We aimed to compare New Zealand private label (PL) and branded label (BL) packaged food products in relation to their current (2019) healthiness (sodium and sugar contents, and estimated Health Star Rating (HSR) score), display of the voluntary HSR nutrition label on the package, and price. Healthiness and HSR display of products were also explored over time (2015 to 2019). Data were obtained from Nutritrack, a brand-specific food composition database. Means and proportions were compared using Student t-tests and Pearson chi-square tests, respectively. Changes over time were assessed using linear regression and chi-square tests for trends (Mantel-Haenzel tests). Altogether, 4266 PL and 19,318 BL products across 21 food categories were included. Overall, PL products in 2019 had a significantly lower mean sodium content and price, a higher proportion of products with estimated HSR ≥ 3.5/5 (48.9% vs. 38.5%) and were more likely to display the HSR on the pack compared with BL products (92.4% vs. 17.2%, respectively). However, for most food categories, no significant difference was found in mean sodium or sugar content between PL and BL products. In the period 2015-2019, there were no consistent changes in estimated HSR score, sodium or sugar contents of PL or BL products, but there was an increase in the proportion of both PL and BL products displaying HSR labels. In most food categories, there were PL options available which were similar in nutritional composition, more likely to be labelled with the HSR, and lower in cost than their branded counterparts.
Keywords: branded labels; generic labels; health star rating; healthiness; price; private labels; public health policy; sodium; sugar; supermarket packaged foods.