Sweets as we know them wouldn’t exist without Nestle. The company revolutionized how we eat, they made sugar a vital part of any meal and to an extent, they made the world fatter. They sell in 189 out of the 195 sovereign states, they’re Europe’s biggest company and by far the biggest food company. Their empire is simply huge, but it’s built on sugar. While not as unstable as sand, a sugary empire can fall too, which is why Nestle wants to change their approach a bit: they want to start selling you meds alongside sweets.
Everyone loves sugar – or at least they did. If you look at the old Willy Wonka movie or any other old movies, people just love sugar. They love chocolate, they love candy, it’s all good. But as you move closer and closer to the present, the tone changes. Sugar is slowly entering an infamous club, alongside oil and tobacco, due to its effects on human health.
[Also Read: Why Nestle is one of the most hated companies in the world]
The science is pretty clear on sugar – too much of it is bad for you, and we definitely consume too much of it in the developed world. In a 2013 review of published research, scientists wrote that sugar and sweets “can not only substitute [for] addictive drugs, like cocaine, but can even be more rewarding and attractive.” Although sugar is “clearly not as behaviorally and psychologically toxic,” cravings for it can be just as intense, they said. Fast forward to 2016, there is already a discussion about treating sugar addiction like a drug addiction, and sugar is regarded as the main culprit for the obesity epidemic.
The World Health Organization urges people to reduce their sugar intake and doctors and researchers from all over the world are sending similar messages. People are slowly starting to realize this, as global consumption of sugary foods is starting to drop. Mexico recently introduced a sugar tax which brought a further drop in sales and UK will introduce one next year. Big Sugar is at the risk of becoming what Big Tobacco became a few years ago, and “there’s complete paranoia” at big food companies, says Lawrence Hutter, a consultant who works with Nestle.
But Nestle isn’t simply going to sit by and watch their sales drop, they want to make things happen, and the only thing that’s been doing better and better for them is the sale of “healthy snacks.” Now, they want to go even further – they want to invent and sell medicine, but not in the boring form of pills. They want to use their century-old expertise to sell medicine in the form of delicious foods.
Nestle’s ultimate goal is to redefine itself from a company that makes you fat to a company that makes you healthier – or preferably, both. This excellent article at Bloomberg discusses how they want to do that and who is behind this movement, but the bottom line is that Nestle will be trying to adapt and rebrand its products as healthy, as well as come out with some new health products, maybe even trying to break into the big pharma industry. But for one of the most hated companies in the world, is this effort really reliable?
“I cannot believe there’s any food product that really improves health,” says Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, who’s tried to measure the health effects of ingredients claimed to have disease-fighting properties.
Instead, the solution would simply be to eat less, especially less sugary products – but that would translate into a loss of money for the food companies. The irony is best portrayed by their Nesquik cereals, one of their most popular products contains 25% sugar – and it’s regarded as healthy by most people. So they’re giving with one hand and taking with the other and while the people at Nestle claim this is not a conflict of interest, it is definitely treading on a grey ethical line.
Ultimately, it’s all up to the consumers. It’s up to us to stay informed and make healthy choices even when producers don’t make it easy for us. So stay informed, read the labels, and don’t think something is healthy just because it says so on the label or because it’s sold as medicine.