AVENEL, N.J. — Foodtown here is listening to its customers when it comes to nutrition.
The 62-store cooperative, with independently owned locations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, this month has begun surveying its customers for their opinion on the company's “Easy to Eat Well” nutritional shelf-labeling program.
“This is the first of many steps we'll be taking with this as we move down the road,” said John Durkin, vice president of operations, Foodtown, in an interview with SN.
Foodtown began rolling out the labeling program in February. It includes seven different color-coded shelf tags: Low Sodium, Organic, Heart Healthy, Natural, Gluten Free, Low Sugar and Healthy Kids.
Now the company wants its customers to provide guidance on how to proceed further.
“We're asking them for feedback,” Durkin said of the surveys, which are being conducted in-store and can also be answered online and by telephone.
“We're asking them, ‘How are we doing?’ — the old Ed Koch approach,” he said, referring to the former New York mayor noted for asking his constituents for feedback. “We're asking them what should we do, or what more can we do. We're also offering them suggestions about new things we are considering for the program, and getting feedback on that.”
Early feedback from customers before the surveys began has been “outstanding,” he said.
The labeling program was developed in partnership with a company called No Excuse Nutrition, which is now part of Vestcom International, a Little Rock, Ark.-based producer of shelf labels that was already working with Foodtown on its traditional price shelf tags. The stores provide more detailed information on in-store leaflets and on the Foodtown website, defining the various attributes identified by the color-coded shelf tags, and each store has four “legend” signs that give a brief explanation of the program.
“This was the result of customers asking for nutritional information, and learning from our own experiences of getting involved with a program we developed ourselves with organic and natural products,” Durkin explained.
He said the program also evolved through discussions at the company about how best to approach the problem of childhood obesity. That led to the creation of the Healthy Kids label, which is designed to help parents identify products that are both made with natural ingredients and appealing to children.
Plans call for incorporating the icons into marketing materials and other customer communications, said Patty Youchock, director of advertising and marketing, Foodtown.
“We are doing this in a phased approach,” she said. “The first part was to put out the shelf tags, so the consumer could see it at the point of purchase, and we developed the signage and the handouts, and it's now on the website. The next thing that we're talking about is how we can integrate those little icons in our communications and marketing so we can help identify where those items are and where they appear.”
Foodtown already includes special sections in its advertising inserts that call attention to its natural and organic offerings, she explained.
About 5,400 products currently carry one of the seven varieties of labels. The items predominantly reside in Center Store, although some packaged meat and produce offerings have also earned the tags.
“Easy to Eat Well” was carefully chosen as the name for the program, Durkin explained, because it is intended to simplify the shopping process and because it is meant to convey to customers that they can still eat “well” when they choose products that are nutritious.
“This means they can eat tasteful and interesting food, but it also means they can eat healthy,” Durkin said.
He said Foodtown observed many of the nutritional shelf-labeling systems the industry has promulgated, including those at Hannaford Bros., Big Y and Harris Teeter, before creating its own program with No Excuse Nutrition.
Foodtown is a buying and marketing cooperative. It is supplied by White Rose Foods, part of Associated Wholesalers, Robesonia, Pa.