Nestlé: "Majority of our products are unhealthy"

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In an internal company presentation, food giant Nestlé acknowledges that more than 60 per cent of its mainstream food products and beverages do not meet its own recognised standard for healthy eating.

 

Star rating system

To determine whether a product can be considered healthy, Nestlé uses an Australian star rating system. This system assigns food items a score of up to five stars and is also used in international research by the Access to Nutrition Foundation. Nestlé regards a 3.5-star rating as the threshold of a recognised definition of health, writes the Financial Times.

 

A presentation issued to top executives of the Swiss group this year states that only 37 per cent of Nestlé's mainstream food and drink products by revenues earn a rating of more than 3.5 stars. This does not include pet food or specialised medical nutrition.

 

Within Nestlé's overall food and beverage portfolio, approximately 70 per cent of food products and 96 per cent of beverages do not meet this threshold, the presentation states. The same applies to 99 per cent of the confectionery and ice cream portfolio. Water and dairy products score much better, with 82 per cent of waters and 60 per cent of dairy products meeting the standard.

 

Substandard

"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. The data exclude baby, pet and medical food and coffee. This means the data cover about half of the group's total annual sales.

 

Nestlé, meanwhile, says it is constantly evaluating its entire portfolio. The company points out that it has reduced the sugar and salt content by 14 to 15 per cent in the past few years.

 

Hefty task

Nevertheless, food experts believe that it will continue to be difficult for food giants such as Nestlé to make their portfolios healthy across the board. "Food companies’ job is to generate money for stockholders, and to generate it as quickly and in as large an amount as possible. 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 is junk food," said Marion Nestle, visiting professor of food science at Cornell University.

 

There is also a fundamental problem, she said. "Scientists have been working for years to try to figure out how to reduce the salt and sugar content without changing the flavour profile, and guess what, it is hard to do."