Katherine Rich: Reaching for the Health Stars

10 November 2016

It’s been said countless times that tackling obesity is not about attacking just one or two products, as some public health activists would have us believe. Putting a tax on sugary drinks and removing sweets and treats from supermarket checkouts seem to be the only solutions they have, but we all know it’s about much more than that – it’s about choosing foods wisely and it’s about moderation.

And just as it’s not about one or two products, it’s also not about leaving it to one or two organisations to front up. I have said many times that everyone has a responsibility to do their bit: government, public health officials, industry, and retailers – as well as individuals.

The Government, by way of the Health Promotion Agency, is doing its bit in the form of excellent ongoing education campaigns around its Childhood Obesity Plan. The food industry has also been particularly proactive for years now, reformulating products and supporting education and physical activity programmes in schools and communities and Heart Foundation initiatives such as fuelled4life.

Foodstuffs and Progressive have also been active, being among the early adopters of the Health Star Rating system for their home brands – Pams, Budget, Value, Signature Range, Select, and Essentials.

Their recent decision to join Moore Wilson and Bin Inn Retail Group in signing a Retail NZ collective pledge to support the Government’s plan is a further positive and welcome step.

Foodstuffs’ and Progressive’ plans are both simple and similar. They have pledged to: review and reformulate their private label products; complete the roll-out of the Health Star Ratings on those products by the end of 2018 (within the Government’s five-year timeframe); provide education on diet, nutrition, and physical activity; comply with the Code for Advertising to Children. Countdown says it will roll out dedicated health food sections in stores and have at least one confectionary-free checkout in 95 per cent of stores by the end of this year. Foodstuffs stores already offer this option. 

It was interesting to compare the numbers they released around the Health Star Ratings: Foodstuffs says it has 600 of its 1500 private label products with the stars, while Countdown has 394 of its 1000 private label products with them. This is great progress but there is still a big job ahead to get the stars on the remaining products within the next two years. They’re pledges worth applauding and encouraging, and I know that suppliers and FGC will be only too happy to help them achieve this where we can.

I was particularly impressed by the support both companies are giving to the Health Star Rating system, which has gained even further importance and prominence since the recent announcement by the Heart Foundation that is to discontinue its Tick programme. Foodstuffs (NZ) Managing Director Steve Anderson summed up supermarket support for the stars when he said “we believe it provides consumers with a clear guide on how to assess the healthiness of a product compared with other products across a category”.

(as published in Supermarket News)