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Nestlé doubles down on health strategy amid reports of unhealthy F&B portfolio

June 6, 2021
Consumer Packaged Goods

Nestlé is highlighting its reformulation efforts following UK media reports that 60 percent of the Swiss food giant’s F&B portfolio does not meet a “recognized definition of health.”

“Nestlé is 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 meet their nutritional needs and supporting a balanced diet,” a spokesperson tells NutritionInsight.

“Our direction of travel has not changed and is clear: We will continue to make our portfolio tastier and healthier,” they continue.

However, they were unable to confirm any of the claims made by the Financial Times, which referred to an internal “presentation circulated among top [Nestlé] executives this year.”

Assessing nutrition profiling systems
According to the newspaper report, only 37 percent of Nestlé’s food and beverages by revenues, excluding products such as pet food and specialized medical nutrition, allegedly achieve a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s Health Star Rating System, which rates products out of five stars.

NutritionInsight specifically asked Nestlé about the claims made in the article. The multinational stresses that it does, in fact, “meet external nutrition yardsticks”.

The spokesperson states that as Nestlé considers its future nutrition strategy, it is first focusing on assessing the part of its F&B portfolio that can be measured against external nutrition profiling systems.

“Systems like the Health Star Rating and Nutri-Score are useful in this regard and enable consumers to make informed choices. However, they don’t capture everything. About half of our sales are not covered by these systems. That includes categories such as infant nutrition, specialized health products and pet food, which follow regulated nutrition standards,” they emphasize.

“In recent years, we have launched thousands of products for children and families that meet external nutrition yardsticks. We have also distributed billions of micronutrient doses via our affordable and nutritious products,” adds the spokesperson.

Last year, Nestlé joined a coalition calling for Nutri-Score to become the mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labeling (FoPL) system across the EU.

At the time, Bart Vandewaetere, head of corporate communications and government relations for Nestlé Zone EMENA, told NutritionInsight: “COVID-19 is not changing our own target to roll Nutri-Score out entirely by the end of 2021. While there might be a couple of weeks delay here and there, our commitment to honoring this deadline is strong.”

Finding balance
According to the Financial Times, the internal Nestlé document also acknowledged that some categories and products will never be “healthy,” no matter how much the company “renovates.”

“We believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between well-being and enjoyment. This includes having some space for indulgent foods, consumed in moderation,” states the Nestlé spokesperson.

Even within frequently sugar-laden categories like confectionery, the company is exploring formulations beyond the traditional scope. For example, Nestlé recently unveiled the first vegan KitKat, which is part of the food giant’s strategy to pivot its businesses to changing market conditions while renewing its commitment to healthy and nutritional food.

The company also boosted its plant-based portfolio with dairy alternatives last year. Among the offerings is Nesfit Sabor Natural, a glass of which contains as much protein (7 g) and calcium as cow’s milk and is fortified with vitamins A and D.

A history of reformulation
The spokesperson continues that Nestlé’s efforts build on a “strong foundation of work over decades” to improve the nutritional footprint of its products.

For example, it has reduced the sugars and sodium in its products significantly in the past two decades, about 14 to 15 percent in the past seven years alone.

Last year, a Nestlé report revealed that the company had added at least 750 million portions of vegetables, 300 million portions of nutrient-rich grains, pulses and bran, and more nuts and seeds to its products.

Additionally, all Nestlé-branded cereals now carry a Green Banner, denoting it as a source of fiber and made with whole grains.

However, the company stated that formulation for healthier products was “still in progress” for the removal of all artificial colors from products (with the exclusion of pet food).

Expanding healthy offerings
In Nestlé’s full-year 2020 financial results, Nestlé Health and Science (NHSc) grew at double-digit rate, reflecting higher demand for products that support health and the immune system.

In October, Nestlé reported that buoyant sales in e-commerce, convenience foods and health ingredients contributed to organic growth of 3.5 percent in the first nine months of 2020.

The company continues to hone its focus on nutritional offerings, most recently with the agreement to acquire the core brands of The Bountiful Company for US$5.75 billion.

Last month, NHSc also agreed to acquire Nuun, a functional hydration brand in the sports beverage market.

By Katherine Durrell


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