Danone, Unilever and Nestlé - companies that produce everything from frozen dinners to iced tea to baby food and ice cream - are the three best large firms worldwide when it comes to offering products that address both the problems of obesity and poor nutrition, says a new report, out today.
The first edition of the global Access to Nutrition Index is based on a review of 25 of the world's biggest food and beverage manufacturers, looking at their corporate nutrition-related policies; their formulation of healthier, affordable products; informative nutrition labeling and responsible marketing.
It was developed by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, a non-profit organization, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. The index was developed with input from nutrition experts and others and then the research was conducted by an independent firm. The rankings and report are meant to be a benchmark of corporate practices, not just a look at the company's portfolio of products.
"Obesity and undernutrition affect billions of people and threaten a global health catastrophe," said Inge Kauer, the index's executive director, in a statement. She called the index "an urgent call to action" to food and beverage makers to make improved nutrition part of their business strategies. "It is not only good for public health; it is a business imperative and key to their long-term sustainability.
"The Index encourages companies to adopt a deliberate approach to the development of nutritionally improved options for consumers," she says. "Innovation is critical, and over time, these changes will have a significant, positive impact on public health."
According to the index rankings: PepsiCo is No. 4, Kraft Foods Inc, No. 5; Grupo Bimbo, No. 6; ConAgra Foods, No. 7; Heinz, No. 8; Coca-Cola, No. 9. Companies near the bottom of the list include Hershey at No. 18 and Mars at No. 16.
Although some companies ranked slightly better than others, all of the world's largest food companies "can do substantially more to improve consumers' access to nutrition," the report says. The top three companies scored between a 6 to 6.3 on a 10-point scale.
Rosalyn Kennedy, spokeswoman for Coca-Cola, says, "We welcome a continuous dialogue with ATNI (the index) that enables us to identify and address challenges collaboratively. ... We provide more than 800 low- and no-calorie beverages, nearly 25% of our global portfolio."
So how did some companies that make ice cream, mayonnaise and soda make the top half of the list?
Just about every food company has products that go from worse to better when it comes to nutrition, and doing an index is a pretty hard thing to do, says Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University and a member of the expert group that provided guidance on the development of the index.
"It's a challenge to come up with a score when a company could have many thousands of products. I give them high marks for courage for undertaking a difficult but very important task," he says.
"Companies can crow about making this little change and that little change, but having something that can address what they are doing overall is a very good start. With time the index will get refined and you'll have a better sense of what might be happening overall."
The report lists some key recommendations, including that companies should:
• Develop clear and measurable objectives and targets on nutrition.
• Implement a strict, comprehensive policy on marketing to children that applies to all media channels and all countries in which the company operates.
• Use the experience, skills and scale of their core business to address undernutrition.
• Make sure that products formulated to meet the needs of lower-income consumers, at risk for poor nutrition, don't increase the risk for obesity and diet-related chronic diseases.
Overall ranking of companies in the Access to Nutrition Index:
5. Kraft Foods Inc.
6. Grupo Bimbo
7. ConAgra Foods
11. General Mills
12. (tied) Barilla, Campbell
14. (tied) Ferrero, Sigma
20. Brasil Foods
22. (tied) Lactalis, Lotte, Nissin, Tingyi
By Nanci Hellmich