Snack bars promote themselves as a healthy and convenient kick start but a Consumer NZ survey of 35 snack bars found most were high in sugar and many had high levels of saturated fat.
At the bottom of the table was Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Bar Original, which was more than a third sugar and contained high levels of saturated fat. It also contributed little if anything to daily fibre intake – its long list of ingredients didn't include any fruit, nuts or seeds. It describes itself as "fuelled with carbs for energy".
Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said many snack bars were high-energy and shouldn't be considered everyday eating.
Consumer NZ rated the bars using the new health star rating system. This year the government gave the go-ahead to the voluntary front-of-pack label system. It is designed to give consumers at-a-glance nutrient information on food. It is based on nutrient profiling criteria developed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. Five stars is the highest ranking a food can achieve. The Kelloggs bar achieved one star.
Only four of the 35 achieved four stars or more. Quaker Nut Bar Macadamia & Apricot got 4.5 stars. It was high in total fat, but got a favourable score because it had less saturated fat, sugar and sodium than many other snack bars and it packed a fibre punch – nuts and fruit made up 48 percent of its ingredients.
Tasti Milkies Choc Strawberry, Be Natural Trail Bars Nut & Fruit and Weight Watchers Apple Crumble got 4 stars. All had more than 10 percent fibre – and although the Weight Watchers product was high in sugar, it had low levels of fat and saturated fat.
Chetwin advised consumers buying snack bars to look for products with less than 600 kilojoules per bar – about the equivalent of a banana. Seventeen bars in the survey packed more than 600 kilojoules. The Bumper Bar Apricot Chocolate had 1420.
Chetwin said Consumer was concerned the new rating system was voluntary. However, the two supermarket chains have agreed to use it on their home-brand products. Sanitarium, Nestle and Griffins have also announced they will be using the health star rating system. The Australian government has warned if there is not widespread uptake within five years it will consider making it mandatory.
Consumer NZ will be monitoring uptake here, Chetwin said.