A game called Let's Pack All-Star Snacks gets children involved in the Hannaford Bros.' Guiding Stars storewide nutrition navigation system. Youngsters can go to the Scarborough, Maine-based retailer's website and print out a page consisting of a suitcase filled with various foods and beverages. They are asked to circle the foods that have Guiding Stars, the retailer's shelf-labeling program that

A game called “Let's Pack All-Star Snacks” gets children involved in the Hannaford Bros.' Guiding Stars storewide nutrition navigation system.

Youngsters can go to the Scarborough, Maine-based retailer's website and print out a page consisting of a suitcase filled with various foods and beverages. They are asked to circle the foods that have Guiding Stars, the retailer's shelf-labeling program that rates products with one, two or three stars, depending on their nutrition value.

With Guiding Stars, Hannaford is positioning itself not only as a food retailer, but also a place where customers can get comprehensive yet easy-to-understand information about the health attributes of various foods and beverages.

“It's broadened our role from simply a place to procure food to a valuable source of information for consumers interested in learning more about the role of food in supporting a healthy lifestyle and managing diseases,” Caren Epstein, Hannaford's public affairs and media relations manager, told SN.

Hannaford's sister banner, Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, also plans to implement Guiding Stars. “The shelf tags will have the trademarked Guiding Stars logo, but will be Food Lion-specific tags,” noted Karen Peterson, spokeswoman for Food Lion.

Guiding Stars comes at a time when retailers are relying more heavily on shelf-tag programs designed to cater to — and capture the loyalty of — consumers in search of quick, simple health and wellness information. Publix, Rosauers, United Supermarkets and many other retailers are using different types of shelf-edge communications to draw attention to foods that have good nutritional value and/or cater to the specific dietary needs of persons afflicted with diseases like diabetes. The rise of such programs is largely a result of claims and symbols promoting the nutritional benefits of certain products, as well as media coverage about the detriments or benefits of different foods.

“We created Guiding Stars to cut through that confusion,” Epstein said.

While Guiding Stars is geared to all Hannaford shoppers, from the young to the old, getting kids involved in the innovative program was key, considering the nation's childhood obesity epidemic, Epstein noted. Besides games on the Hannaford website, the company supplements the Guiding Stars program with a variety of in-store classes conducted by nutritionists, as well as store tours and partnerships with health care providers, child care providers and family service organizations.

“While it is important to engage parents in the nutrition dialogue, it is equally — or even more — critical to start educating children as early as possible, as we recognize that children play a role in purchasing decisions,” said Epstein.

About 32,000 products have already been evaluated for the Guiding Star program. About 24%, or 7,600, of these have received at least one star. Fifty-five percent of cereals received at least one star, as well as 48% of seafood, 22% of meat and 14% of soups.

Guiding Stars is considered one of the most comprehensive nutrition programs in the industry. But other retailers have impressive programs as well. Take Rosauers, Spokane, Wash., where diabetic-friendly products have blue shelf tags.

Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., just launched the Publix Nutrition Information Program, in which healthy food choices are displayed on tags under the products. Themed “Now You See it,” the labels include the carbohydrate count and up to four nutrition claims, such as low-calorie, low-fat or a good source of fiber. The tags indicate the better choice for each type of product, including snacks.

Like Guiding Stars, Publix's program is designed to help consumers make informed food selections, said Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous.

“It was created to provide customers with shelf-level information that will allow them to quickly select products that meet their dietary needs,” she noted.

Brous said the effort helps Publix gain customer loyalty by providing added value to the shopping experience. “Customers know we will give them the best education on our products,” she said.

That's the reason why Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets introduced three types of shelf tags — Heart-Healthy/Diabetes-Management, gluten-free and organic — last year. They are designed to cater to the needs of shoppers ranging from those who are simply trying to stave off illness to those suffering from a chronic disease.

“Our customers are getting bombarded with nutrition information from all angles: television, the Internet and magazines,” said Tyra Carter, United's corporate dietitian.

The tags were developed to cut through the clutter and provide a quick reference point about foods and beverages that meet certain nutrition needs.

“We want to make it easier for shoppers so that they don't have to analyze everything on their own,” said Carter.

The tags are already being used in United's seven Market Street-banner stores, and will be brought to three United Supermarkets banners by the end of the year, according to Carter.

Carter personally analyzes each product herself using strict criteria based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's dietary standards. For instance, food that carries the “HH/DM” label is low in fat, trans fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol, and has at least 3 grams of dietary fiber.

“The information we disseminate is based on sound scientific data,” she noted.

To date, 200 products carry the gluten-free label, 530 are labeled “HH/DM” and 904 are tagged organic. The tags are especially helpful to the 1 in 133 people who suffer from celiac disease, which is treated only through diet and nutrition, Carter noted.

The aging Baby Boomer market, which is driving the market and industry trends, is one of the main reasons why retail-based health and wellness information has become so important, Carter added.

“Boomers want to stay young, not grow old and sit in a rocking chair,” she said.

The growth of retailer-based health education programs makes sense at a time of increased competition, said Jim Hertel, managing partner, Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill. Since it's difficult for traditional food stores to compete with discount retailers on price, they can instead prevent sales erosion by providing value-added services.

“It allows them to establish a measure of authority,” Hertel said.

While individual retailers are using their own forms of in-store media, industrywide tools are also at their disposal.

One of the largest efforts is the new “Take a Peak” in-store marketing campaign for food stores from the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association, the Food Marketing Institute and Matchpoint Marketing.

Once an individual product or brand gets approved for Take a Peak, it may then be promoted with various Take a Peak in-store media tools, including not only shelf tags but also educational brochures, coupons, floor graphics, in-store radio or direct-mail communications. Retailers can customize the program so that no two companies have the same execution.

“Supermarkets can bring the pyramid to life,” said Alison Kretser, GMA/FPA's nutrition and health policy senior director.

Take a Peak is designed to help promote foods the government has determined are critical for a healthy diet in the government's MyPyramid food guidance system. These include fruits, vegetables and lean meats, as well as products that are low in saturated fat and trans fat. In-store promotional vehicles also communicate broader health and wellness tips for consumers as provided by MyPyramid nutritional guidelines.

The goal of Take a Peak is to reduce consumer confusion about MyPyramid, said David Lied, president of Pittsburgh-based Matchpoint Marketing, a consumer packaged goods marketing firm and wholly owned subsidiary of Acosta Sales and Marketing Co. Matchpoint focus groups show that few people realize what products qualify for MyPyramid or how to incorporate them into their diets.

“Take a Peak takes the abstract information of MyPyramid and turns it into easy-to-understand shopper guidelines,” Lied said.

To date, 21 retailers, for a total of 2,000 stores, are either already executing or have committed to participating in Take a Peak. They include Publix, Giant Eagle, Raleys, Supervalu and Brookshire Brothers in Tyler, Texas.

“The momentum is building,” Lied said.

Fiesta Distributes Latino Food Guide

HOUSTON — Fiesta Supermarkets here is reaching out to Hispanics in search of health and wellness information with Camino Mágico, a food guide targeting the Latino community.

Developed by Oldways and the Latino Nutrition Coalition, Camino Mágico is designed to help Latinos eat healthier based on traditional Latino eating patterns. It will be distributed in 25 Fiesta stores throughout this month.

The pocket-size, bilingual guide contains a variety of nutrition information, including the Latin American Diet Pyramid, a calorie-control guide and information on how to read food labels.

“From inspiration and planning to purchasing and preparing foods, this guide provides the Latino community with key information they need to improve their shopping habits,” said LNC program manager Liz Mintz, in a statement.

Following its launch in Fiesta Supermarkets, the guide will be distributed in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Boston at food stores, fairs, churches, health centers and community organizations.

Oldways is a Boston-based nonprofit that develops food education programs and events. It is the parent of the LNC.
— C.A.