A sneaky trick for a supposedly ethical supermarket

Friday 18 July, 2014 

  • A sneaky trick for a supposedly ethical supermarket
  • 3 things to check before you buy processed food

  • Does organic food help fight cancer?


In the past, I’ve talked negatively about the impact of supermarkets on our food habits.

But I’m like anyone else, in the sense that I do have to shop in them sometimes. When you need to get the essentials, supermarkets are still… well… essential.

They’re simply everywhere.

Up and down the country, old fashioned corner shops and grocers are disappearing. Now ‘express’ versions of the big chains – Tesco and Sainsburys– are replacing them.

Like it or not, this is what’s happening. And if you run out of milk or, in the case of today’s letter, MUESLI, then it’s these shops that are usually nearest.

My preferred option has always been Co-Op, for its more ethical stance. But something happened last week that surprised me…

A sneaky trick for a supposedly ethical store

I went to my local Co-Op to pick up some muesli. The kids love the stuff, primarily because “Grumpy Dad” refuses to buy other things, such as Coco Pops and Chocolate Coated Sugar Crazy Puff Crack Balls of Lard (the last one I’ve made up for illustrative purposes).

Now, for a nutrition writer like me, muesli is minefield…

Alpen is one of the biggest brand names, with plenty of healthy ingredients in it. Alas, one of the ingredients is sugar, and a lot more of it than is probably necessary for a food that positions itself as healthy.

A 2012 supermarket survey found that Alpen Original Muesli had 23.1% sugar, although this included the natural sugar from fruit, there was ‘added sugar’ in it. They do, however, have a “no added sugar version”, meaning you only get the natural fruit sugars.  As an alternative, the healthier Dorset Cereals Simply Delicious Muesli has 16.8% sugar, though this is all from fruit.

But it’s not only what the ingredients are… but the volume which you should look at.

Because I discovered last week that Co-Op are playing a price trick on us…

On the shelf next to the Alpen was Co-Op’s own brand muesli. The packaging was wider and taller than the Alpen box. And at £1.70, compared to Alpen’s £2.00, it looked good value.

As usual I checked the ingredients to see why it was cheaper. In doing so, I looked at the small print. When I compared the cost per gram, the Co-Op version was more expensive than the Alpen.

Surely there was a mistake?

I looked at the packaging again. And there it was, the Alpen box contained 750g and the Co-Op version only 500g, despite its larger box.

Well, so much for the Co-Op’s ethical and green positioning! Aside from the misleading trick-of-the-eye, what justification does it have for increasing its ‘carbon footprint’ by using larger packaging?

It just goes to show that supermarkets and big food companies are run for their shareholders not for YOU. And as such you can’t trust them to help you be healthy. It’s simply not on their agenda.

My advice: even though it’s a pain, always check the packaging for three things –

  • Refined sugar, salt and other added processed ingredients
  • Sweeteners like aspartame that have alleged (and I believe many of these) health dangers
  • Volume – is this really as good a bargain as you’re lead to believe?

And what about fresh items in the supermarket like fruit and vegetables?

Well, here’s something else to consider…

Organic, locally sourced food helps fight cancer?

As reported in newspapers on 11th July, A Newcastle University team, led by Professor Carlo Leifert, has analysed 343 global studies that compare organic and conventional crops.
Their findings are that organic fruit and vegetables:

Contain HIGHER levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants

Contain a quarter LESS pesticide

So this doesn’t bode well for the supermarkets’ (and many of their customers’) obsessions with being able to get any fruit or veg at any time of year. Because to do so, we fly fresh food across the world, letting it deplete in nutritional value. We go for those modified crops that can produce vast quantities, but with lower levels of nutrients.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should never buy fruit and vegetables from supermarkets OR that you need to buy the pricey organic versions of everything either.

What it does suggest is what I’ve been banging on about for long time now…

If you want to get more anti-oxidants and other nutritional benefits from fresh food – with fewer chemicals – then you should buy locally, and in season. And if you want an easy way to do this, then I’d recommend you try this: ‘seasonal diet’.

My seasonal diet plan helps you get the very best taste, nutritional value and health benefits from food – without being suckered by phony superfoods, supermarket marketing tricks, or expensive organic versions.

To find out more, click here.

Anyway, that’s it from me. I’ll keep scouring those shop shelves for the latest tricks and sneak tactics and let you know what I find!




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