Nestlé’s nutrition profiling system may aid in formulating healthier products

February 19, 2016

A study published in the European Journal of Nutrition (EJON) shows that the Nestlé Nutritional Profiling System (NNPS) may be an effective way to approach product reformulation to reduce sugar, salt, and fat. The system divides foods into 32 categories—everything from noodles, pizzas, and cereal-based foods, to soups, biscuits, cheeses, dairy desserts, and sauces—and provides “nutrient targets” for a serving of each, according to your age.
Using international and national dietary guidelines, the NNPS limits specific nutrients in each category, but encourages others. For example, it advocates delivering protein and calcium through dairy foods, and whole grains via cereal-based products. The outcome of the NNPS is dichotomous, i.e., “yes” or “no,” and relies on pre-defined target values for a set of nutritional factors. To achieve a positive outcome, all target values must be met. Four guiding principles were used to define targets for the nutritional factors: (1) nutritional factors include energy, nutrients to limit, and nutrients to encourage; (2) the set of nutritional factors and associated target values is category specific; (3) target values are age specific, depending on the products; and (4) target values are defined per serving of the product as consumed.
The study examined the composition of 99 of Nestlé’s most popular products in the United States and France in 2009–2010 and compared them with the same products in 2014–2015, after the NNPS had been applied. The products were selected from eight product categories in the United States and France: pizza, milk-based beverages (as a snack), water ice and sorbet, and complete meals for the United States; and children’s ice cream, center of plate food items (main protein carriers), soups, and cold sauces for France.
Applying the NNPS, Nestlé found that in all categories combined, the percentage of products meeting all the nutrient targets for the category (classification “yes”) increased from 36% in 2009–2010 to 61% of products in 2014–2015. Among the products classified as “no,” 33.3%, 46.1%, 25.6%, and 17.9% required a further reduction in total sugars, saturated fatty acids, total fat, and sodium, respectively. Between 2009–2010 and 2014–2015, there was a downward trend in the amounts of all nutrients to limit. Sodium was cut by 22% on average in eight food categories, and total sugars by 31%. Products targeted to children had the largest reductions in total fat.
From the case study, the researchers concluded that the NNPS system “sets meaningful and realistic nutrient targets for nutrition-oriented manufactured food (re)formulation while maintaining consumer preference.” The researchers noted that more work is underway to confirm the extent to which reformulation guided by NNPS helps people eat more healthily and improves their health.