Packaged foods: more needs to be done

2nd September 2020 | Eativity editors

Woolworths is winning the supermarket war when it comes to the healthiest home brands, according to new research, but the new report shows there’s a lot more work to be done to help stem the tide of diet-related disease in Australia.

FoodSwitch: The State of the Food Supply, The George Institute for Global Health’s annual snapshot of the nation’s packaged food supply, found that when it comes to the big four supermarkets, Woolworths brands still had the highest overall healthiness rating, with Coles ranked second, ALDI third and IGA coming in as least healthy.

George Institute researchers used the government-developed Health Star Rating (HSR) criteria to rank just under 22,000 packaged food and beverage items being sold across Australia. The major supermarkets – whose own label brands can account for around a third of all products in store – were among 31 manufacturers included in the analysis, along with well-known brands Heinz, Nestle and Campbell Arnott’s.

With most Aussies buying food from major supermarkets, the big four have the power to make positive change.

The research found that only around two in five products in the IGA and ALDI own brand ranges could be considered healthy (having an HSR of 3.5 and above). Just over half of Coles’ and 59 percent of Woolworths’ products met this standard.

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 percent of Woolworths products.

George Institute Accredited Practising Dietitian Daisy Coyle says 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.

“Sadly, we’ve seen little to no improvement in the healthiness of the big four’s own brand ranges in the twelve months since we last conducted this analysis, and we know they have the capability to do so much more,” she says.

Foods such as frozen pizza and processed meats are often high in sodium.

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

Woolworths again topped the supermarket own brands with just over two thirds of their products meeting the sodium target, Coles came in second with 56 percent, and just under half of ALDI and IGA products met this target.

The saltiest offender was Goodman Fielder – whose product 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 – known for convenience foods – had the most products in the categories covered by the target, but almost two thirds failed to meet it. 

Sanitarium was in the top 3 of healthiest food brands.

Key FoodSwitch findings:

• 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 percent.