The three companies scored a mean HSR score of 1.2, 1.2 and 1.4 (out of the full score of five) respectively across their product portfolios, placing them as the bottom three spots of 33 F&B manufacturers analysed.
The top three manufacturers in the listing were A2 Dairy, Sanitarium and Nudie Foods, scoring 4.2, 4.1 and 4.1 respectively.
The report titled FoodSwitch: State of the Food Supply was produced by The George Institute for Global Health, and was based on data collected as part of the institute’s FoodSwitch programme.
The programme utilises what the researchers described to be a ‘bespoke technology system’ for the ‘systematic, standardised and replicable collection’ of data related to packaged food and beverage products in Australia.
The products analysed as part of this report were required to have a Nutritional Information Panel, and were classified into major categories (e.g. bread and bakery products), minor categories (e.g. bread; biscuits) and further subcategories (e.g. savoury biscuits).
The report included manufacturers based on retail sales value share (1% and above), ending up with 25 packaged food manufacturers and 11 beverage manufacturers.
“The 25 [food companies mentioned] sell 62% of all packaged foods, and the 11 [beverage companies] sell 81% of all soft drinks in Australia,” said the authors.
The manufacturer ranking was based on the mean HSR score across each manufacturer’s product portfolio.
“Mean HSR was chosen both because the underlying nutrient profiling method is underpinned by decades of nutritional research, and because it is the current most active focus of government and industry action on the food and beverage supply in Australia,” said the report.
Overall though, the researchers expressed disappointment in the level of improvement shown in terms of the nutritional quality of on-shelf products in Australia.
“Examination of the food category data identified no substantive improvement in the nutritional quality of any major food category,” they said.
“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, which suggests minimal impact of consumer concerns about the sugar levels in foods.”
More on the manufacturers’ ranking list
Although A2 Dairy grabbed the top spot on the list with a 4.2 average HSR score, the authors acknowledged that this could be due to the low number of products it had on-shelf to be analysed.
“All A2 Dairy products were classified as healthy (HSR ≥ 3.5), [and it] benefits in this analysis from having a very narrow product range (five products) included,” they said.
Meanwhile, Sanitarium, Nudie Foods, Simplot and Lion Dairy & Drinks scored second to fifth placements respectively, with HSR scores of 4.1 (across 77 products), 4.1 (across 39 products), 3.8 (across 439 products) and 3.2 (across 217 products).
A notable observation here was that with the exception of Simplot, all the other top ranking companies had dairy or dairy products as a significant part of their analysed product portfolio.
Red Bull scored an average of 1.4 across its seven products, whereas Peters Ice Cream scored 1.6 across 35 products, placing these at 29th and 30th place respectively. Together with Bundaberg (33rd), Mondelez (32nd) and Frucor (31st), a clear trend in the bottom five rankings is the presence of non-alcoholic, sugar-sweetened beverages.
“[Overall,] 32,000 packaged food items were analysed [and we found that] almost half [of these] were classed as junk or discretionary foods,” added the researchers.
The way forward
The report suggested that manufacturers look to improve the healthiness of their product portfolios via reformulation and the removal of unhealthy items.
“Manufacturers [can] improve the average nutritional quality of their portfolios [by] reformulating existing products to healthier compositions [or changing] the ‘mix’ of products in their portfolio by deleting products that are unhealthy and introducing new ones with a better nutritional profile.”
Bega Cheese was pointed out as an example of a company that had ‘experienced a substantial decline’ due to ‘the addition of several less healthy brands’ to its portfolio.
The company dropped from the 15th spot (average HSR score 2.8) last year to the 24th spot (average HSR score 2.1) this year.
Additionally, the researchers made several other recommendations, including that the HSR labelling system be made mandatory and the Australian Government set clear targets and timelines for reformulation.
They also suggested that food firms benchmark their product nutrient composition against best-in-category equivalents, and that food retailers set minimum requirements for the healthiness of the foods and beverages they stock and promote in-store.
“Packaged foods and beverages available [on-shelf] in Australia [still include] many products with excessive levels of energy, saturated fats, sugar, and salt,” they concluded.
“The Australian food and beverage industry has a responsibility to improve the healthiness of what it manufactures and make it easier for their customers to identify the healthier options available.”
Alexandra Jones from The George Institute for Global Health will be speaking at the Healthy Ageing APAC Summit 2019, held from July 9 to July 11 this year in Singapore. She currently leads The George Institute’s program on regulatory strategies to promote healthier diets, and has previously worked on tobacco control, and in health and human rights.