Rainforest certified Lipton tea reaches U.S.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Rainforest Alliance-certified Lipton tea will reach American store shelves for the first time this month, as Unilever aims to put the sustainable logo on all of its tea, a company executive said on Wednesday.

“By 2010, I would expect that the vast majority of our European and United States volumes would be certified sustainable by Rainforest Alliance,” Vindi Banga, president of Foods, Home and Personal Care for Unilever, told Reuters.

By 2015, Unilever aims to have all of its tea Rainforest Alliance certified.

Unilever, a European based Anglo-Dutch food and household products maker that owns such well-known brands as Lipton tea and Dove beauty care, accounts for about 12 percent of the world’s tea, London-based Banga said while visiting New York.

“Today, virtually half of our Lipton and PG Tips volume is already certified as sustainable,” Banga said.

The company began selling tea certified by Rainforest Alliance, a New York-based nongovernmental organization that requires multiple levels of sustainability, two years ago in Europe.

“The prices don’t change for the consumer but we do pay a little bit more for the tea as sourced currently. We believe that this is how we should make all our products, they should all be sustainable,” Banga said.

Rainforest Alliance certifies farms that meet specific criteria for worker welfare, farm management and environmental protection.

Two-thirds of Unilever’s raw materials are agricultural crops and the company is committed to sustaining and improving soil and water health and farmer livelihoods, Banga said.

Unilever’s next big project is to use only sustainably certified palm oil for its beauty products by 2015, Banga said.

The company buys about 4 percent of the world’s palm oil, he said.

In November 2008, Unilever received its first shipment of palm oil certified by Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

“We are working on all our raw materials,” Banga said.

Unilever buys about 7 percent of the world’s tomatoes to make products like Ragu tomato sauce and is taking steps to ensure its tomato sources are completely sustainable through its own criteria, he said.

Reporting by Marcy Nicholson; Editing by David Gregorio