CHOICE comparison finds few health stars among food giant’s stellar sellers

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 26th February 2014
CHOICE calculated the Health Star Ratings of stringy cheese products

Consumer group CHOICE has used the recently released Health Star Rating Calculator to compare a selection of supermarket favourites.

CHOICE’s report finds few stars among the offerings from food giant Mondelez, the parent company of Kraft, Cadbury, Nabisco and Oreo.

The Health Star Rating Calculator uses the amount of energy, saturated fat, sugar, sodium and protein which must be listed on food products. It also considers information which is not always declared on products, namely fibre content and the percentage of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes in the ingredients.

While the full information needed to calculate the stars is only available to the manufacturer, CHOICE said Health Star Ratings based on the available information showed some of the Company’s big sellers were “not so stellar” when it came to nutrition.

“CHOICE did three product comparisons and found the Health Stars shot down the Mondelez product each time,” said Angela Cartwright, CHOICE Campaigns Manager. “We looked at two string cheese products popular in the playground and found the Mondelez product scored a paltry two starts. In contrast, Bega’s Stringers got a whopping four and a half stars,” she said.

“CHOICE calculated star ratings for another lunchbox favourite, peanut butter, which you might assume wouldn’t vary too much,” Ms Cartwright said. “However, we found a real star in Sanitaium’s natural peanut butter, which scored five stars, well ahead of Mondelez’s Kraft peanut butter with three stars,” she said.

CHOICE said its rating for Kraft Peanut butter was based on an estimate of the fibre content of the product, as this is not declared on the label.

“Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was the cracker star-off, with Mondelez-owned Ritz bottoming out at half a star, while Arnott’s Jatz managed two stars,” Ms Cartwright said.

Product Health Star Ratings, calculated by CHOICE

  • Bega Stringers Cheestrings, 4.5 stars

  • Kraft StripCheese (Mondelez-owned), 2 stars

  • Sanitarium Natural Crunchy Peanut Butter, 5 stars

  • Kraft Crunchy Peanut Butter (Mondelez-owned), 3 stars

  • Arnott’s Jatz Original, 2 stars

  • Nabisco Ritz Crackers (Mondelez-owned), 0.5 stars

CHOICE said it decided to “take a closer look” at Mondelez after Mondelez spokeperson Simon Talbot referred to the Health Star Rating as “ill-founded, unscientific and confusing”.

“By providing a star rating, the new scheme will give consumers information they can use to make healthier choices at-a-glance,” Ms Cartwright said. “CHOICE questions whether the real reason Mondelez doesn’t like the system is that it would show consumers that some of their products are less healthy than the alternatives,” she said.

CHOICE said it knew there were food and beverage companies that want to roll out the Health Star Rating Scheme, and called for the food industry to get behind the system.

“Our health star snapshot shows that it is possible to have considerably healthier versions of the same type of product,” Ms Cartwright said. “CHOICE thinks the Scheme will not only give consumers information they can use at-a-glance but spur companies to improve their product offerings, creating a healthier food supply in the long term,” she said.

Health Star Rating System ‘battle of wills’

The CHOICE findings are the latest development in debates about the effectiveness of the Health Star Rating system, and difficulties in its deployment.

Australian Food News reported earlier in February 2014 that a Federal Health Department-sponsored website to list the Health Star Ratings of foods was taken offline on the day of its launch. In the days that followed, Alastair Furnival, Chief of Staff to Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash resigned, after it was revealed he held shares in Australian Public Affairs (APA), a lobby group whose clients include Cadbury, Kraft and the Australian Beverages Council. Senator Nash denied that Mr Furnival’s links to presented a conflict of interest.

It has also been suggested that the fate of the website was linked to a ‘battle of wills’ happening behind the scenes among food policy makers. In December 2013, Australian Food News reported that a meeting of the Legislative and Governance Forum on Food Regulation had decided there needed to be monitoring system to track the effectiveness of the proposed Front-of-Pack (FoPL) system for food.