Shoppers who choose supermarket “economy” ranges may be risking their health.
A survey by the National Consumer Council found that the cheaper food items contained high levels of salt and also had more fat and sugar than standard lines.
The watchdog also accused some retailers of undermining efforts to reduce health inequalities and tackle the obesity crisis. In particular, it found that there were fewer healthy food promotions in stores where low-income customers were likely to shop.
For example, an economy line breakfast comprising two slices of toast with spread, two sausages, baked beans and tomato sauce could contain as much as two-thirds of the recommended daily salt intake for an adult.
Morrisons was the worst offender, followed by Somerfield. Even the Tesco breakfast, which was the least salty, had more than half the recommended daily amount for an adult.
A total of 49 economy lines were analysed, of which only 17 items met targets set by the Food Standards Agency for sodium content.
The main lines under scrutiny were Asda’s Smartprice, Co-op’s Everyday, Morrisons Bettabuy, Sainsbury’s Basics, Somerfield’s Make Sense and Tesco’s Value. Economy ranges are not sold at Marks & Spencer or Waitrose and the Co-op has a limited selection.
All of Asda’s Smartprice products had more salt than their standard versions. Sainsbury’s Basics pizza, tomato soup, white bread and sausages all contained more salt than their standard equivalents. Half of Morrisons Bettabuy products had more salt than standard ranges, including sausages which had double the salt.
A third of Tesco’s Value products, however, were lower in salt than the standard items.
Lord Whitty, the NCC chairman, said: “Consumers who rely on economy ranges are clearly being short-changed on health. Supermarkets’ poor performance on economy lines is a backward step since last year.
Retailers had made progress in reducing salt in standard food lines and there was no good reason why they could not tackle the economy items, Lord Whitty said. “Budget-conscious shoppers must not be shut out from eating healthily.”
The NCC report rated stores on the salt content of own brand lines, price promotions, prevalence of snacks at checkouts, labelling and advice and information to customers.
The ten foods scrutinised were baked beans, canned tomato soup, cheese and tomato pizza, cornflakes, pork sausages, salt and vinegar crisps, sunflower/vegetable fat spread, tomato ketchup, tomato pasta sauce and white sliced bread.
The British Retail Consortium dismissed the findings and said the report was “out of date” and based on visits made to stores six months ago.
Morrisons, in a statement last night, criticised the NCC report and said it had not taken into the account the “great strides” made by the chain in the past six months. The company said it was continuing to reduce levels of salt.