Nestle denies ‘double standard’ on baby food in poorer countries

Nestle’s CEO Ulf Mark Schneider delivers his speech during a general shareholders meeting of Swiss food giant Nestle in Ecublens, near Lausanne, on April 18, 2024. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

ZURICH (AFP) – Nestle denied Thursday that it was applying any “double standard” after an NGO accused the Swiss food giant of selling baby food with high levels of added sugar in low-income countries but not in wealthier nations.

“There is no double standard,” the company said in a statement. “We apply the same nutrition, health and wellness principles everywhere.”

In a report published last week, Swiss NGO Public Eye said that “two of the best-selling baby-food brands marketed by Nestle in low- and middle-income countries contain high levels of added sugar, while such products are sugar free in its home country, Switzerland.”

Nestle, which owns infant milk brands including Laboratoire Guigoz and Nestle Nidal, said its formula for babies under 12 months of age do not contain added sugars. It said it has been phasing out added sugars worldwide in “growing up milks” for children older than one year.

“Our range of cereals for infants and young children are available with and without added sugars in many parts of the world — in Europe as well as in markets in Asia, Latin America, and North America,” the company said.

“We are continuing to roll out options with no added sugar, and our ambition is to have these available everywhere we offer infant and nutrition products,” it said.

In its report, Public Eye cited the Cerelac brand of flour-based cereals for six-month-olds, which it said had more than five grams of sugar per portion in Ethiopia and six grams in Thailand while it had none in Germany or Britain.

Published the day before Nestle’s annual general meeting, the report added to the pressure the company was already facing from the ShareAction NGO and activist shareholders who demanded a vote on the health impact of Nestle products.

The motion failed, but it forced company executives to address the issue at the AGM.

Public Eye’s report also came on top of warnings by French regulators about contamination of Nestle-branded mineral waters in France.

The flow of negative news “is raising concerns among shareholders,” Jean-Philippe Bertschy, an analyst at Vontobel, said in a commentary.

Patrik Schwendimann, an analyst at the Zurich cantonal bank, said “investor sentiment towards Nestle has not been this low in more than 25 years”.