“Many companies are not very transparent about their nutrition practices.”
This is one of the messages that flashes by on the web site of the recently launched Access To Nutrition Index (ATNI), a global initiative designed to evaluate food and beverage manufacturers on their commitment to nutrition. ATNI just released its 2013 index — the first of an annual series designed to assess the policies and practices of 25 large, global food companies across seven nutrition-related categories.
Interestingly, the initiative’s primary goal is not consumer-focused — instead, it seeks to provide a tool for companies to benchmark themselves against others. ATNI was founded on the premise that these companies have the potential to compel positive change in the face of poor nutrition and related diseases. It seeks to encourage food manufacturers to improve access to nutritious and affordable foods through their production and distribution practices and to be more responsible with the influence their marketing and labeling actions have on what we eat.
The seven categories included in the assessment are:
- Corporate strategy, governance, and management. Does the company call out a nutrition improvement goal in its mission statement or strategy? Only about half of the 25 companies do.
- Formulation of appropriate products. Does the company’s research and development approach emphasize improvement of its products’ nutritional profiles? Fewer than half of these companies provided evidence they seek to reduce salt, fat, sugar, and calories.
- Delivery of affordable, available products. Are the company’s products fairly priced and widely distributed so consumers have a “level playing field” when it comes to choosing between healthy and less healthy options? This category scored the lowest overall among the seven assessed.
- Responsible marketing policies, compliance, and spending. Does the company market responsibly in general and to children specifically? These scores were also low, and ATNI cites that “much remains to be done in this area.”
- Support for healthy diets and active lifestyles. Does the company provide health and wellness programs for its own employees? Does it try to influence consumers to be healthier and more active? Most companies scored well here, largely due to the prevalence of employee health and wellness offerings.
- Informative labeling and appropriate use of health and nutrition claims. I learned the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization jointly publish a food labeling guide — the Codex Alimentarius. The Codex provides standards for the information a food label should contain with respect to ingredients, allergy warnings, and nutritional information. Many companies don’t follow Codex guidelines.
- Engagement with policymakers and other stakeholders. How does the company engage to influence corporate nutrition practices and related issues positively? 12 companies provided evidence they engage with international agencies and non-governmental organizations to address undernutrition.
If you want to learn more about the companies you support through your food purchases, check out the company scorecards. This is a great move in the direction of transparency for consumers. I’d like to believe the companies themselves will use the information to improve their practices, but I’m skeptical.
What do you think of this tool? Will you use it to make better food buying decisions? Do you think the companies included will try to move up in rank? Or will they just continue business as usual?
Image Credit: Access to Nutrition Index