Junk on demand: Food delivery giants bring salt and sugar within arms' reach

Josh Dye
Public health advocates have denounced the move by food delivery companies to partner with convenience stores.
Public health advocates have denounced the move by food delivery companies to partner with convenience stores.  Photo: iStock

Public health advocates have denounced the move by food delivery companies Uber Eats and Deliveroo to partner with convenience stores to deliver junk food.

Two weeks ago BP service stations expanded their "Couchfood" range in a partnership with Deliveroo, bringing high-fat and high-sugar snacks such as potato chips, chocolate bars and soft drinks within arms' reach for app-users who only need to leave their lounge chair to answer the door. The Couchfood range was first launched last year through Uber Eats. 

The majority of options for sale are highly processed items including chips, chocolate, ice-cream and soft drink, while there are a small number of sandwiches and grocery items such as milk and bread. 

​Dr Alexandra Jones, a food policy research fellow at the George Institute for Global Health, said the initiative was a major problem given two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese. 

"This kind of innovation provides an ominous insight into an unhealthy future, one where human progress looks like a bunch of Homer Simpsons permanently parked on the couch procuring junk food without lifting a finger," Dr Jones said. 

Jane Martin, executive manager at Obesity Policy Coalition, agreed that Australians are eating "way too much unhealthy food" and the availability of junk food on food apps was "undermining efforts for a healthy diet". 

"It's all extra energy in the diet that's not required and you're not even walking down to the shops so there's not incidental exercise either," she said. 

Deliveroo spokeswoman Joanne Woo said the company wants to "empower consumers to make healthy choices". 

"Over the past two years we've seen 66 per cent of customers choosing healthier options on the platform," Ms Woo said. 

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"We've been actively working with our restaurant partners to expand the healthy options available on our platform and we're really proud that the number of restaurants focused on healthy options on the Deliveroo platform has grown by 59 per cent over the past year alone." 

A spokesman for Uber said the company takes about 37,000 orders for salads each month. 

"We are seeing an increase in healthy eating choices with searches for 'vegan', 'keto' and 'kombucha' growing by more than 25 per cent in the last 12 months," he said. 

"With access to more than 20,000 restaurants the app offers consumers the freedom and convenience to pick what they want." 

Dr Jones said part of the problem is that unhealthy foods are so much cheaper than fruit and vegetables. 

"The products marketed and sold by the processed food industry are making Australians sick. Our food system currently promotes the processed food industry's profits over health," she said. 

"Unhealthy foods are more profitable to food companies because they're packed full of cheap ingredients like salt, sugar and fat which our brains find irresistible."

Ms Martin said the market for unhealthy food such as chips and chocolate was driven by "price, palatability and promotion".

She called on authorities to introduce a sugar tax to make such options less affordable and drive down demand for the products, echoing the call made by Australian of the Year Dr James Muecke who said sugary products should be "less accessible to the public". 

Dr Jones said the delivery companies could be "a force for good" if they improved access and affordability to healthy options.  

"At the very least their marketing could stop glamorising unhealthy eating habits. There's nothing joyous in the long run about being glued to the couch eating junk food."