Thursday, July 29, 2010

Use Super-Market Nutrition Info To Guide Purchases

Myra Vanderpool for years regularly bought her local supermarket's store-brand wheat bread. This spring, she switched brands.

What prompted Ms. Vanderpool's move was a new nutritional-scoring system being tested at her Kroger Co. grocery store in Lexington, Ky., that ranks thousands of foods on a scale of 1 (low in nutrition) to 100 (really healthy). The results, posted next to items on the grocer's shelf, were eye-opening: Her regular bread scored a 23, the same as Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream.

Kroger's scoring system is part of a nationwide move by grocery retailers to get pushier about offering nutritional advice. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country's biggest food retailer, plans to announce details of its own "nutrition program" later this summer, said a spokeswoman, who declined to elaborate.

Supermarkets are hoping to increase their shoppers' loyalty, and perhaps win back some customers who have turned for at least some of their purchases to specialty stores such as Whole Foods Market Inc. and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart. Sales of natural and organic foods jumped 72% to $31.9 billion in the five years ended 2009, while functional, or fortified, foods rose 44% to $37.3 billion in the same period, according to Nutrition Business Journal. And big food makers have been rolling out more options that are lower in salt and saturated fat and higher in fiber and whole grains.

Food by the Numbers
Some supermarkets have begun using the NuVal scoring system, which ranks a food product's nutrition from 1 (low in nutrition) to 100 (really healthy). Here are some comparisons:

Example of Product Scores
Bottled Juices
V8 Splash Diet Berry Blend 57 Ocean Spray Light - Cranberry Juice Cocktail 2

Cold Cereal
Post Original Shredded Wheat 91
Kellogg's Special K, Original 23

Kashi Heart to Heart Roasted Garlic Whole Grain Crackers 36
Keebler Club Snack Sticks Honey Wheat Crackers 3

Fresh Bread & Rolls
Pepperidge Farm Whole Grain Bread 46
Sara Lee Heart Healthy Wheat & Honey Dinner Roll 24

Frozen Entrees
Kashi All Natural Pesto Pasta Primavera 44
Weight Watchers Smart Ones Frozen Three-Cheese Macaroni 20

Frozen Potatoes
Ore Ida Frozen Country Style Hash Browns shredded 91
McCain Frozen Regular French Fries Crinkle Cut 26

Luncheon Meats
Oscar Mayer Deli Fresh Shaved Black Forest Ham 33
Hormel Natural Choice Sliced Hard Salami 7

Natural Cheese
Sargento Fat Free Riccotta Natural Cheese 30
Kraft 100-Calorie Cheese Bites Mozzarella Garlic and Herb 16

Snack Bars
Clif Bar Nectar Cacao 41
Nature Valley Cashew Sweet & Salty Nut Granola Bar 5

Spaghetti Sauce
Ragu Fresh & Simple Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce 54
Bertolli Tomato and Basil Pasta Sauce 50

Breyer's Light Black Cherry Jubilee 99
Dannon Activia Blueberry Low-fat 23

Some food makers object to their products being scored for nutrition. They say shoppers consider a variety of factors when buying food. And they say that relying on a single nutritional score can make it difficult for consumers to understand how the foods they buy fit into a diet. It also can result in surprises, like the wheat bread Ms. Vanderpool bought that scored the same as an ice cream. A spokesman for the nutritional-scoring system, called NuVal, said calcium and vitamin A boosted the ice cream's score, while added sodium and low-fiber content hurt the bread's ranking.

Kellogg Co.'s Kashi brand in a statement said it tries to provide minimally processed, organic-certified food free of artificial flavors and other additives. "Many of the current nutrient-profiling systems don't take these values into account, which results in an incomplete picture," it said.

NuVal developers say the strength of the system is mainly in showing how one product brand or variety can be more nutritious than another. General Mills Inc.'s Cascadian Farm french fries, for instance, get a score of 76, while McCain Foods crinkle-cut french fries score a 26. A McCain spokeswoman said the company isn't familiar enough with NuVal to comment.

A NuVal spokesman said the McCain fries have more sodium and saturated fat than the Cascadian Farms product. He said food makers aren't shown the scores before they appear on grocers' store shelves.

Some food makers object to their NuVal scores. General Mills' Cheerios, for instance, scores a 37, while Original-flavor Post Shredded Wheat, made by Ralcorp Holdings Inc., gets a 91. "We do not believe that Shredded Wheat should be rated above Cheerios," a General Mills spokeswoman said in an email. She noted the nutritional value of Cheerios, including that it is low in fat and cholesterol-free, and that its No. 1 ingredient is whole-grain oats, but declined to elaborate. A NuVal spokesman said Cheerios has less fiber and more sodium per serving than does Shredded Wheat.

The scores can influence shoppers' choices. Ron Gill, a 44-year-old insurance salesman in Lexington, Ky., keeps an eye on the NuVal scores posted at his local Kroger store. On a recent shopping trip, in the processed-meat aisle, Mr. Gill passed up his usual Ball Park brand hotdogs, made by Sara Lee Corp., with a score of 7. Instead, he picked up Johnsonville Sausage LLC.'s smoked turkey sausage, which had a score of 10.

"It's a little difference, going in the right direction," Mr. Gill said.

Source: Wall Street Journal 7/20/10

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