(Host) It’s not easy to make healthy food choices at the grocery store.
So grocery stores across the country are developing a variety of programs to educate their customers about nutrition.
Hannaford’s, which has stores throughout Vermont and other parts of New England, is launching one of the most ambitious tomorrow.
VPR’s Nina Keck reports.
(Keck) Connie Clifford, a special projects coordinator for Hannaford’s, says customers complained that they felt overwhelmed by all the nutritional information being thrown at them. And they wanted help.
(Clifford) “I think people just wanted that yellow brick road through the store to find the food that is going be best for their family.” (
(Keck) The Maine based company decided against the brick road – and instead designed a rating system where foods earn stars if they meet certain nutritional criteria. One star is good, two stars are better and if you see a price tag with three stars – the item is exceptionally nutritious. Shredded wheat, green beans, fat free milk and certain types of vegetable barley soup are three star foods.
(Edelman) “I actually think it’s fairly ingenious.”
(Keck) Robin Edelman is Diabetes Program Coordinator for the Vermont Department of Health. She says what’s really telling about Hannaford’s system is that most foods get no stars at all. In a typical Hannaford’s, only 23% earn even one.
(Edelman) “People know that candy is junk food but people are about to start questioning well, why didn’t cottage cheese get a star? And why didn’t whole milk get a star? And so it’s going to open up questioning on both the consumers’ end and pressure on the manufacturer’s end to lower the fat salt and sugar in food in a way that hasn’t happened before.”
(Keck) Coming up with an accurate, user friendly way to compare 27,000 different food items was difficult. It took the company over two years. Jeffrey Blumberg, a professor of nutrition at Tufts University, was one of several outside experts hired for the project.
(Blumberg) “I was skeptical in the beginning that we were going to be able to be as successful as we have been.”
(Keck) Blumberg says the first thing they had to do was agree on what it meant to be nutritious. To do that they examined existing dietary guidelines from groups ranging from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to the American Diabetes Association. Blumberg says the data comes from food labels and ingredient lists. Hannaford’s says using existing labels makes it easy for shoppers to check why a particular product might or might not have any stars. But Jeffrey Blumberg says that also means the system doesn’t screen for everything.
(Blumberg) “So for example, we know a lot about different kinds of fatty acids – and their relative nutrient values, however, that information is not on most food labels so we can’t evaluate a product on things we don’t know for sure what’s in there.”
(Keck) That’s why oils are not yet rated.
(Speaker voice) Produce, telephone call on line 1. Produce, line 1.”
(Keck) Phyllis Tate, of Dorset, winds her way through the fresh fruit section of the Hannaford’s store in Rutland. She likes the simplicity of the rating system – and says she’s eager to see how some of her favorite brands stack up nutritionally to competitors.
(Tate) “So many times you just pick things up out of habit – and you don’t even take the time to look at it and if there’s something to alert you I would probably look at the other product with the stars.”
(Keck) With Hannaford’s competitors launching programs of their own, food industry analysts are watching to see how sales are affected.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.