Consumers must be the winners with nutrition ratings

Articles
July 14, 2009

Consumers must be the winners with nutrition ratings

If the common goal is to help shoppers understand which foods are good for them and which ones aren’t, can we please end this LeMans Race scenario with respect to nutritional ratings systems? So many programs - NuVal, the GoodGuide web measurement tool, Healthy Ideas, Smart Choices, Guiding Stars, Healthy Elements, Nutritional Spotlight, nutritionIQ, TAG Nutrition Labeling - seek traction where they are offered or will be offered. But our bet at SupermarketGuru.com is that shoppers see only a scramble and don’t know which to trust. Where does this leave the retailers and food makers looking to gain a marketplace edge through education? Probably with small niches that don’t help anyone much.

If the common goal is to help shoppers understand which foods are good for them and which ones aren’t, can we please end this LeMans Race scenario with respect to nutritional ratings systems?

So many programs - NuVal, the GoodGuide web measurement tool, Healthy Ideas, Smart Choices, Guiding Stars, Healthy Elements, Nutritional Spotlight, nutritionIQ, TAG Nutrition Labeling - seek traction where they are offered or will be offered. But our bet at SupermarketGuru.com is that shoppers see only a scramble and don’t know which to trust. Where does this leave the retailers and food makers looking to gain a marketplace edge through education? Probably with small niches that don’t help anyone much. (Disclosure: SupermarketGuru.com is working with ConAgra Foods and their partner retailers to educate shoppers on how to read these healthy labels and make better choices.)

Our intent is not to debate about the best, because many have powerful algorithms and sound approaches. We don’t advocate the Food & Drug Administration stepping in here since the agency has an overfilled plate already improving the nation’s food safety. We also believe there’s enough intelligence and good intent within the industry to establish its own program standards.

We’re making a call for several key trade groups - the Food Marketing Institute, the National Grocers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and the National Association of Convenience Stores among them - to endorse a single standard with an open algorithm.

In our view, the selection process and the eventual selected program require transparency. We urge that the winning program come from a third-party group backed by food and public health science (no need to recreate here) rather than from manufacturers who may be trying to promote healthy aspects of foods that aren’t really that nutritious. Nor should the program become a manipulated tool to make money. The final representations of nutritional value on product packages will need to be clear, unequivocal and simple for the public to understand.

There’s much more at stake here than the competitiveness of CPG brands and the retailers that sell them. If industry members purport to elevate their companies to a level of objectivity that serves the best interests of consumers and shoppers, that’s exactly what they must do. Nutritional ratings cannot become a stealth path to winning share. This has the potential, in our view, to be a momentous turning point in the nation’s distribution of food.

Clearly, we didn’t get to be a fat nation riddled with diabetes, clogged arteries and heart disease by making a high proportion of smart eating decisions. We got this way because taste, price and dozens of other marketing messages - rather than nutrition - have been foremost in our purchase decisions at the shelf. Most brands and stores have been into sales rather than into consumer health, except where a strong consumer health association could help differentiate them and enhance sales. At least with an objective nutrition ratings standard, the public would have a fairer shot at making the right choices that could enhance their lives.