Unilever’s Knorr rethinks pizza with climate-friendly foods to raise awareness about and reframe agriculture’s role in climate change
“Food agriculture, unfortunately, is a key contributor to climate change, species decline, soil degradation and water shortages. And that is a result of the types of foods that we eat the most, and the way they’re grown, which is taking too much resources, damaging the land and hugely contributing to climate change,” Dorothy Shaver, global food sustainability director at Knorr’s parent company Unilever, told FoodNavigator-USA.
For example, she explained, food agriculture currently contributes about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 60% of which come from animals. And the way most food is produced currently is leading to soil degradation and overuse of water – both limited resources with current use patterns that are straining supply to the point that experts predict we have less than 30 years of water left and 90% of soil will be degraded by 2050.
But she added, food agriculture can also be part of the solution for slowing and even reversing climate change if people understand the impact of their food choices and how to select options that are better for them and for the planet.
To show consumers how easy it is to use more environmentally-friendly foods, and to create demand that will eventually alter supply and production, Knorr decided an ideal case study is pizza.
“We know that about 5 billion pizzas are sold every year, which is crazy, 3 billion of which are sold in the US, and that doesn’t count the ones people make at home or other places. Consumers also view it as a positive food that they like and feel good about. And it is an everyday dish that can become a symbol of what we can do,” Shaver said.
3 shifts to ease climate change
She explained that by working with chefs and influencers, Knorr’s Plizza brings to life the three major shifts that the company is promoting to ease climate change.
The first is to increase biodiversity and promote foods that are less resource intensive and will protect against crisis if any one ingredient is attacked by a pest or poor growing conditions. So, with this in mind, the company swapped the standard wheat used in pizza crust with whole grain spelt flour.
“Spelt is easier to grow and more nutritious than plain wheat flour … and it helps improve soil health, while increasing resilience of our food supply,” Shaver said.
The second shift Knorr is promoting is to adopt regenerative agriculture techniques, which it encourages by replacing the standard red tomato sauce on pizza with a combination of beans, “which naturally nourish the ground where they’re grown,” and flavorful vegetables that encourage biodiversity and give back to the land, Shaver said.
The third shift that Knorr is encouraging is to eat less meat and more plants, which it illustrates with the Plizza by replacing standard toppings like pepperoni with nutrient packed vegetables, including spinach and self-sowing watercrest.
Raising awareness of Future 50 Foods, regenerative agriculture
“The idea behind Plizza was really to empower people and raise awareness about the need to change, and also to highlight the Future 50 Foods,” a list of biodiverse and environmentally-friendly foods that Knorr identified as a starting point for influencing demand and ultimately supply production, Shaver said.
The list, which includes ingredients that can ease strains on the food system, was first publicized Feb. 19, 2019. This day Knorr deemed World Eat For Good Day – and the anniversary of which the company celebrated by making Plizzas available for free to consumers in select cities around the world.
“When we look at World Eat For Good Day, we’re really focusing on the foods that people eat. So, we want to raise the awareness about the need to change what’s on our plates for the betterment of ourselves and the planet. And then, of course, provide an inspiring and simple solution, which is also part of Knorr’s broader Eat for Good project,” Shaver said.
The Eat for Good project aims to get food that is good for people and the planet on 7 billion plates globally via products, programs and partnerships.
In that regard, the Plizza activation also builds on Knorr’s ambitious effort to launch 50 regenerative agriculture projects around the world in five years – several of which already are underway with more in the works, as Shaver shared recently in FoodNavigator-USA’s Soup-to-Nuts podcast.
As Knorr moves forward with its many activations and efforts to make the food supply more sustainable, Shaver says it is eager to work with others in the industry – from food service to farmers to other CPG companies – to magnify the impact and speed a change for good.
“We want to move multiple players in the industry forward – so not just ourselves – by sharing our learnings with others and even competitors to make sure that we’re all in the kind of same place moving forward with diversifying the ingredients that are in our products and on our plates,” Shaver said.