Rethinking Healthcare

Nestle sees the big bucks in more nutritious food

Nestle sees the big bucks in more nutritious food

Posting in Food

Nestle, best known here for its chocolate milk, is formalizing its position at the intersection of health and nutrition in a corporate re-org.

Nestle, best known here for its chocolate milk, is formalizing its position at the intersection of health and nutrition in a corporate re-org.

Now that you mention it, Nesquik does look like kiddie Ensure. And the maker of that product, Abbott Labs, is considered one of the new division's first acquisition targets.

Ironically, The Wall Street Journal has some of the best coverage I have found about the pushback against all this. Regulators want proof before health claims are made. Food and drugs are supposed to be different subjects.

Nestle has actually been in this game since 1986, The New York Times notes. It has bought the former Novartis Medical Nutrition unit and also owns Vitaflo, which sells concoctions for people with various rare diseases. In fact, its medical nutrition sales for 2009 totaled $1.6 billion.

In fact, then, much of what is happening is the movement of corporate chess pieces. A new Nestle Institute of Health Science will be headed by Emmanuel E. Baetge, the former chief science officer at Viacyte in San Diego (which was called Novocell until Nestle renamed it in May).

Hundreds of millions of dollars were said to be on the line in the deal, but given the total size of the company that's practically a rounding error.

What this news really does is shine a light on an evolving corporate trend, namely the merger of the pharmaceutical and food industries. It's easy to condemn, but science has been part of the food industry for a century, nutrition is all about the chemistry of what we put into our bodies, so I find ritual condemnations hard to make.

But please, feel free to make them in the comments.

Making this hard to swallow might be a simple question of taste. We think of what we like as being separate, even different, from what's good for us. Nutrition experts like Michael Pollan constantly warn us away from "non-food food." But he thinks a dozen eggs for $8 can be a bargain. If food is going to cost what drugs cost, one might ask, why not just add the drugs to the food?

Discuss.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure