Growth in the consumer health and wellness industry has led to an increase of packaged foods marketed as health food (HF) products. In consequence, a 'health halo' around packaged HF has arisen that influences consumers at point-of-purchase. This study compared product claims (nutrient content claims (NCC), health claims and marketing 'buzzwords') displayed on packaged HF snack products sold in HF stores and HF aisles in supermarkets to equivalent products sold in regular aisles (RA) of supermarkets. Product Health Star Rating (HSR), nutrient profile and price were also compared. Data were collected for 2361 products from three supermarket chains, two HF chains and one independent HF store in Sydney, Australia. Mann-Whitney U tests compared the product claims, HSR, nutrient composition and unit ($) price. HF snacks displayed significantly more product claims per product compared to RA foods (HSR ≤ 2.5), median (IQR) 5.0(4.0) versus 1.0(2) and (HSR > 2.5) 4.0(4.0) versus 3.0(4), respectively (p < 0.001). A significantly different HSR was evident between HF and RA snack products, median 2.5(0) versus 2.0(1.5), respectively (p < 0.001). HF snacks cost significantly more than RA snack foods, irrespective of product HSR (p < 0.001). These findings support the recommendation for revised labelling regulations and increased education regarding consumers food label interpretation.
Keywords: food labelling; health claims; health food; health star rating; nutrient content claims; nutrient profile.