Financial Times reported on a presentation that was circulated among top executives of Nestle this year. This presentation revealed that Nestle, the world’s largest food company, acknowledged that more than 60% of its food and drinks products do not meet a “recognized definition of health” and that some of its categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much the company innovates.
The presentation revealed that only 37% of Nestlé’s food and beverages by revenues, excluding products such as pet food and specialized medical nutrition, achieve a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating system. This system scores foods out of five stars and is used in research by many international groups. Nestle describes the 3.5-star threshold as a “recognized definition of health.”
The presentation stated, “We have made significant improvements to our products . . . [but] our portfolio still underperforms against external definitions of health in a landscape where regulatory pressure and consumer demands are skyrocketing.”
The data excludes baby formula, pet food, coffee and the health science division, which makes foods for people with specific medical conditions. This means the data accounts for about half of Nestlé’s SFr92.6bn (£72.7bn) total annual revenue.
The findings come in a time where food makers are contending with a global push to combat obesity and promote healthier eating. Executives at Nestlé are considering what new commitments to make on nutrition and are aiming to unveil plans this year. The group is also updating its internal nutrition standards, known as the Nestlé Nutritional Foundation, which was introduced under former chief executive, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who characterized Nestlé as a “nutrition, health and wellness company.”
Mark Schneider, chief executive of Nestle, acknowledged that consumers want a healthier diet but rejected claims that “processed” foods including those made by Nestlé and other multinationals tend to be unhealthy.
Nestlé stated, “we are working on a company-wide project to update its pioneering nutrition and health strategy. We are looking at our entire portfolio across the different phases of people’s lives to ensure our products are helping consumers meet their nutritional needs and supporting a balanced diet. Our efforts build on a strong foundation of work over decades . . . For example, we have reduced the sugars and sodium in our products significantly in the past two decades, about 14-15% in the past seven years alone.”
Nestlé was ranked highest among the world’s big food and beverage manufacturers in a 2018 index of efforts to encourage better diets compiled by the Access to Nutrition Foundation, though the foundation warned that “all companies need to do much more.”
Nestlé said, “In recent years, we have launched thousands of products for kids and families that meet external nutrition yardsticks. We have also distributed billions of micronutrient doses via our affordable and nutritious products.”
The company added, “We believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between wellbeing and enjoyment. This includes having some space for indulgent foods, consumed in moderation. Our direction of travel has not changed and is clear: we will continue to make our portfolio tastier and healthier.”