I have been meaning to post on this story for quite some time. I have already written how Nestlé's Nido is harming African babies. Now I see that it's not just the Nido that's the problem.
A few months ago, I walked into a store that happens to be the official distributor for Nestlé products here in Tana. I saw this display.
The idea was obviously to display ALL Nestlé products together. The first thing that struck me was that the Nido had, once again, been placed in close proximity to the baby formula, Guigoz 1 and 2, but at least this time they were on different shelves.
Encircling the products was a yellow ribbon with a teddy bear decoration throughout and the following message:
Apart from Nido, Guigoz formula and baby cereal, the display contained Kit Kat, Choco Crunch cereal, and Quik chocolate powder. All these products are supposed to be for "healthy growth". Surely they must be joking.
Behind the cashiers was a posterboard clearly intended for employees of the store. The posterboard had the Nestlé Nutrition logo on it and showed what employees are not allowed to do under the International Code on the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. No promotions. No point of sale advertising. No special displays. There were diagrams indicating all these prohibitions but the writing was all in English. Have I mentioned that Madagascar is a francophone country?
I asked to speak to the manager of the store. I was led to his office. He was a pretty nice French guy. I had a friendly conversation with him and then said "I see that you are making an effort to adhere to the International Code for the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes."
I then explained that the display was in contravention of this Code. He expressed surprise and said that he would contact Nestlé immediately, as it was they who put up the display.
I thanked the manager, went to purchase my things, and left.
The next week, lo and behold, I got a call from Nestlé Nutrition.
"We would be interested in knowing why you think the display contravenes the Code. We are not marketing breastmilk substitutes. We are marketing all Nestlé products together."
He wasn't joking. This was his argument.
"Listen", I said. "If you are going to follow Nestlé's own watered-down interpretation of the Code, you will, at a minimum, remove the Nestlé Guigoz first stage infant formula from the display. And if you are going to follow my interpretation of the Code, you will remove the first and second stage Guigoz from the display."
He still didn't understand what was wrong with keeping them in the display.
"It's advertising", I said.
"But it's not advertising the formula in particular", he replied.
"That doesn't matter", I countered. "Putting baby formula in a display that says 'for healthy growth' is advertising the formula, whether or not you put a KitKat bar and breakfast cereal beside it."
He said he would like to meet me so that I could show him the relevant portions of the Code and he could explain to his superiors. I agreed and we met up the following week. By that time, the Nestlé Nutrition man had already faxed a photo of the display to his superiors in Kenya and Mauritius and asked for their opinion.
His superiors agreed with me and told him that either the milk had to be removed from the display or the ribbon had to be removed. He removed the ribbon.
I told him that he should also put the Nido milk with the other powdered milk being sold in the store rather than in the same area as the infant formula. He refused. He said that he wanted to keep the Nestlé products all together.
"But you know", he said to me, when we were back in his office at Nestlé Nutrition, "we don't really focus on stores. The stores are already informed and are generally compliant, with the odd exception now and then. Our main job is to inform hospitals about the Code, when we deliver them our infant formula for newborns".
Now ain't that a wolf in sheep's clothing.