ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Wegmans here recently revamped its Web site to include a searchable database of nutrients and ingredients.
The new database is part of an ongoing effort to upgrade the health-related components of the Web site, which are contained within a section of the site labeled "healthy ideas."
Jane Andrews, corporate nutritionist, Wegmans, said the new database, which was launched in the first week of October, is meant to help consumers sort through the various claims and rumors that surround the nutritional supplement category.
"We're a supermarket, we sell these products and we want to help our customers understand them," she told SN in an interview last week.
The database, which is provided by BioValidity.com, Lansdale, Pa., allows visitors to search among about 250 common supplement ingredients. Searches yield information about the health benefits, side effects and interactions of the substances, along with ratings of the scientific research behind the data.
Andrews said the fact that BioValidity evaluates the scientific research on each health claim associated with the ingredients was an important factor in selecting the company as a vendor.
Gerald Hinkle, vice president of operations, BioValidity, said the company uses a rigorous investigative process to assign its ratings for the claims about the various nutrients. A team of university professors tries to uncover all the research available on each nutrient, and then a six-member advisory board of various professionals in the industry looks at the data to determine how much weight to assign each claim.
"They pass a judgment on the quantity of the science and the quality of the science," he said. "It helps consumers, when they hear all these claims that are out there, to see if these claims are really true, and, if so, how much weight is behind it."
Each claim is assigned a color-coded rating, ranging from "strongest," which indicates considerable scientific evidence in support of the claim, to "no science." In between the two extremes, each claim can receive a rating of "substantial," "limited" or "minimal."
A search of the ingredient lecithin, for example, revealed that two of the benefit claims are backed by substantial scientific research, one by limited research, two by minimal research and one -- that lecithin has anti-aging properties -- is backed by no science.
The database also allows users to search by bodily system, such as "immune system," or by health concern, such as "allergies."
"There's always new things coming up, and this particular database is a very thorough one," said Andrews. "They have more of the products that are likely to show up in the aisles."
BioValidity has been supplying its research to Pittsburgh-based General Nutrition Centers' in-store kiosks since the database company was founded in 1996. In addition, BioValidity also provides the database to pharmaceutical and supplement manufacturers, including Weider Nutrition International. The Wegmans licensing agreement marks its first foray into the supermarket segment, however.
Hinkle said the service can be leased on either a monthly or yearly basis, but he declined to disclose details about the financial arrangement with Wegmans. He said pharmaceutical companies that use the BioValidity database pay $4,900 per year for one user in a corporation.
Andrews declined to comment on whether Wegmans was considering installing BioValidity's in-store kiosks. She said the supermarket chain currently does not promote the online database at all in its stores, although it does promote the wegmans.com Web site. The database can be reached by clicking through the "healthy ideas" button on the wegmans.com home page.
She said other components of the "healthy ideas" section would be added in the coming months, including some that relate to the chain's pharmacies.