Finance Consumer Coles slammed for lacking ‘ethical backbone’ in supersized grocery line

Coles slammed for lacking ‘ethical backbone’ in supersized grocery line

Many of Coles' bulked-up products are high in sugars and preservatives. Photo: TND/Coles
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Supermarket giant Coles has launched a temporary ‘supersized’ product range spanning 44 ‘household staples’ in a move it says will help lower the cost of living.

But nutritionists are worried the new list of bulk-size products will damage people’s health.

Among other things, Coles’ Big Pack Value range includes 1.32-kilogram Milo tins, an 18-pack of Maggi 2 Minute Chicken Noodles, 300-gram bags of Kettle sea salt chips, and 1.1-kilogram bags of Pascall Marshmallows.

Coles general manager for grocery Leanne White said the supersized range is part of Coles’ efforts to lower grocery bills for budget-conscious families.

“Some of the products can last an average family a couple of months, which means customers save time shopping in store, while managing the family budget,” Ms White said.

But Melbourne-based dietitian Anca Vereen said supersizing products like sweets and chips is “absolutely” promoting unhealthy eating habits.

Coles making junk food more affordable

Ms Vereen said some of the products in the Big Pack Value Range are nutrient-poor options that damage your health.

She said the body requires nutrient-dense food to work at its optimal level.

“When you’re overloading your system with empty calories and excess fat and sugar, you’re more likely to cause gut problems, create inflammation in the body, and have a poor-functioning brain,” she said.

“The last thing that we should be doing is making some of these junk foods more affordable.”

A Coles spokesperson told TND the supermarket chain is committed to helping customers make healthy choices.

“Coles is continuing to focus on health throughout our entire business, including by reducing sugar and salt in Coles Own Brand food and drinks,” the spokesperson said.

Ms Vereen said Coles lacked “ethical backbone” by including products in its supersized range to cater to consumer demand rather than health needs, with consumers on low incomes particularly vulnerable.

But Sydney nutritionist Kate Spina said cheap bulk purchases could help some customers better manage their budgets, provided the unhealthy products don’t take over their diets.

Bulk buying eases stress

Ms Spina said many of her clients over the past couple of years have found themselves with less money to spend on groceries, so bulk buying food at lower prices could help reduce stress.

Restricting access to treats such as chocolates could also result in unhealthy diet and binge cycles, so having that sort of food in “abundance” at home could help some people feel more relaxed and less likely to binge, she said.

“No one food will cause weight gain or weight loss; it’s how you eat that food,” she said.

But Ms Spina said she was concerned that larger packets of unhealthy food could displace other food types in the pantry.

“I’m not a fan of demonising foods,” she said.

“But I do love variety – and I can see [supersized products] could get in the way of that.”

Eating healthy on a budget

With the cost of living set to rise further this year, here are some tips from nutrition experts on how to maintain healthy eating habits on a budget:

  • Plan your meals: Planning and making your meals ahead of time could help you manage and stick to your budget – and this is where bulk buying your groceries could come in handy, Ms Spina said
  • Look for less-processed foods: When it comes to pre-packaged food, Ms Spina said the least-processed foods like dried chickpeas and lentils can be cheap options
  • Learn how to navigate supermarkets: Ms Vereen said unhealthy foods tend to populate middle aisles and eye-level racks, so try to avoid those aisles when you can, and instead look to lower and higher racks for healthier options
  • Cook at home: If you’re on a tight budget, Ms Vereen said preparing food at home is cheaper than eating out, and can make it easier to stick to healthy ingredients.