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Nestlé and Other Companies Attempt to Position Themselves as Weight Loss Drug Experts, But Are They?

As the use of popular weight loss and diabetes drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic skyrockets, consumer brands are scrambling to adapt. But health professionals are warning consumers not to take medical advice from the same companies trying to sell them food, supplements and other consumables.

The new GLP-1 drugs, as they’re known, are prompting hopes – and fears – of a seismic shift in the food industry, potentially impacting what and how much people eat. JP Morgan said last year that users of the diabetes and weight loss drugs drugs — which help control blood sugar, slow digestion and suppress hunger — bought around 8% less food over the prior year compared with an average consumer. And a recent survey found that roughly one in eight adults in the United States has used a GLP-1 drug at some point, and that half of those — more than 15 million people — are currently using a prescription.

The trend has raised alarm bells for the industry overall. “People who are on (GLP-1 drugs) eat less calories. That’s, high level, not good for people who sell calories,” said Donny Kranson, portfolio manager and analyst at Vontobel Asset Management.

GNC, the struggling vitamin and dietary supplement chain, is adding a dedicated section in its 2,300 US stores for people on GLP-1 medications. Daily Harvest, a meal kit service, has a GLP-1 food collection. Optavia, a branded diet plan, offers a GLP-1 support kit including nutrient dense meals and protein powder. Even food companies that are taking a more passive approach are keeping a close eye on trends, clocking items that sell well among GLP-1 users and flagging those products to Wall Street.

Nestlé, the Switzerland-based food and supplement manufacturer, is taking a two-pronged approach. In May it announced a new line of frozen meals called Vital Pursuit, pitching the brand to users of weight loss drugs. The brand will include meals high in protein and fiber that are “intended to be a companion for GLP-1 weight loss medication users and consumers focused on weight management.”

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Vital Pursuit, Nestlé's new line of frozen meals, is pitched to GLP-1 drug users.

Vital Pursuit, Nestlé’s new line of frozen meals, is pitched to GLP-1 drug users. Nestlé USA

More recently, it launched a website — www.glp-1nutrition.com — which it billed as a resource for people managing their weight and using the medications.

“These companies all need to find where the growth is in food,” noted Kranson.

But the tactic could hurt GLP-1 users who may unwittingly take medical advice from a retail site primarily interested in selling products.

At best ‘a waste of money’

A visitor to Nestlé’s GLP-1 nutrition site might not realize right away that it’s run by Nestlé. The company’s name is not in the URL. On the home page, it only appears at the very bottom. The site offers “expert tips” and other information and sells an assortment of products from different brands, which don’t appear to all have the same parent company.

Visitors invited to “Build your GLP-1 bundle” can add products to their shopping carts based on categories that correlate with potential side effects of the drugs.

Some taking GLP-1 drugs have reported losing hair and muscle. In some cases, use of the drug has led to vomiting, which can be dehydrating. So the site sells protein shakes in “muscle preservation,” branded hydration tablets in “hydration,” hair growth capsules in “hair and skin health,” and so on.

But there’s no evidence that everyone using GLP-1 medications should also take supplements, said Dr. Jorge Moreno, an assistant professor at the Yale School of Medicine who specializes in obesity.

“Additional supplements for patients on GLP-1s are not universally recommended,” he said. Physicians may advise patients take probiotics or increase their protein intake in specific situations, he said.

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Furthermore, “supplements can have side effects on patients, and not really be beneficial to them directly,” he said.

Direct-to-consumer websites like Nestlé’s “may at best be harmless and a waste of money,” said Dr. Jody Dushay, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and an endocrinologist with a clinical practice focusing on medical weight management. At worst, they could lead someone to try to treat potentially severe symptoms with supplements, rather than going to a doctor.

Boxes of Wegovy lie beside a packaging line at Novo Nordisk's facility in Hillerod, Denmark, March 8, 2024.

Boxes of Wegovy lie beside a packaging line at Novo Nordisk’s facility in Hillerod, Denmark, March 8, 2024. Tom Little/Reuters

“You can really get yourself into trouble if you are malnourished, if you are someone who is losing a lot of muscle,” she said, referring to some extreme reported side effects of GLP-1 drugs. Patients who think they might be experiencing side effects like these need guidance from their physicians to figure out what’s going on.

“I’m just extremely, extremely wary of this,” she added in reference to Nestlé’s site. “And I think that it’s probably just the tip of what’s to come.”

In a statement, a Nestlé spokesperson said that “expert insights provided on the site are from accredited medical doctors; however, the site is not intended to replace the advice of an individual’s healthcare professional,” adding that “we advise all GLP-1 users to consult with their healthcare professionals about the appropriate nutrition for them.” The statement also pointed out that a disclaimer on the bottom of each page reinforces this position.

“GLP-1nutrition.com was created to offer nutrition information and a wide range of product options to help support the unique nutritional needs of individuals on a weight management journey, including those on GLP-1 therapy,” the statement said.

A lot of unknowns

It’s not unusual for businesses to try to profit off of consumer trends. Chipotle has a whole line of menu items that cater to different diet trends. The Atkins diet started as a meal planning system (popularly named after the cardiologist, Robert Atkins, who created it in the 1970s), but it soon became a company devoted to selling low-carb products. The keto trend gave rise to brands devoted to selling products that fit the strict regimen.

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Nestlé has made clear that it sees potential in consumers trying to lose weight.

“You can expect a continued new stream of products to address that need,” CEO Mark Schneider told journalists in February.

Conagra, which owns frozen food brands Marie Callender’s, Birds Eye and Banquet, and other food and snack brands including Slim Jim and Orville Redenbacher’s, is optimistic about its own frozen offerings. “We see opportunity within our portfolio,” said Tom McGough, now the company’s chief operating officer, during a February analyst event, citing data that shows GLP-1 users are more likely to buy certain frozen foods.

That’s because “frozen meals are portion-controlled, they provide vegetable nutrition and they’re high in protein,” he said. He also said that “among GLP-1 users, consumption of both meat snacks and popcorn increase.” A Danone executive recently told Bloomberg that the company’s protein yogurts “are flying off the shelf,” thanks in part to GLP-1 users.

Confident as these companies may seem, it’s still too soon to tell how GLP-1s will impact users’ diets in the long-term.

“We don’t know how the diets of people on GLP-1s change,” said Dr. William Dietz, director of the STOP Obesity Alliance at George Washington University. “They could change substantially in ways that either are fine for their health or have an adverse effect on their health.”

Sites like Nestlé’s that market supplements to GLP-1 users are “an attempt to really jump into this space and try to create a business based on very little data” about how diets should be supplemented, if at all, he said.

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