LUBBOCK, Texas - As part of an overhaul of its shelf tag program, United Supermarkets here is eliminating its shelf tags that identify low-glycemic foods.
The program called out items that are organic, gluten-free, low-glycemic and heart-healthy when it was introduced in May 2005.
Tyra M. Carter, the retailer's corporate dietitian, said she recommended removing the low-glycemic tags after consulting diabetes experts.
"The low-glycemic index is more of a tool to be used in a clinical setting," said Carter, recently named the chain's first dietitian in several years. "It's one tool that may be used to control diabetes in some individuals, but not all individuals. It's not endorsed by either the American Dietetic Association or American Diabetes Association as a general control of diabetes. There are just too many variables."
While eliminating the low-glycemic tags, the retailer will replace the heart-healthy signs with ones for heart-healthy/diabetes management foods. They'll recommend foods based on guidance from the American Heart Association and U.S. Department of Agriculture on intake of fat, sodium, fiber and other components.
"In our country, heart disease is the No. 1 killer of males and females," Carter said. "Diabetes is very prevalent in our country, and we have a heavy Hispanic population in our area, and they have a high incidence of diabetes. Heart disease is one of the primary risks of people with diabetes."
The shelf tags for organic and gluten-free foods will remain, although United tightened its requirements for products labeled as gluten-free to include only items produced in a plant separate from facilities that produce gluten-containing foods. The retailer will continue to carry products made in non-gluten-free facilities but won't flag them as such.
"We do have a more stringent policy," Carter said. "I've called companies, communicated with written information, emails, talked to representatives. It can be very deceptive, because they can put on their websites, packaging, that it is gluten-free. But the issue comes in if the product has been prepared in a completely separate facility."
United used the strictest criteria available when recommending gluten-free foods because those foods are the primary treatment for sufferers of celiac disease, she explained.
United began rolling out the program in mid-March in its five fresh- and upscale-focused Market Street stores and one of its United banner stores whose assortment is similar to a Market Street store.
More than 1,260 items in all will be flagged, broken down as follows: 644 organic, 460 heart-healthy/diabetes management and 157 gluten-free. In addition to Center Store dry and frozen aisles, the tags will appear in the bakery and produce departments.
While the gluten-free items are concentrated in the stores' Whole Health section, the shelf tags for organic and heart-healthy/diabetes management foods will be especially helpful to shoppers looking for those items, as they're integrated throughout the store.
To communicate the program, Carter explained the labeling system to associates at the relevant stores. For shoppers, the retailers planned to have informational brochures along with other in-store educational and promotional materials.
United also has promoted the program through in-store signs, weekly fliers and its Living Well Monthly publication.