Despite Israeli Health Ministry’s War on Harmful Snack Food, Consumption Not Dropping

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Snacks on display at a supermarket.Credit: Daniel Bar-On

Despite the Health Ministry’s campaign against unhealthy snack foods that are high in sugar or salt, Israeli consumers continue to fill their shopping carts with them.

A survey by TheMarker has revealed that sales of sugary snack foods are actually on the increase while food manufacturers’ revenues on salty snacks have not declined since the ministry launched a campaign at the beginning of June against overconsumption of sodium, which comes mainly from salty foods.

The manufacturers’ revenues from snack foods were up last month by 0.4% over the same period in 2015. The actual volume of snack food sold did drop by 1.5% but it may be seen as part of a more general trend of a drop in food sales, which have declined by 1.2% since the beginning of the year.

Sales of sweet snack foods rose last month by 1% compared to June of last year. In shekel sales terms, there was a decline of 0.3% compared to June of last year, but that is thought to be a result of promotional sales.

The data for the survey are from the business data firms Nielsen and Storenext and are based on sales figures from the major supermarket chains, small grocery stores and convenience stores.

At the beginning of June, the Health Ministry launched a broadcast campaign warning of the effects of overconsumption of salty manufactured snack food, a campaign that angered the manufacturers. Consumption of large amounts of sodium, the broadcast declared, “causes serious health problems, for example, high blood pressure, stomach cancer and heart disease.”

The manufacturers contended that the Health Ministry later withdrew the campaign because its allegations were exaggerated, as well, perhaps, over concern that it would stir up legal problems.

Two weeks ago at a food industry conference, Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov said the campaign was launched because a major change in consumption of the foods by Israelis was necessary as half of Israeli adults are overweight. The ministry changed course over the campaign, he said, because it saw the willingness on the food industry’s part to institute changes. “Our ultimate test will be if we make the industry change,” said Bar Siman Tov.

Last week at a meeting on the subject, he said the changes that the manufacturers have made to their products of their own volition, such as the gradual reduction in salt and sugar content, were insufficient. More explicit labeling, better limitations on advertising and marketing directed at children and a change in the ingredients in snack foods is necessary, he said.

In contrast to snack foods, there has in fact been a decline in the public’s consumption of other unhealthy manufactured food products, such as processed meats and prepared salads, along with increased sales of foods considered healthier, such as whole-grain bread and fresh meat and fish and cut-up vegetables.

But one snack food industry executive who spoke with TheMarker confirmed that his sector is not hurting in the least. “It’s business as usual. The situation is excellent and we are not sensing a change in consumption. You have to understand that a 1% sales decline doesn’t even require a discussion in the presence of the CEO.” And when it comes to snack foods, he added, “no one has thought that he was getting health food here.” Modifications are being made, but sugar and salt are not being cut out altogether, he noted.

For its part, the Health Ministry said it is committed to a long-term effort to change eating habits “when the public itself understands that there is a connection between food and health effects such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and being overweight. This process is long and complicated.” A change is already apparent, the ministry said, adding that its job is to work with industry on the issue.

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