Companies were put under the microscope for their performance on corporate strategy, management and governance related to nutrition; formulation and delivery of appropriate affordable and accessible products; and having a positive influence on consumer choice and behaviour, through nutrition information, food marketing and labelling.
But no company scored higher than Unilever's fairly modest 6.4 out of 10 and Nestlé's 5.9 - and not a single other food and beverage firm scored above five for overall ranking, in the index compiled by Access to Nutrition Foundation, a Dutch not-for-profit organisation.
Some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Kraft and Heinz, barely scraped a score at all with 0.8 and 0.3, respectively, although neither of these companies provided information to the foundation.
The organisation praised Mars and Friesland Campina, which showed the most improvement since 2013. Mars rose from 16th to 5th place while Friesland Campina rose from 19th to 8th.
Spiralling double burden
The authors urged industry to work alongside governments, international organisations and civil society to tackle the spiralling ‘double burden’ of undernutrition and obesity.
The figures would suggest they have their work cut out for them. Nearly two billion people are overweight and 600 million of them are obese, 800 million people do not have enough to eat and a further two billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies globally, the report says.
Better food is a business opportunity
“Given the global reach of their products, food and beverage companies have a critical role to play in helping to tackle the growing global health crisis caused by poor nutrition,” said Inge Kauer, executive director of the Access to Nutrition Foundation, adding industry should view this as an opportunity.
“While companies have a social responsibility to tackle global nutrition challenges, doing so also presents a business opportunity as consumers worldwide demand healthier foods.”
Unilever’s president of foods Amanda Sourry said the company was extremely pleased to receive independent recognition of its efforts to improve nutrition.
“We recognise more hard work is needed to embed nutrition in our global ambition to make sustainable living commonplace,” she said.
It was praised for its internal nutrient profiling system which is reviewed on a regular basis by both internal and external experts and Unilever has set itself the target that 60% of its global portfolio should meet these requirements by 2020.
But this profiling was also highlighted by the index as an area to improve as it did not include levels of positive nutrients such as vegetables, fruit or fibre and it sets no targets to increase the vegetable content of its products.
Meanwhile Nestlé scored especially high for governance with 8.7 and was praised by the foundation for extending its previous definition of a child audience to include new media. But the company has failed to address other key issues raised in the 2013 index, said the report, such as raising the definition of the age of a child to 16. It also failed to improved its approach to developing independent consumer-orientated healthy eating programs.
The Access to Nutrition Foundation first compiled an index in 2013, when the top three were also Danone, Unilever and Nestlé scoring 6.3, 6.1 and 6.0, respectively.