The Financial Times has recently started a debate about the health profile of Nestlé's products. One argument that has been made is that we can't 'have it both ways': aspiring to move the needle on nutrition while still having indulgent products in our portfolio.
Like most consumers, I must admit that I have it both ways every day. My family skews flexitarian – plant-based meals most of the week, with a cheeseburger or steak here and there. I start the day with a healthy smoothie or vegetable juice and try to limit my sugar, but as most of my colleagues know I do enjoy our chocolate products. That habit landed me the label of "a lanky, chocolate-munching German", ironically coined by the Financial Times in 2017. I believe I maintain a balanced diet, but - like many others - I splurge once in a while.
The media debate has sparked many conversations – inside and outside of the Nestlé building – about what is important when it comes to good food. In addition to pure nutrition, there are many other dimensions, and enjoyment is a key aspect.
Nestlé takes this debate seriously. We believe there is space for indulgent foods when consumed responsibly and as part of a healthy diet, but we also strive for continuous improvement. We do not shy away from the hard work of upgrading our products and being fully transparent about where we are and where we're going. Peter Brabeck and Paul Bulcke started us on this journey of critical self-examination as part of our Nutrition, Health and Wellness strategy; I am proudly continuing that tradition.
Adding more products that are healthy and nutritious to our portfolio remains a priority
A key focus of our work in the last two decades has been reducing the sugar, salt and fat in our products and adjusting portion sizes. In fact, just in the last seven years, we have reduced the sugar and salt in many of our indulgent products by about 14-15%. That change has improved the nutritional profile of such treats for millions of families. Now we are looking at the next stage of how to support a balanced diet, while continuing to improve our products. We will evolve our tools and guidelines to ensure we are incorporating the most advanced concepts of nutritional science and public health.
The same large-scale impact shows up in Nestlé’s steadfast work on micronutrient fortification, which is often missed in nutrition scoring. Yet, in many parts of the world, people are food insecure and COVID-19 has made matters worse. Last year, for example, we made 196 billion servings of fortified foods globally – the scale is almost hard to imagine. And in West Africa, fortified Maggi bouillon cubes are delivering iron and making a real difference. Iron fortification helps combat the risk of women dying in childbirth and impairments to children’s physical and mental development, without families even having to think about it.
Adding more products that are healthy and nutritious to our portfolio remains a priority. Just look at where we’re investing – our R&D projects have helped launch new innovations in plant-based protein, from Vuna to Wunda, and brand investments in Sweet Earth and Garden Gourmet have driven mainstream consumer adoption of plant-based foods. Along the same lines, our recent acquisitions have prioritized health and wellness. Nestlé Health Science has added Aimmune Therapeutics, Nuun, and the Bountiful Company brands. And we have added healthy home options like Freshly and Mindful Chef.
But we can also take a lot of pride in our indulgence products. A delicious chocolate bar or ice cream scoop won’t ever meet the highest levels of nutritional grading criteria, but it can still be the best option on that particular shelf. Made in a responsible manner, it can shift livelihoods for the farmers growing those ingredients, with better regenerative agriculture practices and community schools for their kids. Indulgence products can also bring families together for social moments, like we so often witnessed during the lockdowns of the last year. Enjoying a little something sweet together has brought pleasure in an otherwise difficult time.
We believe there is space for indulgent foods when consumed responsibly and as part of a healthy diet
It’s through this lens that I see Nestlé and our people: We are willing to take on bold challenges, we consistently invest in making incredible products, and we truly love food – in all of its dimensions, which is why we are the Good food, Good life company! I am very proud of all the accomplishments we have made so far, and I look forward to what our team is yet to deliver. There's so much more to us than is seen in recent headlines.