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Danone tops nutrition commitment index despite infant formula marketing ‘concerns’

By Mark Astley+

Last updated on 13-Mar-2013 at 17:08 GMT2013-03-13T17:08:35Z

Despite being ranked top of index, concerns about Danone's infant formula marketing practices were voiced.

Despite being ranked top of index, concerns about Danone's infant formula marketing practices were voiced.

Danone has topped the Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) for its efforts to address issues such as obesity and malnutrition - despite “significant concerns” about the company’s lack of compliance with infant formula marketing codes.

The French dairy giant ranked narrowly ahead of rivals Nestlé and Unilever in the index, which rated 25 of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers based on their nutrition-related commitments across several categories.

The companies were scored on a scale of zero to 10 on categories including nutrition-related governance, formulation and affordability of healthy products, marketing compliance, labeling  and engagement.

Danone, Unilever, and Nestlé scored 6.3, 6.1, and 6.0 respectively. Of the other 22 manufacturers ranked, none scored above 5.0.

“Danone, Unilever and Nestlé are the highest-ranking companies by a sizeable margin, but even their scores demonstrate that there is significant room for improvement,” said the report.

Still “significant room for improvement”

“Their strong performance on ATNI is a reflection of corporate strategies that include explicit commitments to improving nutrition and the corresponding integration of nutrition considerations into their core business activities such as formulating healthier products, making these products affordable and accessible to consumers, and marketing them appropriately.”

“As a result, all three companies are at the top of both the obesity and under-nutrition sub-rankings, and they consistently perform at or near the top in almost all areas assessed by ATNI.”

The report added, however, that there is still “significant concern” over Danone and Nestlé’s infant formula marketing practices.

“The notable exception is Danone and Nestlé’s performance with regard to the marketing of breast-milk substitutes. Their reported lack of compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes is a significant concern.”

Manufacturers can do “substantially more” to improve access to nutrition

With the exception of Danone, Nestlé, and Unilever, only PepsiCo and Kraft Foods scored above 3.0 on the 10-point scale. Food and beverage manufacturers including Coca-Cola, Lactalis, and FrieslandCampina received overall ratings as low as zero.

“Across the board, the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers can do substantially more to improve consumer’s access to nutrition,” said the report. “Only three companies scored above 5.0 on a 10-point scale, and the majority of companies scored below 3.0. Many companies are now taking at least some action to improve access to nutrition.”

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), which campaigns to improve the health and well-being of babies, young children, and mothers through the promotion of breastfeeding, has criticised the report – branding it a “whitewash.”

“We all want companies to improve their practices and stop harming health. But this is not the way to encourage them to change,” said IBFAN co-chair, Patti Rundall.

“The ATNI report is a clever tactic that rewards companies for the wrong things. It diverts our attention away from what’s so urgently needed – strong legislation with independent monitoring of what is actually happening on the ground. This is the only way we can stop harmful and misleading marketing and hold these companies to account.”

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