WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — As Hy-Vee continues to rollout NuVal to additional categories, the nutritional rating system that assigns food a score from one to 100 is having the most influence in categories that offer the most SKUs, chain spokeswoman Chris Friesleben, told SN. Anecdotal evidence points to healthier choices in the salty snack, candy and cereal categories in particular.
“That's where you have the most choice so consumers are shopping smarter by looking at scores,” she said. “It's a fairly easy concept.”
At Hy-Vee, an item's NuVal score can be found on its price tag at the shelf's edge.
The higher the score, the more nutritious the product. But to be sure that shoppers fully grasp the concept, Hy-Vee is hosting dietitian-led informational classes and store tours. It's also reached out to the community to educate consumers who don't necessarily shop its locations.
“There has been a general sense of excitement about the program,” Friesleben said.
NuVal is also gaining a higher profile thanks to greater visibility on store shelves.
When Hy-Vee began its chainwide rollout in January — after testing the concept for several months in a handful of Des Moines-area stores — NuVal scores for just 13 categories could be found on shelves. Last week Hy-Vee shoppers began seeing scores for eggs and spaghetti sauce, pushing the number of categories represented to 21.
Additional items will continue to join products like produce, fresh meat, frozen vegetables and canned vegetables, which have already been assigned scores.
“Now that our customers are familiar with NuVal they're anxious to see the system used throughout the store,” Friesleben said.
NuVal, a Braintree, Mass.-based, joint venture of Topco Associates and Griffin Hospital was created to bring the benefits of the Overall Nutrition Quality Index (ONQI) algorithm to consumers through the NuVal system. About 6,900 products have been scored by NuVal using ONQI, Friesleben said.
Still, many SKUs carried at Hy-Vee, like private labels, have not yet been scored. To help expedite the process, Hy-Vee has ordered a special scanner, Friesleben said.
Once scanned, pertinent information will be sent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology so that a score can quickly be determined. The system is expected to benefit more than just corporate brands.
“Many of our stores carry popular regional products, and we want to get those into the scoring queue as soon as possible as well,” noted Friesleben.
In the interest of accuracy, Topco has advised product suppliers to report any product reformulations so that those products can be rescored. Hy-Vee has already begun to consider system improvements, like enlarging the size of a NuVal score on an item's price tag.
Hy-Vee's efforts come at time when Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., is leveraging the NuVal system, and Stop & Shop/Giant, Quincy, Mass., is seeing benefits with its proprietary shelf-edge Healthy Ideas nutrition program, launched in January.
Last month, United Supermarkets, Lubbock, Texas, breathed new life into its proprietary, four-year-old, nutritional tag program that leverages color-coded symbols to identify foods that are gluten-free, heart-healthy/diabetes management, lean/low-fat, sugar-free/reduced-sugar, and organic.
To mark the introduction of its new lean/low-fat meat and dairy and sugar-free/reduced-sugar tags, and commemorate National Nutrition Month, United highlighted one of five tags during each week in March, with colorful displays and samplings of related foods. It was the first real promotional push given to the system since its 2005 inception.
“We never really did anything to boost the message to the communities,” said United Supermarkets dietitian Tyra Carter.
United's tag system has undergone a series of changes since its introduction, including the elimination of the low-glycemic tag, refinement of the heart-healthy tag to also include diabetes-friendly, and the inclusion of more stores in the program that initially launched in five locations. Today the system is set up in 14 stores, including all of United's Market Street banner locations and some United stores.
Last fall, United's program become fully automated, allowing for icons to be assigned to corresponding items in its computer system, and for color-coded symbols to be printed directly on products' shelf price tags.
“Previously, we had little square tags that came in rolls that we'd manually apply at the shelf,” Carter said. “They were a huge problem since they'd fall off or there were product resets where the products would change but tags wouldn't.”
The new system will also enable United to analyze the tags' influence on sales, something the chain has not yet taken a look at.
A formal test of Stop & Shop's Healthy Ideas system is also yet to come.
Unlike NuVal, Healthy Ideas doesn't include gradations. A product will either meet the strict nutrition criteria and receive a Healthy Ideas tag, or it won't.
Anecdotal feedback from shoppers shows that Healthy Ideas is having the most influence in the juice, cereal and soup categories, according to Andrea Astrachan, consumer advisor for the chain. Consumers are also purchasing a lot more healthy pasta thanks to the system.
Since Healthy Ideas' introduction, volume growth of pasta earning a Healthy Ideas tag has outpaced the double-digit unit growth experienced by the overall pasta category, according to Faith Weiner, senior director of public affairs for Stop & Shop.