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After reformulating ice cream for warmer freezers, Unilever shares secrets with rivals

Unilever has unveiled that it will grant a free, non-exclusive license for 12 reformulation patents to its competitors in the ice cream industry. The offer follows two successful pilot programs allowing ice cream freezer cabinets to warm up from -18°C to -12°C without impacting the product's taste or mouthfeel.

Traditionally, retailers store ice cream at a frigid -18°C. Aiming to reduce energy consumption, Unilever has been working on new recipes that tolerate higher temperatures. Research at Unilever's Colworth R&D center was followed by pilots in Germany that proved its reformulated ice cream can remain stable at a warmer temperature of -12°C without compromising a consumer's experience.

Moving the temperature dial to 6°C warmer produces an energy reduction of approximately 20–30% in the cold chain. Unilever owns and maintains 3 million ice cream freezers in stores worldwide, and they account for a whopping 10% of its value chain footprint. In addition to adopting the new formula — and accompanying energy savings — for its own products, Unilever just announced it will share its patented reformulation recipes with industry peers.

Trend Bite

Consumers aren't just demanding more sustainable products; they also expect brands to play a proactive role in solving broader societal problems. Unilever's initiative taps into that trend by turning its competitors into allies in the fight against climate change. By opening up its patents, Unilever enables others to build on its research without bearing the cost of initial development.

Tackling urgent and complex issues like climate change requires collective action — no single company can solve them alone. Time to create innovation ecosystems? Collaborating to solve industry-wide challenges will lead to faster innovation cycles and cross-pollination of ideas. By sharing patents, companies can build on each other's work, leading to more advanced, sustainable solutions.

It's an approach that could redefine what it means to be an industry leader, with the most influential companies being those contributing most significantly to collective challenges. Rather than solely competing on product features or pricing, can your brand contend on positive impact and collaborative innovation?

Related: IKEA introduces new anti-tip feature for dressers and shares it with competitors

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Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom