Nestlé has clashed with an influential group of shareholders over claims its new pledges on health “fall short” of what is need to tackle obesity.
The group ShareAction, including Nestlé shareholders such as Legal & General Investment Management and pension scheme Nest, criticised the food giant’s new nutrition targets, revealed last week.
The company behind brands such as Kit Kat, Shreddies and Yorkie revealed aims to grow the sales of its more nutritious products by 50% by 2030 compared to 2022 sales under its ‘Good food, Good life’ banner.
It also said it was “stepping up” measures to help people enjoy balanced diets.
But ShareAction claimed Nestlé’s aim to increase sales was broadly in line with its current overall growth guidance of 4-6% per year and said if sales of unhealthier products also increased at a similar rate, there would be no improvement in the impact of the food Nestlé sold.
The group also criticised Nestlé for counting as ‘nutritious’ some products to which government-endorsed nutrient profile models do not apply, such as coffee and commercial baby foods.
The row comes six months after Nestlé announced plans for a “new standard” for transparent reporting in March, after admitting nearly 40% of its sales of everyday food products in the UK are high in salt, sugar or fat (HFSS).
The company used the Australian Health Star Rating (HSR) to show that globally close to 60% of its net sales scored 3.5 stars or above in the scheme, which scores between 0.5 and 5 based on nutritional benefits – although this included specialist infant and medical nutrition, without which the figure lowers to just 37%.
The controversy also comes with the backdrop of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) drawing up plans, as revealed by The Grocer, which will see all large food companies asked to commit to a new system of reporting transparent health-based sales data, in a bid to incentivise healthier diets.
However, Simon Rawson, ShareAction’s director of corporate engagement, accused the company of going backwards.
“This flawed approach to designing targets calls into question how committed Nestlé is to driving healthier outcomes for society and the economy,” he said.
“If Nestlé is serious about doing its bit to help people enjoy healthier diets it needs to set targets to increase the proportion of food sales classed as healthier using a government-backed nutrient profiling model.”
A spokeswoman for Nestlé said: “We have set an ambitious target that is at the upper end of the growth guidance we have provided for the company. We believe that all of our portfolio can be part of a healthy and balanced diet, and intend to grow the more nutritious part by CHF 20-25 billion by 2030. This will be accompanied by strong measures to strengthen responsible marketing and support nutritious choices.”