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Food companies with Ozempic-friendly snacks and meals wade carefully into weight-loss waters



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By Jessica DiNapoli

NEW YORK, June 20 (Reuters) -Nestle's NESN.S new food brand for people taking weight-loss drugs like Wegovy will note that the meals are high in protein, fiber and nutrients, but will not name the blockbuster medications, a company executive told Reuters.

The world's largest food maker is keeping the names of the drugs off the packaging due to regulatory concerns, Tom Moe, Nestle USA's president of meals, said in a recent interview. Nestle will instead market its Vital Pursuit line of $5-and-under frozen meals on social media, he said.

"We won’t directly make the connection (to the drugs) on the food package," Moe said.

Nestle's hesitancy to name drugs like Novo Nordisk's NOVOb.CO Wegovy and Ozempic on its packaging shows the uncertainty facing global food companies as they place big bets on selling products specifically geared toward millions of people taking the appetite-suppressing medicines.

The medications, from a class of drugs known as GLP-1 agonists, threaten to dent profits of snack-makers and fast food chains as people taking them cut way back on the amount of food they consume.

When its fajita melts and pizzas hit store freezers this autumn, Nestle will face a sea of competitors making specific claims about their products targeting people on the medications.

The maker of Biocare, a drink that sells for $4.50 per serving, touts on the packaging that it can "alleviate side effects" such as nausea, for people taking semaglutides, a reference to the active ingredient in Wegovy and Ozempic.

The medications can cause gastrointestinal side effects, but doctors recommend people using them keep eating, especially protein-rich foods, to maintain energy and avoid losing muscle.

Herbalife HLF.N pitches shakes sold in a bundle for $185.10 that it claims can help people achieve their nutritional needs while on "the shot," as the injectable drugs are sometimes colloquially called.

Retailers like supplement-seller GNC are also looking to capitalize on the trend by introducing a section in stores dedicated to GLP-1 users, selling protein powder and fiber.

Referencing the weight-loss drugs on packaging for Vital Pursuit products could expose Nestle to regulatory scrutiny.

"We're not a medication, we're a food product," Moe said.

Referring to the medications could suggest that the food somehow treats or prevents disease, claims only drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration can make, said Lauren Handel, an attorney specializing in food.

"It's a tricky area where you'd want to be careful about what you say," Handel said. "The safest course of action is not to mention any drugs."

The same rules apply to advertising, she said. Labeling items as "suitable for people on a diet" or as "companions" to the medications may comply with FDA regulations. "Some companies will take more risk," she said.

Nestle declined to say whether it will refer to the drugs in advertisements.


'ABSOLUTE GAME CHANGER'

Herbalife is taking a more direct approach, saying on Facebook: "Using a GLP-1 weight-loss drug? Support your nutritional needs by using Herbalife's GLP-1 Companion Pack."

Robard Corp, which makes Biocare, said it is marketing the drink through a "strong influencer community who are all taking GLP-1s." Other drugs in the class include Eli Lilly's LLY.N Mounjaro and Zepbound.

Biocare influencer Ashley Dunham of Jacksonville, Florida, said in a TikTok video the product has been an "absolute game changer" when it comes to maintaining her weight after losing 100 pounds (45.4 kilograms).

Coca-Cola KO.N and yogurt-maker Danone DANO.PA say many of their products are perfect for people taking the medications because they are either low in sugar or high in protein.

Coke's Fairlife shakes, with up to 42 grams of protein, are frequently touted by social media influencers using the medications.

Fairlife does not have any paid partners or influencers who link the shakes with GLP-1s or weight loss, and does not target them with free products or other incentives, a spokesperson said.

Healthy Choice meal maker Conagra Brands CAG.N also will keep drug names off packaging for food marketed to people using the medications, executives told Reuters this month.

Using the names could turn off those who aren't taking the drugs but would still consider buying the food, said Megan Bullock, a director of strategic insights at Conagra.

Conagra will focus on attributes of its existing products such as protein or fiber content to help consumers using GLP-1s make the connection that the food is suitable for them, said Bob Nolan, the company's vice president of demand science.

Conagra is not currently developing new brands for people using the medications but executives have said it sees opportunity to sell more frozen meals to them.

Kelli Frias, a marketing professor at American University, said consumers do not yet have clear ideas of what to eat while on the medications.

Food companies are “trying to create new associations,” she said. "We don't have those associations in our mind until we're taught them."



Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli in New York
Editing by Bill Berkrot

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