Leading packaged food companies in India derive only 24 per cent of their sales from “healthier” products, according to a report released by Access to Nutrition Initiative (ATNI). An analysis by the global non-profit body into 1,901 products from the top 20 food companies in the country revealed 76 per cent of sales are derived from “less healthy” products. “Nineteen of the 20 companies derive most of their sales revenues from less healthy products,” it added.

The India Index 2023 edition released by ATNI in collaboration with Consumer Voice and CII, benchmarked the performance of 20 of the largest Indian F&B manufacturers which together comprise 36 per cent of total sales of processed foods in the country. These include Adani Wilmar, ITC, Hindustan Unilever, Britannia Industries, Coca-Cola India, Nestle India, Dabur India, PepsiCo India, Amul (GCMMF), Mondelez India, Parle Products, Marico, Haldiram’s, Mother Dairy, Patanjali, Agro Tech Foods, Hatsun Agro Products, Heritage Foods, KMF Nandini and Lactalis India.

The 2023 India Index by ATNI revealed “the mean healthiness”of companies’ products was found “1.9 stars out of 5.0”. Over half (55.6 per cent ) of all products on the market scored 1.5 out of 5 stars or below.

ITC (6.2), Hindustan Unilever (4.9) and Nestle India (3.7) emerged as the top three in terms of the overall score of the Index. The Index assessed the performance of the 20 players on various parameters including product portfolio, accessibility, responsible marketing, nutrition governance, labelling and workforce nutrition among others.

Product portfolio

“Seven out of 20 indexed companies report having at least one (re)formulation target in place to reduce nutrients of concern (e.g., sodium, saturated fat, sugar) in their portfolio and half of the companies have a nutrition strategy in place,” the report added. It added that seven out of the 20 companies were found to have publicly available policy on responsible marketing to children. At the same time, six of these companies provide nutritional information on front of pack (FOP) in a numerical format for key nutrients.

Greg S Garrett, Executive Director, ATNI, told businessline, “ The third edition of the Index puts a lot more emphasis on the product portfolio in terms of how healthy are the food products sold by these companies. All the 20 companies have made some progress in some way. But the F&B industry has a huge opportunity to improve their product offerings making them healthier and more affordable for Indian consumers.”

“One of the key takeaways has been that the consumption of processed food products has gone up significantly over the years. The food and beverage (F&B) industry plays an increasingly pivotal role in determining what consumers in India eat, the quality of their diets, and resulting health impacts. So the industry has a responsibility to make their food products healthier,” he added.

The ATNI report noted that there is no agreed definition of what constitutes healthy food so companies resort to using their own definitions which are not necessarily aligned with national or internationally recognised standards. ATNI has urged the government to finalise, in consultation with stakeholders, the establishment of a clear and transparent definition of processed foods including threshold for salt, sugar and fat as well as the nutrient profiling system.

The global non-profit body has also called upon all companies to ensure that atleast half of their portfolios meet healthy thresholds by 2030.