WASHINGTON -- Center Store categories could benefit from the government's new food pyramid, but stores and packaged food makers have much to do to translate its message to addled and resistant consumers, retailers and observers said.
The revised pyramid is visually simple: It replaces the horizontal, food-group bands of the 1992 version with vertical, rainbow-colored bands representing the different groups. A promotional poster is chock full of explanatory detail, though. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has created a Web site, www.mypyramid.gov, where people can customize their dietary requirements. This ability to customize has prompted concern that the new system would increase confusion.
Retailers interviewed by SN said they plan to use the new logo to help shoppers make smart food choices.
The Web sites of Ahold's Stop & Shop, Quincy, Mass., and Giant of Landover, Md., will have links to the USDA's new online site. They will feature recipes that meet the new dietary recommendations incorporated in the symbol. The new guidelines will be promoted via store tours, in-store announcements and store circulars.
"We're supplementing what [the USDA] is doing with MyPyramid," Odonna Mathews, vice president, consumer affairs, Giant Food and Stop & Shop, told SN. She said the retailers would add the children's pyramid the USDA is developing.
Bea James, senior whole health manager, Lund Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., said she was launching a nutritional program at Lund, and might use MyPyramid in cooking classes or produce events.
"The information is a nice improvement on the old food pyramid," James said. "However, I am surprised that they do not have more on good oils, such as olive and flax. I am impressed that they have defined whole grains better. Now, they just need to tell people to stay away from highly refined foods altogether for optimal health."
More education, it seems, is needed.
A recent NPD Group survey of adults on the new guidelines found only 33% were aware of the 2005 dietary guidelines.
Research by ConAgra Foods, parent of such brands as Healthy Choice, Hunt's and Van Camp's, found that while 72% of Americans wanted easier-to-make, tasty meals, many found it hard to meet their household's nutritional needs (42%).
General Mills said nine out of 10 Americans don't eat the minimum recommended daily amount of whole grains, and only 3% of the total calories consumed annually in the United States come from whole grains.
Paul Weiner, natural foods buyer, Fairway Market, New York, said consumer interest in whole grains varies depending on store demographics.
At Fairway's Long Island, N.Y., store, which tends to cater to families, whole grain products don't sell as well as they do at its New York City stores. He attributed this to the fact that whole grains aren't likely a product of choice among families with young children.
"Kids may not be interested in a grainy, seedy bread. They'd rather have Wonder bread," he said.
A Wild Oats poll suggested stores like its own are well positioned to educate people on such matters. It showed that half of Americans aren't likely to eat the recommended daily amount of produce, but that they're more likely to get nutrition information from a nutritionist/dietitian or local health foods store than from the government. To that end, Wild Oats said it has in-store information, including recipes and health professionals on staff, to help consumers navigate the new pyramid.
Manufacturers also will have an educational role to play. The Wild Oats poll showed 62% of respondents said they would determine products' whole grain content by reading their labels.
Indeed, food makers are expected to use product labeling and make content changes with the new symbol in mind.
Of all Center Store categories, the $4.79 billion market for foods containing whole grains and fiber seemed especially poised to benefit from the new pyramid, whose accompanying text specifically calls for whole grain consumption. Packaged Facts predicted that after four years of relative stability, U.S. retail sales of these foods would spike in 2005 as manufacturers introduce new products bulked up with whole grains.
Last September, General Mills announced that it started making Cheerios, Wheaties and other Big G breakfast cereals with whole grains. Immediately after MyPyramid was introduced last week, General Mills said more than 100 million boxes of its Big G brands would carry the new pyramid symbol.
"With cereal consumed in 93% of American households and with the information on more than 100 million General Mills cereal boxes, this is a powerful step forward in nutrition education," John Haugen, vice president of Big G marketing, said in a statement.
Communicating the new pyramid's message won't be easy, though. Packaged goods makers will have to first translate the icon for consumers, then make the connection between the chart and the package contents, said Pat Verduin, senior vice president and director of the office of product quality and development, ConAgra.
"I think all companies are going to be looking to put this on their packages," Verduin said. "The real trick is: How do you do it in such a way that it's going to be relevant to the consumer?"
Judi Adams, president of the Grain Foods Foundation, said makers of whole grain products need to help people identify and find whole grains. "We have some challenges for our industry," she said.
Harry Balzer, analyst with The NPD Group, said it will be harder for manufacturers to slap the new icon on a food package, as they could with its predecessor. "I'm interested to see how manufacturers will use this in the promotion of their products," he said. "This one is not as clear as to which you're supposed to eat more of."
Balzer predicted the pyramid would grab consumers' attention, at least initially, because people are always interested in the newest nutrition information. Unlike diet trends like low-carb that have spurred a wealth of product launches of late, this icon will have staying power, he said.
"The government is supporting these dietary habits. This is not going to be supported just for today. This has the power of reaching a lot people."