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New nutrition standards as Countdown reaches for the stars

  • News
  • March 31, 2017
  • Courtney Devereux
New nutrition standards as Countdown reaches for the stars

The latest trend within consumer culture is the transparency of knowing what’s in our food. Now, supermarkets are starting to realise the demand for healthier choices. We went along to Countdown's health and nutrition seminar to hear about their latest plans.

Countdown supermarket has announced its latest target: full nutritional Health Star labeling on selected products by 2019. The initiative was agreed upon in June 2014, leaving the chain five years to reach its nutrition based target.

The target for Countdown, as said by James Walker, general manager of corporate affairs, is to have 92 percent sugar free aisles within all its stores. Countdown has 122 stores dedicated to health and wellness and plans to continue on that track.

The plans, as some might have noticed, firstly involves increased promotion of fresh foods (fruit, vegetables and meat) on their Countdown mailer.

“Fruit and vegetable sales are up 4 percent from last year,” Walker says. “[We have] a new code of advertising towards children… The Countdown mailer goes out to around 1 million homes per week. [Now] 36 percent of cover pages are now fruit and vegetables.”

Countdowns in-store free fruit for kids’ initiative gives out around 50,000 pieces of fruit per week, a financial cost of which Walker was reluctant to supply.

Woolworths Group, one of Countdowns parent organisations along with Progressive Enterprises, held a focus group which was run by the company’s nutritionist, Natalie Chong.

Natalie Chong speaking for Countdowns Health and Nutrition Seminar.

Chong says within the focus group the Health Star Rating was recognised by most customers. There was a general consensus that the rating scheme is a government response to the public health issue of growing obesity numbers.

“They didn’t want to think that manufacturers could mess with the Health Star Ratings. A key benefit to the rating system is that it’s simple to use, the ability to judge and compare at first glance.”

With the focus group the agreement was that the rating should be included on everything to minimise confusion. The only categories that are exempt from the ratings are fresh produce and wine; and not because wine should get 10 stars for fun as a spokeswoman proclaimed at the seminar.

A one star health rating.

The issue of every growing health concerns has rocketed into the market as consumer demand for healthier options grows.

According to Lisa Conway, business manager – category development for Countdown, health foods continue to be one of the companies largest growing sector.

“Health foods for us is worth over 150 million a year and it’s growing in double digits’ year after year.”

Conway says that more than three quarters of health customers go to more than one store for their health needs, which is what they’re trying battle against.

The newest life style changes around health have been noticed in Countdowns supply and demand.

“[Products such as] gluten free are growing faster than most,” Conway says. “We've been selling twice as much plant based milk as white UHT milk, this means we have a real focus to increase the product selections.”

The Seminar included representatives from both Countdown and Woolworths. 

As Countdown continues to work towards improving health sections for the next two years, 65 of the stores have been updated with dedicated sections immediately behind the Produce area..

Last month Countdown introduced the “odd bunch” in an effort to minimize food waste. As Countdowns business manager – fresh produce, John McAvoy says one of their main goals is “encouraging more product to go into more people’s mouths.”

“Freshness and produce is really important to us. We put blood, sweat, tears and passion into all our produce. Our buying teams will talk to growers multiple times a day, we are improving freshness by cutting time between the growers and the shelves.”

Countdowns best-selling item isn’t confectionary or anything along those lines, but is in fact Bananas, closely followed by Broccoli. As child hood obesity levels continue to climb, the supermarket chain is working to educate families on picking healthier choices.

Chong, says that the new health rating has been a catalyst for people trying new food. As most will try larger star ratings as appose to their usual selections.

“People are starting to weigh up what’s important for them. The star rating allows trust and transparency for people buying our products. In confusing cases (such as orange juice having the same star rating than water) consumers were happy to disregard and move on to and continue to use it in categories that did make sense.”

James Walker said at the seminar that the move to a more nutritionally based store was a journey not a sprint, and expects to have all health star rating within stores by the next two years. As per requirements.

“There is a strong interest in education,” says Chong. “But for the moment it comes back to common sense and moderation. The idea is to compare within the category then chose the healthier option.”

Each category is based upon energy, fat, salt and sugar levels. These levels are tested within the five categories they are in: dairy, core foods, non-core foods, beverages and dairy beverages.”

As the Health Star Ratings have already started rolling in, the perceptions towards them have been positive, but for it to work there must be a learning curve behind it.

“Education is critical,” says Chong. “We’re trying to do our part to encourage people to eat healthier, and encourage people to adopt this system.”

Countdown plans are to have health star ratings on all of their 540 own brand items by December 2018. The switch to own brand from Home Brand, Select and Signature Range means that the company has the ability to discontinue items that don’t meet health standards.

However, the possible discontinuation of products hasn’t deterred manufactures, but has encouraged them to rethink their product and strive to meet the new health standards set. 

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