"‘We believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between well-being and enjoyment,’ the company says."
Now it can be told. Majority of the mainstream food and beverages products by revenue of Nestle S.A, the world’s largest food company do not meet a “recognized definition of health.”
In an internal document using data culled across all of the company’s product lines excluding baby formula, pet food, coffee and the health science division reportedly seen by the UK newspaper Financial Times, Nestle has acknowledged that some 70 percent of such products excluding pet food and specialized medical nutrition do not meet the said standard established under Australia’s health star rating system. The system scores foods out of five stars and is used in research by international groups including, among others, the Access to Nutrition Foundation.
The company which manufactures such favorites as Maggi noodles, Kitkat and Nescafe, acknowledged that only 37 percent of products in those categories achieve a rating above 3.5 star under the said system and that “some categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much it renovates.” This means that Nestles’s portfolio of unhealthy products, as rated under the 5 stars Australian system accounts for about 46.3 billion Swiss francs or half of Nestlé’s 92.6 billion Swiss francs (€84.35 billion) total annual revenues.
This is certainly a very troubling development for the Swiss company especially in the midst of a pandemic which has highlighted more intimately the need for healthy products and lifestyles. It is not, of course, all problematic for Nestle as 82 percent of its water products and 60 percent of its dairy products apparently meet the threshold. Nonetheless, the fact that more than 60 percent of the hundreds of products in its foods portfolio along with 96 per cent of beverages – excluding pure coffee – and 99 per cent of its confectionery and ice cream portfolio, do not meet the said standard can potentially subject the foods and beverages giant to an unnerving shame campaign given the high profile advertising of its products as key in living the healthy life That will be on top of multi million if not billion dollar suits which are now likely to come its way with such internal confession.
The internal presentation highlights such Nestlé products as a DiGiorno three meat croissant crust pizza, which includes about 40 percent of a person’s recommended daily allowance of sodium, and a Hot Pockets pepperoni pizza that contains 48 percent.
Another product, an orange-flavoured San Pellegrino drink, scores an “E” - the worst mark available under a different scoring system, Nutri-Score – with more than 7.1g of sugar per 100ml.
Separately, Nestlé’s strawberry-flavoured Nesquik, which is sold in the US, contains 14g of sugar in a 14g serving alongside small amounts of colouring and flavouring, though it is designed to be mixed with milk. It is advertised as “perfect at breakfast to get kids ready for the day” which is, of course, far from the truth if not utterly false. Period.
The findings come as food makers around the world contend with a growing public awareness of the dangers of foods and beverages products advertised as key to a healthy life of which Nestle has been a global player. For a long, long time, Nestle has prided itself as a “nutrition, health and wellness company” and even introduced what has come to be known as the Nestle Nutritional Foundation exhorting the values of its products in pursuit of a good and healthy life. Now, with this internal confession about its unhealthy products it will have to work overtime to overcome any and all challenges to its standing as an excellent, professional and civic minded manufacturer.
In a bid to shore up the company’s standing, Nestle CEO Mark Schneider has 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. He reiterated that the company has always worked in standing by and continues to improve on its nutritional standards.
The company noted that “..it is working on a company-wide project to update its pioneering nutrition and health strategy and is 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”. These efforts, the company added, build on a strong foundation of work over decades . advising in the process that it has reduced the sugars and sodium in its products significantly in the past two decades taking off about 14-15 per cent in the past seven years alone.
But as Marion Nestle, a visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, doubts that Nestlé and its rivals would be able to make their portfolios healthy overall in time noting that these companies’ jobs is to generate profits for their shareholders and do so in as quickly and as large an amount as possible.
Said Professor Nestle: “They are going to sell products that reach a mass audience and are bought by as many people as possible, that people want to buy, and that’s junk food.” She emphasized that while Nestle is a smart company and its scientists have been working for years to try to figure out how to reduce the salt and sugar content without changing the flavour profile beloved by millions of people. That is a hard climb by any standard.
Of course, Nestle contends that in recent years, it has launched in recent years thousands of products that meet external nutrition standards. And it will continue to improve on these.
As the company’s latest advertising blurb noted: “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. Our direction of travel has not changed and is clear: we will continue to make our portfolio tastier and healthier.” Whether this will be achieved anytime soon or within the lifetimes of the kids they have made addicted to KitKat is another matter.