Healthy Food Rating Systems

November 02, 2010

The NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System and Guiding Stars food rating systems continue to expand across the country, but there remains a serious void in transparency with both systems preventing nutritionists, consumers and CPG manufacturers from truly benefiting.

The NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System and Guiding Stars food rating systems continue to expand across the country, but there remains a serious void in transparency with both systems preventing nutritionists, consumers and CPG manufacturers from truly benefiting.

Neither system allows transparency in its scientific algorithm, which would allow CPG manufacturers easier access in improving products. The Lempert Report is calling on both systems to remove the veil, providing better access so that Americans can understand and have access to healthy food choices.

With that said, there is some movement toward public access to the Guiding Stars algorithm as they work towards publishing the algorithm in a peer reviewed academic journal in the coming months.

Guiding Stars Managing Director Betts FitzGerald explained they've also shared the Guiding Stars algorithm with the Institute of Medicine who recently completed Phase I of their research, Examination of Front-of-Package Nutrition Ratings Systems and Symbols.

NuVal is waiting for patent protection for its algorithm before going public, which could be as far as a year away. NuVal General Manager, Mike Nugent explained the goal is to broaden access to the algorithm, but he explained that its security is critical as it’s main asset of the company. 

“We hold manufacturer webinars on a regular basis,” Nugent said. “We talk about the multipliers and how they affect scores so they can come away with a decent understanding.”

Additionally, Nugent disclosed that NuVal is four to five months away from releasing a tool for CPG manufacturers that would allow them to virtually  “tweak their nutrients” so when they reformulate they can reach toward the score that they want. Still, Nugent noted, this tool will not have exact precision.

Guiding Stars rates food based on nutrient density using a scientific algorithm. Rated foods are marked with easy-to-follow tags indicating 0, 1, 2, or 3 stars. The more nutritional value a food has, the more Guiding Stars it receives. “No stars” means that, although the food was rated, it didn’t meet the nutrition criteria to earn a star.

NuVal scores are located on the supermarket shelf marked by a double hexagon. The two-year old system gives food items a score from 1 to 100; the higher the score, the higher the nutrition. 

Differences in the rating systems are evident when comparing products. Products that do not achieve a nutritious rating are not scored in the Guiding Star program. With NuVal’s broader 100-scale system, the goal is to score every single item in the store so that consumers can trade up in value on items. For example, a consumer looking for a salty snack could trade up from 9-point scoring Crunchy Cheetos to 40-point scoring Garden of Eatin' Blue Chips All Natural Tortilla Chips.

Comparing product ratings, Horizon Organic 2% Reduced Fat Milk received one-star and a score of 55; Silk Light Soy Milk Chocolate received a no-star rating and a NuVal score of 56; Kashi 7 Whole Grain Flakes Cereal scored 29 and a one-star rating; Kellogg's All-Bran Crackers Bite-Size Baked Snacks Garlic Herb Crackers scored a 35 and a one-star rating.

FitzGerald said the program continues to expand in public school systems and colleges. Guiding Stars is now available in 20 states, 1,600 store doors, including the following banners: Hannaford, Food Lion, Bloom, Homeland, Sweetbay, and Kings.

The four-year old Guiding Stars program offers a look behind the scenes to its rating system in a white paper located on the programs’ Web site, Last month, Guiding Stars released its new public beta search engine called the “Food Finder.”  The first tool available that provides UPC-level Guiding Stars ratings to consumer, Food Finder allows shoppers to search more than 50,000 foods in the Guiding Stars database. Food Finder provides products’ nutrition facts label, ingredients information, category, health claims and food allergens. The web platform developed by Wellness Layers encourages consumers to exchange ideas and share ratings through an online community supporting the “Food Finder.”  

Guiding Stars partner, Wellness layers, will release the second phase of the project later this year, which focuses on the development of a customizable and licensable web tool called “The Smart Shopping Planner.” The Smart Shopping Planner will be a fully featured food shopping tool that can be customized with the brand identity and unique requirements of each participating partner. The tool will reside as a portal on each partner’s website, with a smart shopping function and an integrated meal planner that will allow visitors to create shopping lists and then print, e-mail, or download them to a mobile application. In addition to providing information about making healthier food choices, other topics will include medical condition-related alerts, shopping on a budget and weight loss.

With the recent addition of eight Coborn’s stores in central Minnesota, the NuVal Nutritional Scoring System is now available in nearly 900 supermarkets in 23 states across the United States. Coborn’s grocery stores are taking their mission a step further - students from the four St. Cloud area universities (St. John’s University, the College of St. Benedict, St. Cloud State University, and the St. Cloud Technical and Community College) who are studying for careers as dieticians or nutritionists, will help educate consumers about NuVal.