NEW ORLEANS — In-store seminars, a shelf-tag program and a dedicated website are part of a new partnership between Rouses Supermarkets and the Ochsner Health System.
“Since Ochsner is the expert on health, and we're the expert on food, a collaboration was only natural,” said Allison Rouse, spokeswoman for the 35-store chain.
This is the first time Ochsner — which operates seven hospitals and about 35 health centers in southeast Louisiana — has worked with a supermarket.
Under the multifaceted partnership, an Ochsner dietitian analyzes various foods and beverages sold at Rouses, and approves those with the most nutritional content.
All approved items are identified with a shelf tag stating “Choose Healthy! Eat well, be well.” Logos for Ochsner and Rouses also appear on the tags.
Thousands of products have been analyzed, up from about 300 when the program first launched in August. Rouses hopes to continue expanding the program.
Center Store items on the list include Mrs. Dash salt-free marinade, Rouses merlot wine steak sauce, Full Circle soy crisps, Kashi-Go-Lean bar, Orville Redenbacher's natural popcorn and Post shredded wheat.
“The shelf tags are in every department, every aisle,” Rouse told SN.
A full list of the approved items is provided on Rouses and Ochsner's joint website: choose-healthy.org. The site also provides healthy-living recipes, articles and tips, as well as a link to Rouses' weekly circular.
Ochsner-led store tours are slated to begin next month.
The comprehensive partnership is designed to help shoppers live healthier lifestyles.
“This gives people an easy way to know what foods to put in their pantries,” said Rouse.
Along with approving items, Ochsner sponsors in-store events. This month, as part of American Heart Month, Ochsner nurses provided cholesterol and glucose screenings at various Rouses locations.
Also, Ochsner nurses conduct monthly seminars on how to shop for foods to manage diabetes and other medical conditions.
“We want to get it out there that what you eat shapes your health,” said Rouse.
Ochsner-approved recipes are sporadically demonstrated on the sales floor. Each focuses on how to make a favorite meal, like gumbo, healthier.
“We teach people that they can tweak a recipe a bit and it will still have a great taste,” she said.
A full list of events is provided at choose-healthy.org.
The partnership comes at a time when consumers want to eat more healthful foods, but are often confused by the many products marketed as “healthy,” “smart,” “whole grain” and the like.
“Many shoppers are misled by marketing once they get into the store,” said Molly Kimball, an Ochsner dietitian.
Ochsner has strict requirements for items that get a shelf tag. Along with meeting criteria that includes being low in saturated fat, trans fat-free and containing no added sugar, all items must also provide a significant health benefit, such as whole grains or vitamins and minerals.
Under this formula, a low-calorie, portion-controlled pack of cookies did not get approved. Neither did a cereal that's marketed as healthy, but is high in sugar.
“Consumers may actually think they're doing well, when they're not,” Kimball said. “We're here to help.”
The shelf tags serve to help the most nutritious products stand out from the tens of thousands of others that pack store shelves.
“We're taking the guesswork out of shopping,” she said.
Providing this kind of information at the supermarket level is key because it's a place where the majority of purchasing decisions are made, said Rouse.
“The supermarket is the place where people choose which foods they will buy,” she said.
The state of Louisiana needs particular help because it's the eighth most obese in the U.S., according to Ochsner spokeswoman Amiee Goforth.
“We have great food down here, but not all of it is healthy,” Goforth said.