A survey of more than 18,000 packaged foods and drinks from around Australia has determined which companies have the healthiest ranges overall.
Although health food manufacturers like Sanitarium and A2 Milk topped the list, and companies like Coca-Cola Amatil expectedly scored poorly, the survey also determined which supermarket house brands are the healthiest across the board.
“The private labels of the manufacturers are pretty interesting, because they manufacture so many different products,” public health lawyer Dr Alexandra Jones from the George Institute for Global Health in Sydney told The New Daily.
“And so the ability to rank them based on the healthiness of their private label products is quite a useful tool.”
Woolworths’ home brand range was ranked the healthiest of the four major players, with a health star rating of 3.2 out of 5.
It was followed closely by Coles with a health star rating of 3.0.
“Both of the retailers have had some programs that are looking to improve the healthiness of their foods, and they can kind of compete on that, so I think that’s really positive,” Dr Jones said.
“But Woolworths does continue to edge out just on top.”
Slightly further down the rankings were IGA and Aldi home brands, with health star ratings of 2.8 and 2.7, respectively.
The biggest culprits were highly processed products continuing sugar, salt and fat – something that was also an issue the last time the George Institute did its survey in 2019.
“What’s disappointing is that we haven’t seen a lot of progress, and that is troubling because two-thirds of Australians are overweight or obese, or one in four kids,” Dr Jones said.
Unlike other countries that have sugar taxes and other tough mandates, many of the sugar and salt regulations for Australian food products are completely voluntary.
“You can see within a category, there’s a big range of healthiness,” Dr Jones said.
“You know, it is feasible to make a healthier yoghurt with less sugar, or breakfast cereal with less salt and sugar, so we would encourage manufacturers to do that.”
Ultimately, the researchers called for government mandates and even a sugar tax to force food companies to make their offerings healthier.
Home grown from home brands
In the same report, the researchers also looked at which supermarkets have the highest Australian-produced content across their home brand ranges.
Coles led the way among supermarkets, with slightly more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of its home brand products grown, produced or made in Australia and therefore eligible to display the kangaroo logo.
Meanwhile, 61 per cent of Woolworths home brand products fell under the same three categories.
IGA was a close third with 58 per cent, with Aldi bringing up the rear with 49 per cent.
In addition to wanting to support Australian farmers and ensure quality products, more and more shoppers are also looking for home-grown options for environmental reasons.
“Food production is a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and so people are getting more interested in that,” Dr Jones said.
“I think country of origin has potential to provide consumers with some of that information, because it does help you to pick foods that are made closer to home.”
However, several food categories are considered “non-priority” and manufacturers are therefore not obliged to include the usual Australian contents labels on these products.
Examples include spices, lollies and biscuits.
That’s because the labelling rules were largely introduced in response to food safety issues with overseas produce, such as when frozen berries imported from China were contaminated with hepatitis A.
But Dr Jones said it also means that brands like Arnott’s – which many Australians consider to be true blue – don’t clearly state what portion of their products is home grown.