17 Oct 2016

Supermarkets vow to cut salt, sugar and fat in house brands

8:09 pm on 17 October 2016

Some of the country's biggest supermarkets are vowing to cut the sugar, salt and fat in their private label products in a bid to combat child obesity.

Higher prices for fruit, yoghurt and chicken pushed up food prices in December.

Countdown, New World, Moore Wilson's and Pak'nSave have all signed the pledge to make their house brands healthier. Photo: 123rf

About 85,000 children in New Zealand between two and 14 are classed as obese, according to official figures.

Retail giants including Countdown, New World, Moore Wilson's and Pak'nSave have now signed a pledge to help.

The pledge falls under the government's obesity action plan, which also targets New Zealand's health, education and transport sectors.

Foodstuffs, which owns New World and Pak'nSave, plans to reformulate its house brands, which include Pams, Budget and Value, to make them more nutritious.

It said it would cut sugar and salt by 10 percent in total, across its existing products, and it would also reduce saturated fat content.

Its managing director, Steve Anderson, said there were more than 1500 of those products, so it would take until 2018 to make all the changes.

"It does take quite a period of time to change those formulations of these products, you have to be able to make sure that they fulfil the customer's needs in terms of taste and how they use the product."

Of those 1500 products, 40 percent already came under the government's health star rating system, but Mr Anderson said they were committed to having all products adopt the system.

The health star rating is a voluntary labelling system designed to help consumers make healthier food choices.

Countdown, owned by Progressive Enterprises, would also continue to introduce the rating on its house brand products, of which nearly 400 already have the label.

Its spokesperson, James Walker, said food retailers had a role to play in cutting obesity, alongside the government and schools.

"People are becoming increasingly concerned about health and well-being and so this is also moving in the direction that our customers want us to go," he said.

Countdown's new measures would also include increasing fruit and vegetable sales and having at least one confectionary-free checkout.

Campaigners want more

Anti-obesity campaigners are welcoming the steps but they say more is needed.

Robyn Toomath, a spokesperson for health advocacy group Fight the Obesity Epidemic, said getting supermarkets to help fight a dangerous condition like obesity was vital.

"Although the fast food industry is responsible for normalising and promoting what we think of as junk food, most of it is sold in supermarkets," Dr Toomath said,

But she took issue with supermarkets making just one aisle sugar-free.

Dr Toomath said it would be better to see all sugary food stored in single aisles, and the healthy food put elsewhere.

That way the sugary aisle could become a sort of no-go zone for careful shoppers.

"I'd like to see the clumping together of unhealthy food into single aisles that can be avoided," she said.

The New Zealand Food and Grocery Council said retailers who had signed up to this scheme were sending exactly the right message.

Chief executive Katherine Rich said food literacy centred on moderation remained one of the best options to tackle obesity and encourage healthier lifestyles.

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs