Based on science? Revisiting Nestlé’s infant milk products and claims

April 2019 Report
Based on science? Revisiting Nestlé’s infant milk products and claims

Executive summary

In 2018, the Changing Markets Foundation and Globalization Monitor published a report investigating the general, nutrition and health claims on infant milk products for babies under 12 months old sold by the market leader, Nestlé. The report, Busting the myth of science-based formula, highlighted a number of ways in which Nestlé’s ‘commitment to science’ appears to be little more than a marketing strategy, including giving contradictory nutritional advice and carrying claims of questionable credibility, including products claiming to be modelled on breastmilk. In particular, the report exposed concrete inconsistencies in Nestlé’s product range, highlighting instances in which its products contradicted its own nutritional advice in relation to sucrose and vanilla flavourings.

In response, Nestlé committed to removing sucrose and vanilla compounds from all its products for babies under 12 months of age. They also committed to removing contradictory nutritional advice on sucrose and vanilla flavourings.

One year after these commitments, we have reviewed Nestlé products and nutritional claims and found that Nestlé has so far failed to fulfil two out of these three promises. While sucrose seems to have been removed from products, vanilla flavourings remain in the same products in China and Hong Kong together with the advice (on different products) that it is healthier for babies not to consume vanilla flavourings. We have also found examples where Nestlé continues to compare its products to human milk. This is in breach of the WHO Marketing Code and subsequent resolutions, and is problematic from the perspective of Nestlé’s scientific credibility, as there is a clear scientific consensus that formula can never be close to breastmilk.

The report also investigates premiumisation 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. The most expensive Nestlé formula on the Hong Kong market (Wyeth Organic ILLUMA) is 96.7% more expensive than the cheapest Nestlé formula (Wyeth S-26 Gold SMA). In addition to the huge variance in price within one market, there is also a marked difference in pricing of Nestlé products between different markets. 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.

This report therefore concludes that Nestlé is still up to its old tricks, and continues to use science as merely a marketing tool. It calls on Nestlé, as the market leader, to demonstrate true leadership in the breastmilk substitutes (BMS) industry and rectify the inconsistencies detected in this report at a global level and in a timely manner.

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