By Chris Johnson, Nestlé Executive Vice President and Head of Zone Americas (AMS)
This week I’m attending the World Economic Forum on Latin America in Peru, where discussion will focus on the theme of ‘delivering growth and strengthening societies’.
In a region where many countries shoulder what’s known as the ‘double burden’ of malnutrition, one way to strengthen societies is to ensure more people can get the nutritious foods they need to stay fit and healthy throughout their lives.
As head of Nestlé’s business in the Americas, I take our responsibility to the communities we serve in this part of the world very seriously.
We are helping to address this double burden through the products we provide, the advice and support we offer our consumers, and our involvement in nutrition and lifestyle related initiatives with other organizations.
In our new report ‘Nestle in society – creating shared value’, we announced publicly for the first time a set of forward-looking, measurable commitments that reflect our ambition to work collectively with other stakeholders to help address the specific nutritional challenges posed by both over- and under-nutrition.
A lack of essential vitamins and minerals in the diet can have devastating effects on communities - stunting children’s growth, causing mental and visual impairment, and reducing people’s long-term capacity to work.
As part of our commitment to reducing micronutrient deficiencies globally, we invest heavily in R&D and collaborate with scientists on an international and regional level to fortify appropriate food products according to local needs.
Across Latin America, our Nido affordable milk powders fortified with iron, calcium and vitamins C, A and D give lower-income consumers access to important nutrients.
In the Caribbean and Central America we’ve initiated iodine and iron fortification programs through our Maggi brand bouillon cubes and seasonings.
Also in Brazil, our Ninho Fruti and Ninho Baixa Lactose ready-to-drink beverages are designed to help parents increase their children’s consumption of iron and essential vitamins.
Selling more nutritious food and drinks not only benefits our consumers; it also makes good business sense. The market for these products is growing fast and produces higher margins than the less nutritious categories.
In 2012, we responded to the growing consumer preference for lighter snacks with the launch of a new range of Nestlé Fitness cereal snacks in six countries in Latin America including Chile, Colombia, and Ecuador.
They are lower in sugar and fat than many snacking alternatives, and are made using wholegrain wheat, oats and other protein and fiber-rich grains.
In the same year in Chile and Mexico, we launched Nestlé ActiCol, which is clinically proven to help reduce cholesterol. Available as a liquid milk, powdered milk or yoghurt, it’s aimed at older consumers who want to maintain a healthy heart.
Tastier and healthier
Healthy diets must be enjoyable if they are to be sustained. For this reason, our approach to product development is underpinned by our unique ‘60/40+ program’, the largest of its kind deployed in the food industry.
The program not only requires the product to be preferred by at least 60% of a large consumer panel in a blind taste test against its direct competitors, but it must also offer a nutritional ‘plus’ based on criteria recommended by nutrition and health authorities.
Products we’ve created or redeveloped as a result of 60/40+ include our 'peelable’ ice creams. At an average of only 70 calories each, they are lower in fat and calories than competing products and are currently sold in 25 countries, including Argentina and Brazil.
Other examples are our Benebien bouillon range in the Dominican Republic that offers 25% less salt, our reduced salt Maggi soups in Argentina, and our Equilive range of low-salt soups, seasonings and bouillons in Chile.
NUTRITION EDUCATION : Children in Peru learn about a balanced diet
Knowledge and skills
At least 2.8 million people die each year globally as a result of being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The WHO figures show that unhealthy weights are most prevalent in Canada, Central and Latin America and the United States, where almost two thirds of people are overweight, and one quarter are obese.
No-one wants to suffer the health problems associated with being overweight. That’s why we’re also focused on giving people the information they need to make the right choices from an early age.
We launched the global Nestlé Healthy Kids program with the aim of raising the nutrition, health and wellness awareness of school-age children worldwide. Today, the program operates in more than 60 countries, including 13 in Central and South America and the Caribbean.
In Peru, it’s been used as the foundation for a national campaign to fight malnutrition, sponsored by the country’s First Lady and Ministry of Education. In Ecuador it has succeeded in helping 50 schools set up gardens to grow organic fruit and vegetables.
To increase the program’s emphasis on physical activity, we signed a five-year global partnership in 2012 with the International Association of Athletics Federations’ Kids’ Athletics initiative to encourage more sports participation in schools.
Partnership activities are already underway in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, and this year we’re expanding them to Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.
Part of the solution
While our critics complain that the food industry is responsible for rising levels of non-communicable disease related to obesity in both developed and emerging markets, I firmly believe we can be part of the solution.
It’s true that our portfolio includes foods such as ice cream and chocolate, but whether Nestlé is in business or not, people will continue to eat these products.
Our responsibility is to provide consumers with the best products we can in these areas; to use our scientific expertise to offer the healthiest choices possible.
In Latin America, as in many other regions of the world where we operate, we can play a valuable leadership role in support of concerted action; from studying how food can help keep people healthy, to finding solutions to managing diet-related diseases.
We have the capacity, and more importantly, the determination to do so.