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Nestle's nutrition dilemma isn't as bad as the Maggi Noodles crisis

Nestle says it is working on a company-wide project to update its nutrition and health strategy to ensure its products help meet people's nutritional needs and support a balanced diet

Maggi Noodles, which contributed over 25 per cent of the company's revenue in India, was accused of having lead content that was beyond permissible levels Maggi Noodles, which contributed over 25 per cent of the company's revenue in India, was accused of having lead content that was beyond permissible levels

Food major Nestle is in the midst of a global row over its nutrition standards. The company, in an internal document, is known to have acknowledged that more than 60 per cent of its mainstream food and drinks portfolio (doesn't include categories such as pet food, baby formula food and coffee) don't meet a recognised definition of health. It has acknowledged that some products will never be healthy, no matter how much it renovates.

The question this time around is, how nutritious and healthy are Nestle products? It is certainly not as bad as the Maggi crisis in 2015, which literally threatened its existence in India. Maggi Noodles, which contributed over 25 per cent of the company's revenue in India, was accused of having lead content that was beyond permissible levels. "Nestle's India portfolio is different from its parent and a small subset with a lot of localisation for India specific products. India is one of the few countries that has had a local R&D facility for a long time. Nestle India has only nine brands out of 35 billionaire brands of the parent," says Abneesh Roy, Executive Director (Institutional Equities), Edelweiss Securities. Roy doesn't expect the global row to significantly impact its Indian subsidiary.

Also read: 60% of Nestle's food portfolio 'unhealthy'; company on firefighting mode

Over 45 per cent of Nestle India's products, says a senior analyst at a leading brokerage, comprises health and nutrition products such as baby food, dairy products and coffee whose nutrition standards have not been questioned. "The remaining portfolio includes Maggi Noodles and chocolates. The latter can never be classified as healthy because of the high sugar content it contains. It is also difficult for Maggi to be renovated."

Nestle India has been trying hard to launch healthier variants of Maggi such as atta noodles and spinach noodles, but these constitute less than 10 per cent of its portfolio. The biggest challenge with atta noodles or even spinach is the tradeoff that the consumer has to make in terms of taste and texture. After all, the taste is paramount for Indians.

"Nestle India believes that nutrition is a fundamental need and the food industry has a vital role to play in enabling healthier lives. Driven by our purpose, we are constantly striving to increase the nutrient profile of our products as well as innovate with new and nutritious offerings," says a Nestle India spokesperson.

In a statement released by the global headquarters, the Nestle S.A spokesperson says that it is working on a company-wide project to update its nutrition and health strategy. "We are looking at our entire portfolio across the different phases of people's lives to ensure our products are helping meet their nutritional needs and supporting a balanced diet...For example, we have reduced the sugars and sodium in our products significantly in the past two decades, about 14-15 per cent in the past seven years alone. In recent years, we have launched thousands of products for kids and families that meet external nutrition yardsticks."

Also read: Coffee drinkers drive strongest Nestle quarter in a decade, shares rise by 2%