One non-profit organization, Access to Nutrition Foundation (ATNF), is partnering with socially-conscious investors to tackle malnutrition and obesity by evaluating and bringing transparency to the nutritional contributions of global food and beverage companies such as Coca-Cola, ConAgra, Mars, Mondelez, Nestlé, and Unilever.
ATNF initiated the Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI) in 2013, which grades global private food and beverage companies on the nutritional quality of their products—including sugar, fat, and fiber—product accessibility by vulnerable populations, responsible marketing practices, label transparency, and community engagement. Companies receive a score of 0-10 in each of these categories and an overall company score based on established international guidelines and other norms set out in the ATNI assessment methodology.
The ATNI, now in its third iteration, comes at a time when more and more countries face the dual challenge of obesity and malnutrition. In the United States, 71 percent of the population is overweight or obese, while one in eight is food insecure. Inge Kauer, Executive Director of ATNF, tells Food Tank, “an increasing number of countries like India now have the co-existence of malnutrition and obesity, and in some cases, this challenge exists in the same household. We see many Indian families that have an overweight mother with a malnourished, stunted child, and the rate of diabetes is on the rise. This is why it is so important for food and beverage companies to be part of the solution, especially for vulnerable populations. ATNF and our partner shareholders want to see these global companies improve the nutritional content of the foods they sell and make them more accessible to give people the nutrition they need to lead prosperous lives.”
More than 60 investment organizations, which manage US$7 trillion in assets globally, have pledged their support for the Index indicating they recognize that health and nutrition are important drivers of future growth in the food and beverage sector. These influential shareholders play a key role in improving the product portfolios and business practices of many food and beverage powerhouses evaluated in the Index, which operate in over 200 countries and generate approximately US$500 billion in sales.
Kauer tells Food Tank, “investors see the risk of not investing in nutrition and health and understand the long-term impacts it has on the global disease, society as a whole, productivity levels, and a company’s reputation. They are taking the lessons learned from the tobacco industry. There is data to prove that a food and beverage company’s investment in the nutritional quality of the food it produces impacts its long-term success and profit. Investors and companies alike are beginning to recognize the adverse financial implications of selling products that perpetuate disease caused by lifestyle choices. This is the reason why ATNF focuses on investment statements. ATNF’s partner investors are concerned about people’s right to food and the social impacts these large food and beverage companies have on the population. The ATNI is mobilizing investors to determine which food and beverage companies to invest in.” According to the ATNI, every dollar spent on addressing undernutrition in children yields US$45 in better health and economic growth.
Since the Index’s inception in 2013, Kauer has seen positive changes by multiple companies to improve the nutritional content of the foods they sell, the transparency of their operations and policies, and marketing practices, but believes change must happen faster to stop the nutrition crisis. The 2018 Index evaluated the nutritional content of 23,000 globally popular products from nine countries including the U.S., China, and Australia; just one-third of the products are healthy based on the Health Star rating, a labeling system that rates the overall nutritional profile of packaged foods. Kauer tells Food Tank, “The average company score in 2016 was 2.5 and it rose to 3.3 in 2018. And in 2018, 9 out of the 22 largest food and beverage manufacturers scored a 5 or higher compared to only 2 in 2016. While this might not sound like a large improvement, people must remember it is very difficult for these large corporations to reformulate their products and change their business practices. I believe this shows what is possible in a two-year cycle. We have seen companies like Kellogg improve 2.5 points from 2016 to 2018 on a scale of 0-10. FrieslandCampina, a Dutch dairy company, climbed four places in ranking because of its initiatives to tackle nutrition.”
Kauer tells Food Tank that while she is proud of the impact the ATNI has had, government also has a significant role to play in addressing global nutrition challenges. “I have seen good examples of private-public partnerships, such as in India. Because of the high levels of malnutrition in India, the government stepped in and provided guidance to companies on the level of micronutrients their products should contain. It has made a large impact on local communities. Despite this though, there are many lost opportunities and so much to do. I am optimistic, but change will need to happen much faster if we are going to impact the global nutrition challenges of obesity and malnutrition that co-exist in almost every country around the world.”