Investors managing $3tn in assets are pushing food multinationals Nestlé, Danone, Kraft Heinz and Kellogg to set out new disclosures and targets on health after a successful campaign for changes at Unilever.
The investors including Legal & General Investment Management and BMO Global Asset Management have written to the boards of the companies ahead of their annual meetings, in a demonstration of shareholder concern about nutrition and obesity.
In a push also co-ordinated by responsible investment non-profit ShareAction, a smaller group of the same investors last month secured fresh commitments from Unilever on health.
Unilever said it would publish nutrition scores for its food portfolio against external metrics — not just its own measures — and would set new targets, after the investors tabled a resolution ahead of its AGM.
The fresh push for major food brands to improve their health credentials comes as governments globally tighten regulations to help curb obesity.
Ignacio Vazquez, senior manager at ShareAction, said: “Regulatory trends, as well as consumer support for healthier products, mean that food businesses must consider health as an increasingly material risk factor.
“Investors need companies to use standardised health metrics to determine their exposure to regulatory risk and their position relative to competitors.”
ShareAction, which previously targeted UK supermarket Tesco on obesity, has asked for meetings with the chair of each of the foodmakers and said the public move represented an “escalation” of private discussions.
Vazquez added: “If you go into the manufacturers’ and supermarkets’ reports you will find information about what they are doing on climate change, plastics, biodiversity and so on but nutrition and health hasn’t been addressed properly.
“What’s changed in the last couple of years is that Covid and the link with excess weight has put a spotlight on unhealthy foods and governments across the world [are] really ramping up regulations.”
The letters contrasted the companies’ own assessments of their products with findings using external metrics by the independent Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI).
For example, Nestlé said that in 2019, 80.5 per cent of its mainstream food and drink sales were from products meeting its Nestlé Nutritional Foundation criteria. But the ATNI put the proportion of sales of healthy products at 43 per cent.
The Financial Times last year revealed that Nestlé had assessed its portfolio internally against third-party metrics and found that more than 60 per cent of its mainstream food and drinks did not meet a “recognised definition of health”.
Nestlé said: “As part of our ongoing company-wide work to update our sustainable nutrition and health approach, we are . . . looking at the best way to benchmark ourselves against external and recognised standards.”
Danone said 90 per cent of its sales were of healthy products, but the ATNI puts the figure at 65 per cent, while Kraft Heinz’s own figure of 76 per cent contrasts with the ATNI’s 39 per cent. Kellogg does not report health data but the ATNI said only 27 per cent of its sales were of healthy products.
Polling by Censuswide for ShareAction in the UK, US, Germany, France, Australia and Mexico found public support for greater action. Among respondents, 81 per cent said they supported government regulation to make healthy foods cheaper and more widely available.
Danone said it was “committed to providing ever clearer, ever more complete information on our products’ ingredients and nutritional value”, including through the use of Europe’s Nutri-Score system.
Kellogg said: “We believe in the need to refocus attention toward a holistic approach to wellbeing, considering not only the nutrients that individual foods provide but also how the food makes people feel and the impact the food has on society and the planet.”