In a sharp look at sugar and salt levels as well as key ingredients across thousands of food products, France’s Conseil national de l'alimentation (CNA) concludes raw materials used in low cost foods “are absolutely comparable to those used by private label and national brands”.
“To assume that cheaper food products are automatically of poorer nutritional quality is unfounded,” said the Conseil national de l'alimentation (CNA).
Under the aegis of the CNA, and led by Mme Nicole Darmon, manufacturers and retailers linked up to analyse nine published studies, largely French, on low cost to national branded foods that occurred from 1995 to 2009.
They set out to tackle the notion that it is not possible to eat well – in terms of organoleptics, nutrition, microbiology and toxicology - with a limited budget.
In their published opinion last month, the CNA warned that the high fat and sugar image that prevails with ‘low cost’ foods is “far from founded on the actual calories and fatty materials” present.
Further, they add, low cost food products “are frequently the least calorific or the least fatty. This was the case for the following products: ravioli, cola, soup, fruit yoghurts, chicken nuggets, and pain au chocolat.”
A certain number of examples show that low cost food manufacturers optimise the ingredients and their recipes in order to reduce production costs, concluded the council.
The CNA’s investigation is set against the backdrop of a global financial and economic crisis that has punctured consumer spending and seen shoppers plucking low cost, hard discount and in particular, private label food products, from the shelves.
According to France’s statistics-crunching organisation CREDOC, the market share for private label doubled between 1993 and today, and it now boasts 34 per cent of total sales value in France.
The picture is repeated for hard discount stores with figures from TNS Sofres suggesting market share for these retailers rose from 8.8 per cent in 199, to 14.3 per cent last year.
In parallel, cheaper foods have attracted growing sales as household spending on food continues to fall. In the 1960s households spent 36 per cent of their overall budget on food, today this figure has fallen to under 20 per cent.
A further driver to the CNA analysis, they said, is the “too rapid conclusion” that low-economy populations who consume cheaper food products “can not have a healthy food regime”. By extension, added the CAN, this would mean that “poorer consumers are condemned to obesity”.
But, if poor children are obese, it is not because they are eating low cost crisps instead of branded crisps but because they are eating crisps for a snack instead of a natural yoghurt, warned the CNA.
Citing a recent study by Darmon, the council suggested that with EUR 3.5 a day per person, it is possible to respect nutritional guidelines by selecting foods – fresh or industrial – at the lower price end.