Henri Nestlé
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Nestlé Headquarters in Vevey. (©_Switzerland Tourism)
Henri Nestlé was born in Frankfurt in 1814, and moved to Vevey in his twenties, a merchant and small-scale inventor. He slowly gravitated towards foods and foodstuffs, experimenting with various recipes for baby-food to help mothers who were unable to breastfeed, and eventually came up with a concoction he called farine lactée, based, as he put it, on “wholesome Swiss milk and a cereal component baked by a special process of my invention”. In 1867, he fed this to a premature baby boy whose mother was dangerously ill herself; the boy survived, and Nestlé’s reputation skyrocketed. The following year he opened an office in London to cope with the quantity of orders, and within five years was exporting to South America and Australia. In 1874 he sold his company for a million francs. Nestlé bought out Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk in 1905, and chocolatemakers Peter, Cailler and Kohler – pioneers in making milk chocolate – in 1929; although it had always concentrated on milk alone, it started to diversify. Benefiting from massive surpluses of coffee beans in the 1930s, Nestlé launched the world’s first instant coffee – Nescafé – in 1938. More takeovers followed, of processed-food manufacturer Maggi in 1947, Crosse & Blackwell in 1950, and frozen-food giant Findus in 1963, broadening the range even further. By the mid-1960s, Nestlé was Switzerland‘s biggest company, a huge multinational incorporating over 200 factories around the world, with global management still based in Vevey.

Today, having swallowed up cosmetic company L’Oréal in 1974 and British confectioner Rowntree’s in 1991, Nestlé employs almost a quarter of a million people, and buys up more than ten percent of the world’s entire crop of coffee and cacao beans. However, its most controversial product is, strangely, its original one: baby formula. With a marketing policy in developing-world countries that has been deemed by many to be aggressively profit driven at the expense of consumer health, Nestlé has been riding a storm of anger in recent years from children’s organizations and health watchdogs in both the developed and the developing world. Many of these groups continue to lobby for boycotts of Nestlé products unless the company takes a role in helping educate mothers in developing-world countries to breastfeed whenever possible, and to buy formula only as a last resort. The company maintains its ads don’t dissuade mothers from breastfeeding, and are merely offering them a choice. The dispute shows few signs of resolution and, frankly, little chance of toppling such a mighty global industrial entity as Nestlé.

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