CHOICE membership

Encouraging supermarkets to sell healthy food at cheaper prices to encourage people to buy it

Has any thought been given to encouraging big supermarkets to behave in an ethical way, i.e. sell what is recognised as being healthy food at prices significantly lower than those which are high in sugar, fat, salt, and other ingredients which are known to adversely affect health.
Imagine what the impact would be in the cereal area, for example; or in dairy goods.
I started thinking about this matter when I went to my local Woolies store to buy my usual Vaalia Plain yoghurt. I was disgusted to discover the price had been upped to $5.99 - that’s for a product which contains no sugar or added fruit! A few weeks previously it had been about $1.50 cheaper.
I eat this particular sort of yoghurt because of the probiotics in it which help me control my gastric refux.
When one looks at the way prices are ramped up then later dropped, one gets a sense that we’re being played for fools. It’s not a question of supply and demand as might be the case with fresh seasonal vegetables.
One can almost hear the backroom boys saying “How shall we rip them off this week?”
The sad thing is that we (the public) have few options when shopping for food, especially if we are trying to look after our health. We’re just another group to market to: ethics in pricing does not seem to have a role in the equation.

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I think this would be terrific, but there is probably no incentive, without regulation, to encourage supermarkets to do this. I think we are only likely to see a change when we see in Australia the equivalent of the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) approach used by the EU, which is applied to environmental impact of manufactured goods, being applied to health.

With the environmental impact case, originally in the EU it was seen as the consumer responsibility (e.g. how they dispose of products) what impact products had on the environment. ERP regulations in the EU has turned this around and, quite rightly, says that it is actually the manufacturers’ responsibility. This includes increasing requirement for manufacturers to provide solutions for consumers to recycle easier. In Australia they prefer to let industry do this themselves, and we can see how badly that goes for various items (e.g. no easy ways to recycle a whole range of consumer products, which end up in landfill because it is too hard to go to a handful of council waste depots with unhelpful opening hours!).

I just don’t think there would be a political “appetite” (excuse the pun), especially given the financial power of food companies over our pollies, for a similar approach to food. If we can’t get it right for products, chances are not good for food either. The idea is not new, though. For e.g. it could be a tax of food based on its negative health impact which goes directly into the health system to pay for the health damage it does. This would make non-health foods more expensive than healthy options.

But the current political and economic climate means companies argue “It is up to the consumer to decide and do the right thing” etc. It is exactly the same argument used about the environmental impact of products. It is, according to them, the consumers’ fault they are eating our food and getting diabetes, heart conditions, etc. We want them to eat as much of our food as possible, but we are not prepared to take responsibility for making food which is bad for people. Just like cigarette companies are in the busy of selling addictive nicotine, food companies are in the business of selling addictive sugar, fat, salt, etc. Just add (artificial) flavours of fruit and vegetables! There are a lot of parallels we can make between the nicotine and food sectors in this sense.

So we know the links. We know that food manufacturers and supermarkets don’t care because they don’t have to pay for the health conditions they cause. (Or what they say consumers cause using their products.) But I agree totally that this argument is problematic, given the disparity in price between “health” and “junk” food. If good food was considerably cheaper, I think we could see a big change in what people buy and their associated health conditions reduced. In other words, it is not a fair playing field between consumers and companies, because they decide what is affordable and there is no incentive for them to ensure good food is affordable.

So until then, it is all up to us. But I don’t like our chances! For instance, I was quite surprised when reading ingredients of products that so-called health foods (e.g. breakfast cereals) are actually very high in sugar and/or salt. And because I am gluten and dairy intolerant, these products substitute with sugar (e.g. check out gluten free pasta, cereals, etc).

For breakfast cereal now I buy my own raw ingredients (effectively a muesli) and make it myself. At least I know what goes into it. I now tend to do the same with meals, and make them from scratch despite being time-poor with long hours at work. That is all well and good for some like me, but I recognise for most this is difficult.

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Great topic @petpad.byers, and thanks @pluto for that thoughtful response. One scheme to encourage healthier products into shopping trolleys is the ‘Health Star Ratings’ label, but as @bmcmullin points out, it’s not perfect and CHOICE has called for wider adoption and restrictions on certain types of foods.

We commissioned a survey of 1640 people - read their thoughts about Health Star Ratings. We’d also love to hear your thoughts or ideas on this or other solutions below.

Thought about this everytime we went groceries shopping. It’s disgusting to see chips, chocolate and other junk food constantly being sold at half price, sometimes less than a dollar while an apple, passion fruit or broccoli would cost more.
It’s expensive to stay healthy.

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I have given up altogether on Woolworths because of their ownership of poker machines.

Coles already do this:
http://www.bandt.com.au/media/flybuys-rewards-healthy-actions-with-steps-to-savings-initiative

Assuming you’re right, @dburgel, I choose to be happy and healthy than be unhappy and unhealthy - even if it costs a little bit more. That is a no-brainer for me, but I am in the position to make that choice and am very thankful for it. That being said, I’m quite hesitant to believe your statement. I wonder if people who support this statement have thought through the lifetime expenses of this lifestyle choice. @pluto hit the nail on the head in the topic ‘Technology disposal’, so I will not recreate the wheel. Head over to that topic for the full context of pluto’s reply, but here is the relevant quote:

When comparing two options such as public vs private transport, quality vs cheap products, and healthy vs unhealthy food; people often ignore the externalised costs that aren’t paid upfront. I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that eating unhealthy is cheaper than eating healthy.

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My posting in the other thread copied here is really talking about the policies needed to make things which are “better” (e.g. healthier, better for the environment, etc) cheaper than the things which are not “better” and a currently cheaper today because the true long-term costs are not factored into the up-front costs paid by consumers.

I suspect there are some aspects of “staying healthy”, as stated by @dburgel, which are more expensive, plus other aspects where the argument might be the opposite or about even at least.

For example, I have friends who are on welfare (and not by choice) who find that cooking their own meals using “raw” ingredients (e.g. chicken, veges) can be cheaper than eating junk food. Of course, it depends on what you are buying and cooking as to where the cost difference lays. Especially comparing like for like. So for instance, comparing the cost of cooking porterhouse and veges at home for a family of 4, vs buying Big Macs for the same family, is not a fair comparison. For instance, the cost and quality of the meat component of both would be considerably different. A better comparison with a Big Mac might be, at a guess, the cheapest mince from a supermarket used for a mince dish (Big Mac patties are mince), and veges (which wouldn’t be seen dead in a Big Mac). My friends buy their mince in bulk and freeze in portions, which makes it cheaper again.

Going to the gym is expensive, but it is not the only way of getting physical exercise. There are cheaper (and free) options for doing those things. (I am guilty of not doing enough exercise!)

Health care (another aspect of staying healthy) could be an example of a major expense, especially for elective work which has waiting lists of years on the public (free) system. Such waiting lists actually put peoples’ health at risk, probably result in much greater costs on the public system as those problems get worse while on the waiting list, etc. This can be compared to the cost of health insurance to get seen earlier. Yes, I suspect this would be a definite example of where staying healthy is more expensive.

There are bound to be other examples I have omitted.

So I do think there are examples that support both sides of the argument here. It is more complex than just single statements one way or the other.

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I am not sure the comparison is that simple.

I looked at the cost of a head of broccoli, which helped feed four people for a meal I made, which cost $2.20 (not on special). Yes, a chocolate bar might be $1 on special, and normally over $2, but that bar would only feed one person.

Further, a chocolate bar is not a meal. A head of broccoli isn’t either. So a far comparison would be that, like a chocolate bar, one person could probably not eat more than half a broccoli at $1 as a comparable snack. Not a particularly nice snack, but the point is that we need to compare like for like when talking about whether junk food is more expensive.

A large sweat potato was $1.64, again which was used as part of a meal to feed 4 people. I can go on.

I just had a look at supermarket and the cost of a granny smith apple (one) is $0.81 each (not on special). This is actually cheaper than a chocolate bar when it is on special.

I think part of the problem is that people see the price of a single junk food item, and then compare that to the per kilo price of fruit and vege ($4.5 in the case of the apple). It is not the same.

Further, fruit and vege prices vary with season. It will be cheaper in season, and this requires people to understand the seasonality of fruit and vege and vary what they buy according to what is in season. It certainly might take more work to buy fresh food, prepare it, etc. But to say that it is more expensive than junk food is misleading.

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I’m just referring in a broad sense and like yourself, I’m very fortunate to be able to opt for the healthier option, which I always do. God knows when is the last time I put a corn chip in my mouth… :slight_smile:
When I expressed my observation, I wasn’t really thinking about myself. I’m thinking about those less fortunate than me (or others) who have to depend on a small pension or limited allowance.

I basically stopped buying food at Woolies and Coles. In my efforts to go plastic free and healthier, I now buy all my produce at markets and green grocers and buy other items at my local bulk bin shop. The food is fresher, healthier, and more filling. I am not tempted to buy ‘cheap’ packages of processed chemicals, preservatives, and sugar packaged in plastics. Things advertised as ‘healthy’ really are not. Giving up big supermarkets is healthier for me, my budget, and the planet.

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I accept where you’re coming from: but there are millions do don’t think about things in the same way that you do.
In raising this issue I was hoping to find a way in which the big supermarkets might be encouraged to behave in a way that was more public-spirited, so that their food pricing policies not only had a positive impact on people’s purses but also on their health.
When the GST was being introduced, I can remember there being a fierce debate about what items the tax should be applied to. The intent was for basic foods to be not taxed and therefore more accessible. Somehow these defining qualities have become blurred and there is little difference in pricing between many basic food items, for example plain and sugar-loaded flavoured yoghurt; similarly, fruit juice and water-based and also sugar-laden fruit drinks - and many other items.

Supermarkets are a business. Like any business, their goal is to make money. I chose to use my money to buy fresh foods at shops that I want to see do well, plus I end up saving money. The more people vote with their money, the more things change (for better or worse). Every individual is responsible for their own health. It is not the responsibility of businesses. I think people need to take more responsibility for themselves and what they eat and learn more about what’s actually in what they put in their bodies (I don’t buy any of the items you mentioned). I have no problem with a business selling and pricing things in whatever way they think will make them money, as that is their purpose. I make my own choices and try to shift the demand - supply - pricing cycle by where my money goes.

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My local Woolworths gives free fruit to children. I think it is great. It is located as you walk into the store.

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I have emailed both Woolworths and Coles asking them to advertise more healthy options and have more discounts for healthy options in there catalogues. To both I was advised they would forward onto the relevant department.

Coles has a Flybuys Reward Healthy Actions With ‘Steps To Savings’ Initiative but you need a Garmin or Fitbit to take part in this for 10% discount. Why do you have to do this for a discount shouldn’t it just come around every two weeks like the chips and chocolate discounts.

The fruit initiative for Woolworth is great but you will find school kids just coming into the store getting some fruit and leaving. They aren’t spending any money. I don’t have a problem with this as long as they are eating fruit. The odd bunch initiative is great and buy these items over the regular items.

Yes it is the individuals responsibility to eat healthy, not saying I don’t and this is an observation. Businesses should reduce the amount of discounted junk food and increase the amount of discounted healthier options or discount equally.

I find sometimes that the healthy options are discounted in store but not advertised.

Why don’t the supermarkets stock things like raw cocoa, agave etc instead of 10 types of baked beans. They are getting better though.

Pick and Mix dried goods would be good i.e. chick peas, red kidney instead of that miniscule section in soups and only MacKenzie brand. Pick and Mix isn’t cost effective for shops but is a better option, then people can buy smaller quantities as and when needed.

I also think the supermarkets should only stock what is in season and local, this would help with the prices.

hate to say it but every variety of Vaalia has sugar. in fact every yogurt has sugar. if they reduce the sugar it unfortunately means more fat (like Jalna plain greek yoghurt - as much fat as a cheeseburger) so it’s usually far from a health food. there’s also a lot of conflicting information and opinions as to what is “heathly” and what is not. some people will tell you all carbohydrates should be banned. some people, and food companies, will say butter and cheese are the healthiest foods out there compared to a potato because its not a carb. in fact there’s even a movement away from eating fruit because your body processes it as a simple sugar. so there’d be a lot of barriers to this plan.

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Inventory Management 101. Supermarkets only stock what sells reliably. It’s the public who are fools, not the supermarkets who are unethical. There are plenty of options when shopping for healthy food. The healthiest animal protein in the world is a tin of sardines. Costs under $2 per meal.

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I’m sorry but you lost me at “ethical”. Read Supermarket Monsters and I challenge you to look at other options. I just refused to feed that monster any more.

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If people become that hung up about food at supermarkets they will go. I think that people who can not make up their minds about food are contained in places where they do not have to decide healthy, cost nor cooking time of food and other parts of life for that matter. I do not think for a moment that supermarkets are put there for my benefit. The proposal would be a step towards no free will.

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That is a great point, @Ian_Mac. Although regulation is one way to force people to make better decisions, a more sustainable and long-term solution may be to educate people to be able to make the right choices. They say that money and education are the two kickers: financial dis/incentives to prod people in the right direction, or educate the people to be able to make the right choice themselves.

Inevitably, you will have the ‘brainwashing’ conspiracy, but you can never satisfy everyone!