Hodge Leads Label Effort at Hannaforf
If Guiding Stars had a guiding star, it would be Ron Hodge.
The chief executive officer of Hannaford Bros., Scarborough, Maine, helped the retailer launch its ground-breaking Guiding Stars program to provide nutritional rankings for the products it sells in its stores more than three years ago. But the commitment dates back further still.
“This program was the first of its kind, and when people ask, how do you go from the philosophy of nutrition profiling — which had existed before Guiding Stars — to actually putting it on shelves? I tell them the difference was leadership,” Julie Greene, director of healthy living for Hannaford, told SN in a recent interview. “To me, it was a commitment to approaching this innovative program with integrity. It was a matter of saying, ‘If we're going to do this, we're going to do this right.’ Whatever it was going to take.”
Launched in Hannaford stores in September 2006, and now available throughout the East Coast at Delhaize banners, as well as selected retailers and school districts through a licensing program, Guiding Stars helps shoppers identify healthy foods through use of good (one star), better (two stars) and best (three stars) ratings of their nutritional value.
The concept, Greene said, dates back as far as 2003, when senior leadership at Hannaford was investigating ways to differentiate its offering while meeting a growing consumer demand for health and nutrition. And though the ambitious scope of the Guiding Stars program was daunting, they were committed to getting it right.
“When you're innovating in this way, in an industry that's very tradition-bound, you run into barriers,” Greene said. “People would say, ‘You can't put an icon on every price tag.’ There were a lot of hurdles like that,” Greene said. “But our leadership, people like Ron Hodge and [Senior Vice President] Mark Dorion, were committed to doing this, and with leadership behind us, we found a way to make it work.
“When you think of the investment, there are many reasons why we shouldn't be doing this. But when Wal-Mart has natural and organic products and Whole Foods has their own label, how are we going to differentiate ourselves? This was something that no other supermarket could do.”
Guiding Stars since its launch has continued to evolve, Greene said, as new findings impact how the system rates products, and as officials find ways to use the ratings database itself as a platform for new consumer offerings.
“One of our guiding principles of Guiding Stars has been to stay on top of evidence-based science as it evolves, and as changes get adopted by governing bodies, they are included in the algorithm to impact how it evaluates products,” she explained.
“We've been able to mine the incredible database that was created for Guiding Stars,” she added. “The whole foundation of Guiding Stars is this database of nutritional information, and there is still none like it. So for Hannaford the question is, what else can we do with this gold mine of data?”
One answer is in a new online database that helps shoppers filter products by attributes or dietary restrictions, she said.