Best and worst food brands revealed

Best and worst supermarkets named and food products ranked in the latest annual audit.

food report

The Government, manufacturers and retailers have been slammed, best and worst supermarkets named and food products ranked in the latest annual audit.

The report, FoodSwitch: The State of the Food Supply, was prepared by the George Institute for Global Health and Deakin University's Global Obesity Centre and used the Government’s Health Star Rating (HSR) to rank more than 32,000 items on sale across Australia.

It classed almost half of those items as junk or ‘discretionary’ foods – those that are not a necessary part of a person’s diet.

Woolworths outranked its competition in the manufacturers’ own brand rankings with an average HSR of 3.2, followed by Coles (3.0), Aldi (2.7) and IGA (2.6).

The report said Aldi stocked the highest volume of ‘ultra-processed’ foodstuffs and that only 40 per cent of IGA’s own brand items were rated as healthy – that is, 3.5 stars and above.

The top five healthy manufacturers were A2 Dairy, Sanitarium, Nudie Foods, Simplot and Lion Dairy & Drinks. The bottom five were Peters Ice Cream (1.6 stars), Red Bull and Frucor Beverages (1.4 stars) and Mondelez and Bundaberg Brewed Drinks (1.2 stars).

The report aims to support Government, business and community efforts to help Australians choose healthier foods. Yet the challenge appears to be in making healthier products more readily available so consumers can make healthy choices.

“Some companies are improving the nutritional quality of their products, but more companies appear not to be making improvements,” the report says. “Between 2017 and 2018, the average HSR of product portfolios for the 33 largest manufacturers fell in 16 cases, and rose for only eight manufacturers.

“The absence of greater numbers of major food categories showing declines in sodium concentrations, for example, is disappointing, given sodium has been a focus of attention for health groups over recent years.

“Likewise, there is little evidence of reductions in sugar beyond chance …”

In a comparison of the 2017 and 2018 reports on supermarket home brand products, Woolworths rose from seventh to sixth and Coles from 13th to 11th, Aldi was static at 17th and IGA dropped from 12th to 19th.

Associate Professor Gary Sacks, from Deakin University, said: “We're talking about differences in salt, saturated fat and sugar content. On average, if you were to buy home brand products from Woolworths, those products are likely to be quite a bit healthier than those from IGA.”

The biggest movers in the year-on-year comparison were Bega Cheese, which dropped from 15th to 24th, while Tru Blue Beverages and Unilever moved up six places.

“The fall in the ranking of Bega Cheese principally reflects its acquisition of the Vegemite and Zoosh brands, which score poorly because of high levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat,” the report says. “The decline in the ranking of IGA was due to more Black & Gold brand confectionery items on shelf in 2018 compared to 2017 and to fewer recorded fresh packaged fruit and vegetables products in their portfolio.”

While the report criticises the lack of improvement in the quality of the offerings, it says there are clear opportunities.

“Companies can renovate existing products by reformulating them to healthier compositions with reduced concentrations of sugars, salt, saturated fat or calories. Second, companies can change their ‘mix’ of products in their portfolio by deleting products that are unhealthy and introducing new ones with a better nutritional profile.

“Unsalted versus salted versions of canned vegetables, for example, often have sodium concentrations that are more than twenty-fold different. Leaving the salt out during manufacturing, and giving consumers the freedom to add salt if they wish would produce immediate and substantial improvements …”

The report puts the four major supermarkets on notice to improve their own brand products and make a difference.

And it puts the Government on notice to reset the rules regulating how foods are manufactured, marketed, sold and consumed.

Professor Bruce Neal, of The George Institute for Global Health, says Government action is urgently needed to improve the overall “healthiness” of the food supply given that about two in three Australian adults and one in four children are overweight or obese.

“We need the Government to take real action and focus their efforts on helping manufacturers and retailers to make our foods healthier," he wrote in the report.

“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.”

Do you opt for low or no-salt products? Do you check the sugar content? Will this report change your buying habits?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Dave R
    1st May 2019
    I try to eat wholesome foods but I don't look at how much salt or sugar is in them. I live in a hot climate where frequent perspiration necessitates a fairly high salt intake. As to sugar I try to stick with raw sugar and avoid sugar substitutes which in my opinion are worse for you than sugar.
    1st May 2019
    I only buy minimal amounts of processed food and try to stick to as much fresh food as possible with small amounts of frozen stuff. Luckily I don't take sugar in drinks or have any soft drinks but do love chocolate - who doesn't? :) Where I live we only have one small supermarket, IGA which sometimes has only limited amounts of fresh produce. It's difficult to grow much due to health and mobility issues but ideally I would do this in a heartbeat if I could. I agree with Dave R about sugar substitutes. It's not very easy to eat healthy when your options are pretty limited and constantly checking labels with their tiny print and confusing ingredient names makes it even harder.
    1st May 2019
    I’m with you, Bushbaby, I reckon companies have reduced the print size on their labels deliberately so that the majority of people aren’t able to read them. They can then get away with putting a load of rubbish in their products.
    1st May 2019
    As a heart patient, I try to do my best to reduce salt, sugar and fat in my diet, combined with regular exercise. I agree that there should be a lot more healthy choices available and that it should be much easier to find them. One should not need to read the small print on every product to find out if it is good for you or not. I find the health star system helpful but it only covers a limited number of products. A lot more needs to be done. Unfortunately, manufacturers appear to show little interest in improving the health value of their products.

    1st May 2019
    Still like my Toblerone (Mondelez) despite the 1.2 stars. Eat a lot of vegies but still like my chocolate treats, have cut down on red meat though.
    pedro the swift
    1st May 2019
    I'm sure you all get the weekly stuff put into your letterboxes with adds from woolies coles iga etc.
    Note the amount of "fresh " foodstuffs compared with the processed stuff. These places are no longer "grocery " shops as of old, they are manufacturing outlets for processors.
    Processed "food" full of all the bad stuff that over consumption causes a lot of harm to the population generally. Well known but no gov. has the power or will to do anything about it and we are too stupid to stay away from it.
    Karl Marx
    1st May 2019
    Just have to look into so called family restaurants to see what some people prefer to eat & buy their kids.
    How lazy has society become that it feeds the kids from a drive through on the way to school instead of getting up 30 mins earlier & making breakfast.
    One reason we have a health & obesity issue with kids from a very early age
    1st May 2019
    Yes lot’s of highly coloured boxes, tins and packets masquerading as food.
    1st May 2019
    No need to check for salt or sugar content if you mostly stick to the fresh foods round the perimeter of the supermarket.

    The only things I buy from the aisles of the supermarket are raw nuts and seeds, tinned tomatoes from Italy (because they only contain tomatoes nothing else) and tins of beans and pulses - no sauces just beans. I make my own yogurt and fermented vegs and cook meals from scratch all the time.

    Its not hard to eat healthily even on a budget. People just don't want to because they like what they like and that's what they will buy. Next time you are in a supermarket, take a look at people's trolleys then look at the person pushing it. They usually match!
    Karl Marx
    1st May 2019
    Do that quite often & sometimes laugh & sometimes just shake my head. Then there are the times when the only thing in the trolley is the big rolls of dog food & all I can think is, dinner is meat loaf, mashed potato & gravy lol
    1st May 2019
    KSS, good for you and congratulations on making your stuff from scratch (even vinegar?). It's not hard but sure is a lot of work and can be more expensive. Why unnecessarily deny yourself foods from other cuisines? Hard to believe there is anyone in modern Australia who does not use oils, sauces, dried spices, rice, flour, pasta and noodles and so many other basics sold in the aisles.

    Given the choice I prefer to support local producers than buying from their international competitors dumping product in Australia.
    1st May 2019
    Yes Farside I even make my own salad dressings! It takes no more time to make one than open a bottle. And yes of course I buy oil, dried and fresh herbs and spices, but they are not the problem with salt and sugar. And just so you know, wherever I travel I always buy a cook book so I can make the food at home also from scratch! You do not have to miss out on international cuisine just because you cook at home.
    1st May 2019
    Woolworths my be classed as the healthiest BUT it's also the most expensive. Give me Aldis any day, for saving money. Select your food wisely.
    Chris G
    1st May 2019
    KKS & SFR, I totally agree. The person pushing the trolley is almost always representative of what is in their trolley. But, to be kind, those on extremely low incomes have to go with food that fills, often at the expense of nutrition, especially so in Winter.
    Ted Wards
    1st May 2019
    We have plenty of healthy food on the shelves but they are found in the fruit and veg section. If its processed its no good end of story!
    3rd May 2019
    Was just going to say the same thing.
    1st May 2019
    What amazes me is the Woolworths and Coles catalogues each week. All the half price specials are on the first four pages and they are all chocolate, soft drinks, lollies and everthing else that is bad. Never any half price meat, veg or fruit. When will Coles and Woolworths ever support the reduction in growing obesity ??
    1st May 2019
    Recently I wrote to a local McDonalds about the sudden increase in chili spice in their sausage muffins and increase in salt in their quarter pounder and big macs. I tasted these and was unable to finishing eating them.

    Although this is not supermarket, its a good example of what people are being conditioned to eat.

    They phoned me and said that if I didn't want salt/spices, I could ask for salt/spices not to be added. I thought surely they do not have a person adding additional salt with a salt shaker to an already salted meat, or even adding some kind of chili flavoured salt?
    1st May 2019
    Great idea to sell all tinned veg and soups salt free then you can add the amount you want . Remember as a kid all potato crisps came with the salt in a little twist of blue paper so you could add what you wanted , today they are way to salty . When ever we order fish and chips we always say " No Salt " then we can put on what we like .
    3rd May 2019
    Just give up processed foods in packages, they are all unhealthy, dead food. Eat wholefoods, fresh fruit and veggies. Too easy.

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