“Stealth health” could be strategy of the past as consumers embrace healthy reformulations

By Elizabeth Crawford contact

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags: Sodium reduction, Nutrition, Nestlé

New research from market intelligence company CivicScience suggests changing consumer attitudes about healthy eating could mean manufacturers can shed their years-old “stealth health” approach to product reformulation without fear that sodium-, sugar- and fat-reduction claims would damage sales. 

For years, manufacturers have laboriously and secretly reduced sodium, sugar, fat and other undesirable nutrients from their products to make them healthier, but for the most part they have done so in secret for fear that consumers would assume the reformulated products were not as tasty as the original versions and, therefore not buy them.

But as more consumers seek out healthier options, some companies are beginning to talk about – and even tout – their reformulation efforts, and in doing so a recent CivicScience poll found consumers are not only passively accepting the change but they are willing to reward companies making the changes as forward-thinking and more caring.

For example, in 2015 Nestle achieved an overall sodium reduction of 7.4% across its product portfolio – placing it well on the path toward its objective of a 10% reduction from 2012 level over a four-year period ending this December, according to the company’s Creating Shared Value report released June 7​. This included a 10% reduction in sodium across its popular pizza and snack brands DiGiorno, Tombstone, California Pizza Kitchen, Jacks, Hot Pockets and Lean Pockets brands compared to 2013 levels, the report notes.

In addition, the company has taken a public and somewhat controversial position of supporting voluntary guidelines on sodium levels in packaged foods.

It also recently announced that it would accelerate sodium reduction across its portfolio to help consumers reach recommended target levels established by the World Health Organization of less than 2,000 mg of sodium per day, which is 300 mg less than current US dietary guidelines.

Following this announcement, CivicScience asked almost 2,000 US adults​ if Nestle’s sodium reduction efforts would make them more or less likely to purchase the company’s products and found 15% said they would more likely buy Nestle products because of this change. An additional 53% said they would continue to buy Nestle products just the same as before, and only 4% said they would be less likely to buy the products. 

A closer look at the respondents revealed that primary shoppers and moms would be more likely to buy the products based on Nestle’s sodium reduction efforts. Specifically, CivicScience found a quarter of primary grocery shoppers and a fifth of moms would more likely buy products, which is significantly more than the general population.

The company’s sodium reduction efforts also created a positive halo for the overall company. CivicScience found almost a quarter of consumers said they were more likely to trust Nestle because they heard about the sodium reduction efforts.

Nestle’s sugar- and fat-reduction efforts

In addition to slashing sodium in its products, Nestle also is well on its way to reducing sugar content in its products by an average of 10% from 2013 levels by the end of 2016, according to the firm’ CSV report.

“Nestle is strongly committed to helping consumers meet the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation to consume less than 10% of daily calories from added sugar,”​ and supports FDA’ proposal to require added sugars as a separate line on the Nutrition Facts Label, according to the report.

One way the company illustrated its support for sugar reduction last year was by reducing the added sugar in its Nesquik powder formula by 15% in the original chocolate powder and by 25% in the strawberry powder compared to 2014 levels, according to the report.

Nestle also is helping Americans limit added sugars to less than 10% of their total calories by encouraging them to choose beverages with no added sugars, such as water, through its support of the Partnership for a Healthier America Drink Up initiative.

Looking forward, the company plans to share research in 2017 on the projected benefits of thoughtful beverage choices, according to the report.  

Nestle also is cutting fat across its product portfolio, although it likely will need more time than it originally anticipated to meet its goal of reducing saturated fat by an average of 10% from 2013 levels. The company set a goal of achieving this reduction by the end of 2016, but it notes in the report that this renovation work will go beyond 2016 through the end of 2018 as "this is the most challenging part of our portfolio to reformulate.”

The company is, however, on track to have zero foods or beverages containing trans fat originating from PHOs in functional ingredients, according to the report.

New goals

Looking forward, Nestle is adding several health, wellness and nutrition goals for the coming years, according to the report. These include:

  • Encouraging consumption of whole grains and vegetables​ through outreach and education around the use of Balance Your Plate tool and resources.
  • Helping to reduce the risk of undernutrition through micronutrient fortification​ by engaging with researchers to help establish individualized nutritional guidance for patients with certain medical conditions.
  • Marketing breast-milk substitutes responsibly.
  • Ensuring responsible marketing to children​ by training staff in the  US.

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