Transparency versus clarity: New Nestle nutrition data shows difficulties posed by APAC’s fragmented health rating systems

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

New data from Nestle’s new attempt to use the Health Star Rating (HSR) system to benchmark its portfolio has revealed a positive nutritional picture for its global portfolio – but a closer look at local assessments of APAC markets reveal various difficulties. ©Getty Images
New data from Nestle’s new attempt to use the Health Star Rating (HSR) system to benchmark its portfolio has revealed a positive nutritional picture for its global portfolio – but a closer look at local assessments of APAC markets reveal various difficulties. ©Getty Images

Related tags Nestlé Health Star Rating

New data from Nestle’s new attempt to use the Health Star Rating (HSR) system to benchmark its portfolio has revealed a positive nutritional picture for its global portfolio – but a closer look at local assessments of APAC markets reveal the difficulties posed by the region’s multiple local rating systems.

Nestle’s inclusion of the HSR into its latest Shared Value and Sustainability Report is the F&B giant’s latest attempt to project an image of transparency regarding the nutritional status of its product portfolio​, as company CEO Mark Schneider told us during its recent FY2022 financial results press conference.

“We will be introducing the application of the HSR system to all products in our global portfolio in order to provide more transparency to consumers,”​​ Schneider said.

“There will be 14 major markets where we will also do the same for the national portfolios, though these will naturally follow local rating systems.”

“We have chosen to use the HSR system for this project as it is a well-understood and respected system that is also used by the Access to Nutrition Index, so we felt it is a good way to provide consumers with the added information and clarity they need when making purchasing decisions.”

Nestle has highlighted its position as the first company in the world to use the HSR system as the basis for ‘transparently reporting nutritional values’​ for its entire global portfolio. In the HSR scoring system, the higher the score the healthier a product is considered to be, with 3.5 or above generally accepted as the ‘healthier’ category.

The firm’s first report in this regard has based the nutritional value of its portfolio on net sales, stressing that 57% of its net sales worldwide comes from products with a HSR score of 3.5 or above (37%) as well as specialised nutrition products (20%).

Unfortunately, no information was forthcoming in the report regarding more specific breakdowns regarding which specific products in which countries are achieving what scores  - but it was also reported that 22% of Nestle’s global portfolio by net sales score a HSR of between 1.5 to 3.5, and 21% scores below 1.5.

“Products with a HSR of less than 1.5 are occasional treats eaten in moderation, [and these along with] products a HSR of 1.5 to less than 3.5 are what we call our occasional enjoyment related categories,”​ the firm said.

“We complement our actions [for these products] with stricter responsible marketing practices [as well as] provide nutrition education programs, services and support covering all categories, to help people make informed choices and enjoy all foods as part of a balanced diet.”

National portfolio analyses in APAC

As for the 14 national portfolios that Schneider previously highlighted, 13 were included (as Colombia’s government made some systemic changes in December 2022) in this first report with five of these coming from the APAC region – Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

Australia and New Zealand use the HSR scheme, Malaysia uses its local Healthier Choice Logo system, Singapore its Healthier Choice Symbol system, and Thailand its own Healthier Choice Logo system.

For all of these though, the reporting appeared to focus more on what percentage of product net sales within Nestle’s local portfolios were in-scope for local healthier product schemes.

For instance, for Malaysia it was highlighted that 56% of local net sales are from products ‘in scope for the Healthier Choice Logo scheme’​ - where just 12% of these actually carried the logo and 44% did not carry the logo at all.

A further 10% fell into the specialised nutrition category and were not considered under the scheme; whereas 34% fell into the ‘Other’ category and were also considered out-of-scope of the logo based on local government guidelines – including items such as confectionery and ice cream.

Over in Thailand, ice cream was included in the scope of its Healthier Choice Logo, but confectionery and creamer were not included. A total of 74% of local net sales came from in-scope products – 31% of which carried the logo and 43% did not.

This was somewhat different in Singapore where all desserts and snacks were considered in-scope for the Healthier Choice Symbol system - 87% of net sales came from these in-scope products, but even here there was an even split with 43% carrying the logo and 44% not carrying the logo despite being within the scope.

It was only in Oceania where product sales were classified as per HSR scoring, but here it was clear that a majority still appear to achieve below the coveted 3.5 score – 20% scored less than HSR 1.5, 17% scored between HSR 1.5 and 3.0, and just 14% scored HSR 3.5 and above.

This made for a total of only 51% of products in Australia and New Zealand considered in-scope for the HSR system, with 8% going to specialised nutrition and a whopping 41% to the Other category which included coffee and medicated confectionery amongst other products.

Transparency improved but more data needed

Nestle’s most recent efforts with the HSR scoring are undoubtedly a positive move in terms of providing both the industry and consumers with more transparency regarding nutritional values, but at this time it does appear that much more data and clearly-presented analysis is required in order to provide APAC consumers with the information and assurance they need to make the much-discussed ‘informed choices’​.

One major area to consider is the data provided with regard to specific products or product categories. One could question the value of telling consumers that a product is within the scope of the local healthier logo scheme, if it does not then carry such logo on-pack.

The exclusion of certain product categories from the schemes can also pose a clarity issue when it comes to this analysis, even if this is the result of the nutrition criteria laid out by the local governments. This is especially the case when it comes to everyday, common pantry products such as ice cream and coffee.

From a broader perspective, it should also be noted that many of these healthier logo schemes are implemented on a voluntary basis, even the top-rated HSR system, and this could potentially also lead to further confusion when making purchasing decisions.

Nestle has stressed the necessity of reporting separately on each market as ‘the figures for different countries cannot be compared’​.

“Each national and regional nutrient profiling system has distinct characteristics, with a different purpose and differences in the foods included, nutrient thresholds, and labels,”​ the firm said.

“The data is intended to provide a baseline for an individual country. The figures may evolve as nutrient profiling systems evolve, and as we continue to improve the nutritional profile of our products.”

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