GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Spartan Stores here is rolling out a nutrition shelf-labeling program that designates groceries as "best" or "acceptable" choices for a healthy diet.
The program, called M Fit Grocery Shopping Guide and created jointly with the University of Michigan Medical Center, Ann Arbor, is in roughly 60 stores so far, according to Shari Steinbach, a registered dietitian for wholesaler Spartan Stores.
About 8,000 name-brand grocery products have been analyzed by the university's MedSport Preventative Cardiology Clinic. Of those, 3,500 items were chosen as recommended based on factors such as the content of fat, saturated fat, fiber, cholesterol and sodium.
Those items are being labeled on the store shelves as either "Best Choice" or "Acceptable Choice" in their given product categories. The labels use green or yellow triangles, respectively, to designate the "best" and "acceptable" choices.
Steinbach said each food category is evaluated differently according to specific dietary guidelines. "With crackers, for example, fat content is evaluated," she explained. "Fat-free crackers would get a green triangle. If there is some fat added, but it is polyunsaturated fat and less than 30% of total calories, it would get a yellow, or 'acceptable' recommendation. If it has added saturated fat, it would not be recommended by the M Fit program."
The program is a spinoff of an earlier pilot at Spartan customer Busch's Valu Land. In consumer intercept research, M Fit staff found 67% of shoppers said they took the recommendations into
account when choosing products. Steinbach added that Busch's Valu Land had to adjust ordering to meet demands for recommended items.
Spartan retail customer Family Fare, Hudson, Mich., put the labels into its 11 stores starting Jan. 10. Jim Nader, director of sales and marketing for the independent, said the program responds to evolving shopping patterns in his stores. Like other participating retailers, Family Fare signed a year-long contract, paid a fee to use the labels and agreed to advertise their presence.
"As far as we are concerned, this will be a permanent part of our stores," Nader said. "We've already gotten local media coverage, and initial response from consumers has been very positive."