11 March 2017

The Access to Nutrition Spotlight Falls on India: What Does it Reveal?

I'm a big fan of the Access to Nutrition Index (ATNI).

The Index was conceived of at GAIN and partners and became independent a few years ago.  Its first report was in 2013 and I blogged about it favourably then.

Now comes the next logical extension of the Index--a country spotlight index.

The first spotlight is in India, where 1/6th of the world's population lives and are governed by a national and international set of food system regulations.

I really like the spotlight report (although I have only read the 60 page executive summary!).

The report selects the 10 largest Indian food and beverage manufacturers and evaluates them on three key dimensions:

* Corporate profile (company nutrition commitments, policies, practices and disclosure--analysis done by Sustainalytics based on publicly available documents supplemented by information provided by the companies upon request)

* Product profile (assessing nutrition quality of company products, based on food types and labels--analysis done by the George Institute for Global Health in Australia)

* Breastmilk Substitute (BMS) compliance (with The Code and Indian Milk Substitutes/IMS act--done in Mumbai by Westat in partnership with the Delhi Centre for Media Studies)
Indian company scores on product and corporate profiles

Key findings (from my perspective):

1. The Indian companies do well relative to the Indian multinational subsidiaries when it comes to product profiles (they derive larger shares of their sales from more nutritious products based on the Health Star Rating system which accounts for positive components such as fruits and vegetables and more negative ones such as salts, sugars and fats).

2. The Indian multinationals do better on corporate profiles, having access to their parent multinational capacities in this area.

3.  The 8 companies that are assessed on BMS behaviour (only 2 --Nestle India and Amul--overlap with the 10 largest food and beverage companies) comply, in large part, with the Code and IMS.  The exceptions seem to be (1) for products that are "parallel imports", i.e. to be consumed in other countries and (2) in marketing online sites, inviting mothers to sign up to information -- which is not subject to the same level of scrutiny.

As usual the report has clear recommendations for companies and for governments.

As I've noted before I think the overall score adjustment for BMS compliance performance should be multiplicative rather than deductive (because of the multiplier lifetime effects of undermining nutrition in first 1000 days) -- it would be an interesting analysis to see if this changes rankings.

Of course, the true test of ATNI scores is whether they are used to change behaviour.  The most important type of behaviour from a business perspective is whether the ATNI score affects investor/creditor behaviour.

At GAIN we are looking to see if we can work with ATNI to develop scores for companies in some of the key countries we work in.  For example can we use ATNI scores to screen investments in companies from our Marketplace for Nutritious Research and then use ATNI score improvements as one factor in the decision of formal lenders to transact with companies.

The public private space in nutrition desperately needs to become more transparent and accountable.  This is how trust is built up and more effective resource allocation decisions can be made.

ATNI is one important contribution towards doing this--but we need more.

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