Unilever has come under fire from a group of leading investors for its unhealthy food products, following a week of intense criticism that has seen the FTSE-100 firm’s share price slide as much as ten per cent.
Eleven asset managers representing $215bn (£158 million) in assets attacked the firm for a health “blind spot” today as they filed a resolution calling on the Marmite-maker to set more ambitious health targets.
The news comes as Unilever bosses ruled out raising the firm’s $50bn bid for GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer healthcare arm following an investor backlash this week.
Ignacio Vazquez, senior manager at activist shareholder group, Share Action, which is backing the asset managers, said: “Unilever has long been a sustainability leader. Some even criticise it for being too focused on ESG.
“Yet the health profile of the food and drink products it sells remains a blind spot.
“By voicing their support for this resolution, Unilever’s investors can help to drive change at the heart of one of the biggest foods and drink manufacturers in the world while also shielding themselves from regulatory and reputational risks.”
The resolution filed by the investors has urged the firm to disclose the current proportion of sales linked to healthier products, set targets to “significantly increase” this share by 2030 and called for an annual review of its progress.
Unilever’s foods and refreshments division, which includes Hellman’s mayonnaise and Ben & Jerry’s, generates $19.1bn annually, approximately 40% of the group’s total sales.
The firm reported in 2020 that 61% of its food and drink sales were derived from products with “High Nutritional Standards”, but investors have questioned the figure.
The Access To Nutrition Initiative, a benchmarking organisation for food companies and investors, last year found that in fact 17% of Unilever’s food and drink sales were derived from “healthier” products