Guiding Stars Light Up Cyberspace

SCARBOROUGH, Maine Drawing the attention of first-graders and the Food and Drug Administration alike are systems that gauge nutritional value. This fall, Hy-Vee will educate first- and second-graders about the NuVal system it uses to rate the healthiness of foods on a scale of 1 to 100. The FDA will likewise facilitate at-a-glance nutrition education by developing a voluntary front-of-pack labeling

SCARBOROUGH, Maine — Drawing the attention of first-graders and the Food and Drug Administration alike are systems that gauge nutritional value.

This fall, Hy-Vee will educate first- and second-graders about the NuVal system it uses to rate the healthiness of foods on a scale of 1 to 100. The FDA will likewise facilitate at-a-glance nutrition education by developing a voluntary front-of-pack labeling system for adoption by manufacturers.

Efforts are also expanding beyond the store's perimeter and into cyberspace.

The Guiding Stars Licensing Co. — a wholly owned subsidiary of supermarket operator Delhaize — has taken steps to bring the Guiding Stars nutrition navigation system, which assigns foods either zero, one, two, three or four stars depending on nutrition, online.

It recently forged a partnership with Wellness Layers, Inc., a provider of health-related online and mobile portals with social media dimensions for clients like Nutrisystem.

“We envision Guiding Stars will not only be an in-store nutrition guidance program, but also part of an overall health and wellness solution,” John Eldredge, director of brand and business development for Guiding Stars, told SN.

Later this month, the companies will launch the Guiding Stars “Food Finder” at www.guidingstars.com [4]. The publicly accessible database will feature more than 50,000 brand-specific products with corresponding nutrition information and Guiding Stars ratings. It will include both packaged and fresh foods marketed under national brands and private labels — every item for which a rating has been established.

Guiding Stars have been assigned to foods sold in Kings Super Markets, Parsippany, N.J., and Delhaize banners: Hannaford, Food Lion, Bloom and Sweetbay since they use the system in-store.

Food Finder will be the first tool that provides UPC-level Guiding Stars ratings to shoppers who don't have access to the program in their grocery store.

Presently, shoppers can access the rating system through an iPhone app called Shopper, but ratings are category specific, according to Eldredge. Ratings will get brand-specific later this year, he said.

“Food Finder will allow any site visitor to come and search the entire database of rated foods and filter them by star rating,” noted Eldredge.

A social media component will encourage users to have conversations, exchange ideas and share ratings.

Also in the works is a smart shopping tool with a meal planner that would allow visitors to create shopping lists and then print, email or download them to a mobile application. It would also present medical condition-related alerts, tools for shoppers on a budget, weight loss tips and a social media component.

The meal planner will be made available to retailers and health and wellness companies leveraging the Guiding Stars system, and branded accordingly, noted Eldredge.

“The tool will be licensable to any of our partners,” he said.

Hannaford, which launched Guiding Stars as a proprietary system in 2006, leverages similar functionality on its website. MyHannaford allows shoppers to search store-specific inventories of product and filter out items achieving zero Guiding Star or those that contain restricted ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or gluten.

Although the Guiding Stars Licensing Co. shares ideas with Hannaford, the retailer's Web capabilities were created by Hannaford, Eldredge explained.

“We provided some of the Guiding Stars data to the database that provides filters for their Web platform,” he said.

In addition, Guiding Stars Licensing Co. and Wellness Layers are working on a personalized nutrition planning tool that would reside on a health insurer's website.

Insureds could develop a menu plan using Guiding Stars-rated items and create a set of diet and exercise goals, according to Eldredge.

The tool could also link to the insured's supermarket loyalty account to show that they're purchasing more healthful foods.

“It could conceivably allow them to reward their insured for healthful purchases through either a premium reduction or other incentives,” Eldredge said. “We're in conversations with different health plans about partnership opportunities.”