Organisation sounds alarm about dangers of buying processed food during sales this festive season

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People living in South Africa are not only struggling to eat, but they are also struggling to eat healthy nourishing food.
People living in South Africa are not only struggling to eat, but they are also struggling to eat healthy nourishing food.
Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Besides massive food inflation and the high cost of living, South Africans are still expected to spend R226 billion this festive season, with the average festive spend being R5 968. 

This is according to the fifth annual Summer Spending survey by short-term lender Wonga, which found that despite the fact that consumers are planning to splash out a bit over this festive season, the average spend per person over the 2022 summer season could be down by 6%, from an average of R6 326 last year.

“Our survey revealed that almost a third of people think they’ll spend less this festive season,” says James Williams, Head of Marketing at Wonga. 

“The decrease in predicted spend overall is significant and the figures this year reflect the impact of the rise in inflation, cost of living and higher interest rates.”

Sales events such as Black Friday and festive season promotions are popular for this squeeze many South Africans are feeling – promotions give consumers a chance to buy in bulk and save for leaner days.

More consumers may be taking advantage of specials such as Black Friday than there have been in the past two years, but this doesn’t mean that South Africans aren’t still struggling financially, with many resorting to using their credit cards to pay for basics such as food, fuel and clothes.

Food and drink make up over a third of expenses, according to Wonga.

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FNB customers spent over R3 billion on Black Friday, the highest spend in four years, the bank recently announced after the 25 November 2022 shopping event which saw massive sales in:

  • Travel (accommodation, flights, car rentals, etc),
  • Transportation (vehicle maintenance, service stations/fuel, car dealerships, tolls, etc),
  • Groceries, and
  • Digital and technology

“In a market where consumers are seeing an increase in the cost of living, many were always likely to take advantage of Black Friday deals. As anticipated, the most popular spending categories, including travel and transportation, groceries, clothing, and entertainment, experienced a robust recovery. The increase in travel is especially encouraging given that many consumers were unable to travel in the past few years due to global travel limitations, and it augurs well for the South African economy as the festive season approaches," says Chris Labuschagne, CEO of FNB Card.

Paying for discounted holidays in advance and buying food in bulk may seem wise, given the rapid repo rate increases we have experienced this year, but Healthy Living Alliance (HEALA) warns that some of the preservatives in the processed food we’re buying in order to store over months may be toxic.

Fresh, real food, though sometimes more expensive to buy and prepare with the high price of electricity, are still best for your health, warns the organisation.

“The festive season is a key time where consumers fall prey to aggressive advertising campaigns by large food companies promoting foods that are full in flavour but low in nutritional value. That’s why we strongly encourage consumers to focus on eating real, unprocessed foods over the upcoming holidays,” says Nzama Mbalati, HEALA programmes manager.

Although, by law, manufactures are meant to label food products so that consumers can make informed decisions about what they are eating, many food-makers simply flout these regulations, says Nzama.

“Ingredients are often printed in a painfully small font, and if you don’t have a degree in chemistry, it is almost impossible to understand the components of what you are buying. Complicated language hides the high amounts of sugar, salt and fat in packaged food, as well as the variety of chemicals used to protect the flavour of the food and preserve it during storage. 

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“Another problem is ‘healthwashing’. With more people demanding healthy snacks, manufacturers are jostling for position in the health and wellness space and claiming specific health benefits. Food items are being marketed as ‘high protein’, or ‘low fat’, but many of these claims are misleading. Because there is no single regulatory authority for food labelling, it is easy for marketers to mislead consumers with half-truths that give them a false sense about the benefits of products,” Nzama cautions.

“Over the past 30 to 40 years, highly processed and unhealthy foods have become increasingly accessible and affordable, leading to a global increase in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable communities and households.

“A survey of packaged food and beverages available in South Africa found that 76% of the packaged food we have available is ultra-processed, 7% is processed and only 17% is minimally processed. Corn in its natural state is minimally processed, canned sweet corn is processed, while corn chips with added salt, artificial flavourings and colourants are ultra-processed. 

“It is the additions of extras such as salts, sugars and fats that make the food dangerous for our health. Any food that has not undergone too much processing to make it more shelf stable and longer lasting will not be healthy.”

“All ultra-proceed foods are unhealthy. Even the ones that are punted to be healthy such as yoghurt, breakfast cereals and juices and marked low in fat or high in fibre, have hidden ingredients of high sugar, salt, and fat content.”

This is Nzama’s advice for health-conscious consumers

• Avoid soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages, which are among the top sources of added sugars.

• Reach for fruits instead of sweets and chocolate, biscuits or other sweet treats.

• Read ingredient labels. Sugar is often hiding in places you wouldn’t expect, such as pasta sauces and sandwich bread.

• Added sugars have a lot of different names which are often not easily understood. When reading labels, keep an eye out for terms like corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar and sucrose.

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