Chains implement nutritional labeling systems to help consumers make healthier choices


NEW YORK —In 30 states, at least one-quarter of the adult population is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While lack of exercise contributes to the obesity epidemic, so do bad diets. With Americans looking for healthier ways to eat, several supermarket chains have sought to address the issue.

A company based in Braintree, Mass., has stepped in with a ranking system that supermarkets can use to inform customers of their products’ nutritional content. The NuVal System, created as a joint venture between Topco Associates and Griffin Hospital of Derby, Conn., gives each food item a score between 1 and 100, with higher scores indicating higher nutritional content, based on the patent-pending Overall Nutrition Quality Index algorithm. For example, gluten-free twisted pretzels rank at 1, while a head of cauliflower ranks at 100. Two supermarket chains have adopted the system: West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee and Schenectady, N.Y.-based Price Chopper. Hy-Vee said it would adopt the NuVal system at its stores in seven Midwestern states, while Price Chopper, operated by Golub Corp., would adopt it at 117 stores in six Northeastern states.

“We have always been committed to making sure that our customers and associates have relevant nutritional information to help them make healthy choices,” Price Chopper president and CEO Neil Golub said. “Over the years, we have shown our commitment with informational outreach via our growing ‘Healthy U’ initiative, offering informational classes and tours, racks of healthy recipes and brochures in-store, our ‘Healthy U Connection’ that connects customers with questions to a professional nutritionist, Web site content and links, and educational [and] informational partnerships like the one with EatingWell magazine that we announced back in November.”

Other chains have adopted similar systems. Supervalu, the Minneapolis-based company that operates such chains such as Albertsons and Jewel-Osco, announced last month that it would implement its Nutrition iQ program at its stores nationwide over the next six months.

Unlike NuVal, which is an independent company, Supervalu developed Nutrition iQ through a collaboration with Joslin Clinic, part of the Harvard Medical School. Nutrition iQ uses the Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrient Content Claims as a framework for determining the nutritional benefits of food items that pass a set of qualifying criteria. While NuVal assigns numeric scores, Nutrition iQ uses a color-coded system, with orange tags for foods rich in fiber, blue for foods rich in calcium, dark orange for whole grains and purple for low caloric content.

“Poor food choices contribute to many health problems, including obesity and heart disease,” Joslin Clinic nutrition services manager Nora Saul said. “We’re pleased to have been able to contribute our nutritional expertise to a program that offers people a way to make healthy eating choices.”

Bashas’ Supermarkets, based in Chandler, Ariz., has launched a program that it developed independently, called Eat Smart. The program includes shelf tags that identify the nutritional benefits of foods, a free newsletter, shopping tours and a contest in which customers can get $500 gift cards for making the best case of why their kitchens need healthy makeovers.

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