Food additives have emerged as a hot topic in recent years, but even as consumer health consciousness has peaked, recent revelations about what may have been passing for honey has sparked a renewed conversation about what’s actually in the food on supermarket shelves.
But shoppers frequenting Perth-based Wembley IGA know when they’re buying additive-free products, thanks to a new program that’s looking to promote consumer consciousness.
More than 1,400 products within the independent supermarket are now labelled with “additive free” stickers in store, enabling customers to make more informed decisions about what they’re buying.
It took 140 hours to identify which of more than 7,200 products could be given the label, requiring extensive research and courting of manufacturers over two months.
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Francine Bell, owner of advocacy group Additive Free Kids, put in the hard yards to get the program off the ground as part of a partnership with the supermarket.
The mum of five has been a passionate advocate for additive-free foods for more than a decade, and says consumers often don’t have the tools at their disposal to make informed decisions about what they buy at the supermarket.
“What we put in children’s mouths does have an impact on their wellbeing,” she told SmartCompany. “So many people are time poor and don’t check things, ultimately we want to give them the power to be able to vote with their dollar.”
Wembley IGA is one of eight stores in a group of Perth-based independent supermarkets that Bell hopes to expand the program to in the coming years, with the support of her retail partners.
Craig Irons, general manager of Leederville Foods, which is part of the network, worked with Bell on making the program a reality and said it was a point of difference for the supermarket.
“The easier it is for companies for companies to give information to us it’s easier for us to pass it on it’s a win-win situation for everyone,” he told SmartCompany.
Irons says supermarkets could do more in assisting customers with information about the products that they were buying, particularly in decoding often complex ingredient lists.
“Labelling is hard and we’re sought of reliant on what the manufacturers do in a big way,” he says.
“I wouldn’t know myself what half the things are on the back of a label.”
Bell explained that manufacturers have become adept at using regulatory loopholes to maximise marketing impact while hiding what’s really in their products.
Current labelling laws allow any ingredient constituting less than 5% of a product to be omitted from the label, she said.
“When people are given a choice and are able to vote with their dollar that will send a message to manufacturers,” Bell contends.
“People will choose better options if they know what they are.”
Bell has liaised with manufacturers to determine whether their products are additive free, but has had mixed results, with some citing intellectual property concerns as a reason for withholding information.
But Irons said those who could prove there were no additives in their products would be getting preferential treatment, an incentive for suppliers to be more transparent.
“We have a system to make sure we keep those products [in stock],” he says.