Australian food industry experts dismiss ‘plain packaging’ for high calorie foods

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 22nd July 2013

A panel of leading Australian food industry experts has ruled out plain packaging of high calorie foods as a possible way to fight obesity.

Plain paper packaging was one of the key topics debated at the 46th Annual Australian Institute of Food Science Technology (AIFST) Convention held in Brisbane recently.

While the panel agreed that plain packaging was “inappropriate and likely to be ineffective”, speakers on the panel did suggest a range of other ideas to tackle the complex issue of obesity.

Maximise nutrient quality

The panel said all sectors of the food industry needed to move towards increasing the nutrient content of foods.

“Traditional hunter-gatherer diets were driven by cravings and needs,” said Vic Cherikoff, of Australian Innovative Ingredients and winner of the 2013 AIFST Food Industry Innovation Award. “We may be in an age of supermarket foraging but we still have biological needs for certain macro and micronutrients, including antioxidants,” he said.

“When we are eating high calorie, low nutrient foods, there may be a risk that we are overeating in an attempt to meet our nutritional needs. We need to look at maximising nutrient content of foods – both processed and those at farm gate – to meet our needs and reduce the risk of overeating,” Mr Cherikoff said.

Greater variety

Diversifying consumers’ diets was also suggested as a way to improve diets and reduce levels of obesity.

“We need to develop and encourage people to eat a greater variety of foods,” said Peter Schutz, Chair of the Innovation Precinct for the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Climate Change. “Eight per cent of the calories we consume come from just eight cereals, sugar and four tubers. We can do better,” he said.

Regulation that drives innovation

Vijay Rajendram, CEO of research and development organisation Neptune BioInnovations, praised the recent introduction of the front-of-pack ‘health star’ health star labelling system.

“The new star front-of-pack labelling system is a great example of an initiative that will motivate industry to develop innovative solutions for high quality, nutritious food products,” said Mr Rajendram said.


Panelists also pointed to a decrease in cooking skills as a contributor to rising levels of obesity, and suggested improvements in education in this area would be beneficial.

“Despite the rise of the celebrity chef, we are seeing a deskilling in cooking,” said Professor Sandra Capra, Dietitian from the University of Queensland. “It’s led to a general disconnect with food, poor knowledge or what’s in a dish and the amount we should be eating. We desperately need to improve food education,” she said.

Investing in our future

Panelists also called for greater investment in tertiary education related to the food industry.

“The industry needs to put more investment into tertiary education to ensure Australia’s universities are producing the graduates the food industry needs to drive the innovation that will address Australia’s future food issues, including obesity,” said James Thomas from Kelly Scientific Resources.

Working together

Other panelists suggested that the responsibility for changing food behaviours belonged to everyone, including individuals, parents, health professionals, industry and government.

“The consumer is the only one who can make choices at an individual level,” said Wayne Hammermeister, Managing Director of FMCG Executive Services. “The food industry needs to ensure the consumer understands the choices they are making, and health professionals and government have a role to play in guiding those choices,” he said.


Panelists at the AIFST Conference dismiss 'plain packaging' for high calorie foods