Less salt in home brand foods, surprised researchers find

Supermarket private label products out-shone their branded counterparts in a study of salt content. Photo: Louie Douvis Excess salt in foods contributes to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

Supermarket home brand foods, long derided as cheap and inferior, contain “consistently and substantially” less salt than pricier, branded rivals, new research shows.

A study of 15,680 products from the shelves of Woolworths, Coles, Aldi and IGA found home brand foods have 17 per cent less salt than their branded counterparts.

The researchers from George Institute for Global Health were surprised to find salt content was an average 27 per cent lower in desserts, 24 per cent in biscuits, 22 per cent in processed meats, and 7 per cent in breads.

But the breakfast cereal category bucked the trend. Salt content in private label cereals was 37 per cent higher.

Professor Bruce Neal, co-author of the study and head of food policy at the institute, said the study showed supermarkets could help lead the way in getting Australians to cut their salt intake.

“Excess salt in food leads to high blood pressure and greatly increased risks of stroke and heart attack,” he said.

“Reducing salt in line with WHO recommendations could save thousands of lives every year and hundreds of millions of dollars in healthcare costs.”

The global health body has set a voluntary target of cutting salt consumption by 30 per cent by 2025.

The average Australian adult consumes nine grams of salt a day – more than twice the recommended amount.

Professor Neal warned that the study, conducted between 2011 and 2013 and published in the journal Nutrients this month, focused on salt and did not assess overall nutritional value.

Lead author Helen Trevena, also from the institute which is affiliated with the University of Sydney, said she hoped the study would shift consumer perception that private labels were inferior.

“This research shows that is not always the case in regard to salt,” she said.

“This is good news, especially for families shopping on tight budgets who are more likely to buy private label products, but are also most likely to suffer from health problems caused by high blood pressure.”

Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have each made voluntary commitments to reduce sodium content across nine food categories as part of the Australian Food and Health Dialogue initiative, launched in 2009.

The study is good news for the supermarket giants seeking to expand their private label offerings despite some customer disillusionment.

In May, Roy Morgan data revealed nearly half of Australia’s 14 million regular grocery shoppers were trying to reduce their grocery bills. But nearly three-quarters said they preferred sticking with their favourite brands.