According internal document, Swiss food giant Nestlé has acknowledged that over 60% of its F&B products do not “meet a recognized definition of health” with the company further stating that “some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate”.
The presentation, was circulated among leading executives this year and seen by the Financial Times, drew attention to some startling facts about the nutritional and health elements of products by Nestlé, the world’s largest fast moving consumer goods company which boasts net sales of over US$93 billion per year.
Only 37% of the company’s products, as calculated by by revenues and excluding items like pet food and specialised medical nutrition, received a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating system that scores food products out of 5, with the maker of KitKat, Maggi noodles and Nescafé going on to calling this rating as a “recognised definition of health”, even though 70% of its products failed to meet even the 3.5 threshold, including 96% of beverages except pure coffee and 99% of its confectionery and ice cream products.
On the other hand, 82% of its water products (!) and 60% of its dairy products met the threshold.
In the presentation Nestlé admitted the lag: “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.”
This data doesn’t take into account the firm’s baby formula, pet food, coffee or health science division, which develops foods for people with specific medical conditions, meaning that the data accounts for around half of Nestlé’s total revenues.
To tackle this, executives are planning ways to improve the nutrition of their products, with plans to unveil more publicly this year. In addition, the group will update its internal nutrition standards, called the Nestlé Nutritional Foundation, launched under the former chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who described Nestlé as a “nutrition, health and wellness company”.
Chief executive of Nestlé’ Mark Schneider agreed that consumers want a healthier diet and refuted claims that “processed” foods made by his company and other multinationals usually are unhealthy.
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 healthierNestlé
But many of its products tell a different story. The report highlighted products like a DiGiorno three meat croissant crust pizza contains 40% of the daily recommended daily allowance for sodium while Hot Pockets pepperoni pizza 48% of the same.
Furthermore, its San Pellegrino drink which has over 7.1g of sugar per 100ml, was rated an “E” which is the worst mark available under Nutri-Score, a different scoring system, and the presentation questioned this by asking: “Should a health-forward brand carry an E [rating]?”
Another beverage Nesquik that goes by the line “perfect at breakfast to get kids ready for the day” and is sold in the U.S. has 14g of sugar in a 14g serving and even includes amounts of colouring and flavouring, which are apparently designed to be mixed with the milk.
Speaking about the Nestlé said: “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 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.”
When asked about the leaked document, Nestlé said that while they do offer healthy products, there should be space for some indulgent ones. “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. 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.”
In a latest statement, a Nestlé India spokesperson said: “Nestlé India believes that nutrition is a fundamental need and the food industry has a vital role to play in enabling healthier lives. Driven by our purpose, we are constantly striving to increase the nutrient profile of our products, as well as innovate with new and nutritious offerings.”
A visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, Marion Nestle (no relation) whose latest book Unsavoury Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat takes food companies to task for their misleading marketing claims, told the Financial Times that instead of focusing on creating healthy food options for consumers, food companies are more invested in filling the pockets of stockholders and concentrate on quantity rather than quality. She also underlined added that for ages, scientists are trying to understand how to limit salt and sugar without changing the original flavours, but the job is far from easy.
In a 2018 index of efforts to promote better diets compiled by the Access to Nutrition Foundation, Nestlé was ranked highest among the world’s big F&B manufacturers, however, the foundation did mention that “all companies need to do much more”.
Even when it comes to damaging the environment, the food giant is not far behind. Back in December of last year, Nestlé was found to be among the world’s biggest polluters for the third year in a row recording 8,633 of pieces of plastic, with Coca-Cola and PepsiCo also on that list.
Nestle has committed to growing its offering in the plant-based sector, with alternative dairy products, plant-based meats and and confectionaries and new factories, and says it will invest a total of CHF 3.2 billion (US$3.59 billion) over the next five years to not only expand the new portfolio but also to work towards achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Lead image courtesy of ShutterStock.