Which CPG will pursue health science nutrition?

March 01, 2011

Scientific rigors will determine the credibility of new food-health solutions being sought by manufacturers.

Enough food and beverage manufacturers have made noise about sensible marketing steps they’ve taken to reduce sodium, sugar or fat levels in a variety of foods while retaining flavor. This has enabled them to stake out a better-for-you image, compete more vigorously at the shelf, and appease households that are trying to curb their weight, eating impulses and other dietary habits. 

But there’s a significant difference between companies that tweak ingredients to be more accepted by the marketplace and companies that invest more fully in nutritional science as a means to develop healthier products, we feel at The Lempert Report.  

If companies in the latter camp achieve, they’ll gain competitive differentiation. Right now, there are more questions than answers.

Nestle SA and PepsiCo have both expressed commitment to advance health science nutrition. While skeptics might see irony in some of the products of Nestle (candy, frozen pizza) and PepsiCo (soft drinks, salty snacks), we think their moves illustrate the openness of this concept – that suppliers from any category could approach it, and any credibility earned will depend solely on the scientific rigors behind new initiatives.  

With a potentially invigorated FDA in the works, and with more than a grain of salt flavoring the opinions of public health advocates, the standards are bound to be high.

It’s way too early to judge their efforts. But the companies seem on task and driven. Nestle told Bloomberg that its Nestle Health Science SA’s gels, shakes and soluble powders will be part of a product array developed over five years to “prevent or treat Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.” CEO Paul Bulcke told The Wall Street Journal the company is “looking at deeper, scientific solutions to personalized nutritional problems and answers to chronic diseases.”

Meanwhile, PepsiCo recently opened a research laboratory in Connecticut with “such goals as reducing sodium and added sugar by 25% in key products and reducing saturated fat by 15%,” reported The Hartford Courant.

These are welcome starts from an industry that has been on the defensive for so long (and many would say rightfully so). With impressive resources that could be applied to seek new food-based health solutions, and an aging populace, the timing seems right.