Nestlé’s CEO Mark Schneider on sustainability and digitisation

23 July 2021 3 min. read

Continuing the ‘CEO stories’ interview series featuring some of the industry’s foremost business leaders, SparkOptimus Managing Partner Alexandra Jankovich recently sat down with Nestlé CEO Mark Schneider to talk about how the multinational is working towards its ambitious sustainability and digitisation agenda. 

With over 2,000 brands worldwide, including household names as Nescafé, KitKat, Maggi, and Perrier, Nestlé is the globe’s largest consumer goods and food and beverages company in the world. At the helm of the €78 billion conglomerate is Mark Schneider, who assumed the top tole in 2017 and has since been leading Nestlé and its 273,000 employees through a number of sweeping transformations aimed at future-proofing its business and delivering on its ‘Good Food, Good Life’ mission. 

Speaking with Jankovich, Schneider expands on how Nestlé is embracing sustainability and UN’s sustainable development goals as an integral pillar of its corporate strategy. At the core of its sustainability roadmap is the company’s ‘Shared Values Programme’ (pioneered with Harvard Business School), which outlines how Nestlé creates value for “not only shareholders but society at large,” says Schneider. 

Key pillars of this programme include reducing the carbon footprint of Nestlé’s operations, with efforts such as minimising waste in production processes, greening packaging materials, and optimising the supply chain; reducing the use of plastics (making plastics more recyclable); adopting circular economy principles; building more transparency in the food chain; promoting deforestation-free supply chains; and much more. 

Further along the 23-minute discussion, Jankovich and Schneider talk about the growing importance of digitisation as a means of adapting business models, driving innovation and enhancing core processes, from client-facing services to back-office operations. According to Nestlé’s CEO, when it comes to digital, “the best days are yet to come.”

Schneider explains that emerging tech-driven opportunities have created a “new digital world” – which is different to the ‘old digital world’ because it nowadays is possible to ”reconfigure and rewire a [customer] relationship in literally no time at all.” 

Expanding on this, Schneider provides an example of how building a new sales channel can be constructed fully digitally in a fraction of the time (and efforts) seen in the past, and further, how digital can now enable the agility to rapidly tweak value chains around changing needs. “That flexibility is so important, to stay in tune with today’s consumer.” 

At the heart of digital’s added value stands data – which Schneider describes as a gamechanger for the way how Nestlé innovates. Data allows the company to shift “from look-forward market research” to real insights. “Whether virtual or physical, we can now see what a real consumer is doing with real money, rather than relying on desk research.” 

Other topics that the two leaders touch upon include: the importance of leadership as a driver of change, how operating in an ecosystem adds value to Nestlé and other stakeholders, and on one the segments the Swiss giant is making inroads in: pet foods (or in the worlds of Schneider, pet care). 

Other chief executive officers that have featured on SparkOptimus’s CEO Stories channel include Jean-François van Boxmeer (former CEO of Heineken), Pieter van der Does (Adyen), and Jitse Groen (Just Eat