Infant and young child feeding is key to improving child survival and promoting healthy growth and development worldwide. Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends breastfeeding as the optimal way of feeding infants, many women cannot or choose not to breastfeed their children. In those cases, parents are faced with an ever-increasing variety of infant milks. Infant milk is the fastest growing packaged food product with 7% annual growth. Our campaign is focused on the lack of scientific underpinning behind the infant milks that these companies put on different markets. While companies claim that their products are informed by the ‘latest developments in nutritional science’, the wide variety of products on sale within and between countries and the efforts of companies to push expensive premium products call such claims into question.
Based on science? Revisiting Nestlé’s infant milk products and claims
This report revisits Nestlé’s infant milk products and claims, a year after the publication of Busting the myth of science-based formula (below). In response to findings in Busting the myth in February 2018, Nestlé committed to making three changes to its infant formula ranges – removing sucrose and vanilla compounds from all its products for babies aged under 12 months, and removing contradictory nutritional advice on sucrose and vanilla flavourings.
Launched in partnership with SumOfUs, and based on research by Hong Kong NGO Globalization Monitor, this report finds that so far Nestlé has failed to fulfil two out of these three commitments. Researchers also found that Nestlé continues to draw comparisons between its products and human milk, which is prohibited by the WHO Marketing Code and problematic from the perspective of company’s scientific credibility, as formula can never be close to breastmilk.
The report also looks at the premiumisation of its products and pricing strategies by Nestlé, especially in the highly lucrative Asian market, where we have previously identified some of the most expensive infant formula products. Feeding a 2–3-month-old baby for one month with the most expensive Nestlé formula in Hong Kong would cost a family approximately 3.6 times more than feeding a child with their most expensive formula in the UK. This premiumisation happens despite the advice of nutritional and health experts (such as the NHS and UNICEF) that more expensive products have no proven nutritional benefits.
The report concludes that Nestlé continues to use science as a marketing tool, valuing high profit margins over scientific credibility. It calls on the Swiss conglomerate to fulfil its potential as a market leader in the breastmilk substitutes (BMS) industry and ensure it truly utilises scientific research to create the best products for infant nutrition.
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Busting the Myth of Science-Based Formula – An Investigation into Nestlé Infant Milk Products and Claims
This report investigates the general, nutrition and health claims on infant milk products for babies under 12 months-old sold by the market leader, Nestlé. The investigation revealed many cases of inconsistent behaviour across over 70 products sold in 40 countries. Some of its products were found to be marketed as better “for baby’s good growth” for not having certain types of sugar and artificial flavourings, yet many of their other products in mainland China, Hong Kong and South Africa were found to contain these ingredients. In other cases, many of Nestlé’s products were found to be carrying claims of questionable credibility, including products to be modelled after breastmilk in US, Switzerland, Spain and Hong Kong yet having different nutritional compositions. Furthermore, products sold in various American and Asian countries carry health claims that are not authorised in Europe because of “insufficient scientific evidence”; and even in European countries, Nestlé sells products marketed “for hungry babies” and “constipation relief”, although these claims have not been authorised by the EU law. The report concludes by calling on Nestlé’s aspiration to be the world’s leading nutrition, health and wellness company by conducting an independent review of its product range at global level to ensure only products with composition based on best science are sold. In addition, the company should ensure that it respects the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and subsequent World Health Assembly resolutions.
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Milking It – How Milk Formula Companies are Putting Profits Before Science
This report represents the first global investigation into infant milks being sold for babies under 12 months old from the four leading companies: Nestlé, Danone, Mead Johnson Nutrition and Abbott. The report analysed more than 400 infant formula products sold across 14 markets and the price differences between them. Despite the fact that the nutritional composition of infant milks is regulated by a global standard, the companies sell a wide range of products that have additional nutrients or ‘better’ ingredients or claim to be solving general conditions, such as preventing allergies or promoting better sleep or respond to general consumer concerns, such as offering GMO-free products. Our research also revealed large disparity in the prices of formula within and between countries. While the same brand of formula can cost 17 USD in the UK, in China the price is 55 USD. This leads to large disparities in family spending of infant feeding; while in Western Europe parents spend 1-3% of average salary on feeding an infant, in China this can be between 15-40%. The report concludes that increasing product differentiation is not science-based, but instead informed by careful research into consumer preferences, guided by a desire to increase manufacturers’ market share and profits.
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