Conducted by the Observatoire de l’Alimentation (Oqali), a public body which tracks the nutritional content and quality of the food supply, the study looked at over 16,000 processed food products on the French market from 2008 to 2011.
It compared national brands, private label goods and hard discount ‘economy’ brands for nutritional content (carbohydrates, protein, salt, sugar, fats and saturated fats) as well as nutritional labelling.
"The study has led us to conclude that private labels and hard discount brands do not appear to be of a lower nutritional quality," the report said.
However it did note that hard discount goods tended to be on the lower side for protein content, meaning if consumers bought these products exclusively they would probably have a reduced protein intake.
“[However] the French population’s protein intake is higher than the recommended allowance and so consuming such premium-priced products would not pose a risk of protein deficiency or inadequate protein intake for the consumer,” the report said in French.
Overall, private labels came out on top for front-of-pack and nutrition labelling, giving the most detailed information on protein, salt, sugar, fats and saturated fats, the report found.
They also fared better for daily reference values for energy, recommended portion sizes and the nutritional value per portion, being more likely to list such information.
Nearly one fifth (19%) of all products drew attention to positive nutritional claims such as ‘no added sugar’ or ‘reduced fat’ on their packaging – but national brands were more likely to do so.
Private labels tended to offer a less varied selection of goods within a given category – this meant fewer ‘superior’ or finest ranges for cured meat products such as salami and fewer reduced sugar products for fruit compote.
Hard discount ‘economy’ brands had the lowest frequency for all of the nutritional factors that were taken into account – but the report nonetheless said that overall 90% of all products had nutritional information and most differences between sectors were “isolated and non-generalisable”.
Oqali was set up in 2008 and is jointly run by ANSES, France’s national food safety agency, and INRA, the national institute for agronomy research. It collaborates with manufacturers and retailers to collect a maximum amount of data anonymously.
"This partnership with food industry professionals is an essential element to ensuring Oqali's longevity," its site claims.
“With more than 35,000 reference values already indexed, almost all the food sectors are covered.”