Access to Nutrition Index calls on food and beverage manufacturers to address global nutrition challenges

The world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers must do more to increase access to nutritious products and positively exercise their influence on consumer choice and behaviour, says the first edition of the global Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) report and rankings.

The report assesses the nutrition-related commitments, performance and disclosure practices of the 25 largest global food and beverage manufacturers as measured against international guidelines, norms and accepted best practices.

Danone, Unilever and Nestlé were top performers on the ATNI, receiving the highest scores on both the obesity and undernutrition rankings. But even the top performers show significant room for improvement: the highest score was 6.3 on a 10 point scale.

In addition, both Danone and Nestlé have been reported to be in violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, which affected their scores. The ATNI recommends that both companies, along with other companies that manufacture breast-milk substitutes, take immediate action to ensure full compliance.

"Obesity and undernutrition affect over three billion people and threaten a global health catastrophe. The Access to Nutrition Index is an urgent call to action for food and beverage manufacturers to integrate improved nutrition into their business strategies. It is not only good for public health; it is a business imperative and key to their long-term sustainability," said Inge Kauer, Executive Director of ATNI.

The three-year initiative was funded by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, and was developed by GAIN's Innovative Finance Program. Development of ATNI involved an extensive, multi-stakeholder process that included input from governments, international organisations, civil society, academia, and investors at every phase of the process.

It was also guided by advice from an independent, multi-stakeholder advisory panel and a group of experts on nutrition. Company research and assessments were conducted by MSCI ESG Research using publicly available documents supplemented by additional information requested from each company.

Companies were evaluated on: corporate strategy, management and governance related to nutrition; formulation and delivery of appropriate, affordable and accessible products; and positive influence on consumer choice and behaviour.

"The food industry has a vital part to play in addressing the serious global problems of both obesity and undernutrition. In 2008, we recognised the need for an impartial way of assessing how companies were performing this role in order to encourage best practice," said Sir William Castell, Chairman of the Wellcome Trust.

"We are delighted to see the first Index launched today, and hope that it will become an important tool to encourage further debate and action, in order to strengthen global health by improving access to nutrition."

Key findings include:

  • The highest scoring companies have clear commitments, detailed policies and measurable targets related to nutrition. They have also charged senior executives with achieving these targets and provided incentives for them to do so.
  • ​Often, companies' practices do not measure up to their commitments. Companies missed key opportunities to implement their commitments in core business areas such as product formulation, marketing and distribution.
  • Companies are not meaningfully engaged in addressing undernutrition and could better leverage their expertise, skills and scale to help combat this global health challenge.

The report challenges companies to:

  • Develop clear and measurable objectives and targets on improving nutrition. This is central to ensuring that nutrition considerations are included in companies' core business activities such as product development, pricing, distribution, and marketing.
  • Increase public disclosure of nutrition activities. Such disclosure underpins credibility, strengthens any evaluation of nutrition practices and heightens accountability. Translate commitments to improve nutrition into action and develop mechanisms to track and monitor progress.
  • Ensure full compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in all countries.

ATNI will publish three Spotlight Indexes assessing ten of the largest food and beverage manufacturers by sales operating in India, Mexico and South Africa, respectively, later this year. ATNI will be published every two years.