Hellmann’s Vegan Dressing & Spread

overall rating:



Desiree Izecksohn
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Although Unilever seems to be making an effort to combat the plastic pollution it is adding to, the company recognizes that it still has a way to go. It seems like the best investment to make is in reusable packaging like they are doing with Loop, since it is less wasteful than recycling.

They also come across as serious about their assessment of suppliers, but there are not a lot of details about what aspects exactly Unilever considers to approve a supplier (i.e. wages/ wage gaps, employee health and safety, water footprint and pollution, waste, carbon footprint, etc). They briefly give some examples of some of the aspects they look at (risk of corruption, human rights abuses, child labor, illegal land clearing), but they could be more transparent in sharing with customers the exact report used to audit a supplier, or at least a summary of it.

What it's made of:


Since this is a vegan version of the famous Hellmann’s mayo, the company removed the eggs from the list of ingredients, making it completely plant-based. The main ingredients are: sunflower oil, water, modified food starch and distilled vinegar.
According to the National SunFlower Association, there is not a sufficiently big market for GMOs of this plant, since it is not allowed neither in Europe, nor in the US. Their website also states that now the planting methods have improved to a no-till or minimum tillage, which reduces GHG emissions up to 50% due to soil carbon storage. Furthermore, the use of herbicides in sunflower production has decreased, and now it has one of the lowest rates across crops.

Although the number of insecticides used in sunflower crops have not changed much since 1992, the classes have, since the highly toxic ones have been banned by the FDA. Overall, sunflowers use more insecticides than other crops, for example wheat or soybean. The NSA says this is because it is a native to North America, and the native insects have evolved over millenniums, making it harder to combat them.
Unilever (Hellmann’s parent company) has a report about how it assesses the sustainability of its suppliers. They created their own Sustainable Agriculture Code (SAC) that suppliers need to adhere to “through self-assessment and verification, or through external certification standards that meet or exceed [Unilever’s] own standards”. They link to a report that has goals for 2020, but doesn’t say if they have achieved all of them. It is pretty detailed about the statistics used to assess the farms, but not the items the farmers need to check to be granted approval.

How it's made:


One of the first aspects I started to analyze was the plastic packaging. In Unilever’s website, they show a lot of concern about plastic pollution and display a few initiatives the company has undertaken to mitigate this problem. One of them is partnering with Loop, which sells brand’s items in reusable containers, which they deliver and then collect and clean to be refilled again. Having worked with Loop for a summer I got to see first hand how they are really committed to being the most environmentally sustainable possible and how they are rapidly expanding across the globe.

To analyze the sustainability of Hellmann's Vegan Dressing & Spread, I will be looking at the most popular way it is being sold for now, which is in a single use plastic jar. The most sustainable thing to do would be to reuse this jar to store other things, but most people just throw it in a recycling or garbage bin. What consumers don’t know is that the US ships most plastics 3 through 7 to other countries. On Hellmann’s website they state: “WE ARE COMMITTED TO SOURCING OILS RESPONSIBLY AND 100% RECYCLED JARS BY 2020.” Given that it is 2021 the best thing to do is to update this statement to acknowledge whether they have reached their goals or if they have a new target year. (At another website I found that all their mayonnaise and mayonnaise dressing are sold in the United States in 100-percent-recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET) bottles and jars). They also claim “At least 60% of Americans can recycle this package at curbside recycling or drop-off recycling”, and redirect the user to the How2Recycle website, a standardized labeling system for recycling instructions (so they deserve some points for guiding clients to more information). Given that PET is plastic #1, it can be recycled in the US.

The manufacturing process of this vegan spread is not displayed in Hellmann’s website, but Unilever’s SAC report lists some certifications that farmers can acquire instead of going through the SAC assessment process. Some of those certifications include human/ social capital, but the SAC document does not list the exact expectations that Unilever requires farmers to meet in terms of social responsibility. It also does not display how the manufacturing of the vegan spread is made, for example how much water and energy it consumes in total from farm to table. 

Who makes it:


On their website, Hellmann’s raises awareness about food waste, saying that “40% of food waste happens in people’s homes”. Thus, they have a tab with recipes using the most wasted ingredients to save them from the trash can. This can reduce GHG emissions in landfills, as well as not waste all the resources such as water and money that have been put into making that ingredient.

The company also mentions that they are doing their part as well in the value chain, but does not disclose many details besides mentioning a partnership with Food Reform for Sustainability and Health (FReSH).
With all that said, Hellmann’s is part of Unilever, so I went looking for how sustainable that company is. In its website, Unilever boasts that “Global experts rank Unilever No.1 for sustainability leadership” and at the end of the article it displays a few initiatives. It is hard to calculate how much of a difference all these projects are making, but some of them seem very promising like developing technology to make black plastic recyclable and selling cleaning products such as Cif in concentrate form so that users are not buying water and plastic (given that cleaning products are 80-90% water).