Walmart Leaps Into Labeling Fray
by Sarah Mahoney,
Walmart-Great-For-YouWalmart has taken the wraps off its “Great For You” healthy-food label, a move that is likely to add to the ongoing conflict among stores, food companies and public-health groups about how consumers should learn about nutrition details.
Other retailers, including Hannaford and Supervalu, have already introduced nutritional labeling that they hope makes it easier for shoppers to navigate aisles peppered with confusing (and often misleading) health claims. Depending on the product and manufacturer, such claims as “whole grain,” “high fiber” and “low fat” can mean virtually anything, and stores have long hoped to be more helpful to shoppers looking to slim down and eat better. In response, the food industry, via the Grocery Manufacturers Association, has its own initiative, a voluntary program called Facts Up Front.
But public-health advocates worry that the disparate labeling efforts are even more befuddling, and advocate for a single system, with standards set by the Food & Drug Administration.
“Walmart’s program does an excellent job of highlighting healthful foods in many food categories, but it is not fool-proof,” says Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in a statement released shortly after Walmart’s announcement. “Some distinctly not-great-for-you foods qualify for the symbol: cholesterol-rich eggs, salty canned vegetables and salt-water-injected fresh meat and poultry, nutrient-poor apple and grape juice, and grain foods that contain much more refined white flour than whole grain,” he says. “That proliferation of sometimes-inconsistent nutrition symbols on store shelves and packages indicates the need for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop one excellent system that would replace all the voluntary approaches.”
Some studies have found these labeling systems to be effective. For example, research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tracked the way consumers used label pioneer Hannaford’s Guiding Stars labels, introduced back in 2006, and found the percentage of items purchased that rated at least one star rose from 24.5% before the program’s introduction to 25.9% in the next two years. (The study, by Dartmouth researchers, was funded by Hannaford.)
Walmart unveiled the Great For You label at an event in Washington, D.C., with First Lady Michelle Obama, and the launch comes one year after kicking off its healthier food initiative. The icon is scheduled to appear on its Great Value and Marketside brands, as well as fresh and packaged fruits and vegetables.
Walmart’s initiative also includes reformulating packaged food to reduce sodium and added sugars and eliminate industrially produced fats by 2015, as well as pricing adjustments, to make healthier foods more affordable by providing savings on produce and reducing the price premium on better-for-you food items. It’s also developing solutions for food deserts, and increasing charitable support for nutrition education programs.