Nestlé says over half of its traditional packaged food business is not ‘healthy’ in an internal presentation to top executives, according to a report

Nestle candy products are displayed the company’s news conference in New York.

  • The majority of Nestlé’s traditional food and drinks do not meet a “recognised definition of health.”
  • Just 37% of its consumer food and beverage products meet international health standards.
  • The global food company acknowledged the issue in an internal presentation seen by the Financial Times.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

More than 60% of Nestlé’s traditional packaged consumer food and beverage products do not meet an internationally recognized health standard, according to internal company documents seen by the Financial Times.

“Some of our categories and products will never be ‘healthy’ no matter how much we renovate,” the company said in a presentation seen by top executives at the world’s largest food conglomerate.

CEO Mark Schneider told Bloomberg in September that the company is making continued investments in the healthiness of its products, but “confectionary and chocolate address a deep human need and are going to be here to stay.

The definition of “healthy” comes from the Australian health star rating system, which scores products on a five-star scale and is used by international researchers including the Access to Nutrition Foundation. A product must score at least 3.5 stars to be considered healthy.

Metrics like the health star system “enable consumers to make informed choices. However, they don’t capture everything,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to Insider. “About half of our sales are not covered by these systems. That includes categories such as infant nutrition, specialized health products and pet food, which follow regulated nutrition standards.”

“We believe that a healthy diet means finding a balance between well-being and enjoyment. This includes having some space for indulgent foods, consumed in moderation,” the spokesperson added.

The presentation highlighted the stats of some of the most unhealthy products made and sold by Nestlé-owned brands.

A serving of Hot Pockets pepperoni pizza packs a whopping 48 percent of the daily sodium allowance, followed closely by DiGiorno’s three meat croissant crust pizza, which has 40 percent. To pair saltiness with sweetness, Nestlé also offers an orange-flavored San Pellegrino drink with 7.1g of sugar per 100ml, and Nesquik’s strawberry-flavored milk powder with 14g of sugar in a 14g serving.

“Strawberry Nesquik is perfect at breakfast to get kids ready for the day,” Nestlé says in its marketing text for the product.

“We have made significant improvements to our products … [but] our portfolio still underperforms against external definitions of health in a landscape where regulatory pressure and consumer demands are skyrocketing,” the presentation said.

Professor Marion Nestle (no relation), who researches nutritional science at Cornell, told the FT that a healthy portfolio is likely out of reach for large publicly traded companies like Nestlé.

“Food companies’ job is to generate money for stockholders, and to generate it as quickly and in as large an amount as possible,” she said. “They are going to sell products that reach a mass audience and are bought by as many people as possible, that people want to buy, and that’s junk food.”

“Nestlé is a very smart company, at least from my meetings with people who are in their science [departments] … but they have a real problem,” she added. “Scientists have been working for years to try to figure out how to reduce the salt and sugar content without changing the flavor profile and guess what, it’s hard to do.”

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Why nine times roasted bamboo salt costs so much more than sea salt

  • Nine times roasted bamboo salt can cost almost $100 for an 8.5-ounce jar.
  • It’s made by roasting sea salt inside of bamboo at over 800 degrees Celcius.
  • That labor-intensive process makes bamboo salt the most expensive salt in the world.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: This is standard sea salt. But after 30 days, it’ll become this. High-quality bamboo salt costs almost $100 for an 8.5-ounce jar, making it the most expensive salt in the world. So, what is bamboo salt used for? And why is it so expensive?

For hundreds of years, Koreans have used bamboo salt for cooking and as a form of traditional medicine. It’s made by placing sea salt inside of bamboo and roasting it at a high temperature. The goal is to infuse the salt with minerals from the bamboo and to remove any impurities. But the premium compared to other types of salt is steep. Nine-times-roasted bamboo salt, sometimes referred to as “purple bamboo salt,” can cost over 10 times the price of pink Himalayan salt. Most of that cost comes from the labor-intensive process. Every single step is done by hand.

Shin Min-kyun: It takes about one month to 45 or 50 days from putting the salt in a bamboo barrel and melting it nine times until it is finished.

Narrator: The process starts by cutting 3-year-old bamboo into uniform trunks, leaving one side closed as a container for the salt. Sea salt from the west coast of Korea is densely packed by hand into the bamboo. Workers load filled bamboo onto a cart and push it into a kiln. Traditionally, only pine logs are used. This process takes around 12 to 14 hours. Baking everything at over 800 degrees Celsius burns away the bamboo, leaving a column of salt. But the process has only just begun.

Shin Tae-joong: Then we grind the salt column and fill the bamboo again. This process is repeated eight times.

Narrator: The ninth and final roast is the hottest, at over 1,000 degrees Celsius. It’s fired in a special kiln and operated by an expert. Shin Tae-joong has been making bamboo salt for over 20 years. That experience is extremely important, because any error at this stage could result in wasting a month of work. At this temperature, the salt and bamboo completely melt and drain into a mold. After a few days of cooling, a blackened rocklike structure remains. This is nine-times-roasted bamboo salt. Workers carefully break this down by hand, trying not to waste any material. After a month of work, it’s ready to be packaged and sold.

Shin Min-kyun: If you bake the salt in a bamboo barrel, the bad things inside, such as microplastics, will be filtered out during this process. Then, as the bamboo burns, bamboo oil comes out. The bamboo oil is absorbed into the salt, and the good ingredients in the bamboo are then concentrated in the salt.

Narrator: The final price varies depending on where you buy it and what form it’s in. But nine-times-roasted bamboo salt doesn’t come cheap.

Shin Min-kyun: Based on the bamboo salt that was baked nine times, the price ranges from 200,000 to 250,000 won [~$179-$224] per kilogram. Koreans recognize the high price of bamboo salt. In spite of the high cost, I think people buy because they know the value of it.

Narrator: The health benefits of food have always played an important role in Korean culture. For centuries, bamboo salt baked two to three times has been used in traditional Korean medicine. But in the 20th century, the nine-times-roasting process was developed. Manufacturers say this process has the lowest toxicity and highest mineral content. Today, it’s used for cooking, toothpaste, soap, and various remedies.

Shin Min-kyun: First of all, being a salt, bamboo salt has salty flavor. Then there’s bamboo salt’s unique flavor. As the salt absorbs good ingredients from the bamboo, an egg-yolk-like flavor of bamboo salt gets deeper as it is baked. Then there’s no bitter flavor.

Narrator: Proponents of bamboo salt say that it can help with everything from digestion to oral health, skin care, and inflammation and that it even has anticancer effects. The proposed medical benefits have likely helped it maintain its high price. But there hasn’t been enough scientific study to fully back up all of these claims. Studies have shown that bamboo salt contains higher levels of iron, potassium, and calcium compared to regular sea salt and that it could improve your immune system. But these beneficial minerals constitute only a small percentage — the majority of bamboo salt is sodium chloride. Even with lower toxicity, it’s unclear how potent the health benefits are. In 2016, the WHO wrote in a report that “the composition of specialty salts poses no toxicological risks but does not offer any relevant nutritional benefits either.” The full benefits of bamboo salt compared to sea salt have yet to be extensively researched. But despite that, bamboo salt continues to be popular. Insanga, a popular bamboo-salt maker, earned around $24 million in sales in 2017. And the traditional labor-intense process isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

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I ate nothing but ‘healthy’ fast food for a week – here’s what happened

America has an obesity problem, but there are more 200,000 fast foods restaurants dotted throughout the country. Customers have been moving towards places with healthier menus and many traditional chains are adding items to address this. I tried eating these “healthy” fast foods for an entire week. I had every meal at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts or Chick-fil-A. Following is a full transcript of the video. 

Kevin Reilly: Fast food is cheap and convenient. But hidden in between the burgers and tacos are some “healthy” options: salads, grilled chicken, yogurts, oatmeal, power burritos. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? I spent a week eating nothing but these “healthy” fast foods and I lost six-and-a-half pounds. But even though I lost about a pound a day, it didn’t really go well.

I live in New York City, a place with every possible food you could want. Eating healthy here, it’s a breeze. But across America, there are more than 200,000 fast food joints, and they’re bringing in more than $200 billion a year in sales. And no matter where you go, you’re never far from a place like McDonald’s or Taco Bell. But in recent years, consumers want better, healthier choices, and the traditional fast food places have been losing customers to those fast casual healthy options.

The rules were pretty simple: Eat every major meal at a national fast-food chain and stick to the healthy options. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway, and Chick-fil-A; nothing but them for a week. Yeah, I lost almost seven pounds, but let’s take a close look at the numbers.

On a normal day, I’m eating around 2,500 calories. An adult man should be having about 2,400 to 2,600 calories a day. But on this fast food plan, my calories plummeted. Most of these meals came in under 400 calories, and that was one of my first problems. I’d eat and just a couple hours later, I was starving. And I had days when I didn’t eat more than 1,000 calories.

Now, some of these meals were really good. My favorite was this grilled chicken market salad from Chick-fil-A. It had blueberries, strawberries, apples; it was delicious and it was actually healthy. However, a lot of the other salads from Burger King, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s were loaded with salt, often more than 50% of what I needed for the entire day, from a salad. In fact, excess salt was a problem the entire week. I thought I had hit the jackpot with Taco Bell’s al Fresco menu. They take off all the cheese and mayo-based sauces and replace it with lettuce and pico de gallo. One night I got tacos, another night I got a power cantina burrito, and these were meals with more protein than usual. So, I felt like I was getting enough food. They were good, too good. It was all salt. In fact, just one burrito had almost as much salt as I needed in just one day. The American Heart Association says we should limit our sodium to about 2,300 milligrams a day, but the ideal is closer to 1,500 milligrams a day, especially for a person like me with high blood pressure. But if you look at my sodium intake, it was high every day, yet I was barely getting the calories I needed. If I wanted to keep the sodium down, I was starving. If I wanted to feel full, salt through the roof. You see, that’s an issue in the fast food industry. Wendy’s even acknowledges on their website that there’s going to be a trade-off between salt and flavor.

It was weird. I didn’t feel healthy at all throughout the week, even though I was eating healthy foods and losing weight. And on the last day, I had this massive headache that was just infuriating. These places, they’re supposed to be tasty, cheap, and convenient. But it wasn’t cheap. Every healthy option was expensive, but left me hungry. For eight grilled nuggets and this tiny kale salad at Chick-fil-A, $12. For the power Mediterranean salad at Wendy’s, it was almost $8, yet I could get a cheeseburger, nuggets, fries, and a soda for only $4. That brings me to another problem. Walk into McDonald’s and you get hit with that sweet, sweet french fry smell, and I had to get a salad.

Would I recommend this to anyone? Nope, unless you’re stuck on the road with no other options. Though there was a bright spot: breakfast at Subway. They have these egg-white-and-cheese sandwiches, which I got covered in spinach and peppers. And let me tell you, it was good. But after all this, I just want a cheeseburger.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2018.

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