Big food brands struggling to kick junk addiction, survey finds

Reducing the salt and sugar content of their foods could also insulate the companies' revenues from laws restricting the sale and marketing of junk food. PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: PEXELS

LONDON – The bulk of food and drinks sold by four out of five global producers across three major markets is unhealthy, according to a survey, with Kraft Heinz faring the worst.

The analysis conducted by the World Action on Salt, Sugar and Health (WASSH), a non-governmental organisation, selected 2,346 products sold by Danone, Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, Nestle and Unilever in Australia, France and Mexico. It ranked them on the basis of the most widely used standards – Health Star Rating, Nutri-Score and Warning Labels.

Apart from Danone, all the others sold a greater proportion of unhealthy food.

“Improving the nutritional content of food and drink by reformulating recipes with less salt, sugar and saturated fat is by far the most important strategy that any company should make to improve public health,” Ms Mhairi Brown, policy and public affairs lead with WASSH, said in a statement. “However, by relying solely on industry’s willingness and without government enforcement, we are unlikely to see a meaningful shift.”

Producers are under pressure to make their portfolios healthier because obesity is already a public health crisis in countries like the United States, and on the rise in the developing world.

The worldwide economic impact of excess body weight will more than double to US$4.27 trillion (S$5.75 trillion) in 2035 from 2020 levels as prevalence of the condition continues to rise, according to a report.

Reducing the salt and sugar content of their foods could also insulate the companies’ revenues from laws restricting the sale and marketing of junk food. A greater emphasis on environmental, social and governance issues among investors is an added motivation for making portfolios healthier.

Four-fifths of Kraft Heinz products did not meet health standards across the three markets, with its entire sample in Mexico failing to make the grade.

Some 72 per cent of the products surveyed that were made by Kellogg’s did not meet the health criteria. The Crunchy Nut maker in 2022 failed to legally challenge regulations that would ban it from advertising its sugary cereals in Britain.

Activia yoghurt maker Danone bucked the trend. Only 35 per cent of its products scored below the standard definitions of healthy. Earlier this week, it promised that at least 90 per cent of products by volume of sales in Britain and Ireland will not be high in sugar, salt or fat, as defined by the government policy.

A Unilever spokesman said the company is committed to giving consumers healthier choices and termed the findings of the survey incomplete and misleading as they were based on a small subset of its portfolio.

Kraft Heinz is committed to reducing sugar and salt in its products, while noting that there is not a globally aligned model yet for judging how healthy food items are, according to its spokesman.

Others did not immediately comment on the report. BLOOMBERG

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