Are private label products healthy? You may be pleasantly surprised

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The cost of groceries in Australia has skyrocketed this year. So people may be tempted to switch to house brand foods to save on their weekly food bill.

Private label products are certainly cheaper. But are they healthy?

Here’s what we know about the nutrients they contain compared to the more expensive brands mentioned.

What are private label products?

Private label products have different names. You might hear them as supermarket’s own brand foods, private labels, private labels, store brands, or store brands.

These are foods made especially for a supermarket (you can’t buy them from a competing store). They are advertised as low-priced alternatives to more expensive items.

Private label food is widely available in Australia and other countries, making up up to 30 percent of what you can buy in a supermarket.

Some people once considered these to be inferior products. But their nutritional value and wide availability in supermarkets could play a role in improving public health.

There is some evidence that private label foods increase the availability and accessibility of more affordable food options and help improve food safety standards.

Why are they cheaper?

Cheaper prices for private label products are possible thanks to lower research and development, marketing and packaging costs.

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This means that we cannot assume that lower prices mean cheaper or inferior ingredients.

Supermarkets can even influence the ingredients and processing of private label food by benchmarking against named brands.

Before making a private label product, stores will also specify to manufacturers what it should cost the consumer.

Manufacturers often choose to use the same ingredients and processes as branded products to reduce costs through economies of scale.

Pasta tonight? Private label pasta may use the same ingredients as the listed brands.

This means that you do not have to clean or reprogram equipment between making the different products.

It also means that most private label products are very similar to branded products, aside from the packaging.

However, for mixed foods, such as breakfast cereals and ready-to-eat sauces, the manufacturer may change the ingredients, such as using cheaper or fewer ingredients, to reduce costs.

How much can I save?

Private label products can be up to 40 percent cheaper than brand names. So yes, private label products can really make a difference in the overall cost of groceries.

However, some products have greater cost savings than others, as we show below.

Most labels on supermarket shelves show the cost per 100g (or equivalent) for an item, which can help shoppers choose the most cost-effective option, especially useful when items are on sale.

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But are they healthy?

For simple, unprocessed products such as milk, eggs and pasta, there is virtually no difference in nutritional quality between private label and branded products.

There is very little the manufacturers can do to modify ingredients to reduce costs.

But sometimes cheaper ingredients are used in higher concentrations in private label products.

For example, house-brand pre-made pasta sauces may contain fewer vegetable ingredients and higher amounts of sugar, sodium (salt) and additives (such as stabilizers, colors and flavors). This can change the quality and taste.

Pastasauce
If you use ready-made pasta sauce, the quality may vary. So check the label. Photo: Getty

Very few studies have examined how private label products can differ in nutritional profile.

In general, serving size, sodium, and other nutrients seem similar for own-brand and named foods. But there are some differences with certain foods.

Portion Sizes

For example, portion sizes are generally smaller in private label pizzas, canned legumes, cereals, cookies and ready meals.

In fact, edible oil is the only type of food where the portion size is larger for private label foods.

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Salty

The sodium content of private label cereals, cheese and bread is higher than that of branded products.

But the sodium content of cooking sauces, frozen potato products (such as oven-baked fries), and cookies is lower in private label products.

Other nutrients

For energy and fat intake, there again appear to be inconsistent differences between house brand foods compared to brand foods.

What about sugar? Unfortunately, the studies have not looked at this.

In general, Australian private label products do not consistently differ from branded products in nutritional value.

Health Star Reviews

Incidentally, unhealthy private label products, such as juices, meat pies and granola bars, are more likely to have a health score than nutritious foods. This can falsely imply that they are a healthy choice.

This means that no matter which brand you choose, don’t forget to check the food label to make sure you’re getting the quality of food you like at the price you’re comfortable with.The conversation

Lauren Ball, associate professor and principal investigator, Menzies Health Institute, Griffith University and Katelyn Barnes, postdoctoral researcher, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.