AHA EXPANDS ITS IN-STORE, HEART-HEALTHY PROGRAM

DALLAS -- The American Heart Association here is working with Tom Thumb stores in Dallas-Fort Worth to alert shoppers to products certified as heart-healthy, using shelf-talkers, signs and circulars.Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C., participated with the AHA in the organization's first such in-store program last year, in most Harris Teeter stores. It included in-store promotions, direct mail marketing

DALLAS -- The American Heart Association here is working with Tom Thumb stores in Dallas-Fort Worth to alert shoppers to products certified as heart-healthy, using shelf-talkers, signs and circulars.

Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C., participated with the AHA in the organization's first such in-store program last year, in most Harris Teeter stores. It included in-store promotions, direct mail marketing and local newspaper advertising.

Jessica Graham, spokeswoman for the Harris Teeter chain, said the pilot program was successful and "it did increase sales, and consumers felt good about it." Graham said the AHA interviewed shoppers in the store during the promotion to determine their reactions, and most agreed that the AHA's heart checkmark makes the foods easy to identify.

Suzanne Grant, senior communications manager for the AHA, told SN the nonprofit is still planning more in-store programs, but "like many other organizations, we have had financial problems and cutbacks, pushing our time frame back." The AHA is currently working with a third party, whom Graham did not identify, to help the group form relationships in the grocery industry.

The heart-healthy checkmark, a big, bright, red heart with a checkmark through it, is usually found on a product near the nutrition facts label, and has been in use since 1995. Eighty-eight percent of Americans find the AHA's heart checkmark helpful, with 89% saying it positively influences their purchase decision, Grant said. The foods certified as heart-healthy appear on the AHA's Web site at www.americanheart.org/FoodCertification.

"We all know that most Americans eat too much saturated fat and cholesterol and that our poor diet is a risk factor for elevated cholesterol, obesity and heart attack," the AHA says in a press release, which adds that more than half of all Americans are at risk for heart disease.

The association certifies products that people should include in a heart-healthy eating plan, if they meet certain criteria. The qualifications per serving are: 3 grams of fat per serving or less, 1 gram or less of saturated fat, 20 mg or less of cholesterol and a sodium value of 480 mg or less. The products must contain at least 10% of the daily value of one or more of these essential nutrients: protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron or dietary fiber. For meats to qualify, they have to meet the federal standard for "extra lean."

Because it says smoking has such a negative impact on health, the American Heart Association does not allow food products produced by tobacco companies or their subsidiaries to participate in the program.

The AHA commissions telephone polls twice a year, which have recently indicated that shoppers are indeed still interested in low-fat foods.

Among other findings:

Americans are looking for information about fat and cholesterol in the food they eat.

More than 80% of Americans are choosing reduced-fat or no-fat food products.

Nearly seven out of 10 Americans are counting or checking grams of fat in the foods they purchase.

Three-quarters of consumers polled say they are concerned about fat, cholesterol and sodium.

More than nine out of 10 consumers say some sort of graphic symbol on food products would help to identify foods that are part of a heart-healthy eating plan.

69% recognize the heart checkmark unaided without the name and statement.

67% correctly associate it with the American Heart Association.