Bart Vandewaetere, assistant vice president for relations with European Institutions at Nestlé, told FoodNavigator: “Companies need a framework to invest and a signal to invest. [I don’t feel like] the European Commission is grasping this opportunity with both hands.”
He suggested nutrition policies could be wrapped into one strategy for the entire bloc, similar to what’s been achieved for resource and waste regulations through the new circular economy package.
The European Commission should not be afraid to include targets within the strategy but these didn’t have to be enshrined in national laws, said Vandewaetere: “I am not sure if legislation is the right approach.”
Calls for clarity
Nestlé has been a strong supporter of a strictly regulated EU nutrition framework, but there is mounting frustration that things are not moving quickly enough.
The Council of Health Ministers this month called on member states to draw up national plans to “make Europe’s food healthier” by 2017. Reducing the levels of salt, saturated fats and added sugars would be an “important tool” in making the healthy choice easy, the council noted.
Nestlé wants strict regulation on industrial trans-fatty acids – “the case is very clear”, said Vandewaetere – but has raised concerns regarding sugar reformulation, for example.
In the past two years the firm has removed 8,600 tonnes of sugar from its product recipes as part of its own reformulation targets, as well as 440 tonnes of saturated fat and 260 tonnes of sodium.
Any changes have to meet its so-called 60/40+ criteria, in which at least 60% of consumers in a blind taste test must prefer the new product or recipe.
Asked whether it would become increasingly hard to introduce new products that hit this benchmark if competitors were not reformulating as deeply or quickly, Vandewaetere said: “Yes, that’s the reality.”Consumers have become accustomed to sweet tastes, he added, and it will take “bold steps” to overcome that.
Follow the leader
Vandewaetere said there are a “few companies” following Nestlé’s lead in pushing for an EU strategy, but there is also resistance. “That’s the reality of a diverse sector,” he admitted.
Nestlé will soon announce new nutrition and health commitments. Vandewaetere couldn’t release any details as yet, but he did suggest an EU plan could result in even more ambitious targets.
“We could go further in terms of reductions”, he admitted, with a clear policy path leading to further investment, both from Nestlé and its suppliers. “They need to be convinced to invest in that direction too.”
The company invests €1.6bn in research and development, half of it in nutrition. The appointment of Ulf Mark Schneider as its new CEO was evidence that the focus on health remained as strong as ever, said Vandewaetere. “It’s a strong signal of the direction we are going in.” Schneider’s experience in healthcare is expected to boost the company’s nutrition, health and wellness offerings.