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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Unilever Sharing Formulas for Lower-Impact Ice Cream Recipes

Unilever’s reworked ice cream recipes can now stay frozen at lower temperatures, helping to lower freezer emissions. Now, it’s sharing 12 reformulation patents for the industry to follow suit.

Last year, Unilever — whose ice cream brands include Magnum and Wall’sannounced its ambition to increase the temperature of its last-mile ice cream freezer cabinets while ensuring the same ice cream quality and consumer experience. Since then, research conducted at Colworth — Unilever’s Global Ice Cream R&D Centre — and two pilots in Germany have confirmed an energy reduction of around 25 percent per freezer cabinet at the warmer temperature of -12°C, which is better for the environment and means the freezers are cheaper to run.

Access to these patents will help the industry reformulate ice cream products that remain stable at the warmer freezer temperature of -12°C, rather than the current industry standard of -18°C. It is hoped that by sharing these patents with other ice cream manufacturers, the industry will be able to move towards more energy-efficient freezer cabinets across the globe.

“We’re pleased to take this next step in our work to increase the temperature of our last-mile ice cream freezer cabinets,” said Andy Sztehlo, Chief R&D Officer Ice Cream at Unilever. “By granting a free, non-exclusive license to these 12 reformulation patents, we hope our peers and partners from across the ice cream sector will benefit and work to tackle emissions across the industry. We believe through collaboration we can reduce the cold chain’s impact on the environment, whilst continuing to deliver the great quality ice cream products our consumers love.”

When asked for details on the reformulations, a Unilever spokesperson said the approach aimed to increase firmness by rebalancing the proportions of ingredients in the current recipe so that the ice content increases while retaining the ice cream’s flavor and melting quality, without adding any new ingredients to the composition of the ice cream.

Unilever’s Climate Transition Action Plan sets out the company’s roadmap to reach its climate targets — including achieving net-zero emissions across its value chain by 2039, and a science-based target to halve the emissions impact of its products on a consumer use basis by 2030, against a 2010 baseline. Emissions from retail ice cream freezers account for 10 percent of Unilever’s value chain greenhouse gas footprint.

As far as the efficiency of the freezers themselves, which Unilever began to address in 2014, the company continues work towards ‘warming up’ freezer cabinets by reducing energy consumption through innovation of the main technical components (e.g., compressors) and exploring programs that will enable the freezers to be powered by renewable electricity.

The international applications of these patents have been published. Industry partners can contact [email protected] to receive further information about obtaining a license.