CONSUMERS WANT MORE NUTRITION INFORMATION, and 2009 will be the year they get it, as recently developed programs complete their test phases and are made available for mass implementation.
The initiatives vary, and in many ways they augment shelf guidance already employed by supermarkets: Retailer-sponsored systems like NuVal from Topco Associates, and Guiding Stars from Delhaize-owned Hannaford Bros. Supermarkets, rate products using complicated scientific formulas. Manufacturers are highlighting nutritional information right on their packages. Even trade organizations and groups of suppliers are banding together to craft nutrition guidance platforms.
The timing couldn't be better, as demand for more information steadily grows. According to the Nielsen Co., 68% of respondents in North America stated they are cutting down on fats, 62% are eating less sugar and 47% are purchasing more fresh natural foods. The trend provides a lucrative opportunity for companies that give consumers healthful product choices and related information.
The NuVal Nutritional Scoring System, which was introduced last year as a joint venture between Topco and Griffin Hospital, rates 30 different nutrients and assigns a score from one to 100, with a higher score indicating a better nutritional choice. Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., and Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, have begun introducing the system and customer support tools in stores.
Meanwhile, Hannaford's Guiding Stars has moved beyond sharing its star-based rating program with other banners under the Delhaize umbrella, and has made it available to other retailers around the country through a licensing subsidiary.
Most regional and national retailers have some sort of shelf labeling system of their own design already in place. Programs like NuVal are designed to be a more thorough set of guideposts than the retailer's, which typically use color-coded tags and symbols to alert shoppers to products that fit particular diet profiles, such as low-sodium or gluten-free.
“We have a nutritional tag program that educates our customers to the qualities of the products they may be looking for,” said Maria Brous, director of media and community relations for Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla. “We also have a comprehensive website assisting customers in determining what works best for them and their total health.”
Aldi, the limited-assortment retailer, recently took the extra step of adding nutrition icons directly to products. The privately held retailer's Fit & Active line of better-for-you items now sports “Fit Facts,” a graphic listing the amount of calories, fat, sodium and carbohydrates. Supplemental benefits — high in fiber, no trans fats and the like — are also highlighted on each package.
Regardless of format, supermarket operators are looking for anything that complements their existing efforts. Some manufacturers have implemented their own nutritional education and rating systems. Confectioner Mars began adding nutritional information on the front and back of its products' packaging in December 2008. Sara Lee announced in January that it will begin adding a Nutritional Spotlight call-out graphic to all its bread, bun and bagel products.
Another program rolling out this year, called the Smart Choices Program, has enlisted large manufacturers — Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, General Mills and Kraft, among others — as well as big retailers like Wal-Mart Stores. The initiative includes an easy-to-spot green check logo, and moves calorie information from the back panel to the front of the package.
“The goal is to have participating companies use the Smart Choices Program symbol and calorie information, instead of other symbols and icons that are currently in use,” said Brad Sperber, director of the health and social policy practice at the Keystone Center, a nonprofit public health organization based in Keystone, Colo., which coordinated the program. “The intent is to provide one simple communication for the consumer — regardless of which brands they buy or places they shop.”
A similar effort is under way courtesy of the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition, made up of a dozen commodity groups. The NRFC program, which urges consumers to shop the perimeter of the supermarket, focuses primarily on fresh food choices.
With so much data at shoppers' disposal, an integrated approach using in-store communication, websites and one-on-one interaction can help educate consumers about whichever programs retailers have in place. Employee education can play a key role in the success of a program, because they are the ones interacting with customers on a daily basis. Store associates should attend events and store tours that teach customers about nutrition to learn more about the nutrition rating programs.
Websites and newsletters can be used to communicate nutritional rating information and give consumers additional health-related ideas. Harris Teeter, which introduced its “yourwellness” program in 2006, has value-added information on its website that corresponds with the in-store communication. The website includes additional details regarding the shelf tags, a contest to get customers involved, a comprehensive 15-week action plan toward becoming healthier, e-newsletters, and nutritional advice from professionals.
Hannaford utilizes its website to explain why it gives a product a one-, two- or three-star rating. Additional efforts have been made to educate consumers through free events and classes. Julie Greene, Hannaford's director of healthy living, said that Hannaford goes above and beyond educating consumers at the store level.
“Hannaford sent free educational materials to child care centers, health care providers and fitness professionals that explain how the [Guiding Stars] program works and where to find it,” she said. “Recipients could opt in for additional materials, which included newsletters; coupons for savings on products with one, two or three Guiding Stars; recipes; and meal ideas.”
Make the Most of Nutrition Messaging
* Shelf-tag communication should be easy to understand so that customers will know they are making healthful food choices at a glance.
* Employees should be educated about program-specific information.
* Make more information available on websites, at in-store kiosks and in printed materials.
* Websites should offer consumers value-added information such as healthful shopping lists, recipes, coupons and newsletters.
* Store events, tours and classes offer the best chance to facilitate shopper loyalty.
* Get the community involved. Reach out to local doctors, schools, health facilities and other organizations that interact with consumers.
* Include as many categories and as much of the store as possible with any program.