Food companies not doing enough to help consumers eat healthy, study finds
- The first-ever U.S. Access to Nutrition Index report found the 10 largest U.S. food and beverage companies lack the necessary strategies, policies and action to help in the fight against diet-related diseases. The companies included are Coca-Cola, Conagra, Dr Pepper Snapple, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever.
- The 197-page report — released Thursday and conducted by the Access to Nutrition Foundation — found companies aren't doing enough to improve the nutritional quality, distribution and pricing of products. Of the 10 companies, none have policies or quantifiable targets to make their healthier products more accessible or affordable.
- "While the leading food and beverage companies make some efforts to improve, they generate an estimated $160 billion in domestic sales and are not harnessing the significant opportunities they have to help families across our country make the kind of healthy food and beverage choices that will enable them to live healthier lives," Shiriki Kumanyika, chair of the Access to Nutrition Index expert group and a research professor at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health, said in the report.
In recent years, consumers have been craving healthier foods and snacks. As more people have looked for these options, food and beverage companies have made an effort to introduce better-for-you products into the market. They've even dropped some legacy brands. But this report found those items aren't always affordable and some aren't all that healthy.
The Access to Nutrition Foundation ranked the companies in two categories: corporate profile, based on their performance on nutrition practices and disclosure; and product profile, which looked at the nutritional quality of their products. Nestlé led the corporate profile ranking with a score of 5.3 out of 10 for being the most transparent about its progress to help consumers eat healthier, with Unilever second and Pepsi third.
When it came to the nutrition of the products, Conagra got the top score, posting a 5.8 out of 10. It was followed by Kraft Heinz and General Mills. Conagra has reinvigorated some of its legacy brands, like Healthy Choice, while adding healthier gluten-free and meatless categories to its portfolio with the recent acquisition of Pinnacle Foods. Kraftz Heinz also has given a healthy makeover to some of its brands and General Mills has introduced products with fresh and more simple ingredients.
But those products aren't available to all demographics of consumers. Low-income shoppers often struggle to find nutritious food that is affordable, especially for those living in food deserts. That environment can lead to diseases such as diabetes and obesity. This report found the food companies it mentioned have not made specific commitments to market more nutritious products to people that are constrained by low income or geographic factors.
Lauren Compere, a member of the Access to Nutrition Foundation's board of directors, said this report should enable people to push for change in a market where "obesity is a material risk for investors and companies alike."
"Institutional investors are committed to supporting companies that recognize the increasing role their products play in the diets of millions of people and leverage that influence to help all consumers make healthier food and beverage choices,” Compere said in the report.
There are ways that companies can make nutrition more affordable. In a recent report, the Institute for the Future looked at the different ways that food companies can use technological approaches, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, to develop more nutritious and affordable foods for lower-income consumers in the next decade. The 10 companies in this report could look to technology to curtail production costs while keeping food healthy.
The U.S. Access to Nutrition Index report calls on companies to improve the nutritional quality of their products and make them more affordable to all consumers. This report, and the growing demand by consumers for healthier fare, could put pressure on food and beverage manufacturers to make further changes to their product portfolio and who purchases these items. But it might not be a fast process, food companies have been slow to reach out to low-income markets with healthy food in the past so this might take time, too.
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