NEW DELHI: Less sugar, less salt, fewer calories: Nestle SA is on a health mission.
The world’s biggest foods company is reducing salt and sodium content in its Maggi noodles, cutting sugar by about 10% in KitKat chocolate and dairy products, and stepping up portion control in Munch chocolates, extending to India its ambitious commitment made last week to make healthier products.
The Swiss company, which made Maggi India’s staple snack-food in the 1990s, will extend its ‘health drive’ to other product categories as well: For dairy items such as yoghurt and infant cereal Cerelac, Nestle will now make low-sugar and low-salt variants.
The 151-year-old company, based at Vevey in Switzerland, is working on its commitment to provide consumers “choices for balanced diets and active lifestyles”, a spokesperson for the foods giant in India said.
“We are working to improve the nutrient profile of our products, and proactively reducing sodium, salt, sugar, saturated fats and trans-fats across relevant product categories through ongoing product reformulations,” she said.
Maggi instant noodles, Nestle’s biggest brand, had been taken off the shelves by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) in the summer of 2015 over allegations that it contained lead beyond permissible limits and for mislabelling of flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate. While Maggi noodles returned to stores after five months, the category lost salience and rivals such as ITC’s Sunfeast Yippee and HUL’s Knorr gained market share in the interim. However, the brand still has a 60% market share in instant noodles.
Nestle SA has announced a series of global commitments to reduce sugars, sodium, saturated fats and trans-fats, introduce nutritious products, step up food fortification, remove artificial colours, restrict marketing to children, step up nutrition data on packs at points of sale and online, and disseminate information on portion control.
The Indian unit reported a decline of 8.66% in net profit to Rs 167.3 crore in the December quarter, the fall paced by demonetisation. Edelweiss Securities wrote in a report late last month that “Nestle is transforming from a bottom line focussed company to one which also lays emphasis on healthy top line growth and market share gains, with focus on innovation and brand equity”.
Nestle India managing director Suresh Narayanan told analysts during a post-earnings call last month that 2017 was likely to be good for the company since it is positioned for a big urban play. “Earlier, the level of innovation was low, maybe because the market was not ready for the products. Now, innovation has been stepped up in a meaningful way as many matrices such as premiumisation, urbanisation, dual working families and health indulgence are favourable,” Narayanan had said.
Child-centric cereal brand Ceregrow, fortified with iron and fruit, and Milo health drink with less than 10% sucrose per pack are being placed in stores now. The company is working on similar options in other product categories.
“We are looking at fortification in our mass consumption products as well and are committed to removing artificial colours,” the company spokesperson said. On the Maggi franchise, for example, the company has fortified seasoning with iron and iodine.
“We are providing consumers with nutrition information on food labels, guidance on daily intake for energy and key nutrients and portion guidance,” the spokesperson said. By 2020, the company proposes to provide detailed product nutrition facts on its packs and eretailer sites.
A statement on the Nestle website says the company will gradually increase guidance on portions through products, packs and dispensers.
“We will extend our guidance on portions to our consumer recipes, and relevant teenager and adult products by 2020,” the statement adds. It also says that by the same year, it will remove all artificial colours from its products.
Nestle has said that over 99% of fats and oils in its foods and beverages, starting January 1 this year, will not contain trans-fats across products and markets. By 2020, Nestle will reduce added sugar by 5% and sodium by 10%.
The company said that by 2016-end, it had reduced added sugar by 8% and sodium by 10.5% in its foods and beverages.