ANOTHER STAMP

Olive oil, pasta and other foods associated with the Mediterranean will get, quite literally, a stamp of approval from the same nutrition group that left a mark on the whole grains industry. Later this year, Oldways Preservation Trust plans to introduce the Med Mark, an icon the size of a postage stamp that will appear on packages of foods that meet the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet set out

Olive oil, pasta and other foods associated with the Mediterranean will get, quite literally, a stamp of approval from the same nutrition group that left a mark on the whole grains industry.

Later this year, Oldways Preservation Trust plans to introduce the “Med Mark,” an icon the size of a postage stamp that will appear on packages of foods that meet the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet set out by Oldways. Although it hasn't been finalized, the official symbol will include the image of an amphora, a two-handled jar with a narrow neck used by the ancient Greeks and Romans to carry wine or oil. The amphora will appear inside a triangle — a shape that brings to mind a diet pyramid.

“It's a bold symbol,” said Dun Gifford, president of Boston-based Oldways.

Oldways, which seeks to perpetuate traditional food culture, developed the Mediterranean pyramid in 1993. Based on Aegean dietary principles, the Mediterranean diet recommends eating plenty of fresh produce, breads, grains and beans; lesser portions of fish and poultry weekly; low to moderate amounts of cheese and yogurt daily; and a few sips of wine daily — that's one glass for women and two glasses for men. Olive oil replaces butter for fat.

While the Med Mark stands to boost sales of designated foods the same way the whole grains symbol helped business for those products, not all manufacturers were thrilled when Gifford explained the Med Mark strategy.

“Everybody groaned at first,” he said. “They said, ‘Oh, my God, we'll have to mess up our packaging.’”

But recognizing what the symbol could do for sales, companies are warming up to the idea, he said. Indeed, there are currently 1,500 products bearing the Whole Grains stamp, which Oldways introduced in 2005. The mark had a tremendous affect on product sales. The Med Mark could have a similar impact, Gifford said.

While he thinks public awareness of the Mediterranean diet is already high, the packaging icon is likely to raise awareness even further, he noted.