Supermarkets are always trying to make shopping easier, faster and more manageable. They've pioneered solutions like online purchasing, personal scanners and self-checkouts, to name a few, each one designed to maximize the convenience factor. The thinking is that customers who save time, money and energy are happy customers, and happy customers always come back.
If there's a monkey wrench capable of bringing the whole grand scheme to a crunching halt, it's health and wellness. Yep. The efficient engine that retailers have painstakingly built shifts into low gear when consumers start looking at natural, organic and special-claims products. The problem is that there's so much information on today's packages: low fat, heart-healthy, low cholesterol, gluten-free, grass-fed, USDA organic — the list goes on and on. And many sources contribute to the list. Manufacturers, trade associations, special-interest groups and even retailers themselves have developed these logos and on-pack label programs.
The idea is sound and the goal admirable, but each program remains a unique, proprietary system applicable only to that one manufacturer's products, or to those sold by this one supermarket chain. Each labeling system is often based on different nutrition criteria, and therefore cannot be transferred or applied elsewhere, or to other products. None is universal.
And that's where the slowdown starts. The labels become a detour, and consumers stall in the aisles as they attempt to interpret the various letters, symbols and descriptors printed on packages.
So, it was exciting to learn that two systems covering every product in every store will soon be available for licensing. Both are profiled in the Spring 2008 edition of SN Whole Health accompanying this week's issue of SN. Topco Associates is handling marketing for the Yale-developed Overall Nutritional Quality Index, or ONQI, while Hannaford Bros. Supermarkets has announced it is offering its very own Guiding Stars nutrition rating program under similar terms.
Both systems use complex mathematical formulas that reduce a food item's total nutrition to a single, indentifiable symbol — stars for Hannaford's program and numbers for ONQI. The retailers we interviewed for the story all talked about how these programs aren't about judging one manufacturer over another, or comparing the qualities of two competing products. It's about empowering consumers with the information they need to make their own decisions about which foods to buy.
“All this is, is an objective, third-party system that's being applied equally to all products across the board,” Randy Skoda, executive vice president at Topco, told us.
In five years, look how far we've traveled in the wellness movement. Supermarkets carry organic foods in every category, employ expert dietitians, conduct community outreach on a grand scale, and much more.
Now, imagine supermarkets five years into the future, when every product has a nutritional rating that's easily understood. That's progress. Now, we're making shopping faster, easier — and truly better for you.