Grocers Launch Labels to Identify Healthy Foods

March 5, 2009 - 12:09

Grocery chains Stop & Shop and Giant Food, owned by Royal Ahold NV, are launching new product labeling systems designed to help customers identify their stores’ healthiest offerings.

The “Healthy Ideas” system will distinguish more than 3,000 products and fresh produce with bright green and blue symbols that signify they meet guidelines from the USDA and other federal agencies. These newly designated “healthy” products will comprise about 10 percent of the stores’ total offerings. As the nation becomes more serious about health, supermarkets hope newly motivated consumers will look to them to help balance their diets.

“Healthy Ideas” is one of several new food labeling programs that attempt to simplify the identification of nutritious foods. The more detailed nutritional labels required by the Food and Drug Administration have confused consumers. The benefits of reduced fat versus reduced sodium and defining what actually makes food healthy differs among food groups and consumer groups. These new labeling programs try to distinguish which products in a given category are healthier than others. All cookies are not created equal.

One new program, “NuVal,” developed by a team of nutritional and health experts, has launched in chains Price Chopper and Hy-Vee. The system rates 45,000 products on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the healthiest.

Manufacturers such as Kraft Foods and PepsiCo are working with nutritionists on a program to add “Smart Choices” labels to certain products. The majority of consumers feel there is information overload in existing labeling programs. Rushed consumers are seeking quick, easily understandable labeling systems to make intelligent purchasing decisions. One of the first such labeling systems was “Guiding Stars” launched by Maine-based Hannaford Bros. Co. It ranked 25,000 products using a three-star system. Products that received multiple stars saw an increase in sales. The new “Healthy Ideas” program at Royal Ahold NV–owned chains came about because consumer research showed the desire for a single source for determining whether one food is healthier than another. Products that carry the “Healthy Ideas” symbol have less fat or cholesterol than other products in their category and include at least one nutrient source such as protein, fiber or calcium.

The American Council on Science and Health still encourages customers not to fall into the habit of buying any item just because it has a healthy label on it. An individual’s needs and health concerns need to be considered when making the buying decision. Portion control and total nutritional value are still important. A big bag of chips with a “healthy” label on it doesn’t mean that consuming the whole bag is a healthy practice.

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