GENEVA — Danone, Unilever and Nestle S.A. are the three best large global companies when it comes to providing access to good nutrition, but overall, the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers must do more to increase access to nutritious products and positively exercise their influence on consumer choice and behavior, according to the first edition of the global Access to Nutrition Index (A.T.N.I.) issued today.

Developed by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, a non-profit organization, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, the index assesses the nutrition-related commitments, performance and disclosure practices of 25 of the world’s largest food and beverage manufacturers as measured against international guidelines, norms and accepted best practices. Input from governments, international organizations, civil society, academia and investors was used in gathering the data.

Companies were rated on a scale of 0 to 10 based on their nutrition-related commitments, performance and disclosure against seven different weighted categories: governance (12.5%), products (25%), accessibility (20%), marketing (20%), lifestyles (2.5%), labeling (15%), and engagement (5%).

According to the report, a score of 0 indicates that no evidence was found for any nutrition-related commitments or practices and a score of 10 signifies best practices against the current state of knowledge and consensus as reflected by the A.T.N.I. assessment methodology.

Danone, Unilever and Nestle top list

With scores of 6.3, 6.1 and 6.0, respectively, Danone, Unilever and Nestle were the highest ranking companies by a sizeable margin, but the A.T.N.I. report noted that “even their scores demonstrate that there is significant room for improvement.”

“Their strong performance on A.T.N.I. is a reflection of corporate strategies that include explicit commitments to improving nutrition and the corresponding integration of nutrition considerations into their core business activities such as formulating healthier products, making these products affordable and accessible to consumers, and marketing them appropriately,” the A.T.N.I. report noted. “As a result, all three companies are at the top of both the obesity and undernutrition sub-rankings, and they consistently perform at or near the top in almost all areas assessed by A.T.N.I.”

Danone and Nestle fell short in the marketing of breast-milk substitutes, the report said.

“Their reported lack of compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk substitutes is a significant concern,” the A.T.N.I. report said.

Ranking just below Danone, Unilever and Nestle were PepsiCo, Inc. (4.4), Kraft Foods Inc. (3.7) and Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V. (3).

PepsiCo’s areas of strength according to the index included a focus on nutrition and health in its growth strategy, a commitment to increase its research and development spending on improving the nutritional quality of its product portfolio, and its development of a health and wellness program for its employees.

But the report also identified several areas for improvement, including the need for a stronger policy on marketing to children in and near secondary schools, and a stronger approach to labeling by adhering to Codex recommendations.

For Kraft Foods (which was examined prior to the split into Mondel─ôz International and Kraft Foods Group), areas of strength included a commitment to increasing the affordability of its healthy products (with examples), development of product fortification initiatives to help address undernutrition in developing countries, and product labeling and use of health and nutrition claims. In fact, Kraft was the leading performer among companies assessed by A.T.N.I. in the area of product labeling. Areas of improvement for Kraft included a noticeable lack of publicly available data on the company’s approach to nutrition as well as the disclosure of only a limited set of objectives and targets for the company’s nutrition-related programs.

Rounding out the top 10 ranked companies were ConAgra Foods, Inc. (2.8), H.J. Heinz Co. (2.7), The Coca-Cola Co. (2.6), and The Kellogg Co. (2.5). The Hershey Co., with a score of 1.3, ranked No. 18.

Commitments not measuring up

Other key findings from the report were that companies’ practices often do not measure up to their commitments, companies could do more to address undernutrition and at a broader scale, and many companies are not very transparent about their nutrition practices.

“In the area of product formulation, many companies have made commitments and some have set quantitative targets,” the report said. “However, fewer demonstrate substantial progress against these targets.

“While some companies have commitments to make their healthy products more affordable and available, few provided evidence of actually having done so. As a result, company scores in this area of the methodology are among the lowest in the index.”

Danone scored the highest in the area of healthy and affordable products with a score of 7.7, followed by Nestle at 7.1 and Unilever at 6.5. But PepsiCo (2.7) and Kraft Foods (2) were the only other companies to have a score higher than 2, and 17 of the 25 companies were given a score of 0, according to the A.T.N.I.

Index highlights ways to improve rankings

The report identified several key recommendations for companies moving forward:

• Integrate nutrition into corporate strategies
• Implement stronger mechanisms to track performance on commitments and targets in order to improve consumer access to nutrition
• Increase efforts to address undernutrition and scale up those approaches that are most successful
• Increase public disclosure of nutrition activities.

The A.T.N.I. Global Index is expected to be published every two years.

“A.T.N.I. is not intended to name and shame companies, but instead to highlight strong practices and to provide a means for companies to benchmark their approach to nutrition against their peers and identify areas for improvement,” said Inge Kauer, executive director for the A.T.N.I. “The Index also aims to serve as an independent source of information for stakeholders interested in engaging with the food and beverage industry on nutrition issues.”

For the full report, visit www.accesstonutrition.org.