ATNI: a new index to assess the nutritional performance of food and beverage companies


Impact evaluation is a major stake for social innovation. And, as companies tend to put their social responsibility more and more at the heart of their corporate strategy, the need for suitable evaluation tools is becoming more urgent. The Access to Nutrition Index is to be welcomed in this context. It aims at evaluating the commitment of agro-industry’s “giants” to nutrition, and thus to the fight against undernutrition. The health of millions of people is at stake – along with the future of food and beverage companies.


A large part of the advantage for companies in developing sustainable actions is for these actions to be assessed and their benefits demonstrated. Evaluation highlights best practices, gives legitimacy to the projects, and offers a showcase for success. It is also indispensable for continued improvement, as it benchmarks different approaches and helps identify the flaws and weaknesses of given methods. Assessment is a major stake for social innovators, whether they operate in non-profit organisations or within big corporate companies. But, as these corporate companies put social innovation more and more at the core of their business strategy, it is becoming even more crucial for them to measure their impact. In the field of nutrition, a variety of tools and criteria already exist, issued by international organisations such as the FAO or WHO, or by the companies themselves for internal use. This year, a new international index aiming at assessing the nutritional quality of food and beverages is to be unveiled: the ATNI, Access to Nutrition Index. It is jointly funded by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. Its objective is to

stimulate sustainable improvements in the nutrition practices of the global food and beverage (F&B) industry by encouraging F&B companies to put a commitment to delivering good nutrition at the heart of their business strategies.


The fight against malnutrition needs commitment from companies  


The ATNI has been created in a context of growing concern over obesity and other non-communicable diseases that are spreading at an alarming rate in both the developed and developing worlds. In the latter, these diseases often coexist with undernutrition. To fight them, the founders of ATNI believe that

the F&B industry has a particularly important role to play given its size and global influence.

Hence the idea of developing an index that will assess the nutritional initiatives of large food & beverage companies, and encourage best practices rather than point out the flaws. The ATNI will regularly (every two years for a start) publish its rankings,“to drive and track changes over the long term.” The methodology is quite simple to grasp: the ATNI will firstly evaluate the 25 largest food and beverage manufacturers worldwide and secondly focus on the 10 largest in three “spotlight countries”: India, Mexico and South Africa. These countries have been chosen specifically because they “bear a ‘double burden’ of malnutrition, and a significant prevalence of undernutrition in the context of a rising obesity rate and diet-related chronic diseases.” As such, they are a good example of what many developing countries are now facing.

To enter more into detail, the ATNI plans on evaluating the companies’ commitment to nutrition in three main areas:

–        First, it will study how well this commitment is integrated into the core strategy of the companies, and whether it is appropriately backed by financial and human resources.

–        Secondly, it will audit the actions taken outside the companies, such as “advertising, nutrition education, promotion of physical activity and engagement with policymakers.”

–        Thirdly, the ATNI will concentrate on the way the companies produce and sell their products, through “R&D, product formulation and labeling, pricing, and distribution.”

The second point responds to ATNI’s wishes to take into account the companies’ “wider sphere of influence”:

Companies play a part in shaping the ‘food consumption environment’ or, put another way, dietary and lifestyle choices.

With great power comes great responsibility, they say. When a handful of companies take it on themselves to feed millions every day, enlarging the scope of the analysis to their global influence seems indispensable.


Addressing nutritional issues to build a healthier business


With this new index, ATNI wishes to encourage all food and beverage manufacturers to increase the number and quality of nutritious products, make them more accessible and affordable, and communicate in order to help consumers choose a balanced diet. The aim, as previously stated, is to effectively fight malnutrition. But, more widely, the idea is to encourage food and beverage companies to put this fight at the core of their approach – and for business reasons, too. As ATNI writes in a presentation,

the future prospects of the food and beverage sector are closely linked to its response to reducing malnutrition. Companies that perform well on nutrition will be more successful in the future – better placed to address risks, exploit opportunities.

They will be stronger in both developed and developing markets, and also more attractive to investors – for a company’s performance in terms of environmental, social, governance and health factors is already becoming a major criterion for investment. Quality nutrition should be a long-term strategy for food and beverage companies: it is the way to preserve the public’s trust and the investor’s interest, and thus to build sustainable businesses that will be profitable because they are beneficial to all the stakeholders. The birth of ATNI shows what the future will be like for the agro-industry: a world of companies that, for ethical and business reasons, will be more committed, more integrated into  society and whose actions will always be open to debate and evaluation. They will be – as they are already starting to be – part of a larger scheme that calls on all stakeholders, including governments, consumers and civil society, to address the issues facing the world.

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