Sonia Almeida
Nutrition, Health & Wellness Manager
Nestlé México
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View from the Top

Building on a History of Nutrition Provision

Wed, 09/09/2015 - 16:13

Q: How important was it for you to adapt Nestlé’s portfolio to Mexican’s needs?

A: For the last 160 years, Nestlé has been dedicated to health and nutrition, having been founded with an initial focus on the nutrition of small children. Over that time, we have developed many specialized foods and beverages to address every stage of a person’s life, from conception to adulthood. Mexico is extremely important to Nestlé. It is our seventh largest market for sales, where we pilot many of the projects we launch worldwide. Launched last year, our “Unidos por Niños Saludables” (United for Healthy Children) program focuses on teaching healthy eating and lifestyle habits to young children, supported by Nestlé products. Other countries have begun to adapt this program, using the knowledge and experience gained in Mexico. Our Nutrition, Health & Wellness Division aims to design functional food to address specific health necessities by using our knowledge of pharmaceuticals and nutrition. We have three divisions: children, healthy aging, and health. One of our areas is dedicated exclusively to obesity. This division has a strong presence in Europe and Asia, but is just emerging in America, and this product line is being steadily introduced to Mexico. We also have an area focused on nutrition for Mexico which produces several products including Casec. Finally, our functional foods include Gastro Protect, which contains probiotics, vitamins and minerals according to the nutritional necessities of the Mexican population.

Q: How is Nestlé promoting nutrition and health?

A: We are working in two different areas. The first aims to innovate our existing products, while the second focuses on education. We assess the nutrition knowledge of our customers to create several tailored and useful education progrmas. For example, we conducted a consumer study in 2015 to understand what nutrition and health mean to our clients. From this study, we realized that most Mexicans define health as “not being unhealthy,” which they in turn think of being “not sick,” meaning healthy habits, are difficult to introduce into existing lifestyles, since people perceive themselves to be healthy. This gap in understanding represents an opporutnity for our education programs to address the general lack of nutritional information in Mexico. We launched our “Nutrir” (Nourish) education program in 2006, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Education providing nutrition information to five million children in Mexico, as well as seven million more worldwide. We instruct teachers and provide them with appropriate teaching materials so they are able to educate their students.

Q: How are you addressing emerging trends in Mexico’s nutrition habits?

A: There are several problems with the nutrition of many Mexicans as they eat a high number of products with large amounts of added sugar and fats while failing to meet basic recommended water consumption. For that reason, we are beginning to create programs to promote water drinking. Mexicans are also eating many processed grains and avoiding whole grains. We have a division called Cereal Partners Worldwide (CPW), which aims to create healthy products that can be introduced into children’s daily routine. Another problem is that 25% of children skip breakfast so we have created specific products to address their needs in this area. Our nutrition programs were developed based on data recently published in the book What and How Mexicans Eat. This study analyzed the Mexican urban population, which constitutes 80% of the country, from zero to 79 years old. It then divided it into three groups, infants, school age children, and adults. Possibly the most relevant data was that most children around six months are not being breastfed while inappropriate foods are being introduced into their diets such as whole milk, soup, or atole, which is a rice or flourbased drink. These foodstuffs should not be introduced until children are a year old but it is a cultural tradition that babies consume these products. It is also common to provide small children with sugary beverages, including sodas and juices. Mexicans also eat very little seafood or vegetables. These results have been corroborated by ENSANUT, and indicate a problem on a scale requiring the intervention of the entire health sector.

We communicated the information from this study to our research and innovation team so it could develop products to address these needs. We are also preparing papers and other information packages for our PR department. We plan to be part of the solution, by contributing our programs and by modifying our products to reduce the amount of sugar, fatty acids, and salt, in accordance with WHO specifications. Nestlé has a program called “Portion Guidance,” which aims to educate consumers so they can choose products according to their health needs. Sadly, most consumers are unaware of the meaning of the nutritional information provided on packages, so our products also provide all the caloric information up front. We want to help consumers understand food labels, with a view to choosing products that are healthier for them. Nestlé also has a Nutritional Compass to provide complete nutrition information for all of our products. Mexico is the leader in childhood obesity, and is in second place for adults. Nestlé wants to help address this.

Q: What is the goal of your association with FUNSALUD?

A: Our collaboration with FUNSALUD began 23 years ago, with the collection and analysis of nutrition knowledge, which we then shared with healthcare professionals. FUNSALUD produces several papers addressing nutrition problems and promotes scientific research in this area. We partnered with them to create and promote What and How Mexicans Eat. Another collaboration with UNAM and FUNSALUD aims at creating a study on healthy lifestyle promotion within the State of Mexico. The research stemming from this study will be published in 2016. We are the only private company that collaborates with INMEGEN in this way. Our partnership has produced a number of projects since 2007, when we designed probiotics-based gastritis prevention in collaboration with both INMEGEN and INCMN. One such project, addressing the benefits of cocoa, will be published this year.

Q: Nestlé has made changes to 350 of its products in Mexico. What were the key changes being made?

A: The most important change was to reduce the amount of sugar and sodium in our products to comply with all WHO requirements. Nestlé also created several internal objectives to reduce sugar, fatty acids, and salt by 10% in all its products by 2016. We have an internal methodology to address nutrition according to national and global recommendations, aligned with recent Mexican regulations which restrict advertisements for children and stipulate labeling guidelines. We are also working closely with COFEPRIS to obtain all necessary quality certifications. COFEPRIS recently changed its registration process to classify foods in ten different categories, each with its own nutritional regulations which must be followed in order to advertise at restricted television hours. With this new backdrop, our CPW division was rewarded with COFEPRIS’ seal of quality due to the nutritional value of its products. Nestlé remains the only company to have received this seal from COFEPRIS. We will now work to gain this seal for the rest of our products and assure our consumers that our products are nutritious. Since 2007, we have also updated labelling practices. The changes have been significant, as the government demands that products display nutritional information for the complete packages, not just by portion.

Q: What are your expansion plans and your top priorities for 2015?

A: This year is important for Nestlé Mexico in terms of innovation. We want to expand on the knowledge we acquired from writing the book by producing several papers for nutritional journals. We also want to use this data to provide information to our R&D division, so as to create new products based on best practice. Furthermore, to capitalize on the success of What and How Mexicans Eat, we are working on a supplemental volume addressing gaps from the first. The second phase of our United for Healthier Kids program focuses on increasing nutrition knowledge for more than 3.5 million children in Mexico. Meanwhile, Nestlé’s Technological Innovation Center in Queretaro has a specific department to develop new products and monitor aftersales. Another area analyzes the taste preferences of mothers and children, using these to produce research to use in the generation of new products. We have many different priorities, due to having a lot of products and opportunities, but our main goal is to promote healthier lifestyles in Mexico.