How healthy is the packaged food supply?

Thursday, 10 September, 2020

How healthy is the packaged food supply?

Most Australians consume over 50% of their food and beverages from processed or pre-prepared sources, and most of these foods are purchased from Australian supermarkets.

The George Institute for Global Health’s annual snapshot of the nation’s packaged food supply used the Health Star Rating (HSR) criteria to rank just under 22,000 packaged food and beverage items being sold across Australia. The home brands of big four supermarkets were among 31 manufacturers included in the analysis, along with household names Heinz, Nestlé and Campbell Arnott’s.

The ‘FoodSwitch: The State of the Food Supply’ report found that the healthiest overall home brand was still Woolworths, with Coles ranked second, ALDI third and IGA coming in as least healthy. The research found that only around two in five products in the IGA and ALDI own brand ranges could be considered healthy, ie, having an HSR of 3.5 and above. Just over half of Coles’ and 59% of Woolworths’ products met this standard.

Other key report findings included:

  • The top three healthiest food brands were found to be Sanitarium, Nudie Foods and The A2 Milk Company, all scoring an average Health Star Rating of 4.2.
  • At the bottom of the list with an HSR of 1.2 were Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Frucor Suntory, whose portfolio of brands includes V, Ribena and Lucozade.
  • The three manufacturers with the lowest proportion of products meeting the sodium targets were George Weston Foods, Simplot and Goodman Fielder, whose compliance ranged from 26.5 to 38.9%.

The researchers also looked at the proportion of packaged food and drinks that were classed as ‘ultra-processed’. These are products that may contain ingredients like artificial sweeteners, hydrolysed proteins, hydrogenated oils and emulsifiers.

In the home brands, the report found that ALDI’s range had the highest proportion of ultra-processed products, with two-thirds of its own brands falling into this category compared to just under two-thirds for IGA and Coles, and 57% of Woolworths products.

Not so salty

In this year’s report, researchers also looked at the proportion of products that met the government’s recently announced Healthy Food Partnership targets for sodium and saturated fat.

With the home brands, Woolworths again topped the list with just over two-thirds of its products meeting the sodium target. Coles came in second with 56% and just under half of ALDI and IGA products met this target.

According to the report, the saltiest product range was Goodman Fielder — its range includes Helga’s and Meadow Lea. Only just under a quarter of its products met the sodium target.

For saturated fat, three-quarters of Coles own brand products met the target, followed by two-thirds of Woolworths products and half of ALDI products. After the main supermarkets, McCain had the most products in the categories covered by the target, but almost two-thirds failed to meet it.

George Institute Accredited Practising Dietitian Daisy Coyle said that with most Australian households buying their food from the major supermarkets, these outlets had the power to positively influence the food supply and improve health for all Australians.

“Actions that improve the quality of the Australian food supply have the potential to reduce overweight, obesity and premature death and disability amongst millions of Australians. And they have never been more urgent,” Coyle added.

Image credit: ©

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