[…] Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, 72, got his start decades ago, loading boxes onto the back of an ice cream truck in Central Europe. He has witnessed changes in agricultural production practices, the rise of and rebellion against processed foods, and the scourge of chronic illnesses left in its wake. In rising to the apex of Nestlé, he has become the chief architect of the company’s vision for the future, a reality in which food operates more like medicine.
Nestlé, of course, has been fortifying food since founder Henri Nestlé began selling an iron-enriched infant cereal called “Farine Lactée” in 1867. And the company will still make chocolates, ice cream, and most of the pizzas and meals found in supermarket freezer sections. But it is also investing billions of dollars in healthcare firms. In steering the company in this direction, Brabeck-Letmathe has forged into new territory, carving out a “nutrition, health, and wellness” industry.
This is a shift from what food companies such as Danone, PepsiCo, and Kellogg have done for decades. The biggest companies have focused mainly on one goal: getting calories to people. They created new technologies to do it, drying and freezing food, then shipping it across the trade routes of an increasingly connected global economy. But as Brabeck-Letmathe would discover around 1995, that crude vision for calories only worked to a point.
To continue carrying out Brabeck-Letmathe’s vision, Nestlé in June named Paul Bulcke, its current CEO, to replace Brabeck-Letmathe after he retires in April 2017. In taking the reins, Bulcke will inherit a role that requires firm resolve as Nestlé seeks to assert its dominance in this new industry that sits squarely between food and pharmaceuticals. The company also chose Ulf Mark Schneider to take over as CEO. Schneider was lured to Nestlé from Fresenius, a German healthcare firm.