Supermarkets continue to cash in on the rising numbers of healthy eaters, however the fortunes of the various better for you categories are strikingly different, says Jackie Mitchell

You would have to have had your head buried in the sand for the past few years not to have noticed the rise and rise of better for you products. Manufacturers and retailers know they are on to a good thing by launching healthy products and driving innovation in the category and, as a result, the consumer is now faced with a whole range of products that purport to be good for them.
Such foods include own label healthy options, gluten-free and soya products, and those that have been enriched with ingredients, such as fibre, calcium and vitamins. You name it, companies are adding it, to make products as popular as possible with even the most die-hard healthy eaters.
Although the market for better for you foods is hard to track, given the myriad products with different health claims on offer, TNS, which tracks the own label sector, says there has been some growth. It puts the market at £1,366m - up 0.6% on the previous year [TNS w/e December 4, 2005], with dairy (excluding yoghurts and desserts) accounting for 35% of spend in the sector.
Tesco is by far the most successful retailer in the own label better for you arena. According to TNS, Tesco's share was three times the size of its share of the total market, followed by Marks & Spencer in second place and Asda in third. This can, in part, be attributed to the high visibility of the Tesco healthy sub-brand, Healthy Living, across many categories in the
stores. A Tesco spokesperson says: “This year we have given a lot of thought to how we can help customers eat more healthily.”
Innovations at Tesco include products with reduced salt, fat and sugar; new and improved ranges; in-store promotions; a series of 15 health leaflets and a new health zone on
However, while retailers and companies are exploiting the market for healthier products by adding healthy ingredients, there are calls for tighter controls to enable consumers to differentiate between those products that are better for you and those with added ingredients but which offer little nutritional benefit.
Jeanette Longfield, co-ordinator at Sustain, the alliance of better food and farming, says: “Tighter controls would get rid of cowboys who sprinkle odd ingredients into food,” she says. “Reputable manufacturers would welcome them - they would eradicate unfair competition.”
Labelling is also a contentious issue, as retailers have already made moves ahead of the FSA’s
plans on whether to recommend traffic lights or Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) to highlight those products that are healthier.
Both Tesco and Sainsbury run labelling schemes, and Tesco says its have been well received. A Tesco spokesperson says: “We launched nutritional signposts last year and we’ve had a great response. We are already starting to see a change in purchasing behaviour towards more healthy choices on labelled products.”
Nutritional signposts are already on more than 2,000 own label products, with more being added each month. Signposts will appear on all products except loose items and alcoholic drinks. They will state in grammes the amount of salt, fat, saturated fat, sugar and calories in a serving and how much of the GDA this makes up.
Sainsbury continued its Wheel of Health, introduced in 2000, in last month’s relaunch of its Be Good to Yourself range, and says it plans to maintain the labelling method despite it being different from most others on the market.
The Wheel is colour-coded like traffic lights and shows how much fat, saturated fat, calories, salt and sugar are in each portion, and is included on everything from goats’ cheese, dips and ready meals to tropical juice drinks.
This month Danone, Kellogg, Nestlé, Unilever and PepsiCo revealed that they will be putting GDA information on the front of packs, althought these products are not necessarily aimed at the better for you category.