Nestlé confirms new health and nutrition strategy after leaked documents dent its image

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Nestlé Headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland
Nestlé Headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland

Related tags Nestlé

The Swiss food giant has confirmed it will update its nutrition and health strategy after British newspaper the Financial Times published leaked internal documents acknowledging that nearly 70% of its main food and drinks products, making up about half of Nestlé’s CHF92.6bn total annual sales, do not meet a “recognised definition of health” and that "some of our categories will never be healthy”.

The FT unveiled a presentation given to top executives earlier this year which revealed only 37% of Nestlé’s food and beverages products, excluding pet food and specialised medical nutrition products, achieve a rating above 3.5 under Australia’s health star rating, a system similar to Europe’s Nutri-Score.  

According to the leaked documents, 96% of the company’s beverages — excluding pure coffee — and 99% of its confectionery and ice cream portfolio fail to meet the 3.5-star threshold, which is needed for a product to be considered healthy. Around 80% of its water products and 60% of its dairy portfolio met the threshold.

“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 presentation said. It added: “some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate”.

While the company launched a major restructuring of activities five years ago to focus on meat and dairy alternatives, the leak revealed an aim to "unveil a new plan this year​”.

Nestlé’s share price was unharmed by the report and remains near its all-time high, suggesting investors don’t fear the revelations will impact profits. The company has however confirmed it is working on a ‘company-wide project’ to update its 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,”​ a spokesperson told FoodNavigator. “Our direction of travel has not changed and is clear: we will continue to make our portfolio tastier and healthier.”

Nestlé said these efforts build on a ‘strong foundation of work over decades’ to improve the nutritional footprint of its products. For example, it said it has reduced the sugars and sodium in its products 'significantly' in the past two decades and by about 14-15% in the past seven years.

“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,”​ the company said, adding that its future nutrition strategy will first focus on assessing the part its food and beverage portfolio that can be measured against external nutrition profiling systems.

“Systems like the Health Star Rating and Nutri-Score are useful in this regard and enable consumers to make informed choices,”​ it said. “However, they don’t capture everything. About half of our sales are not covered by these systems. That includes categories such as infant nutrition, specialised health products and pet food, which follow regulated nutrition standards.”​ 

More focus on ‘indulgence in moderation’?

According to the FT, Nestlé is also looking to update its Nutritional Profiling System used evaluate the nutritional value of food and beverage products and designed to support product development to constantly optimise the nutritional composition. This was introduced under former chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who looked to define Nestlé as a “nutrition, health and wellness company”.

Interestingly, the company hinted any new strategy might look to a newer emphasis on products seen as treat items to be consumed in moderation.

“We believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between well-being and enjoyment,”​ it said. “This includes having some space for indulgent foods, consumed in moderation."

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