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green and sustainable business

Unilever works on ambient ice cream? Maybe not

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An unidentified Unilever spokesperson says the company has no plans to develop to ambient or room temperature  ice cream.

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It’s possible that the glare of publicity about this caused the company to back off, or maybe the timing isn’t right. Perhaps it wants to mislead the competition. Anyway it’s an interesting development.

Chances are you’re an ice cream fan and perhaps you consider yourself an expert on the subject. But did you know that the huge multinational corporation Unilever is the world’s largest ice cream producer?

It makes most of the world’s favorite ice cream brands. Brands like Klondike, Good Humor, Breyers and Popsicle. Even Ben & Jerry’s resides in the Unilever stable.

So when its company scientists poetically pursue the concept of warm ice cream as a way to address global warming, we should pay attnetion because dessert could suddenly become more guilt-free on several levels for everyone, especially environemntally speaking. They are developing a low-carbon product that would be sold at room temperature and then frozen at home.

It’s not clear how far along they are with this, but it seems like an excellent idea, one that would take the added cost of storing, handling and shipping ice cream in its traditional frozen state out of the equation at the manufacturer’s end of the supply chain. If it’s produced, sold and shipped at room temperature then some  costly and energy-intensive factors, including CO2 emissions, will melt away.

Warm, or ambient, ice cream is an idea that seems ready for prime time but it poses a rocky road for Unilever researchers worrying about the correct product “microstructure” that enables the consumer’s dish of Rocky Road to be, well, the same delicious dish of Rocky Road they have come to expect.

A research program to minimize the environmental impact of company products is underway in Unilever laboratories, aided by researchers at Great Britain’s Cambridge University.

“We have to look at a really radical solution,” says Gavin Neath, Unilever’s senior vice-president for sustainability.

Meanwhile Unilever is trying to reduce emissions resulting from its massive ice cream operations by improving the energy efficiency of its factories in Gloucester, Heppenheim in Germany, Caivano in Italy and Saint-Dizier in France.

It is upgrading two million refrigerators that it supplies to retailers in 40 countries. The company for several years has been shifting to “climate-friendly” refrigerators that use propane rather than hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are a powerful greenhouse gas. The shift to propane as a refrigerant began in 2004. Propane is a hydrocarbon, or natural gas that does not harm the ozone layer and has a low global warming potential, according to the company.

Hydrocarbon refrigerators are also more energy efficient, using up to 15 percent less energy compared to other models. Neath says that to date about 400,000 refrigerators have been replaced with the propane-powered units.

While health care reform stalls and environmental initiatives struggle to take a firm hold, at least the vital ice cream supply chain could have an eco-friendly future.

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Written by William DiBenedetto

28 August, 2009 at 9:37 am

One Response

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  1. This was a really great read, I am very glad I came across your site.

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    29 August, 2009 at 9:09 am


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