Danone Praised by Bite Back Report on Children's Food Health

Bite Back Report found that 75% of big UK food brands marketed to children are unhealthy, Danone was found to have no child-appealing unhealthy products

According to the World Obesity Atlas 2024, by 2035 the number of children (aged 5-19) living with obesity globally will be more than 750 million. Medically these children are at an increased risk of suffering from high blood pressure, hyperglycemia and low HDL cholesterol, all due to high BMIs. These children will be entering adulthood on track for diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

The majority of these children, 88%, will be living in Low and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs) highlighting the long-established connection between obesity and poverty. Unhealthy food is cheaper and more accessible, it requires less labour to organise and prepare and it’s likelier to be eaten by children without a fuss. Campaigners have also raised concerns about how it’s being marketed by food manufacturers to children. 

In the UK, a recent report by the campaign group Bite Back revealed that a staggering 75% of the top ten UK foods packaged to appeal to children are unhealthy. Classifying food as unhealthy in the study was done according to their sugar, fat and salt content, which was far higher than a child’s daily recommended amount. Brands were judged as being targeted at children based on common aesthetic hallmarks and sales techniques, like the use of mascots, bright colours and the inclusion of special toys and collectables.

Two-thirds of the foods that featured a mascot in their marketing were found to be unhealthy, a statistic which includes brands like M&M’s, Nestlé’s cereals and PepsiCo’s Monster Munch among others. This raises questions about the food manufacturing decision-making process when it comes to food content and brand marketing, sparking wider debates about corporate responsibilities and children’s diets.

‘Fuel us don’t fool us’: The food manufacturing report breakdown
  • The campaign analysed 262 sweet food products sold in the UK. These included cereals, confectionery, crisps and ice cream, of which 78% met the criteria of a red light traffic label. This label is used in the UK to indicate products with extremely high fat, salt or sugar content.
  • Ten businesses were included in the report. For seven of them, Kellogg’s, Mars, Pepsico, Nestlé, Ferrero, Mondelez and Unilever the majority of products made child-appealing were unhealthy
  • Nestle had the greatest number of products judged as child-appealing, with 56% of them classified as unhealthy
  • Mondelez and Ferrero did not have a single product targeted at children that wasn’t deemed unhealthy. 97% of Mars’s products were deemed unhealthy.
  • There was great variation in terms of the number of unhealthy child-appealing products. Unilever had 10 while Mondelez had 58.

On the back of this report, Bite Back on its website calls on food manufacturers to make major changes, in terms of both marketing and manufacturing. The report highlighted that some food manufacturers are using child-appealing packaging more responsibly. These include Kraft Heinz, which has just one product discussed in the report, and Danone which has no child-appealing unhealthy products.

Danone is an example of a major food manufacturer that has directed substantial efforts towards improving the health of children and babies. By leveraging digital transformation, they’ve worked to enhance health, target malnutrition and increase sustainability. Their success indicates a lot about the future of food manufacturing, as the industry in the UK reflects on this report, and the industry globally revaluates with increasing rates of child obesity.

Danone’s supply chain manufacturing commitments to enhancing child nutrition

Danone is a global company and leading manufacturer of branded yoghurts, waters and plant-based drinks. It has made a public commitment to never produce a product high in fat, sugar and salt for children and 90% of its product portfolio falls into the 'healthy' category as defined by the Health Star Rising Index.

Danone has been addressing the global demand for high-quality, nutritious and specialised infant formula at its sustainable Nutricia Plants. This includes Danone's Plant-Based Research & Innovation Center at the Wevelgem manufacturing site, the largest plant-based site in Europe where desserts, drinks and plant-based dairy alternatives are produced. Danone also established a plant in Cuijk, the Netherlands in 2019, with a focus on producing specialised infant formula and variants to meet the growing global demand.

The plant produces specialised infant formula, with variants to address specific health conditions and nutritional deficiencies. These include the rising prevalence of allergy, with 2-5% of infants needing alternatives to cow’s milk due to protein allergies during the first year of life. 

The Nutricia Cuijk plant employs a unique manufacturing process involving hydrolysed protein that allows it to meet the nutritional needs of infants with this specific allergy. It was also at this plant that Danone first launched their updated Dairy & Plants Blend under the Nutrilon brand, as an infant, follow-on and toddler formula.

This was the first blended baby formula for healthy babies in which 60% of the protein came from plants, with the formula including other healthy plant ingredients such as coconut and sunflower oil, fibre derived from chicory roots and omega-3 fatty acids sourced from algae. 

“At Danone, we believe the health of people and the planet are interconnected, as expressed through our company vision ‘One Planet. One Health’.” said Veronique Penchienati-Bosetta, Group Deputy CEO, CEO International and EVP Specialized Nutrition, Waters, Global Marketing & Digital.

Veronique Penchienati-Bosetta, Group Deputy CEO ( Image credit: eveprogramme.com)

"Producing such highly specialised infant formula, our new facility builds on the scientific heritage of Nutricia, coupled with the latest green technologies.”

Danone is also leading in digital transformation, recently announcing the expansion of its manufacturing facility in Opole, Poland. Launched in 2022, the facility was designated an Advanced Fourth Industrial Revolution Lighthouse by the World Economic Forum for adopting advanced technologies at scale.

The program has helped enhance efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and train 100% of Opole’s workforce in digital skills, with 20 employees now able to code Robotic Process Automation robots.

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