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Shopping Smarter at the Supermarket

May 27th, 2010 · 34 Comments

For those who frequently shop with young children, the goal tends to be to get in, get what you need and get out before a meltdown. Reading nutrition labels and trying to make sense of manufacturer’s nutrition claims is increasingly time-consuming. While the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is supposed to regulate misleading claims — like Kellogg’s claiming their sugar-laden cereals increased immunity — for the most part, manufacturers have free reign over how they try to sell you on their products.

nutritioniQShoppers — and its family of grocery stores, including Albertsons, Acme, Bigg’s, Bristol Farms, Cub, Farm Fresh, Jewel-Osco, and Shop ‘n Save — recently unveiled a new program to help customers make sense of the claims. The nutrition iQ program is a grading system that measures food products against seven nutrition benchmarks, and then awards qualifying products a shelf tag stating that it is a good source of whole grains, low in sodium, etc. The guidelines were developed by a health organization, the Joslin Diabetes Center — independent of food manufacturers.

At first glance, this seems like a great tool to help consumers and also to apply market pressure to manufacturers. Early testing showed that consumers did shift their purchases towards products with a nutrition iQ tag. If a manufacturer sees their market share start to slip at participating stores, one would presume they would be encouraged to change their formulas. In fact, some of Shoppers’ own store brand products don’t meet the criteria for their categories, and their in-store nutritionists are working with their manufacturers to make changes.

The labels also provide a little more credibility to claims manufacturers may make on their packaging. It’s almost comical to walk the cereal aisle and see how many of the boldly “NOW WITH WHOLE GRAINS” labeled cereals don’t, in fact, qualify for the nutrition iQ whole grains tag. It’s not that they don’t have whole grains — products also have to fall under a certain sugar threshold before they can even be considered — so they may be too high in sugar and/or have too little actual whole grains. Unfortunately, a number of cereals are still made with the same over-processed grains and then have a whole grain supplement added back. To qualify for the nutrition iQ tag, an actual whole grain must be the first ingredient.

no nutrition iQ tag here

There are no bonus points for organics, so organic soup with high salt content is not going to get a tag. Organic yogurt with a lot of sugar is also disqualified, though you may still prefer that over yogurt with high fructose corn syrup.

The program was rolled out for certain categories of foods to begin with, largely processed ones. While choosing a nutrition iQ-labeled cereal is probably a better choice than one without, I do wonder if it gives an overstated sense of healthfulness — the better choice, still, is probably to skip the cereal and eat oatmeal. But I do think third-party verification of nutrition claims is a step in the right direction.

What do you think, would a store labeling program help you choose better products? How else can we pressure manufacturers to make healthier products?

Shared with Fight Back Friday at the Food Renegade – go check out more recipes and ideas in this week’s round-up.

Disclosure: I received a free lunch and bag of groceries for attending the launch event at Shoppers, as well as a gift card which I donated to charity. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.

Tags: food for thought · food news

34 responses so far ↓

  • 1 damaged justice // Jun 2, 2010 at 10:39 am

    “would a store labeling program help you choose better products?”

    No, because I haven’t found a labeling program yet that doesn’t promote the low-fat, high-carb, pro-grain, anti-meat dogma that to my mind has been thoroughly discredited over the last fifty years.

    “How else can we pressure manufacturers to make healthier products?”

    Buy what you want, don’t buy what you don’t, and tell other people why you’re not buying certain things. And buy real food, not “products”.

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