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Only 16% of packaged food products meet health standards

35% of Indian kid below the age of 5 are malnourished. The private sector can play a big role in fixing this, but their poor performances say otherwise.

Sonal Khetarpal        Last Updated: February 27, 2020  | 20:26 IST
Only 16% of packaged food products meet health standards
16% of packeaged foods are healthy

Malnutrition has been identified as one of the factors limiting India's economic growth potential. According to the National Nutrition Survey 2016-2018, 35 per cent of children under five years are stunted and another 17 per cent are wasted (low weight for height).

In this context, the private sector has a significant role to play in bringing healthy products to the market. However, Indian food and beverage (F&B) products are quite unhealthy. On the healthiness quotient, the average score of top 10 F&B companies is just 3.1 out of 10.

Whats shocking is that of the 1456 food and beverage products assessed from these firms, only 16 per cent met the 'healthy' product criteria.

These findings are part of the India Access to Nutrition Spotlight Index by international not-for-profit Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI). It assessed India's top 16 F&B manufacturers in terms of 2018 retail sales on nutrition-related policies and practices. These firms accounted for 31 per cent of India's packaged F&B market with combined retail sales of over Rs 1.8 lakh crore.

In recent years, many companies have announced initiatives to fortify products or reformulate them to make it nutritious. The report finds that the while there is increased commitment from companies to provide healthy food, industry efforts are not sufficient to match the nutrition challenge India faces.

Hindustan Unilever and Nestle India rank joint first with a score of 6.9. Britannia Industries and Cola-Cola India have shown substantial progress across most elements of the Index since 2016: Britannia (1.6 to 4.9) and Coca-Cola (2.4 to 4.4). Britannia has done that by formalising its commitments and approach to addressing malnutrition in India in its newly developed Britannia Nutrition Policy.

Coca-Cola improved distribution of its Minute Made Vitingo to address iron deficiency in children and launch healthy products in the dairy segment. Out of 13 companies that sell staple products covered under FSSAI's (Fortification of Foods) 2018 Regulation, 10 voluntarily fortify staple products to help address micronutrient deficiencies. The best practice is by Mother Dairy and Britannia that fortify all products in their portfolio covered by the regulation.

Britannia and ITC are the only India-headquartered companies that have a nutrition policy in place.

Inge Kauer, executive director, ATNI, says: "Lifestyle changes have caused a shift in Indian consumer habits - from consumption of traditional food to more urban food habits consisting of packaged and processed foods. India is among the top 10 consumers of fast food globally. This, coupled with the fact that India is set to become the third largest consumer economy, presents an enormous opportunity for food and beverage companies to make nutrition a core part of business plans, and adopt strategies to address issues related to malnutrition in India."

Marketing responsibly also plays an important role, especially when it comes to marketing products to children. Presently, only six of the companies have a responsible marketing policy that includes commitments about marketing to children. Coca-Cola and Mondelez India commit not to market any of their products to children. However, none of the companies specifically state that they apply the recently adopted World Health Organization South-East Asia Region nutrition criteria or incorporate them into marketing policies.

The report recommends companies to manufacture healthier products and disclose the percentage of products that meet the healthy standard. It also suggests firms to outline the nutrition criteria for their products and increase investment in developing and selling products that meet healthy nutrition criteria.

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