Our Bad Taste awards have attracted plenty of nominations. Under conventional rules of running a competition you would say that was great news — the more entries the merrier. But the ease with which people find unhealthy foods to nominate somehow seems unsavoury.

Maybe it’s coincidence, but at the same time as we announced we were accepting nominations for the awards, supermarkets committed to a “childhood obesity pledge plan”.

Behind the scenes Consumer and other agencies have been trying to make a difference in this space. So who cares about the reasons for this turnaround — finally we have a commitment.

Trade association Retail NZ says shops welcome the chance to work with government agencies and the wider industry to support initiatives that give consumers more information to make better choices about their food. They’re coming late to the party, but it’s better than not fronting at all.

If supermarkets truly want their customers to be informed they might well start with the health star ratings (HSR). Both Foodstuffs (New World and Pak’nSave) and Progressive (Countdown) have pledged to roll out the ratings across their private label products. But how about insisting on HSRs on all packaged foods in their stores? The ratings are intended to make it easier for consumers to choose healthier options. But only 22 companies are using them. Once you leave the breakfast and muesli bar aisles, they are thin on the shelves. A recent Consumer survey on HSRs showed 75% of people would like to see them on more products.

There was also concern products high in sugar (think Nutri-Grain) could gain high star ratings by bolstering other nutrients such as fibre and protein. Interestingly, a majority of people surveyed thought all packaged foods should have to carry ratings. One in five wanted stars to be capped on foods high in sugar, fat or sodium to stop manufacturers gaming the system.

The Heart Foundation has announced it’s getting rid of its Tick programme. The 25-year-old accreditation has done its dash. It had its critics but it achieved reformulations of foods high in salt, saturated fats and trans fats. The Foundation, like others interested in this space, is relying on the HSRs to push a healthy message.

The HSR system is up for its first review. That’s happening in the face of New Zealand’s escalating obesity rates. A meaningful commitment by all those in the food production chain, not just the current pick ‘n’ mix, is the only acceptable outcome. Anything less would be bad taste.

About the author:

Sue Chetwin has been our Chief Executive since April 2007 after more than 25 years in print journalism. She was formerly the Editor of Sunday News, Sunday Star Times and the Herald on Sunday.

Sue oversees all of Consumer’s operations and is also the public face of the organisation. Sue is a director of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme and a member of the Electricity Authority Retail Advisory group.