight and 33.5% are considered obese.

New findings from the Report** highlight that chefs and operators are not meeting their guests’ needs. Guests want the best of both worlds - healthier options on menus (66%) and a treat when eating out (72%). However, most healthy options are considered to be second rate - less appetizing (43%), too expensive (57%) and not very filling (45%).

In November 2010, Unilever set out the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, where one of the main goals was to help more than one billion people improve their health and well-being by 2020. Now one year into the ten year plan, Unilever Food Solutions continues to contribute to the successful results gained so far in reaching this bigger goal. “Unilever Food Solutions is recommending a simple solution to chefs and operators to address this mismatch called ‘Seductive Nutrition’ – a new approach to menu design which nudges guests to choose a healthier option when eating out.  The good news for the industry is that this can help make their businesses healthier too,” says Eelco Camminga, Vice President of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa, Middle East & Pakistan.

Barriers to healthy eating

The 2011 World Menu Report: What’s in Your Food revealed that diners want more nutritional information on menus to help them make an informed, healthy choice when eating out. This new report makes it clear that although diners want healthier alternatives on menus, more than two fifths (43%) of people admit a main drawback to them actually ordering a healthy option is that they believe that healthier dishes sound less tasty when described on a menu.

Aside from this obstacle, there appears to be a ‘Nutritional Knowledge Gap’ amongst consumers globally, as 75% were unable to identify the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of fat for men and women. This suggests that even though consumers want more nutritional information they don’t always understand how to interpret it in relation to their RDAs.

Globally, a very high proportion of respondents were unable to identify the recommended daily calorie intake for men and women according to nutritional guidelines. At least 75% in all markets did not know what the recommended daily intake of fat was. Knowledge levels vary considerably across markets, with 55% of German respondents getting within 25% of the correct figure of 2000 calories compared to just 18% in South Africa. The “Nutritional Knowledge Gap” was widest in South Africa.

Seductive Nutrition

For this new study, 5,000 people in 10 countries were presented with a healthy dish described on two menus – the first ‘neutral’ and the second more ‘seductive’. In 90% of the countries surveyed, people were more inclined to choose the dish from the latter menu (i.e. dishes which included descriptor words such as ‘steamed’, ‘succulent’ and ‘fresh’ proved to be more popular with respondents). This underlies Unilever Food Solutions’ call for establishments to ensure that healthier options are described on menus in such a way that they combine taste and appeal e.g. Line-caught steamed trout, spicy, grilled root vegetables with an authentic Italian garlic and olive oil dressing.

But chefs and operators do not need to overhaul their menus in order to deliver ‘Seductive Nutrition’. Rather, diners would like to see their favourite meals adapted so that they are ‘slightly’ healthier than previously.  When asked what they thought should be done to make meals healthier, the top six most popular requests were:

·         Adding plenty of vegetables (Global = 34%; South Africa = 42%)

·         Lowering fat content (Global = 32%; South Africa = 24%)   

·         Reducing portion sizes (Global = 26%; South Africa = 30%)

·         Grilling or baking (Global = 22%; South Africa = 11%)

·         Using fresh ingredients (Global = 20%; South Africa = 19%)

·         Lowering the calorie content (Global = 19%; South Africa = 13%)

One of the champions of healthy eating in the South African restaurant industry is Gingko, a thriving establishment in Parkview which bases its entire philosophy on that of providing good food that gives pleasure to the senses and sustenance to the body. Owner of Gingko Catherine Speedie says, “In other words, food which is both delicious and nutritious, food which restores both body and spirit. We’re in this game because we’re passionate about good food, about health and wellbeing and about the bigger planetary picture we humans play such an important role in. Our food is prepared using fresh, whole ingredients of the best quality, without preservatives or colourants, and with as much organic content as possible.

Food which is essentially hand made the ‘slow food’ way, so that the ingredients get to speak for themselves.”  Organic, free range and locally grown produce is used as much as possible, as are goods produced by small independent farmers. Dairy products and salad greens are mostly organic, salmon is RSPCA certified wild, and red meat, chicken and eggs are all free range, hormone and antibiotic free.

Says Camminga: “‘Seductive Nutrition’ is about balancing the health and appeal of your menus. Chefs can still cook their guests’ favourite dishes and just make them healthier. By using a leaner cut of meat and aromatic spices to flavour instead of lots of salt, the dish is just as tasty and satisfying, sounds delicious and is just a little bit healthier.”

What’s the answer?

Unilever Food Solutions is introducing a new ‘Seductive Nutrition’ Service for restaurateurs around the world. The Service gives practical advice and guidance on developing menus to attract and entice old and new customers with healthier dishes, equal in taste, value for money and as filling as more indulgent menu options. 

Gaby Vreeken, President Marketing, Unilever Food Solutions, says:  “We believe that all of us in the food service industry have a responsibility to tackle the global obesity crisis.  The insights from this major new study show that the challenges of encouraging healthier diets can be addressed with small changes to existing menus.  In essence, it’s no more than a nudge to help guests choose a healthier option. Small steps can have an enormous impact on the health of diners across the world and help to tackle rising obesity levels.”

Keegan Eichstadt, Assistant Nutrition & Health Manager of Unilever Food Solutions South Africa says: “Eating a little bit healthier every time we dine out – through ‘Seductive Nutrition’ - could have a significant long-term impact on South African diner’s overall health. Reducing as little as 25-50 calories from a dish can prevent long term weight gain in a large proportion of people. For example, if you take a popular dish like a burger and chips, and you decrease the portion size from 150g chips (460 kcal) to 125g baked wedges (135 kcal) and  add fresh slice of tomato and basil, you would save 325 kcal and also gain the nutritional and flavour benefits of fresh herbs and vegetables.  

Shân Biesman-Simons, Director of Nutrition and Education and registered dietitian at the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, says, “The overweight and obesity pandemic is a major global public health concern and statistics in South Africa are alarming - more than 70% of women and 45% of men are overweight or obese. A contributory factor is that many South Africans eat food that is prepared outside of the home - in restaurants, take-away establishments and canteens. Of concern is that these quick foods are often unhealthy and are typically large portions, high in fat, salt and sugar and low in fibre. As a result many people live in environments that promote the development of obesity as well as conditions such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

“Attaining a healthy lifestyle requires wise choices when eating, including food prepared away from home. As food choices play a significant role in the development of cardiovascular disease, it is vital for South Africans to have access to healthier food options when eating out. This can play a major role in helping reduce the obesity pandemic and the burden of cardiovascular disease in South Africa.”

Unilever Food Solutions is on hand to help chefs and operators make these changes easily and efficiently. It will be introducing the ‘Seductive Nutrition’ Service to help customers adapt their menus with slightly healthier versions of their favourite dishes, and provide tips on how to ‘seductively’ sell these meals to their guests. Whilst taste and value still often win over health, Unilever Food Solutions believes that they no longer need to be mutually exclusive.

Vreeken continues: “Ultimately, this means that guests get the best of both worlds – their favourite food, but made healthier.  By ensuring these dishes are designed to sound and taste as delicious as possible to diners, chefs will be offering healthier food with greater appeal. ‘Seductive Nutrition’ is part of our contribution towards the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan goal of helping more than one billion people improve their health and well-being by 2020. We do this by inspiring chefs to create great tasting dishes that are nutritious and healthy. In April we published our One-Year Progress Report, highlighting the successes made so far in our nutrition and sustainability targets. At Unilever Food Solutions, we take this as inspiration as we continue to contribute to these successful results and work towards reaching the bigger goal.”

The South African picture

The following are the responses to the research questions from the respondents in South Africa, extracted from World Menu Report 3: Seductive Nutrition:

When eating out, how often do you deliberately look for the healthy option?

Very often = 26%

Quite often = 34%

Not very often = 32%

Not at all often = 8%

Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following with regards to choosing healthy food while eating out: “When eating out, I prefer to treat myself.”

Strongly agree = 42%

Agree slightly = 35%

Neither agree not disagree = 16%

Disagree slightly = 6%

Disagree strongly = 2%

Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following: “I would prefer to have slightly healthier food options when eating out.”

Strongly agree = 29%

Agree slightly = 41%

Neither agree not disagree = 21%

Disagree slightly = 5%

Disagree strongly = 4%

When eating out, how often do you substitute a part of a dish for something more healthy?

Very often= 27%

Quite often = 37%

Not very often = 27%

Not at all often = 9%

Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following with regards to choosing healthy food while eating out: “Healthy options tend to be more expensive.”

Strongly agree =25%

Agree slightly = 32%

Neither agree not disagree = 22%

Disagree slightly = 14%

Disagree strongly = 7%

Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following with regards to choosing healthy food while eating out: “The healthy option is not very filling.”

Strongly agree = 12%

Agree slightly = 35%

Neither agree not disagree = 20%

Disagree slightly = 22%

Disagree strongly = 11%

Please indicate how much you agree or disagree with the following with regards to choosing healthy food while eating out: “Often the healthy option is not very tasty.”

Strongly agree = 9%

Agree slightly = 34%

Neither agree not disagree = 18%

Disagree slightly = 24%

Disagree strongly = 14%

What options should restaurants adopt to provide healthier menus?

Plenty of vegetables (raw and cooked) – 42%

Low in fat – 24 %

Right sized portions – 30%

Grilled – 11%

Fresh ingredients used – 19%

Lower in calories – 13%


For further information please download the World Menu Report: Seductive Nutrition.

* World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/obesity/facts/en/index1.html

About the survey

**World Menu Report: ‘Seductive Nutrition’ is the third installment of an annual global report of eating-out-of-home trends by Unilever Food Solutions. The first and second reports, ‘What’s in Your Food’ and ‘Sustainable Kitchens – Reducing Food Waste’, were released in 2011 and are a definitive snapshot of consumer dining habits. World Menu Report research is conducted by BrainJuicer® in partnership with salt PR.

The research was conducted by interviewing a representative sample of people from 10 countries representing both the developed and developing world: USA, UK, China, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Turkey, Poland, South Africa and Indonesia. 5,000 people (500 from each of the 10 countries) who eat out at least once a week were questioned. The cities surveyed in each country for this research are classified as ‘Tier 1’ (the biggest city) and ‘Tier 2’ (slightly smaller city). 


The World Menu Report research was conducted using BrainJuicer®'s signature quali-quant tools like MindReader®, a patented approach for asking open-ended questions to deliver richer, deeper diagnostics in quantitative research and FaceTrace®, a unique and award-winning approach to measuring emotions.

click here to download the report

back top send page print page
Fine Foods of Unilever Food Solutions Carte D'Or of Unilever Food Solutions Lipton of Unilever Food Solutions Flora of Unilever Food Solutions Meadowland of Unilever Food Solutions Marvello of Unilever Food Solutions Hellmanns of Unilever Food Solutions Robertson of Unilever Food Solutions Knorr of Unilever Food Solutions