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The Wall Street Journal reports that Ahold-owned Stop & Shop and Giant Food are introducing a new “Healthy Ideas” nutritional labeling system that is “designed to help customers find their stores' healthiest foods” and “will distinguish more than 3,000 of the stores' products and fresh produce with a bright green-and-blue symbol signifying they meet U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal guidelines defining what makes a food healthy. That represents about 10% of the store's total inventory and includes items ranging from dairy products to pancake mix to frozen Brussels sprouts.”

And, the Journal writes, “Products in the chains' 561 stores that carry the Healthy Ideas symbol have less fat or cholesterol than other products in their category and include at least one good nutrient source such as fiber, protein or calcium, Stop & Shop says. The company says Healthy Ideas wasn't created to help consumers lose weight or elevate one product over another, but rather to highlight the items that meet or exceed federal guidelines for healthy food.

The program is the latest nutrition labeling program to be introduced by US supermarkets.

• Delhaize-owned Hannaford Supermarkets, Food Lion and Sweetbay Supermarkets all are using a “Guiding Stars” program that gives qualifying products one, two or three stars depending on whether they are good, better or best for consumers.

• Hy-Vee and Price Chopper have both subscribed to the “NuVal” system, originally called ONQI, which rates every one of their products on a scale of 1-100, with 100 being healthiest

• In addition, as the Journal notes, “Food manufacturers, including Kraft Foods Inc., PepsiCo Inc. and Unilever PLC, are working with nutritionists on another program to add a ‘Smart Choices’ label to certain products in a program scheduled to launch this summer.”

KC's View:
I come to this story with conflicting opinions.

Burt Flickinger of Strategic Resource Group tells the Journal that most consumers aren’t interested in this level of nutritional information, and that all the companies involved with the various programs run the risk of creating a level of information overload. And I try to never disagree with Flickinger, who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do.

Ric Jurgens, CEO of Hy-Vee and an enormous advocate for the NuVal system, is someone I find enormously persuasive when he talks about the system’s potential to “change the world.” I have had and continue to have reservations about the NuVal approach, but when Jurgens grabs you by the collar to tell you why you are wrong, it is hard not to pay attention.

I remain impressed by the simplicity of the Guiding Stars program, which strikes me as easily understood by consumers, easily applied by retailers, and having both a likely impact on waistlines and a proven impact on bottom lines.

And now we have the new Ahold program.

So, what to make of all this activity?

While I tend to agree with Flickinger that we may be reaching the point of information overload, I think that may have more to do with the various and conflicting approaches and programs rather than the specific information being proffered. And I still think simplicity is best, which makes me wary of the NuVal system, despite my rule that Ric Jurgens generally knows best.

There will be more programs and approaches, which will only ramp up the confusion and overload even more. They will be driven by retailers trying to differentiate themselves and trying to respond to consumer trends – both of which make sense.

But at some point, I fear, we won’t be doing shoppers any favors. Which would be a shame, because better and more information usually is a sensible approach to food marketing.