Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Film clip: Nestle latest baby milk marketing strategy explained

The following talk by Mr. Henry Nastie, spoof marketing guru, was recorded outside Nestlé (UK) HQ on 22 May 2010. References for the information in the film are given below.

Mr. Henry Nastie was played by Mike Brady of Baby Milk Action. Other people interviewed were campaign supporters who had come to demonstrate at Nestlé (UK) HQ.

For a suggested letter to send to Nestlé, see the Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet.

On 26 and 27 May it is possible to post questions and comments about Nestlé's business practices to its Creating Shared Value open forum. See:

Support Baby Milk Acton's Make a Mark campaign.


1. Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the UK and one of the four most boycotted companies on the planet according to a 2005 survey by GMIPoll, reported in The Guardian newspaper on 1 September 2005. Nestlé is the target of a boycott because monitoring by the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) finds Nestlé, the market leader, to be the worst of the baby food companies. The boycott has forced Nestlé to make changes - see some examples here. In the case of Malawi, in the past Nestlé refused to translate the required warnings into Chichewa, the national language, citing 'cost restraints'. It backed down after Baby Milk Action targeted this and Mark Thomas exposed Nestlé on his national television programme in 1999 - watch on youtube.

2. Nestlé claims it has reissued its instructions to distributors regarding prohibition of point-of-sale display of formula after Baby Milk Action contacted it about the display in a rural area of Malawi shown in the film. Not only does the display reveal that Nestlé systems are failing, it suggests that distributors may see no risk in promoting formula with the 'protect' logo even in the poorest of conditions if they believe it will 'protect' babies. Under-5 mortality in Malawi is 140 per 1,000 live births.

3. Nestlé (UK) HQ is in Croydon. Campaigners demonstrate every year on the anniversary of the adoption of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes, adopted by the World Health Assembly in 1981.

4. According to UNICEF: "Improved breastfeeding practices and reduction of artificial feeding could save an estimated 1.5 million children a year" and "Marketing practices that undermine breastfeeding are potentially hazardous wherever they are pursued: in the developing world, WHO estimates that some 1.5 million children die each year because they are not adequately breastfed. These facts are not in dispute." The 2003 WHO/Lancet Child Survival Series asked 'How many child deaths can we prevent this year?' and concluded that 1.3 million under-5 deaths in the 42 countries where most occur could be prevented by improved breastfeeding rates. See Your Questions Answered. According to WHO (2006): "The protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding rank among the most effective interventions to improve child survival. It is estimated that high coverage of optimal breastfeeding practices could avert 13% of the 10.6 million deaths of children under five years occurring globally every year. Exclusive breastfeeding in the first six months of life is particularly beneficial, and infants who are not breastfed in the first month of life may be as much as 25 times more likely to die than infants who are exclusively breastfed."

5. Baby Milk Action contacted Nestlé about its 'Protect' logos in July 2009 and asked members of the public to do the same, using its Campaign for Ethical Marketing action sheet. Nestlé posted a public response to its website in October 2009 following the public campaign and responded to Baby Milk Action after being reported to the UN Global Compact Office for breaching its principles. Nestlé defends the logos. A full analysis is available here.

6. The UN Global Compact Office has said it can do nothing of the violations of its principles other than encourage 'dialogue'. It also stated: "Of course, abuses of the 10 Principles do occur; however we believe that such abuses only indicate that it is important for the company to remain in the Compact and learn from its mistakes." Nestlé uses its involvement in the UN Global Compact in its Public Relations campaigns to try to divert criticism. Baby Milk Action also reported Nestlé over the 'protect' logos to the Swiss Government department responsible for enforcing the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. The Swiss Government also said it was unwilling to do anything other than promote 'dialogue'. Baby Milk Action asked it to request samples of the latest baby milk labels from the countries where the formula has been launched - it refused to do so and said it was closing the case. Further details here.

7. Baby Milk Action raised the 'protect' marketing campaign and other issues at the Nestlé shareholder meeting on 15 April 2010. Mr. Richard Laube, Chief Executive of Nestlé Nutrition, defended the logos and said they had been launched in 120 countries.

8. Nestlé's Global Public Affairs Manager, Dr. Gayle Crozier-Willi, said in correspondence with Baby Milk Action on 14 January 2010:

Nestlé makes significant investment in R&D and technology to deliver innovative products with scientifically proven nutritional benefits in many different areas. Concerning the 'Protect' logo, while all our infant nutrition products meet the needs of non-breastfed babies during the first critical months of life, the functional benefits that are encapsulated in the 'Protect' logo are the result of many years of intensive research on how best to improve the nutritional composition to stimulate the infant's immune system. The logo helps distinguish this particular formula from other less advanced products but does not claim in any manner that infant formula is superior to breast milk.

The 'proven' nature of the claims is disputed by independent reviewers (see below). In addition, all idealizing claims are prohibited by Article 9.2 of the International Code, which states:

Neither the container nor the label should have pictures of infants, nor should they have other pictures or text which may idealise the use of infant formula. [emphasis added]

The colourful logo, which says 'Protect Start' on the infant formula for use from birth and 'Protect Plus' on the follow-on formula for use from 6 months and the terms DHA, ARA, Opti-Pro and Bifodigenic effect. Analysis:

• DHA and ARA are Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids LCPUFAs. According to the respected Cochrane Library: "It has been suggested that low levels of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) found in formula milk may contribute to lower IQ levels and vision skills in term infants. Some milk formulas with added LCPUFA are commercially available. This review found that feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition or physical growth."

• Bifodigenic effect appears to be suggesting the formula contains an oligosaccharide - sometimes marketed as 'prebiotics' - (breastmilk contains over 100) to promote bacteria growth and provide protection against allergies. The Cochrane Library concluded a review: "There is insufficient evidence to recommend the addition of prebiotics to infant feeds for prevention of allergic disease or food reactions."

• Opti-Pro implies a benefit for eyes (until recently, Nestlé owned marketed Opti-Free contact lens solutions) or 'Optimum Protein', itself an idealising claim. Nestlé's Dr. Crozier-Willi, said in her letter of 14 January 2010:

The logo 'Opti-pro' does not refer to eye development at all, rather it refers to an optimised mix of milk proteins which when ingested, results in the infant having a blood amino acid composition which closely resembles that of an infant on breast milk. This represents quite an advance in the application of technology to superior nutrition and is explained in detail in the scientific information that we share with health professionals.

Article 7.2 of the International Code states: "Information provided by manufacturers and distributors to health professionals regarding products within the scope of this Code should be restricted to scientific and factual matters, and such information should not imply or create a belief that bottle feeding is equivalent or superior to breastfeeding."

9. All of Baby Milk Action's posters had been removed from outside Nestlé (UK) HQ when it returned to remove them itself after packing up after the demonstration. Nestlé representatives, though generally calm and collected in public (unlike Mr. Nastie), are aggressive in trying to remove criticism. For example, Baby Milk Action was threatened with legal action by Nestlé prior to the launch of the Nestlé Critics website during International Nestlé-Free Week in 2008 - click here. In March 2010, Nestlé forced youtube to remove a Greenpeace film clip exposing the harm caused by the company's sourcing of palm oil - click here. Nestlé has also been accused of spying on campaigners in Switzerland - click here.

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