W Power 2024

Sugar high: Higher level of sugar in Nestle's baby products in India compared to developed nations

A recent study by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) says that each serving of all 15 Cerelac baby products in India contains an average of close to 3 gm of sugar

Samidha Jain
Published: Apr 19, 2024 01:54:53 PM IST
Updated: Apr 19, 2024 07:49:47 PM IST

Sugar high: Higher level of sugar in Nestle's baby products in India compared to developed nationsNestle recorded sales of over Rs 20,000 crore from Cerelac products in India in 2022. Image: Shutterstock

Nestle is back to being in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. While it was the Maggi ban in 2015 and the boycott in the US for discouraging breastfeeding in 1977, this time around, the consumer goods company is being panned by a recent report published by Public Eye. As per the report, Nestle’s leading baby-food brands, promoted in low- and middle-income countries as healthy and key to supporting young children’s development, contain high levels of added sugar. Whereas, in Switzerland, where Nestlé is headquartered, such products are sold with no added sugar.

The report by Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) further highlights that these products are also sugar-free in other developed nations such as the United Kingdom and Germany and the violations are only found in Asian, African, and Latin American countries. This, as per the report, is a violation of international guidelines aimed at preventing obesity and chronic diseases.

The study revealed that in India, each serving of all 15 Cerelac baby products contains an average of close to 3 gm of sugar, while in Ethiopia and Thailand, it contains nearly 6 gm. What's concerning is that the amount of added sugar is often not disclosed in the nutritional information provided on the packaging. The report pointed out that while Nestle prominently showcases the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients present in its products through idealising imagery, it lacks transparency regarding added sugar content.

Amid this controversy, a recent survey conducted by LocalCircles highlighted that 55 percent of Indian urban household consumers that they surveyed believe they would still relish products if the high sugar content in sweet packaged products is reduced by 25-75 percent. 

Also read: How Revant Himatsingka is waging a battle against FMCG companies and bringing them to their knees

Nestle recorded sales of over Rs 20,000 crore from Cerelac products in India in 2022, underlining its significance in the Indian market. In the light of the recent controversy, a Nestle India spokesperson said: “Reduction of added sugars is a priority for Nestlé India. Over the past five years, we have already reduced added sugars by up to 30 percent, depending on the variant. We regularly review our portfolio and continue to innovate and reformulate our products to further reduce the level of added sugars, without compromising on nutrition, quality, safety, and taste. We also ensure that our products manufactured in India are in full and strict compliance with CODEX standards (a commission established by WHO and FAO) and local specifications (as required) pertaining to the requirements of all nutrients including added sugars.”

Shares of Nestle India on Thursday fell up to 5.4 per cent to the day’s low at Rs 2,409.55 on BSE. As per a report by News18, the fall in shares of Nestle, regarded as a long-term compounding machine, was the worst single-day drop in the last three years.

As per Sonal Shah, an Ahmedabad-based nutritionist, high sugar intakes for infants is not good at all as there are high chances of obesity. She says sugar is addictive and infants can catch on to the habit of having a higher than usual level of sugar, which can lead to many health problems in the future. In her practice, she has also been observing children complaining of tooth problems from a very young age which can also be attributed to a high sugar intake.

“Higher sugar intake could also lead to an imbalance in hormones leading to learning disabilities in kids. Furthermore, a high intake of sugar from a young age can also be the root cause of chronic inflammation which directly impacts the immune system. It is imperative to ensure that an infant's sugar intake isn't high so that these health problems don't catch on to him/her growing up,” she adds.

As advice to parents, Shah says that parents should carefully read the ingredients mentioned in the packets before buying any products for their children. Companies often mislead them by selling products as healthier alternatives, while in reality, the healthy ingredient content is often much lower. She believes that it is best to opt for homemade food, when it comes to infants.

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