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The health of the global food and beverage giant tag Planning Indian market

14 July 2009 1,561 views No Comment

MUMBAI/DELHI: Indian subsidiaries of global food and beverage companies such as Unilever, Kellogg, Coca-Cola , PepsiCo and ConAgra are planning to 
adopt common nutritional labelling standards to address growing health awareness and concerns about obesity.

The move, aimed at pre-empting the integrated foods law that is expected by the year-end, is in line with the strategy adopted by their parent companies at the global level.

Hindustan Unilever (HUL) has already initiated the move for brands such as Kissan, Knorr and Annapurna . Others such as Kellogg, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are evaluating their options on the issue.

Most food companies in India have started reducing portion sizes, reformulating existing products to reduce saturated fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium in line with global trends.

HUL has begun putting a ‘Smart Choices’ frontof-pack stamp on key food products. The company’s relaunched range of Knorr soups has excluded preservatives and has seen a 7-35 % reduction in sodium content. The standards and the logo were developed in collaboration with scientists, retailers and academics as part of the ‘Smart Choices Program’, organised by The Keystone Center, a nonprofit organisation that tries to create consensus on public health issues.

“HUL has introduced ‘Healthy Choices’ logo in India on its food products. As part of this programme , we are committed to reducing the quantity of fat, salt and sugar in our products. Currently , 85% of our portfolio qualify the ‘Healthy Choices’ stamp and the logo is available on a range of our food products,” an HUL spokesman said.

The company will engage industry peers to join this programme and thus encouraging consumers to make healthy food choices, he said. The Choices programme, started by Choices International Foundation established by Unilever, Campina and Friesland Foods in 2003, is a worldwide initiative to help consumers choose healthy food easily.

The programme introduced a simple front-of-pack stamp on food products that passed an evaluation criteria based on international dietary guidelines. The Choices programme is available for all companies. Excess consumption of sodium, which is added to food products for taste and as a preservative, can affect health and the US foods watchdog, FDA, is reportedly considering revising the regulatory status of salt.

Globally, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo and Wal-Mart have come together in the US to voluntarily accept the controversial nutrient profiling food-labelling system and use a common logo to flag products that are deemed healthy. So has Kellogg, which leads the small but rapidly growing Rs 400 crore breakfast cereals category.

“We are evaluating various nutritional labelling options. But in any case, we follow stringent nutritional guidelines for all our products,” said a Kellogg India official. The move is also expected to help meet the requirements of international trade and make the Indian food industry competitive in the global market.

“We are trying to ensure that food companies comply with the nutritional labelling norms so that consumers are aware of how much fats, calories or energy is being consumed while eating a product. Our food laws are now getting fairly robust and by the year end I see far stricter norms being implemented .” said B Sesikaran, director of National Institute Nutrition, Hyderabad.

Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, both global signatories to the agreement, are currently in the process of evaluating the options of labelling their brands. PepsiCo already puts a Snack Smart logo on some of its foods brands under foods arm Frito-Lay.

PepsiCo categorises its products as ‘good for you’, ‘better for you’ and ‘treat for you’. Most of its new launches fall in either of the first two categories, since the company has said in the past that it is ‘committed to portfolio transformation’. For Coca-Cola, the Choices logo could be utilised for some of its nonfizzy beverages like juices, water, tea and coffee.

Bobby Agarwal, executive officer and chief operating officer, Godrej Hershey Foods & Beverages, the Indian JV of The Hershey Company, US, said, “We are aware that there is a huge focus on nutritional labelling and Hershey in the US is highlighting the useful properties of cocoa as an antioxidant and using natural fruit extracts over sugar. We will bring into the country the same propositions to meet the consumer’s health conscious food choices.”

Food and beverage companies are gearing up to meet the requirements of the integrated food law that will be mandatory this year, say industry players. The unified food law plans to set up, among other things, mandatory labelling of ingredients, and a scientific panel to audit the claims made by functional foods flooding the market as well as set standards for organic foods.

The food law will also include a feature called ‘food recall’. The new labels will have to declare ingredients, weight, total calories (energy value), amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, sodium (salt), sugars, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and amount of transfats in all foods and beverages. In addition, a fruit juice that does not contain a specified amount of fruit juice or pulp cannot be described as a fruit-based product.

Industry watchers say there are several cases of Indian companies evading food safety norms. The move is expected to have global implications with foods laws getting stricter in most countries.

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