Case 1: Nestlé: singled out again and again

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Case 1:

Nestlé: singled out again and again

”During the first few months, the morther’s milk will always be the most natural nutriment, and every mother able to do so, should herself suckle her children.”

The corporate affairs department at Nestlé UK’s headquarters were bracing themselves for another burst of adverse publicity. At the forthcoming General Synod of the Church of England a motion would call for a continued ban on Nescafé by the Church. They also wanted to disinvest their £1.1m in Nestlé.

The Church’s much publicized boycott of Nescafé first occurred, amid much ridicule, in 1991, as a protest against the use of breast milk substitutes in the Third World countries. In the aftermath of the 1991 vote, Nescafé claimed that its sale increased, although many churchgoers said they stopped using the brand-leading coffee.

The new protest would be one of many the company had faced from activist protesters in the last 25 years although, according to Nestlé, the protester’s complaints had no foundation.

Nestlé SA, whose headquarters are in Vevey, Switzerland, is the world’s largest food company, with annual sale of CHF75 billion, 509 factories and 230,000 employees worldwide. Henri Nestlé invented manufactured baby food ”to save a child’s life” and the company has been suppliers ever since. Then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Nestlé came under heavy fire from activists who charged the company with encouraging Third World mothers to give up breast feeding and use a company-prepared formula.

In 1970 the British charity, War on Want, published a pamphlet, The Baby Killer, that criticized the Unigate and Nestlé’s ill-advised marketing efforts in Africa. While War on Want criticized the entire infant formula industry, the German-based Third World Action Group issued a ”translation” of the original pamphlet retitled Nestlé Kills Babies, which singled out the company for ”unethical and immoral behavior”. The pamphlets generated much publicity. Enraged at the protest, Nestlé sued the activists for defamation. The two-year case kept media attention in the issue.

”We won the legal case, but it was a public-relations disaster” commented a Nestlé executive.

In 1977, two American social-interest groups, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Infant Formula Action Coalition (INFACT), spearheaded a worldwide boycott against Nestlé. The campaign continued despite the fact that many organizations rejected the boycott. The US United Methodist Church concluded that the activists were guilty of ”substantial and sometimes gross misrepresentation”, of ”inflammatory rhetoric”, and of using ”wildly exaggerated figures”.

The boycott was called off in 1984 when the activists accepted that the company was complying with an infant formula marketing code adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Since then, Church, university, local government and other action groups periodically rediscover the controversy and create publicity by calling for å boycott.

In the 1990s the main accusation became Nestlé’s use of promotions that persuaded hundreds of thousands of poverty-stricken, poorly educated mothers that formula feeding was better for their children. One issue predominated: the donation of free or low-cost supplies of infant formula to maternity wards and hospitals in developing countries.

Formula feeding is usually an unwise practice in such countries because of poor living conditions and habits; people often mix formula with impure water. Income level does not permit many families to buy sufficient quantities of formula. Protesters hit out at several industry practices, keeping Nestlé as their prime target:

  • Promotional baby booklets ignoring or de-emphasizing breast feeding.

  • Misleading advertising encouraging mothers to bottle feed their babies and showing breast feeding to be old-fashioned and inconvenient.

  • Gifts and samples inducing mothers to bottle feed their infants.

  • Posters and pamphlets in hospitals.

  • Endorsements of bottle feeding by milk nurses.

  • Formula so expensive that poor customers dilute to non-nutritious levels.

A WHO code eliminates all promotional efforts, requiring companies to serve primarily as passive ”order takers”. It prohibits advertising, samples and direct contact with consumers. Contact with professionals (such as doctors) occour only if professionals seek such contact. Manufacturers can package products with some form of visual corporate identity, but they can not picture babies.

The WHO code effectively allows most no marketing. However, the code contains only recommended guidelines. They become mandatory only if individual government adopt national codes through their own regulatory mechanisms.

WHO allows the donation of free or low-cost supplies of infant formulas for infants who cannot be breast-fed. However, the International Association of Infant Food Manufacturers (IFM) is working with WHO and UNICEF to secure country-by-country agreements with countries to end free and low-cost supplies.

By the end of 1994, only one small developing country had not agreed to the change. Nestlé itself has a policy on low-cost supplies in the developing countries, as follows:

  • Where there is government agreement, Nestlé will strictly apply the terms of that agreement.

  • Where there is no agreement Nestlé, in cooperation with others, will be active in trying to secure early government action.

  • Where other companies break an agreement, Nestlé will work with IFM and governments to stop the breach.

  • Nestlé will take disiplinary measures against any Nestlé personnel or distributors who deliberately violate Nestlé policy.

Given the repeated public relations problems that Nestlé faces, why does it not take unilateral action in ending free supplies? Since the Third World infant formual market is so small compared with Nestlé’s worldwide interests, why bother with it? Part of the answer is in Henri Nestlé’s desire to ”save a child’s life”.

The European Commision’s directive on baby food concludes that infant formula is ”the only processed foodstuff that wholly satisfies the nutritional requirements of infants ”first four to sex months of life”.

Few mothers in countries with very high infant mortality rates use anything other than breast milk. However, Kenya is probably typical of what happens when mothers do supplement breast milk with something else:

A study in the Ivory Coast shows the sort of problems that arise when Nestlé withdraws unilaterally. Other companies replaced the supplies to the affluent private nurseries, but supplies for mothers in need collapsed. As a result the main hospital was not able to ”afford to buy enough to feed abandoned babies or those whose mothers are ill”.

Oppgave 1.

Hvilke ulike orienteringer mot markedet kan man ifølge pensumlitteraturen ha? Trekk frem hovedforskjellene og eventuelle likheter mellom de ulike orienteringene. Kom med eksempler på produkter (varer eller tjenester) eller bedrifter som typisk har de respektive orienteringene (ett eksempel for hver orientering).



Oppgave 2.

Hvilken orientering mener dere Nestlé har? Anta at Nestlé har en holistisk orientering mot markedet. Er deres markedskampanjer og respons på kritikk fra ulikt hold i overensstemmelse med en holistisk markedsorientering?

Under arbeidet med caset skal verken importøren eller forhandlere av Nestlé’s produkter kontaktes av studentene.
Dette caset er er hentet fra Kotler, Philip, Gary Armstrong, John Saunders og Veronica Wong (2002), Principles of Marketing, Third European Edition. Pearson Educational Limited, Harlow; England. Både originalteksten og referanser finnes der.

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