Nestlé Announces New Food Science Institute

Swiss food giant Nestlé plans to step up its involvement in food products designed to prevent disease and improve health. At a press conference this morning, the company announced the creation of a new research center, the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences, to better understand the role of foods in disease prevention. A new daughter company, Nestlé Health Science, S.A., which will incorporate Nestlé's existing health business, will bring the fruits of its labors to the market.

The new institute, based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, will be led by Emmanuel Baetge, former chief scientific officer of ViaCyte, a biotech in San Diego, California, focussing on stem cell treatments for diabetes. Obesity, diabetes, neurological disorders, and aging will be major targets of the institute's researchers, Baetge said this morning. Nestlé representatives could not say how many scientists it will employ, but the company has said it plans to spend "hundreds of millions" of dollars on the institute over the coming decade.

So-called functional foods and nutraceuticals, such as yogurts with "good" bacteria, have already become a multibillion dollar market, but Nestlé says it plans to go a step further by providing consumers with "personalized health science nutrition"—although company representatives were vague on how this would work exactly.

A key problem with health foods is that it's very hard to demonstrate scientifically that they work. The European Food Safety Agency, which is reviewing thousands of companies' health claims, has so far thrown out the vast majority of them, which could force companies to remove the claims from their labels and ads. But Nestlé CEO Paul Bulcke dodged a question today about how his company's future products can avoid that fate.