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The St. Petersburg Times reports that Delhaize-owned Sweetbay Supermarkets has adopted the “Guiding Stars” nutritional labeling program that was pioneered several months by Hannaford Bros., also owned by Delhaize.

According to the company’s website, “Guiding Stars uses a proprietary rating formula (patent pending) that credits a food’s score for the presence of vitamins, minerals, fiber and/or whole grains and debits a food’s score for the presence of trans and/or saturated fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and added sodium.”

One star means the product has “good nutritional value,” two stars indicates “better nutritional value,” and three stars is for “best nutritional value,” and the Times reports that “foods get bonus points for dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and whole grains. Points are subtracted for saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and added sodium or sugars.

The Times also notes that “at Sweetbay, the most revealing fact is that in overweight America today, only 6,000 of the 27,000 foods found in a typical supermarket were nutritious enough to garner a rating. Sweetbay makes no attempt to rate baby food because infants have different nutritional needs. Beer and wine also are not rated.”

Other interesting notes from the Times story:

• “While 94 percent of the produce department and 55 percent of the cereals were nutritious enough to be rated, only 8 percent of the deli and 5 percent of the bakery were.”

• “Of 300 selections of Sweetbay's On The Go Bistro frozen entrees, only one was nutritious enough to get a rating.”

• “There are some real head-scratchers. For instance, Campbell's Healthy Request soups pack too much sodium to get a star. Some organic soy milks had too much sugar to be rated nutritious. Kellogg's Cocoa Krispies got one star, Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal merited two stars, but Special K didn't even get one.”

• “While some food suppliers protested that products they market as healthy were not rated, Sweetbay only suggests changing the product.”

The Guiding Stars program will be aggressively marketed by Sweetbay as a point of differentiation for the company.
KC's View:
Two good lessons from this story.

One is that retailers need to take the initiative with programs like these, because consumers expect them to be the gatekeepers and the source of information about products in the store. Just putting stuff on the shelves isn’t enough anymore.

We think it is a good idea for retailers to exercise this power, because it allows them to establish the legitimacy of their own brands. After all, that’s what manufacturers are trying to do. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has a story about “the latest fad for weight loss and weight control: ready-made calorie counting. Since Kraft introduced 100-calorie packs three years ago, they've become the hottest thing in the food industry. Now, an ever-expanding line of 100-calorie snack-packs includes cookies, chips, crackers, pretzels, microwave popcorn and even yogurt. Last year, Coca-Cola began slapping 100-calorie labels on its 3-ounce minicans of soda; earlier this month, Hostess introduced 100-calorie packs of its cupcakes. Each package contains three minicupcakes complete with creamy filling.”

However, some consumers and analysts are skeptical about the trend, noting that not only do the limited calorie packages tend to cost more, but that many people will eat several of them in one sitting, thereby vacating any possible advantage to the packaging trend.

The second lesson from the “Guiding Stars” story shows how the various components of Delhaize work together, developing and sharing programs – making the company a formidable competitor here in the US.