The Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI) has published a report ranking the world’s nine largest infant formula companies on their compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, otherwise known as The Code.
The Breast-milk Substitutes/Complementary Foods (BMS/CF) Marketing Index 2021 report is part of a broader work programme that aims to encourage food companies to improve the quality of diets and nutrition globally. A separate index ranks and monitors the nutrition related activities of the world’s biggest food manufacturers.
Although ATNI acknowledges the progress made by several companies, they also highlight there’s plenty of room for improvement. To score 100%, a company’s’ marketing policies, practices and disclosures must fully align with The Code.
This latest report puts Danone in the lead with a score of 68%, Nestlé second at 57%, and Kraft Heinz third, at 38%. Kraft had made significant gains since the 2018 index. Following these are Reckitt, Abbott, Friesland Campina, and China-based companies, Feihe, Mengniu and Yili.
Exactly how motivated companies will be to improve their scores to enhance their competitive position by the next ranking in 2023, will be interesting to see. The main bone of contention around full Code compliance is the World Health Assembly (WHA) resolution 69.9, which extends the definition of BMS to formulas intended for young children up to 36 months of age. Public health experts decry toddler milks, claiming they aren’t a nutritional necessity and are being used by the industry to advertise and promote infant and follow-on formula products of the same brand.
The question companies will be asking themselves is whether there is more to be gained than lost from full compliance. This is specially so when some of the fastest growing competitors are operating at a lower bar. In a recent Call for Action to 21 global infant formula companies, only Kraft Heinz and Meiji committed to marketing their products in full compliance with The Code by 2030.
An independent assessment such as this, carries considerable weight. ATNI shares its findings with FTSE Russell to help it decide if infant formula companies deserve to be part of its FTSE4Good Index Series. Presumably other ethical investment services, as well as public health and consumer lobby groups will also find ATNI’s report telling. Whether or not this pressure will raise the standard on infant formula marketing and give truly socially responsible corporates a competitive edge, is yet to be seen.