The possibility of adding vitamin D to wheat-based foods is just the latest in a longstanding tug of war in the baking industry, reflecting an understandable tension between those seeking to shore up the nutritional credentials of bread and those anxious to protect bread’s place as a delicious and fun product and not a vitamin pill. This back and forth has played out in the marketplace in recent years with certain healthful products, mostly whole grain, gaining great traction, while others with specialty additives, such as soy, experiencing a more checkered track record.
Against this backdrop, it’s worth noting the unbridled enthusiasm toward health and wellness still evident at the world’s largest food company — Nestle S.A. The company announced a strategy in 2006 to become the “world’s leader in health, nutrition and wellness” and has been pursuing the goal ever since. Moves taken since that date have been large and small, including the $2.5 billion acquisition of Novartis Medical Nutrition and the addition of an “antioxidant” line of Edy’s/Dreyers frozen fruit bars.
The degree to which this strategy will prove successful still remains to be seen, but recent steps by the company show its commitment to health and wellness is stronger than ever. On Nov. 28, the company announced a 50-50 joint venture with Chi-Med, a China-based company focused mostly on pharmaceuticals. Nestle said the partnership is aimed at developing “validated botanical-based nutrition for personalized health care in gastrointestinal health.” Nestle said the partnership will give it access to Chi-Med’s “traditional Chinese medicine library of more than 50,000 extracts from over 1,200 different herbal plants and its world-class expertise.”
This deep, deep dive into health and wellness by a company with roots in confectionery merits watching and perhaps suggests to bakers that updated thinking ought to be considered about tension over bread as a nutrition deliverer.