Thursday, December 21, 2006

NUMICO growth figures - who makes money from infants?

As I’ve mentioned before the aggressive marketing we see from the baby food companies is a deliberate strategy to increase sales and company profits. Some company information that has just come to my attention shows how much one company, NUMICO, expects to boost sales in a typical year.

Advertising campaigns, sponsorship of health workers, direct targeting of mothers, idealizing claims on labels and the host of strategies they use do not come about by accident. They are carefully planned, going to the limit and often beyond of national legislation, pretty much ignoring any voluntary agreements that may have been signed and showing little respect for the measures adopted by the World Health Assembly.

Baby food companies, like tobacco companies, try to argue that their promotion does not encourage people to use their products, but provides information to those that want it and is aimed at taking customers from rival brands.

Trouble is, one of the rival brands is mothers’ breastmilk and it is not promoted to anything the same degree. And any promotion that does take place for breastfeeding is factual, unlike much of the stuff churned out by the baby food companies.

Now we have some information from one company, NUMICO, maker of Nutricia, Milupa and Cow & Gate brands. Hence the name. NUMICO is very aggressive in the UK. Using techniques such as promotional posters in leisure centres, product promoters in supermarkets, advertising on television and in parenting and fashion magazines, inducements to health workers and heavily promoted carelines for parents to call for information on infant care (if you need to call someone, call a mother support group – you can find contact numbers here).

So it comes as no surprise to read that NUMICO reports “Strong growth in Western Europe (3.8%) driven by the UK and Ireland”. Here is how it does it. See

Now NUMICO will claim its promotion is limited to follow-on milks and its carelines, not the infant formula. Promotion of follow-on milks is legal in the UK, although against the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. Carelines are in a bit of a grey area legally, but are clearly prohibited by the Code which says companies must not seek direct or indirect contact with pregnant women and mothers of infants and young children. As well as advertising to them and collaring them in supermarkets, Cow & Gate puts leaflets into clinics.

Companies have changed labels so the infant formula and follow-on formula are virtually indistinguishable. You need to know the colour code they use or look closely at which number is highlighted on the packshot, which is not always easy in an advertisement. I’m intrigued as to why companies that boast of sales growth are so reticent at giving any breakdown. If NUMICO advertising really only creates strong growth for follow-on milks then surely infant formula sales should be falling as the government has targets of increasing breastfeeding rates – though all the breastfeeding promotions achieves a budge. But we don’t hear NUMICO saying infant formula sales are falling. I suspect the whole lot rise together.

Remember, in an National Childbirth Trust/UNICEF UK survey last year, 60% of mothers said they had seen infant formula advertised – most likely confusing a follow-on formula advertisement with the similarly named and packaged infant formula. See

We’ve exposed on our website and publications how companies are going into Eastern Europe aggressively. NUMICO reports ‘accelerated growth (30.4%). Especially Poland, Russian and Turkey.’ And in the developing world: ‘Exceptional performance in Indonesia…’

But NUMICO is not sitting back. It’s ‘Growth Opportunities in 2006’ have been:

“Introduce new generation of immunity strengthening infant milks, worldwide” –

Which is, of course, a contradiction in terms as inert formulas do not provide the immune protection of breastfeeding.

“Drive rapid growth in high potential markets like China”

That’s using prohibited promotions, such as giving out a free CD when mothers buy infant formula, as the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) exposed in December 2004 – see

The culture is already beginning to change in China and breastfeeding rates are falling. This is not an inevitable aspect of industrialisation, as some industrialised countries have high breastfeeding rates.

and “Focus on growing both sales and margins in our new Mellin and Dumex businesses”.

So while NUMICO counts its profits and growth, we and our partners try to keep track of what goes on the ground and its impact, while working for legislation to give the protection the World Health Assembly calls for. We know in those countries with independently monitored and enforced regulations violations are stopped to the benefit of infant health.

The sad thing is that NUMICO sees its strategy of violating the marketing requirements working in some countries and driving growth. And as it grows it also gains more money to do more promotion and to counter small campaigning groups such as ours.

On the other hand, the more success we have, the harder it seems to be to generate funds. Over 70 countries have legislation now, so perhaps donors think they can target their money on other issues (just what one long-term funder has said to us).

No matter how much work there is left to be done in countries where there is no baby food marketing legislation, it is ineffective or it is under attack (as in the Philippines, the subject of yesterday’s blog, where Miguel, a bottle baby victim of aggressive marketing went to the Supreme Court).

Every victory has to be protected.

New aggressive marketing drives such as those NUMICO is embarking on need to be monitored and exposed when they break the rules.

For the companies every mother persuaded not to breastfeed is money in the bank, regardless of the impact on health.

Interesting to think that we would go from strength to strength if every life saved by IBFAN’s work brought in a pound.


Vickikate said...

Keep up the good work BMA.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike!
Greetings from Penang!
Just checking out your blog, so impressive..
warm regards