Nestle’s ‘unhealthy’ food portfolio controversy: All you need to know

Will Kreznick

Nestle, the world’s largest packaged food and beverages company, has been facing criticism after an internal presentation indicated that a majority of its mainstream food and drinks portfolio is unhealthy. The company is now in damage control mode and said that it will work on updating its nutrition and health […]

Nestle, the world’s largest packaged food and beverages company, has been facing criticism after an internal presentation indicated that a majority of its mainstream food and drinks portfolio is unhealthy.

The company is now in damage control mode and said that it will work on updating its nutrition and health strategy.

NESTLE’S ‘UNHEALTHY’ FOOD PORTFOLIO

An internal document accessed by the Financial Times newspaper described a large portion of Nestle’s food and drinks as unhealthy. The document was an internal presentation circulated among the company’s top executives early in 2021.

It indicated that more than 60 per cent of Nestle’s mainstream food and drinks portfolio could not be considered healthy under a “recognised definition of health”.

The company also revealed in the internal document that some of its categories will “never be healthy”.

“Some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate,” said the Nestle internal presentation.

The document further highlighted that the assessment applied to about half of Nestle’s overall portfolio as categories like medical nutrition, pet food, coffee and infant formula were excluded from the analysis.

Out of the food and beverage assessed, 37 per cent achieved a rating over 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating system. The system scores food out of five stars and is used in research by international groups such as the Access to Nutrition Foundation.

In the internal document, Nestle described the 3.5-star threshold as a “recognised definition of health”. According to the document, about 70 per cent of Nestle’s food products and 96 per cent of beverages — excluding pure coffee — failed to meet the threshold. In addition, 99 per cent of Nestle’s confectionery and ice cream portfolio also failed to meet the threshold rating.

Only the water and daily products of the company scored better, with 82 per cent of waters and 60 per cent of dairy meeting the 3.5-star threshold.

Nestle acknowledged in the document that the company’s food portfolio still underperforms against external definitions of health.

“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 internal presentation said.

As per the presentation, some of the company’s products such as DiGiorno three meat croissant crust pizza include about 40 per cent of a person’s recommended daily sodium intake while others like hot pockets pepperoni pizza contain 48 per cent.

Another Nestle product, the orange-flavoured San Pellegrino drink, get an ‘E’ rating, which is the worst mark available under a different scorning system, Nutria-Score. The drink has more than 7.1 gram of sugar per 100 ml.

There are several other Nestle food and beverages that contain elevated levels of sugar or sodium.

NESTLE IN DAMAGE CONTROL MODE

The report comes at a time when the maker of Maggi noodles, KitKat and other popular products is trying to promote healthier eating. The company has already said that it is updating its nutrition and health strategy.

The food giant said it is working on a “company-wide” project to update nutrition and health strategy. The group is also updating its internal nutrition standards.

“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,” Nestle said after the report.

“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 per cent in the past seven years alone,” it said.

“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,” it added.

Read | Nestle’s Digital Push: FMCG major to spend Rs 260 crore on IT infra in India

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