Nestle adds sugar in baby foods sold in low and middle-income countries, reveals study

All 15 Cerelac baby products in India include an average of 3 grams of added sugar per serving, despite the fact that the same products are marketed as sugar-free in the UK and Germany

A Public Eye investigation into Nestle’s best-selling baby-food brands in India reveals high levels of added sugar, contrary to the products being sold in developed nations.

Nestle, the world’s largest consumer goods company, adds sugar and honey to infant milk, baby foods and cereal products sold in lower and middle-income countries, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which was found by sending samples from these regions to a Belgian Laboratory for testing.

The report by Public Eye, a Swiss investigative organization, highlights concerns about adherence to international guidelines aimed at preventing obesity and chronic diseases. According to the research, samples of Cerelac (baby foods) , a cereal for kids between the ages of six months and two years, and Nido, a follow-up milk formula brand meant for use with babies one year and above, include additional sugar in the form of sucrose or honey.

In India, all 15 Cerelac baby foods contain an average of 3 grams of sugar per serving, while the same products in the United Kingdom and Germany are marketed as sugar-free. On a contradicting scale, nearly 6 grams of sugar per serving was found in Cerelac products sold in Thailand and Ethiopia.

baby foods
Image: Hindustan Times

Laurent Gaberell, Public Eye’s agriculture and nutrition expert, said: “Nestlé must put an end to these dangerous double standards and stop adding sugar in all baby foods products for children under three years old, in every part of the world.”

Two of the eight products—known as Cerelac or Mucilon in Brazil—were found to contain no added sugar, while the other six had about 4 grams of sugar per serving. One product tested in Nigeria included up to 6.8g. Tests conducted on items under the Nido brand, which has over $1 billion in retail sales globally, showed a notable variance in sugar levels.

Toddler-targeted goods in the Philippines don’t have added sugar. However, Nido baby food items, marketed as Dancow in Indonesia, all had 0.8g of added sugar per 100g of product in the form of honey, or around 2g of extra sugar per 100g of product. Two of the three toddler-friendly Nido products available in Mexico had no added sugar, but the third included 1.7g per serving.

While the food company highlights vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in its products, it fails to present transparency regarding added sugar in its idealized imagery. Naturally occurring sugars found in milk and fruit are frequently listed on labels with added sugars. According to WHO recommendations for the European area, no food for children under three years old should include added sugars or sweeteners.

Dr Nigel Rollins, a medical officer at the WHO, said the findings represented “a double standard […] that can’t be justified”.

According to academics, the European paper is nevertheless applicable to other areas of the world even though particular guidelines have not been created for other locations. Responding to the allegations, a Nestle India spokesperson conveyed that the company complies with all local regulations and international standards.

Nestle India’s Cerelac generated over Rs. 20,000 crore in revenue in India in 2022. However, their shares dropped 1.73 percent to a low of Rs 2503.05 on the BSE after the event. As a result, the stock is down 5.98% in 2024 compared to a 6.52 percent decline in the BSE FMCG index in the same time frame.

Nestle India informed several media outlets that throughout the previous five years, the FMCG giant reduced “added sugars” in its line of baby cereals by as much as 30%.

The company’s statement added, “We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars without compromising on quality, safety, and taste.”

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