Star ratings for food labelling gets go-ahead

Food and health ministers in Sydney have today approved a new star rating system aimed at making it easier for consumers to make healthier purchasing decisions.

The Health Star Rating has been designed to replace the Daily Intake Guide system, and will be adopted by food companies on a voluntary basis.

It will be similar to the energy efficiency star rating system for whitegoods and will see highly nutritious processed foods given more stars, while those foods lacking nutritional value will have fewer stars.

The star ratings will appear on the front of food packages, with additional information about the key nutrients that consumers want to know about, including sugars, saturated fat, sodium and kilojoules.

The system was developed by government, industry and public health group representatives, together with consumer group Choice.

Choice chair, Jenni Mack, said the system's approval today is a major win for Australian consumers.

"We know how difficult it can be when you’re in the supermarket trying to make a healthy choice, particularly when you’re in a rush and don’t have time to scour the complex information on the back of packs," she said.

"Shoppers are also bamboozled by the barrage of marketing on food products and the star rating will cut through this confusion. A five star rating instantly says a product is a great choice, while one star says it is a ‘sometimes’ food."

A clear, easy to understand labelling system was one of the key recommendations of the 2011 Blewett review of food labelling, but getting consumers and industry to agree on the best system has been difficult.

Introduced in 2006 as a voluntary initiative, Daily Intake Guide (DIG) nutrition labels now appear on over 7,200 food products on Australian supermarket shelves, and while the Australian Food and Grocery Council says the DIG labels provide an easy to read summary of a product's nutritional content, others, including Choice, have said it's confusing and potentially misleading.

Another labelling system considered in recent years is a traffic light scheme, which would use green, yellow and red colours to indicate a product's nutritional value.

Food brands rejected this system however, no doubt uncomfortable with having their products branded with a red 'light' and arguing it's too simplistic.

“Traffic light labels categorise foods as good and bad – but all foods can form part of a balanced diet," AFGC chief executive (at the time) Kate Carnell said.

Top food brands help to produce ‘future food leaders’

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has teamed up with the University of Queensland to establish the Agents of Change PhD program, which aims to help develop food professionals and capitalise on export opportunities in Asia.

The new research and training centre, at The University of Queensland's St Lucia campus in Brisbane received a $2.695m grant from the Australian Research Council for the Agents of Change PhD program, with the wider food industry also throwing in $600,000.

“The program will bridge the public/private divide in the food industry and produce graduates with deep scientific capability, as well as knowledge in business, leadership and commercialisation,” said Melissa Fitzgerald, director of the federal government-funded centre.

“We aim to produce future food industry leaders,” she said.

Graduates of the program will work on improving global food security and will help Australia to take advantage of Asia’s growing demand for safe, healthy and high-quality foods and retail-ready ingredients.

The first cohort of 10 PhD students and three postdoctoral researchers will start at the training centre early in 2014.

Fitzgerald said the PhD-level training will lead to opportunities in industry rather than academia.

“Our PhD graduates will be business-ready leaders and innovators of tomorrow's food industry,” she said.

Campbell Arnotts, SunRice, Heinz, PepsiCo, Simplot, and Goodman Fielder are among the companies partnering with UQ and the AFGC to offer the PhD. Each of these food brands will work with one student, who will research an area of specific interest to that company.

“The student also will work in the company, carrying out parts of their research,” said AFGC’s chief executive, Geoffrey Annison.

Professor Fitzgerald said the program is aimed at students who may have studied food science at undergraduate level “and want more”.

“Currently there is nowhere in Australia where they can get the scientific quality of a PhD together with the ‘in-company' experience that is essential to a vocational career in industry,” she said.


Daily Intake Guide achieves 60 percent boost in adoption rates

Introduced in 2006 as a voluntary initiative, Daily Intake Guide (DIG) nutrition labels now appear on over 7,200 food products on Australian supermarket shelves.

A recent statement from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) states that an audit conducted in May 2013 found that adoption of the DIG labels has increased by over 60 percent since 2011, gaining wide acceptance across all major categories.

The DIG initiative provides consumers with an easy to read front of pack nutrition label which is designed to promote a healthy, balanced diet. The labels show the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in a standard portion of the food and how that translates to average daily intake.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson, says that the widespread adoption of the DIG labels over the past two years represents a major investment by food companies and retailers in providing transparent information on nutritional content.

“To have the DIG now on more than 7,200 products represents an investment conservatively estimated at around $72 million in changing food packaging to improve nutritional information,” said Dawson.

“With more and more food products featuring DIG front-of-pack labels, it’s an easy way for people and families to formulate a daily eating plan according to their individual needs and activity levels.”

Dawson says that industry in continuing to work with Government and other stakeholders to develop a uniform nutrition labelling system, however the wide acceptance of the DIG shows that it should remain as a foundation informative element on labels.

“Extensive international scientific literature has demonstrated that informative elements such as DIG are an essential part of any effective front-of-pack labelling scheme to enable consumers to identify healthier choices,” he Dawson. 


Soft plastics recycling program launched in Canberra

The Australian Food and Grocery Council, together with Coles and the RED Group, has launched a soft plastics recycling program in Canberra today, to help mark World Environment Day.

The joint initiative will be rolled out across Canberra's eight Coles stores in a move to reduce the amount of soft plastic packaging going to the city's landfill.

AFGC CEO, Gary Dawson, "Food and grocery brand owners take the environmental impact of their packaging material seriously and so are pleased to support this product stewardship program. The good news is that recycling plastic not only reduces the amount of waste going to landfill, but it also reduces the need to use precious natural resources."

The program will see Coles customers drop off soft plastic packaging from food and grocery items as well as their plastic shopping bags which will be collected by the RED Group and sent to Melbourne, where it will then be recycled by Replas into outdoor furniture and other products.

These products will then be donated to schools and will also be available for purchase.

RED Group director, Liz Kasell, said the launch in Canberra resulted from the collaboration of Coles, RED Group, Replas, and key Australian food and grocery brands including Bird’s Eye, McCain, Helga’s, Sunrice, Kellogg’s, Tip Top, Abbott’s Village Bakery, Wonder White, Arnott’s, Cadbury and Kleenex. 


AFGC gives SMEs a stronger voice on board

The Australian Food and Grocery Council is fully-funding two seats on its board in a move to strengthen the representation of small to medium enterprises.

Terry O'Brien, AFGC chair and MD of Simplot Australia announced the changes to the council's board composition at its Highlands Senior Executive Forum.

He announced that the AFGC will fully fund two board seats for members with organisations with sales below $50m. It will also establish an SME Forum – a peer to peer group focusing on emerging issues which may impact manufacturers and suppliers.

"The decision is a positive step that will give us insight into the particular challenges SME companies face in the food and grocery industry, and further enhances representation across all our membership," he said.

Fifty-four percent of the AFGC's membership are SMEs, but O'Brien insists the changes to the board will ensure it continues to represent all of its members – from the multinationals to the small enterprises.

"The decision to enhance and support SME representation on the Board is one of many avenues we are undertaking to engage smaller companies that do not necessarily have the resources to keep up to speed with industry and regulatory developments and their implications for business."


National Food Plan lacks urgency, says AFGC

Released over the weekend by the Minister for Agriculture Joe Ludwig, the National Food Plan contains worthy goals for boosting food exports and production but lacks urgency, says the Australian Food and Grocery Council.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said the Council has long advocated for a National Food Plan which provides policy on ensuring that Australia has a safe, nutritious, sustainable and affordable food supply and can capitalise on export opportunities.

"The National Food Plan released today [Saturday, 25 May] takes a number of steps towards this by establishing the Australian Council on Food to bring the challenges of food production and manufacturing ‘front of mind’ to the nation's most senior policy makers, while the five yearly reviews of the National Food Plan will enable governments to track the progress of meeting long term sectoral objectives, critical to the success of the industry," he said.

Dawson also praised the $28.5m Asian Food Markets Research Fund which is expected to provide insights into Asian consumer buying preferences, build on Australian products' 'clean and green image' and maximise our competitive advantage.

Where the Plan falls short, according to Dawson, is that it lacks urgency in addressing the immediate challenges affecting the competitiveness of the food manufacturing sector, and will require much bolder policies in order to be effective.

"Given the scale and importance of food production and processing to the Australian economy the initiatives outlined today are very modest. There is little to build confidence to invest and no immediate action to tackle regulatory reform," said Dawson.

"While long term aspirations are important, industry needs the government to act urgently because without a competitive domestic industry these opportunities will never be realised."

The Greens have also come out criticising the National Food Plan, saying it fails to address issues surrounding the supermarket duopoly and lax food labelling laws, the Australian reports.

However, the National Farmers' Federation is happy with the Plan, with president Duncan Fraser saying it's a sign that the government has been listening to Australia's farmers.

"We asked the government to include collaboration between the agricultural sector and the Government on the creation of brands to promote Australian production. Today, the Minister has announced $2m as part of the Food Plan to develop a brand identity for Australian food and related technology," he said.

"We asked the government to ensure that work is done beyond the farm gate to improve opportunities for farmers to sell their produce, including a greater investment in understanding international markets. The Minister has today announced $28.5 million for research to tackle roadblocks to export, including a study into food needs and preferences, helping businesses increase their exports."

The NFF also praised the $5.6m allocated to building relationships with trading partners, including expanding the network of specialists that support agricultural trade in Asia, as well as the launch of a Productivity Commission review to identify priority areas of reform of food supply regulations.

"Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we asked the government to play a role in working with the agricultural sector to improve consumers’ understanding and perception of agriculture. We welcome the inclusion of $1.5 million to develop resources and provide professional development to support teaching about food and agriculture through the Australian curriculum – this is a starting point for what must be a greater long-term investment from government and industry," said Fraser.

The National Food Plan will also see the creation of a new Food and Beverage Supplier Advocate who will work with small- to medium-sized Australian businesses to help build new opportunities both within Australia and globally.


Boomerang hits back at AFGC over “offensive” remarks

Environmental group, The Boomerang Alliance, has hit back at the AFGC for making “offensive” remarks regarding its proposed Container Deposit Scheme (CDS).

A recent press release sent out by the Australian Food and Grocery Council claimed that a petition prepared by the Boomerang Alliance “actively misled petitionersstating that the petition was based on a false description of a CDS proposal.

The statement claimed that Boomerang’s proposal did not mention that consumers would be likely to be charged an additional 20c on top of the 10c refundable deposit at the checkout, and was therefore misleading.

Dave West, national policy coordinator for the Alliance, refuted the comments by pointing out that the petition bluntly states that the price will only increase by a 10c deposit which will be refunded if the container is returned to a recycling depot, and that there will be no additional cost passed onto industry or consumers.

“To say that they will pay 20c at the cash register is absolutely contrary to the design and agreed rules that are being modelled by the state government,” West told Food Magazine.

West said that the scheme titled Recycling Refunds, has two core provisions:

  1. There is no charge to the bottler or retailer other than the deposit
  2. It prohibits the bottler or retailer from charging more than the deposit

Container deposit schemes in Australia have received a negative image over the past few years due to profiteering allegations in South Australia and the Northern Territory.

“Both the SA and NT schemes were subject to a senate inquiry within the past 12 months regarding profiteering,” said West. “That (inquiry) showed that it’s not an offense to profit take because the scheme didn’t put in provisions.

“The industry needs to know that there are a range of costs under different models, one is being designed to be industry-friendly which is ours,” he said. “The collection is not at a depot, it’s actually at the shopping centre carpark, and the retailer gets paid for doing that because they have to do a job.”

According to West the Boomerang Alliance’s scheme self funds and runs at a small surplus for security. He said the CDS is based on similar models used in Hawaii and California.  

“Hawaii and California are quite good models for Australia because they both have long transport distances and a similar outdoor lifestyle.”

West said that the Alliance has delivered approximately 420,000 petitions to government in support of the scheme.

“We are not trying to pretend that container deposits are the same everywhere, but we have been really clear because the number that is actually going to win or lose this from government isn’t how many people support a CDS scheme, it’s how many are willing to pay.

“I’m not trying to pretend that this is popular with industry, it’s not popular with industry. The vast majority of the industry has been constructive in its input, is accepting there is a proposal and is happy for government to decide on a proposal based on its merit.”


AUSVEG supports Greens’ country of origin reforms

The Greens' proposed overhaul of country of origin labelling laws has received the backing of growers organisation, AUSVEG.

Earlier this week the Greens introduced a bill into the Senate seeking to overhaul Australia's country of origin labelling system, which Greens senator Christine Milne described as "too confusing."

The Bill seeks to simplify labelling into three claims: Product of or Grown in Australia; Manufactured in Australia; and Packaged in Australia.

AUSVEG, which represents Australia’s 9,000 vegetable and potato growers, has thrown its weight behind the Greens, with spokesperson Hugh Gurney saying any move which aims to make it easier for consumers to support homegrown produce is welcome.

"Senator Milne highlighted that consumers want to support Australian farmers. Recent research conducted has shown that 80 percent of consumers want to purchase Australian produce to support farmers and for our nation to have a viable food industry.

"Current labelling claims, including the downright baffling 'Made in New Zealand from Local and Imported ingredients', provide consumers with no certainty whatsoever that the food they choose has been produced to the incredibly high standards of quality and safety as those seen in Australia," said Gurney.

At the moment, a product from China can travel to New Zealand, be processed and sent onto Australia under the claim 'Made in New Zealand from Local and Imported Ingredients'.

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) opposes the Bill, however, claiming it has the potential to mislead consumers and drive jobs offshore because it focuses purely on food ingredients and doesn't provide clear information on where the value-adding process takes place on processed foods.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said "The Greens' Country of Origin Labelling proposal fails its own test in protecting Australian jobs by effectively ignoring the economic value-add of the nearly 300,000 Australians employed directly in the food and grocery processing sector, including 8,000 in Tasmania."

And worse, it expressly bars companies from using 'Made in Australia' on their labelling to indicate that the jobs in the manufacture of the product are here in Australia. This will not only mislead Australian consumers, but also remove any export advantage Australian food manufacturing companies have in promoting Australian premium brands particularly in Asian markets," he said.

Australian Made also rejects the Greens' Bill, with chief executive Ian Harrison arguing the current labelling regime needs to be changed, but these proposed reforms fall short of what Australia needs.

"The proposed Bill is a step in the right direction, but misses the mark on some very important issues, including substantial transformation, which is all about where products are made," he said.


Budget deficits symbolise weakness in the economy, AFGC

In light of the 2013 budget forecasting deficits of $19.4b this financial year and $18b next financial year, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) believes that the announcement underlines weaknesses in the economy that has been reported by consumer goods companies for some time.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson, said that the budget left little to stimulate growth and confidence as the axing of the baby bonus, tax increases, deferral of tax cuts and reductions in family assistance will all result in a reduction of consumer spending in an already weak economy.   

"Food and grocery manufacturers and suppliers have been reporting for some time the negative combined effects of the high Australian dollar, rising input costs and retail price deflation, creating the most challenging trading conditions for decades,” he said.

"The dramatic swing from a forecast surplus to deep deficits this year and next must raise serious doubts about the government's predicted return to surplus in 2016/17.  Massive budget deficits create a climate of uncertainty for business which undermines confidence and investment, essential to underpin jobs and growth."

Dawson said that one of ‘bright spots’ in the budget, the widely mooted reduction in the Clean Technology Program did not occur and that the program has been maintained and rephrased to cater for high demand.

"Many food and grocery manufacturers have sought assistance through the Food and Foundries element of the Clean Technology program to invest in low emission and energy efficient technologies to offset the higher costs flowing from the introduction of the Carbon Tax,” he said.

"However for a trade exposed sector that is critical to the nation's manufacturing base there is nothing in this budget to attack the regulatory burden choking investment and growth.”


Coles praised for fighting hunger with Foodbank award

Supermarket chain, Coles, has been presented with Foodbank's Patron's Award, recognising its ten year partnership with the food relief organisation.

The Governor-General Quentin Bryce presented the award over the weekend at an event at Admiralty House, attended by 80 of Foodbank's supporters.

The Patron's Award is presented to a company that has demonstrated unrivalled commitment over time to furthering Foodbank's objectives, and has acted as a role model to other organisations.

Over the course of its ten year relationship with the organisation, Coles has contributed to 10 million meals beginf generated for Australians in need. In 2012 alone, Coles donated 1.26kg of food and groceries.

Foodbank Australia’s chairman, Enzo Allara said "As a Foodbank partner, Coles is continually surpassing its commitment to provide food donations, ensuring that food rescue is integrated into its supply management procedures and always looking out for new ways it can support Foodbank’s efforts.

"Coles is a committed partner in our goal to end hunger in Australia and for that we would like to recognise and thank them for their tireless efforts over the last ten years," he said.

Foodbank is a non-denominational, non-profit, national organisation with distribution centres in all states, the Northern Territory and eight regional centres.

The organisation is endorsed by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) as the food industry's charity partner, and in 2012, donated 24 million kilograms of food, creating 32 million meals.

Dollar’s slide must continue, says food manufacturers

Food manufacturers across the country breathed a collective sigh of relief on Friday when, for the first time in almost a year, the dollar fell below parity against the greenback.

But that doesn't mean the troubles are behind manufacturers, who are arguing that the dollar needs to fall much further to fight off the wave of cheap imports threatening homegrown brands.

According to the Australian, Gary Dawson, chief executive at the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), said the dollar needs to fall closer to US76c.

"There's no doubt the high dollar has a significantly negative effect on the competitiveness of food manufacturing in Australia, so the recent falls are welcome. But it would need to move lower for longer to start having some impact," he said.

A spokesperson from Ferrier Hodgson, the administrators for Rosella, which collapsed late last year, said the high Aussie dollar had caused supermarkets to look towards imported private label products, but said even if the dollar had dropped by 10 percent it probably wouldn't have been enough to save the brand.

Coca-Cola Amatil also entered into the debate, claiming cheap imported tinned fruits contributed to the recent struggles of its SPC Ardmona brand, which has suffered a nine percent drop in first-half earnings.

However, managing director Terry Davis said the dollar's slide will make some imported goods more expensive.

"The softening of the Australian dollar against the euro is better news as this will help inflate the prices of the very cheap imported fruit and tomatoes coming in from European markets which have been flooding our domestic markets," he said.


Coles adds iconic brands to Down Down range

Vegemite, Cornflakes and Milo are among more than 40 new products added to Coles' discounted Down Down range.

The supermarket chain's growing focus on its Down Down range is supported by Coles customer research which found that three out of four Australians purchase big brands when they're discounted.

Coles merchandise director, John Durkan said "Australian customers want lower prices, but do not want to sacrifice their favourite big brands. It has been fantastic to work with these great suppliers, who like us are looking to deliver even more value to Australian customers every day."

Additions to the range include:

  • Kraft Vegemite (600g) was $7.99 now $7.00 – down 13 percent
  • Old El Paso Taco Kit (290-405gm) was $6.25 now $5.50- down 12 percent
  • Nestle Milo (1.25kg) was $13.85 now $12.00 – down 14 percent
  • Kellogg’s Cornflakes (725g) was $5.25 now $4.00 – down 24 percent

While consumers might welcome the discounts at the checkout, the supermarket giant has copped criticism for its heavy discounting, especially after its last round of product discounts was announced.

In January, Coles added more than 100 private-label products to the range, prompting the Australian Food and Grocery Council to accuse the chain of looking after itself rather than its suppliers.

The AFGC's arguments was strengthened by research released by Coles which found that its product range dropped 11 percent from 62,000 products to 55,000 from mid-2010 to mid-2012.

"These figures confirm what shoppers report anecdotally – that they often can’t find their favourite products on the shelves any more when they go to the major supermarkets," said AFGC's chief, Gary Dawson.

"The latest aggressive campaign by Coles to promote their private label products is a sign that this trend will continue."

Coles quickly responded however, arguing the AFGC was only telling half the story.

A statement issued by Coles read "Unfortunately, the AFGC have ignored the detailed Deloitte analysis about why and what has happened in Coles’ supermarkets and the Deloitte conclusion because it does not suit their story. The Deloitte report concludes: '…effective choice in the store is still high and consumers may be better off overall'".

Coles went on to add that branded products make up 75 percent of all products sold in its stores.


Allergy information portal now available for food manufacturers

Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), together with government, industry and consumer groups, has launched a new portal providing manufacturers with information on how to manage food allergies.

The portal, which also targets consumers, is supported by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and comes just days before Food Allergy Awareness Week kicks off (13-19 May).

"Consumers with food allergies continue to benefit from the food manufacturing industry’s long and successful track-record of working collaboratively to ensure safer food choices,” AFGC chief executive, Gary Dawson, said.

The portal can be found on the FSANZ website, and was developed by the Allergen Collaboration –  established by FSANZ in late 2011 to strengthen engagement and collaboration among a range of key stakeholders involved in managing food allergens.

"This new allergy portal is an important addition to the information and tools already available in promoting awareness about food allergies and how to manage them. The portal also allows new best practice resources to be promoted, as well as filling gaps in education materials," said Dawson.

Recent developments helping consumers to avoid food allergies include a new filter added to the food-scanning app, FoodSwitch, which allows users with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance to avoid foods containing gluten.

The AGFC together with GS1 also recently launched the GoScan iphone app which allows consumers to view allergen declarations, ingredients lists and nutritional content by scanning the product's bar code.


Food growth leading the way in retail sales

While the latest AFGC CHEP Retail Index indicates that consumer confidence remains shaky and retail growth is lacklustre, ABS statistics show that food is in a better position than other retail sectors.

The Index is a collaborative project between the Australian Food and Grocery Council and CHEP Australia, using CHEP's transactional data based on pallet movements to predict performance in the retail market.

The Index reports that the rate of growth in retail trade decreased marginally in the first three months of 2013, and is expected to ease further as the year continues. It also showed three percent growth in the March quarter year-on-year, but forecasts growth will ease to 2.6 percent in the June quarter.

In March, the Index indicates that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) will report year-on-year growth of 2.6 percent, with turnover of $21.7 billion. May retail trade growth is predicted to be 2.8 percent year-on-year, with turnover increasing to $21.9 billion.

Australian Food & Grocery Council (AFGC) CEO, Gary Dawson, said "Retail conditions have been soft through the beginning of 2013, and the Index confirms that consumer confidence remains fragile, with low interest rates yet to bring a sustained lift in the retail sector."

The findings are slightly more promising for food, with recent ABS statistics showing food and grocery retail has a more solid rate of year-on-year growth than overall retail sales growth.

Food retail growth was 4.6 percent in February 2013, with spending on cafés, restaurants and takeaway food seeing a similarly solid growth rate. By contrast, department stores experienced year-on-year sales growth below one percent in February, as growth in online sales and ongoing price deflation make their mark in non-food retailing.


AFGC says choice being eroded by private labels

Manufacturers’ representative the Australian Food and Grocery Council has expressed renewed concern about the spread of private label brands throughout supermarkets.

The Australian Financial Review reports that the AFGC, a long-time critic of the increasing penetration of privately labelled products in supermarkets, has claimed that these products are being pushed onto shoppers, rather than sought out.

“We know that choice is being restricted and therefore competition is also being restricted under the private label strategies,” the organisation’s CEO Gary Dawson told the AFR.

“Clearly consumers have to choose from what’s in front of them, and there’s no lack of complaints about what’s happened to their choice.”

Recent research from Deloitte Access Economics has found that Coles’s product range has reduced by 11 per cent from mid-2010 to mid-2012, and the AFR reported earlier in the week that Woolworths’ home brand sales are growing at double digit percentages.

Coles has disputed the AFGC’s claim that 7000 branded units have been removed from shelves in the last two years, saying that these have made way for new items, and what has been removed has included both in-house and branded products.

It has been estimated that roughly a quarter of goods in Australian supermarkets are privately-labelled, compared to over a half of products in German and UK stores.

Earlier this week, Peter Brooks of Tru-Blu Beverages said that manufacturers should recognise the changing supermarket environment and adapt accordingly.

“It's a fact of life and that's where the future is heading for some categories,” he offered, explaining that supermarkets had the right to stock what they wanted.

“As long as you have the right structure and the ability to manufacture products at a competitive price you should be able to be reasonably competitive in the private label business,” he said.

The ACCC is currently investigating suppliers’ complaints regarding the supermarket duopoly’s practices.



AFGC takes Choice’s findings with a grain of salt

The food manufacturing industry is proactively addressing salt levels in foods, says the AFGC's CEO, who dismisses recent claims by Choice that salt levels in some childrens' foods are "unacceptably high".

Consumer group, Choice, used data provided by The George Institute for Global Health, in reviewing the nutritional content of more than 240 products aimed at, or likely to be consumed by, children. Of those, 20 percent were classified as high in salt, nearly 60 percent had medium levels and 20 percent were classified as low in salt.

Choice referred to the salt levels as "unacceptably high" and was also concerned that childrens' breakfast foods and lunchbox items are being marketed as healthy products when in fact this may not be the case.

AFGC CEO, Gary Dawson, said "Levels of salt and other nutrients and energy are clearly displayed through the industry led Dietary Intake Guide (DIG) thumbnails on a wide variety of foods, including snack foods.

"While the most recent data from the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey tells us that breakfast cereals contribute only about four to five percent of Australian childrens’ sodium intake."

The food manufacturing industry is committed to improving the health of its products, by reducing salt and saturated fat, and increasing fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content, says Dawson.

Just last month Dawson welcomed the announcement – part of the Food and Health Dialogue – that food manufacturers, retailers and the federal government had united in their commitment to reduce sodium levels in savoury crackers.

"The AFGC and industry’s partnership with government, through the Food and Health Dialogue is supported by the Healthier Australia Commitment which aims to reduce sodium and saturated fat 25 percent and  12. percent energy in products and to promote healthier diets and increasing levels of activity," he said.


Recycling rates on the rise

New data released by the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) shows that Australia's drink container recycling rates are continuing to rise, with manufacturers' lightweighting of PET bottles playing a considerable role.

In 2011-12, Australians recycled an extra 42,284 tonnes of drink containers compared to the previous year, according to a report from waste analysts Industry Edge and Equilibrium.

This rise – which is despite an increase in the overall numbers of containers in the market – is thanks to a combination of manufacturers' lightweighting of PET plastic drink bottles and significant additional recycling, particularly of glass.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Light weighting of PET drink bottles has reduced by nearly 12,000 tonnes the volume of PET put into the market (equating to a 10.7 percent  reduction);
  • 60 percent of all PET (plastic) drink bottles are now being recycled; and
  • In total, an extra 42,284 tonnes of drink containers were recycled, the bulk of which were glass.

Gary Dawson, AFGC chief executive, said "These results confirm the effectiveness of the current recycling schemes, through both the AFGC’s Packaging Stewardship Forum, and the Australian Packaging Covenant, that are delivering sustained improvements in beverage container recycling at no cost to the community.

"Australians are great recyclers, but we believe we can accelerate these improvements by making it easier and more convenient than ever to recycle packaging," he said.

"That’s why industry is ready to roll out a $100 million dollar national recycling scheme, the National Bin Network, that builds on the practical, targeted initiatives that we know from experience, and the results released today, do work. Our scheme delivers for the environment, but is fully industry funded and won’t cost families like a drink container tax would."


Beverage industry welcomes NT Container Tax ruling

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has welcomed the Federal Court's finding that the Northern Territory container tax doesn't apply to beverages manufactured in other states.

It was found that the Northern Territory Drink Container Deposit Scheme substantially contravenes the Mutual Recognition Act 1992 (Cth) after three beverage giants – Coca-Cola Amatil, Schweppes and Lion – challenged the legal validity of the scheme.

This effectively means that the container tax doesn't apply to beverages manufactured in other states but sold in the Northern Territory.

CEO of the AFGC, Gary Dawson, said the judgement demonstrates that the NT scheme is flawed.

"Industry reiterates, and has made numerous approaches to the Northern Territory Government, that there are better, cheaper and simpler solutions to reduce waste and boost recycling that don't cost consumers and are easy to implement. The AFGC and its members remain ready to work with the government to roll these solutions out across the Territory," he said.

Dawson said the scheme has increased grocery bills for consumers, many of whom are already recycling and "doing the right thing", and has been plagued with commercial disputes and low participation rates.

"The government's own published results show that more than two-thirds of drink containers sold into the Territory have not been returned and are still ending up in landfill or as litter.  For all the expense and inconvenience, the scheme is clearly not delivering for the environment," he said.

CCA to drop prices
Following the ruling, CCA announced it will be reducing its prices in the Northern Territory while at the same time working with the state's government and Keep Australia Beautiful to minimise all litter and expand recycling projects.

CCA said the NT scheme has been an "environmental failure" with just one out of three containers sold being recycled, well below the national average.

A statement issued by the global beverage giant reiterates its commitment to recycling and minimising its environmental impact.

"CCA has invested $450 million into technology to produce lightweight bottles, and in fact now makes the lightest weight PET plastic bottles in the global Coca-Cola system, and which has enabled us to reduce the carbon footprint of our PET packaging by more than 20 percent," the statement reads.

CCA has been lobbying against a similar scheme in Wesern Australia where beverage manufacturers are charged a levy for each can or bottle they produce, and consumers are paid a small amount for handing containers in to recycling points.

Its opposition to such schemes has, however, led to criticism from environmental groups including the Conservation Council of WA, which has accused CCA of putting profits ahead of community concerns.


New chairman at AFGC

Terry O'Brien is stepping in as the new chairman of the Australian Food and Grocery Council following the resignation of Fonterra's John Doumani.

Doumani, managing director, Australia and New Zealand, at Fonterra, has been on the board of the AFGC for five years, two of which as chairman.

O'Brien, MD of Simplot Australia, said despite the food and grocery manufacturing experiencing tough times, industry members are optimistic about the future.

"There has never been a more important time for the food and grocery manufacturing sector to maintain a strong voice. Industry priorities include regulatory reform to reduce compliance costs; getting R&D tax incentives right along with other measures to boost innovation; and engaging with retailers to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of the food and grocery supply chain," he said.

"I look forward to leading the AFGC."

O'Brien has more than 25 years industry experience, including two stints on AFGC's board, and CEO Gary Dawson said his expertise will be valuable moving forward.

"It's great to have someone with so much industry knowledge and vitality who will help AFGC take up these important challenges and to work with government to strengthen the current operating environment," Dawson said.

"I would also like to thank John Doumani for his impressive leadership of the AFGC Board. Mr Doumani has been a fantastic advocate for all facets of our industry.

"Under his direction, the AFGC has played a key role in development of the National Food Plan, launched the Healthier Australia Commitment and implemented a range of proactive whole of industry initiatives."

Chris Delaney, CEO of Goodman Fielder, will step into O'Brien's previous role as deputy chairman.


Gov and food industry go crackers for salt reduction

As part of the Food and Health Dialogue, food manufacturers, retailers and the federal government have united in their commitment to reduce sodium levels in savoury crackers.

Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) CEO Gary Dawson welcomed the announcement saying the Australian food industry continues to take significant steps through innovation, reformulation and other initiatives to assist Australians to improve their health and wellbeing.

“This announcement underlines the value of initiatives where industry, governments and health organisations work collaboratively to improve the health of all Australians,” said Dawson.

“Industry supports the work of the Food and Health Dialogue and remains committed to the process of improving the nutritional value of commonly eaten foods by reducing salt, saturated fat and energy, and increasing fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content.”

Dawson also congratulated the industry for its continued investment in a number of initiatives that complement the Food and Health Dialogue, such as the Daily Intake Guide food labelling scheme, the industry commitment to responsible marketing of foods to children, and the Healthy Australia Commitment, an industry-led, multi-year strategy to improve the overall health of Australians, including by reducing sodium, saturated fat and energy in food products.

“It is important to consider the multi-factorial nature of noncommunicable diseases and recognise that collaborative, multi-sectoral partnership approaches have a demonstrated track record of success in Australia and overseas,” said Dawson.

“Industry partnerships, yield far greater benefits than shoehorning industry into regulations that increase complexity and costs and generally result in perverse outcomes with little or no public health benefit.”

The federal government’s Food and Health Dialogue is based on the 2007 National Children’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey which found that the dietary patterns of many Australian children are less than optimal with high consumption of salt and saturated fat, and low consumption of fruit and vegetables.

As a result, in March 2009, the Food and Health Dialogue was established, with its primary activity being action on food innovation, including a voluntary reformulation program across a range of commonly consumed foods. The reformulation program aims to reduce the saturated fat, added sugar, sodium and energy, and increase the fibre, wholegrain, fruit and vegetable content across nominated food categories.