Kraft Heinz

Shareholders today ramped up pressure on food companies to commit to a system of transparent health targets, with an investor-backed letter sent to a raft of the industry’s biggest manufacturers calling on them to follow the move taken by Unilever last month.

Large asset management companies including the likes of Legal & General Investment Management and BMO Global Asset Management were among those writing to the boards of Nestlé, Kellogg’s, Danone and Kraft Heinz, calling for a system of standardised metrics which could be used by potential investments increasingly seeing health as a priority.

The Grocer revealed last month that ShareAction, the group co-ordinating the campaign, was planning to extend its calls to other major providers and is now calling on the fmcg giants to commit to health disclosures, targets and strategies by the time of their 2023 annual reports.

The move comes with National Food Strategy author Henry Dimbleby’s report having called for a system of mandatory reporting on areas such as health and food waste, which has already received overwhelming backing from most of the UK’s supermarkets.

Unilever became the first major manufacturer to bow to the ShareAction campaign last month. The Marmite and Hellmann’s maker had previously used its own internal metric to claim its portfolio was healthy, last year reporting 61% of its food and drink sales were derived from products with “high nutritional standards”. ShareAction disputed the figure and said an independent review estimated it to be just 17%.

Today the investors disputed figures provided by two other major companies, Danone and Kraft Heinz.

Danone claims 90% of its sales are in healthy categories but ShareAction said the Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) figures claimed it was 65%.

Kraft Heinz argues 76% of its sales are healthy, consistent with its global nutrition targets, but ATNI puts it at only 39%.

“Regulatory trends as well as consumer support for healthier products mean that food business must consider health as an increasingly material risk factor,” said ShareAction senior manager Ignacio Vazquez.

“Investors need companies to use standardised health metrics to determine the exposure of regulatory risk and their position relative to competitors on the issues.

“We are calling on those food companies to follow Unilever in committing to greater disclosure around their sales of healthier products and to increase their ambitions in this area.”

A Nestlé spokeswoman said: “Nestlé is also looking at the most relevant way to benchmark itself against external and recognized nutrition standards. This company-wide work is ongoing and Nestlé is engaging with ShareAction on this important topic.”