A WEALTH of nutritional information on own-brand products has helped the Co-op become one of the UK's healthiest retailers.
The healthy eating report from the National Consumer Council (NCC) placed Co-op stores third, ahead of Tesco, Asda and Morrisons, but behind the top two, Waitrose and Sainsbury's.
The Health Responsibility Index scored retailers on their healthy eating practices and the NCC study warned that where you shop can have a significant effect on your health.
A Co-op store in Hove, East Sussex, was studied in June 2004 for its labelling information; in-store promotions; and customer information.
In relation to salt content of own-label products, the Co-op scored the highest for removing excess salt. Co-op stores also receive full marks for nutrition labelling by giving all information required by the Food Standards Agency on products and was the first retailer to translate sodium into salt.
The report said: "The Co-op is the only company to declare ?high', ?medium' or ?low' on nutrition panels and the only company to provide front of pack information on calories, fat and salt on all products. Keep up the good work!"
However the NCC said the use of "guideline daily amounts" could be increased on labels.
When it comes to in-store promotions the Co-op "falls down badly" on the balance of healthy and less healthy snacks. It said societies need "to give less shelf space to ?less healthy' snacks".
Although it is doing better than most retailers with only two out of 13 checkouts at the surveyed store stocking snacks.
Customer information and advice lowered the Co-op's overall ranking compared to other retailers. The report found that no healthy-eating leaflets were in-store and "unhelpful" staff were "too busy selling National Lottery tickets to help".
The NCC report concluded: "The Co-op rates tops for its nutrition labelling practices and is also top scorer on removing excess salt from processed foods. But falls down on information and advice and the balance of healthy/'less healthy' snacks in-store giving overall ranking of third."
Christine Clarke, head of Co-op brand at the Co-operative Group, said: `As a consumer-owned organisation, encouraging our customers to eat healthily is a major priority."
`As part of our ongoing commitment to reduce the amount of salt and fat in our own-label products, the Co-op's Healthy Living range will comply with new, more stringent guidelines for fat, calorie and salt levels in the new year. At the same time, a free mixed herb and recipe sachet will be available in selected Co-op stores, to persuade customers to season their food with herbs instead of salt."