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Mark Schneider Nestlé CEO discusses building a plant-based growth strategy

CEO portrait

Mark Schneider has been the CEO of Vevey-based Nestlé since January 2017.

(© Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott)

In an interview in the German-language paper SonntagsZeitung, Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider talks about the growing appetite for meatless burgers, corporate restructuring, and why he drinks a smoothie for breakfast every day.

Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé has been undergoing significant changes since Mark Schneider took over the reins in January 2017. In 2018, the company struck a deal with Starbucks to grow its North American business, and just a few weeks ago, announced it was selling off its skin care line.

In an effort to capture the growing market for meatless meals, the company announced in April it would start selling its plant-based “Incredible Burger” across Europe. In the fall, a version for American palates would be available in the United States.

In a two-page interviewexternal link, Schneider expressed enthusiasm for growing consumer interest in plant-based foods and believes the company has a leg up on some of the tech companies entering the meat-alternatives market.

“Just because it's plant-based, doesn’t mean it is healthy. It is important to know which nutrients, which types of fat and how much salt the products contain. Our meat alternatives - unlike those of certain competitors – are produced without genetic engineering.” 

However, he did note that company has research capabilities in lab-grown alternatives.

Behind the label

Along with changing consumer habits, Schneider says more “consumers expect quality and want to know where their food comes from, how it is made and what ingredients it contains. They are also willing to pay more.”

Schneider doesn’t believe though that the conscious nutrition movement only applies to small brands. Despite some research showing younger generations shy away from big multinationals, Schneider argues that the company has done well in this demographic group, pointing to the success of its flavored mineral water from San Pellegrino and cereal bars in the US.

In response to questions about its nutrition credentials, Schneider retorted that the company shouldn’t be painted in such a bad light given some of its efforts on nutrient-enriched food especially in developing countries. When it comes to chocolate, he says they are focused on reducing the amount of sugar and educating consumers about reasonable portions. 

However, Nestlé has not adopted traffic light nutrition labels like some of its competitors like Danone. Schneider's reluctance comes from concerns about too many labels and symbols on food. “We are committed to the most uniform solution possible in Europe.”

No radical restructuring

Schneider says he loathes the word restructuring as it implies something dramatic. He explained, “Nestlé is doing what the company has been doing for 152 years: it is adapting to the changing market. And in my view in a relatively cautious way, even though I understand that the individual steps are painful for many employees.”

In Switzerland, the company has been talking about job cuts more recently. Some 100 jobs are expected to be eliminated at its site in Basel and around 500 IT jobs were also cut last year. However, Schneider says that this does not mean the company is wavering on its commitment to Switzerland. 

“Some 60% of our research budget is spent in Switzerland. It is important to me, however, that in our programs to improve efficiency, that we have initiated worldwide, the burden be distributed fairly. Switzerland has to do its part. I do not want to speculate here about possible further measures.”

The company is also trying to boost the number of women on its corporate board, which he acknowledges is a challenge. While women represent about 43% of employees, only 20% of senior positions. Schneider says it has put in place a comprehensive program to reach 30%

And smoothies?

He starts every day with a homemade smoothie or juice. “This makes it easier for me to get my daily portions of vegetables and fruits.”


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