Special Features

Nutritional Issues and Meiji NPS

A photo of Kenji Fuma.

Kenji Fuma
CEO of Neural Inc. /
Adjunct Professor of Shinshu University

An expert in sustainability management, Kenji Fuma has a deep knowledge of nutrition profiling systems. We spoke to Fuma about various topics related to nutritional issues and Meiji NPS.

A photo of Kenji Fuma.

Part One:
What are your
expectations for the food

Q. To begin with, can you explain the relationship between the food industry and the nutritional issues faced by communities around the world?

We can broadly divide the nutritional issues currently faced by the world into two.

The first issue is the cost of social welfare and security. This is particularly striking in Japan, where various efforts in society have resulted in increased life expectancy. Of course, older adults are not always healthy in later life and, as such, medical fees increase, and the financial burden on the government—and by extension the tax burden on the current working population—likewise grows. If we would like to control these social security costs, one solution is to have nutrition as a solution to enable older adults to stay healthier for longer.

The second issue relates to climate change. Climate change may affect the stability of food supplies, and so increase food prices. This would result in a growing number of people being unable to eat satisfactorily, and foment social unrest. If future communities were unlikely to secure food, then people would inevitably have to depend more on their daily meals. They would have to manage to ensure proper nutrition and health from limited eating opportunities—this is the second issue.

In recent years, food companies have come under increasing pressure to help solve these nutrition issues by themselves. For better or for worse, it is the private sector that has the greatest influence on societal issues, and so there is great interest on how these companies intend to change, particularly from investors—as food companies are in need of demonstrating their greater social responsibility.

The expectation is that Nutrition Profiling Systems, NPSs, which are a way of assessing the nutrition and health level of a food product, can help resolve nutritional issues—indeed, this is why NPSs have attracted so much attention from investors.

Q. What approach should food companies take to tackling nutrition issues? Can you give us your thoughts from the perspective of adopting NPSs?

The approach basically consists of two dimensions. Firstly, NPSs can be used to develop, improve, and deliver products with high nutritional value. Looking at people in Japan and around the world, it is clear that consumers do not always follow ideal dietary lifestyles in terms nutrition. Therefore, simply saying, recommending nutrients or providing guidance about meals could not alter people’s eating habits.

For this reason, the approach for solutions is now shifting from altering consumers’ eating habits to transforming corporations’ business practices to provide foods. More stress is being made on how food companies could make use of NPSs and reformulate the nutrients of their food products, considering consumers natural eating habits.

Secondly, by using NPSs to evaluate the health and nutrition levels of their products, food companies will be able to provide consumers with information on optimal ways of eating and combining their products. What consumers anticipate from food companies is not only developing and selling highly nutritious products. It is also providing consumers with fun of choosing foods themselves, and of enjoying making healthy combinations of foods—for this reason, I strongly believe that it is important that food companies suggest foods as well as appropriate ways of taking the foods including menu combinations.

NPS is not a tool to categorize foods into “healthy” and “unhealthy” ones, but a method to discover opportunities to make all their products healthier, and to communicate with consumers how these products should be consumed and which combinations of products are recommended.

A photo of Kenji Fuma.

Q. In developing NPS, what should food companies focus on?

Food products on sale are not always healthy—this is one of the most serious nutrition issues now. In such a sense, people are skeptical on the NPSs that food companies themselves develop.

These NPSs will only be accepted by a community, if they are based on objective evaluation methods—and not manipulated to suit a company’s interests. As a result, when developing NPSs, food companies will be required to incorporate external knowledge and feedback—from academia and/or specialized public institutions.

Kenji Fuma
CEO of Neural Inc. /
Adjunct Professor of Shinshu University

Kenji Fuma founded Neural Inc., a strategy and management consulting firm in corporate sustainability and ESG investment, in 2013. As a consultant, he counts major financial institutions and other companies listed on the Prime Market of the Tokyo Stock Exchange among his clients, while he also acts in an advisory capacity to numerous start-ups and venture companies. Mr. Fuma has given lectures at the World Bank and the United Nations University on the topics of ESG investment, sustainability management, and climate-related financial risks, and he has been interviewed by various media outlets—including CNN, the Financial Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, NHK, Nippon TV, TV Tokyo, TBS, The Nikkei, Mainichi Shimbun, and NewsPicks; he is also chief editor of the online news website Sustainable Japan. Mr. Fuma graduated with a bachelor degree in International Relations from The University of Tokyo; he was awarded a Master of Liberal Arts in Sustainability from Harvard University, and received an MBA in Global Management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.