Innovative, highly processed foods are often designed to “substitute” for traditional, less-processed items in the diet. Yet, concerns about the unhealthfulness of diets high in highly processed foods are growing. Their dominance in the diet has been hypothesized to relate, in part, to the strategic use of on-package nutrition promotion. Our goal was to compare front-of-package (FOP) labelling on highly processed products that appear to have been explicitly designed as substitutes for traditional foods with the FOP labelling on their traditional counterparts. FOP references were recorded from packaged foods in three major Toronto grocery stores ( N = 20520). Foods were categorized as substitute or traditional counterparts if these had (1) immediate interchangeability within the diet, (2) inherently different formulation, and (3) the substitute was more heavily processed than its traditional counterpart. Eight substitute–traditional pairs were identified, comprising 18% of products in the data set. Substitute foods were more likely than traditional products to bear FOP nutrition, “organic”, and “natural” references. Substitute foods bore 1.21 times more FOP references, the majority of which highlighted nutrients inherent to the traditional counterpart. Our findings support the contention that highly processed foods may be displacing less-processed foods at least in part through the use of strategic on-package marketing.
Christoforou, A., Dachner, N., Mendelson, R., & Tarasuk, V. (2018). Substitute foods are more likely than their traditional food counterparts to display front-of-package references. FACETS, 3(1), 455–468. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2017-0094