How companies address undernutrition in low-income countries

  • 12th June 2018
  • by secretary

23 May 2018. The Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF) published the 2018 Global Access to Nutrition Index – the third Global Index that ranks the world’s 22 largest food and beverage (F&B) companies on their contributions to addressing the twin global nutrition challenges of overweight and diet related diseases and undernutrition.

  • The Index measures companies’ contributions to good nutrition against international norms and standards. 
  • The Index also includes a separate ranking of the world´s leading manufacturers of breast-milk substitutes (BMS), as well as a newly added Product Profile, which measures the healthiness of companies’ product ranges in nine markets.
  • The 2018 Global Index received a significant amount of media coverage with news outlets in the Netherlands, France, Spain, the U.S, the U.K, Brazil, China picking up the story.

See extracts of the Full report (May 2018, 216 pages)
The full press release can be found here.

A crucial starting point for addressing undernutrition in low-income countries is for companies to make a commitment to do so. Eleven out of 18 companies have committed to playing a role in addressing undernutrition, three more than in 2016. Arla, Kellogg and Mars have published new commitments. Nine of the 11 have undertaken a Board-level strategic review of the commercial opportunities available to them in addressing undernutrition and/or developing products for the undernourished, underlining the importance to the business. Two companies have undertaken strategic reviews but not at Board level.  (page 127)

New commercial initiatives, or new initiatives linked to existing commercial strategies, were reported by some companies. For example, Unilever integrates a program to stimulate healthy eating and address iron deficiency anaemia in a priority population in Nigeria with its existing commercial strategy to sell iron-fortified Knorr cubes. The program addresses a lack of meat and leafy green vegetable intake, sources of dietary iron, and aims to change the cooking habits of women. This approach has the potential to extend the impact on healthy diets beyond companies’ own products, but the effectiveness of such approaches should be verified independently.  (page 128)

Companies need to undertake market research and studies into the nutritional status and deficiencies of target populations as a basis for designing their strategy. They should seek expert input to advise on setting up and adapting their approach over time.  (page 128)

Although a number of companies publish the amount they spend on philanthropy, it is unclear in most cases what part of this budget is spent addressing undernutrition in developing countries, as companies’ activities often include non-nutrition related activities or activities in developed countries. (page 129)

An effective way for companies to make a contribution to tackling undernutrition is to partner with leading international expert organizations, such as the SUN Business Network or World Food Programme. (page 130)

It is not always necessary to fortify food products with added micronutrients. Micronutrient deficiencies may be addressed as well through ingredients that are naturally high in the micronutrient(s) of public health interest or through (bio) fortified staple foods. Nestlé was the only company in 2016 to commit to seeking to use such ingredients, including fortified staple foods, but in 2018 Danone, FrieslandCampina and Kellogg make this commitment as well. (page 132)

Unilever runs the Shakti project in India, using a wide network of microentrepreneurs to sell a variety of products, including fortified products to address undernutrition in populations that are hard to reach. Currently, Unilever supports two additional programs with a similar setup: Project Zeinab in Egypt and the ‘Gbemiga’ program in Nigeria. In both cases Unilever works with external organizations and combines a focus on undernutrition, e.g. making local women entrepreneurs and ambassadors for nutrition, with other important aspects such as hygiene and reading and writing skills.  (page 137)