Danone talks ‘industry leading’ approach to infant nutrition after securing top spot in responsible marketing index

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

For Danone, infant formula marketing policy is a matter of trust / Pic: GettyImages-FarmVeld
For Danone, infant formula marketing policy is a matter of trust / Pic: GettyImages-FarmVeld

Related tags: Infant formula, Danone, Marketing

Danone secured the top ranking in Access to Nutrition Initiative’s (ATNI) Breast Milk Substitute and Complementary Food (BMS/CF) Marketing Index. We hear from the company about its approach to marketing infant products – and ask whether responsible marketing means a knock to sales.

ATNI, hosted by independent non-profit Access to Nutrition Foundation, hopes to encourage the private sector to accelerate action to improve diet and nutrition globally. It produces the Global Access to Nutrition Indexes that focus on the role that food and beverage manufacturers play in making healthy food affordable and accessible to all.

This year saw the organisation decide to publish the BSM/CF Index as stand-alone research, rather than a chapter within the global report. This reflects ‘the critical importance of the health and nutrition of infants and young children’, the NGO explained.

The results are in. Of the world’s six largest baby food manufacturers, Danone ranked number one for its responsible marketing policies ahead of peers Nestlé, Kraft Heinz, Reckitt, Abbot and Friesland Campina.

ATNI 2021 Index
BMS/CF Marketing Index 2021 / Source: ATNI

ATNI rates companies based on both corporate policy and in-country assessments.

ATNI noted Danone’s work to strengthen overarching commitments to responsible marketing, particularly with regard to implementation by affiliates across the globe.

While Danone didn’t take the award for most improved marketing policy – which went to Kraft Heinz with a jump from 0% to 38% - the French dairy giant demonstrated strong improvement between 2018 and 2021, rising 22% to 68%.

This process of improvement is important to Danone.

“We welcome external assessment and monitoring. It holds us to account and helps us to continuously improve how we market baby formula responsibly. We are proud to be recognized by ATNI for the progress that led us to achieve the number one position in the 2021 Index,”​ commented Magdalena Broseta, VP General Counsel Specialized Nutrition for Danone.

An ‘industry-leading’ approach

Broseta told FoodNavigator that the company’s ‘industry leading approach’ is informed by its belief that ‘breast is best’ when it comes to infant nutrition.

“When it comes to infant nutrition, we completely agree with the World Health Organization that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for babies and it should be protected and promoted, that drives us to continuously raise the bar in responsible marketing of baby formula to support infant and maternal nutrition and health,”​ the executive told us.

iStock - Infant formula nutrition
Does its stance on marketing put Danone at a competitive disadvantage? It's a question of integrity, we were told / Pic: iStock

What places Danone’s approach ahead of its peers? “We are the first and only company not to advertise or promote infant formula for children aged 0-6 months, anywhere in the world, even if permitted by local law,”​ Broseta explained.

Taking the high road and refusing to market infant formula for babies younger than six months – even in markets where competitors still freely advertise to this segment – is ‘definitely the right thing to do’, we were told.

“The implementation of our industry-leading policy to market baby formula responsibly and protect breastfeeding is definitely the right thing to do and in line with our ambition to lead the industry in responsible marketing of baby formula. We believe businesses can contribute to creating an environment where all parents feel informed and supported on all questions of infant nutrition. In our view we can both support breastfeeding and provide safe, high quality, nutrition if breastfeeding is not an option.”

But does this stance place the company at a commercial disadvantage?

GettyImages-paffy69 - breast feeding baby
Danone wants to support parents, whatever their feeding choices / Pic: GettyImages-paffy69

For Broseta it’s a question of integrity and trust. “At Danone we believe, to be a successful business we need to serve parents and their little ones the best way we can. Parents who cannot or choose not to breastfeed place their trust in us and we owe it to them to provide truthful, science-based information about nutrition options in the most responsible, transparent and open way,”​ she stressed.

In this context, the ATNI assessment and evaluation is important because it comes as ‘proof for the parents we serve we are committed to responsible marketing of baby formula’.

The group’s stance on infant formula marketing echoes its broader corporate philosophy as an Entreprise à Mission, Broseta concluded.

“At Danone we are working hard to be a successful business that is socially responsible and operates sustainably. As an Entreprise à Mission whose social and environmental objectives are aligned with our purpose, our goal is to positively impact health locally where we operate. To support infant health, we strongly believe baby formula should be marketed responsibly in a way all parents feel informed and supported… regardless of their circumstances or feeding choices.”

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