GLOBAL – A new analysis published by expert research group, World Action on Salt, Sugar & Health (WASSH) and supported by responsible investment NGO, ShareAction has exposed the over-reliance on the sales of unhealthy food by four of the world’s biggest food manufacturers despite each claiming to be active in improving the healthfulness of their products.

From the report, WASSH claims food industry investors are increasingly concerned about exposure to regulatory risk if companies fail to reduce their reliance on the sales of unhealthy products.

WASSH assessed more than 2,000 products produced and sold by global food and drink companies: Danone, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, and Unilever across Australia, France, and Mexico.

Out of the 2,346 products analyzed, the country with the highest proportion of unhealthy products made by these five manufacturers was Australia (65%), followed by France (63%) and Mexico (60%).

The products were assessed using three of the most widely used government-approved front-of-pack labeling models – Health Star Rating (HSR), Nutri-Score, and Warning Labels.

Using government-endorsed definitions of what constitutes healthier food and drink, WASSH notes that many of these products would be classified as ‘unhealthy’, except Danone, only 35% deemed unhealthy.

“Across the world manufacturers are over-reliant on the sales of unhealthy foods. These products are contributing to a global public health crisis, including the significant rise in type two diabetes and obesity. Food manufacturers must be more transparent and disclose what proportion of their sales can be classed as ‘healthier.’ 

“Both Danone and Unilever have done this, with Nestlé committing to do the same. This disclosure must be followed with meaningful targets to grow the proportion of sales coming from healthier food and drink,” Holly Gabriel, Campaign Lead for Consumer Health at ShareAction, said.

He underscored that food companies and investors that fail to adapt to increasing government regulation to improve health and growing public demand for healthier products face financial risks and will ultimately lose share.

In the absence of mandatory regulation, ShareAction and WASSH are urging all global food manufacturers to adopt similar practices of manufacturers such as Premier Foods, AG Barr, and Britvic which are mitigating risks by setting voluntary targets to help increase the longer-term sales of healthy foods in the UK.

In response to the report, Kellogg’s and Kraft Heinz have come out and dismissed it, terming the report “misleading.”

A spokesperson from Unilever maintains that “the assessment by WASSH is incomplete and misleading as it is based on a small subset of our portfolio, consisting of just three countries and 6-20% of the individual products we sell in these countries.”

Kris Bahner, a spokesperson at Kellogg’s, noted that Kellogg’s is the original well-being, plant-based food company, and continues to fuel its portfolio with good-for-you options.

“Our approach to well-being supports healthy and sustainable diets with foods that meet people’s physical, emotional, and societal needs,” he added.

Andrea Budelli, Global ESG Officer at Kraft Heinz, explained: “With health and nutrition in mind, we set several related goals, including achieving salt and sugar reduction targets – namely, reducing sugar in our products by more than 60 million pounds globally by 2025.”

Despite regulatory action to boost nutrition and growing public demand for healthier foods, WASSH says manufacturers globally continue to fall behind other sectors in setting meaningful targets to improve nutrition.

Both organizations have now called for all global food manufacturers to disclose what proportion of their sales can be classed as ‘healthier’ against government-endorsed models and set meaningful targets to increase these figures and improve access and availability to healthier food.

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