Ultra-processed foods have the worst nutrient profile, yet they are the most available packaged products in a sample of New Zealand supermarkets

Public Health Nutr. 2016 Feb;19(3):530-8. doi: 10.1017/S1368980015002177. Epub 2015 Jul 29.


Objective: To examine the availability of packaged food products in New Zealand supermarkets by level of industrial processing, nutrient profiling score (NPSC), price (energy, unit and serving costs) and brand variety.

Design: Secondary analysis of cross-sectional survey data on packaged supermarket food and non-alcoholic beverages. Products were classified according to level of industrial processing (minimally, culinary and ultra-processed) and their NPSC.

Setting: Packaged foods available in four major supermarkets in Auckland, New Zealand.

Subjects: Packaged supermarket food products for the years 2011 and 2013.

Results: The majority (84% in 2011 and 83% in 2013) of packaged foods were classified as ultra-processed. A significant positive association was found between the level of industrial processing and NPSC, i.e., ultra-processed foods had a worse nutrient profile (NPSC=11.63) than culinary processed foods (NPSC=7.95), which in turn had a worse nutrient profile than minimally processed foods (NPSC=3.27), P<0.001. No clear associations were observed between the three price measures and level of processing. The study observed many variations of virtually the same product. The ten largest food manufacturers produced 35% of all packaged foods available.

Conclusions: In New Zealand supermarkets, ultra-processed foods comprise the largest proportion of packaged foods and are less healthy than less processed foods. The lack of significant price difference between ultra- and less processed foods suggests ultra-processed foods might provide time-poor consumers with more value for money. These findings highlight the need to improve the supermarket food supply by reducing numbers of ultra-processed foods and by reformulating products to improve their nutritional profile.

Keywords: Food brands; Nutrient profiling; Price; Processed food; Supermarket interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Databases, Factual
  • Energy Intake
  • Fast Foods / economics
  • Fast Foods / supply & distribution*
  • Food Handling / economics*
  • Food Packaging / economics*
  • Linear Models
  • New Zealand
  • Nutritive Value*