Australia’s most and least healthy supermarket brands have been revealed, with researchers calling for renewed efforts from government and the food industry to tackle the nation’s obesity crisis.
There are “serious shortcomings in the healthiness of Australian foods” the FoodSwitch: State of the Food Supply report released on Tuesday said.
The report ranked the healthiness of the nation’s leading food and drinks manufacturers, with more than 32,000 packaged food items on sale across Australia analysed as part of the annual snapshot.
Major supermarkets and packaged food brands ranked
The four major supermarkets are increasingly stocking their shelves with their ‘private label’ products.
However, those products often fall short when it comes to health, the study found.
Researchers from The George Institute for Global Health and Deakin University’s Global Obesity Centre used the government’s Health Star Rating (HSR) criteria to rank the healthiness of processed items from 25 different food manufacturers such as Heinz, Kellogg’s and Nestle, plus the major supermarkets’ brands.
The HSR system assesses the overall nutritional profile of packaged food and assigns ratings from ½ star to five stars as a standard way to compare similar packaged foods.
Woolworths outperformed its rivals with an average HSR of 3.2, followed by Coles with 3.0, ALDI with 2.7 and IGA with 2.6.
Aldi’s brand products were the most ultra-processed – foods that usually combine many ingredients, such as sugar, oils, fats, salt, anti-oxidants, stabilisers and preservatives that have also been significantly processed to promote their taste, convenience and shelf life.
The study also found that nearly half of all processed foods on supermarket shelves are ‘discretionary foods’ – foods that are not a necessary part of a person’s diet.
Aldi had the highest proportion of ‘discretionary’ products on its shelves at around 50 per cent.
Only around four in 10 of IGA’s brand products could be considered healthy – with an HSR of 3.5 and above.
Overall, the healthiest food brands were found to be The A2 Milk Company, Sanitarium and Nudie Foods with a Health Star Rating of 4.2, 4.1 and 4.1 respectively.
At the bottom of the list with a HSR of 1.2 were Bundaberg Drinks and Mondelez, whose brands includes Cadbury, Oreo, BelVita and Philadelphia.
The report found that little progress is being made by the majority of manufacturers in improving the healthiness of their products despite Australia’s rising obesity crisis.
Government action is urgently needed considering any significant improvements in the overall healthiness of the food supply in Australia are yet to be seen, Professor Bruce Neal of The George Institute for Global Health said.
“We need the government to take real action and focus their efforts on helping manufacturers and retailers to make our foods healthier,” Professor Neal said.
Getting healthier foods on the shelves will be key to curbing the epidemic of obesity and diet-related ill health blighting Australia.
“Every day of inaction is putting the health of millions of Australians at risk.”
What’s driving the rise of ‘private label’ brands?
University of Tasmania retail marketing researcher Louise Grimmer said that three main factors are behind the rise of supermarkets’ brand products.
They are cost, control and customer loyalty.
“Supermarkets are able to realise higher profit margins on their private label products compared with national or manufacturer brands, whilst at the same time controlling the production and supply of products into their store,” Dr Grimmer said.
“An added benefit is the ability for supermarkets to develop and maintain customer loyalty for particular private label products – these products are simply not available at competing retailers and so can be incredibly effective in driving loyalty.”
The rise of private labels makes life even more difficult for small suppliers and producers trying to hold their own against the major supermarkets, Dr Grimmer said.
“It has always been a challenge to get products on the shelves for small businesses,” she said.
“It is now even more difficult as supermarkets realise the benefits of producing and stocking their own products and the benefits this has for acquiring and retaining consumers.”