There have been two major announcements about Healthy Eating programs this week offered by grocers and by a combination ofacademics and grocers. One by Yale and Topco, a service bureau for such companies as Price Chopper, Food City, Giant Eagle, Bashes, Harris Teeter, Meijer and others. The second is Delhaize, owner of Hannaford, Food Lion, and Sweet Bay in the U.S. Many other groups are working on similar efforts
Both announced plans offer a simplified evaluation of nutrition elements, ingredients and service sizes across thousands of food products. The plan is aimed at the consumer, with the intent of grading products so that consumers have a shortcut to product selection with the intent of healthier eating, without having to read the whole darn label.
Great idea (if the retailer keeps in mind the 5 fundamental keys to a successful program of this sort).
So….why are only 28% of Hannaford’s food products rated for this important program?
The partial answer, is that collecting accurate, timely nutrition information, across the million or so active products (hundreds of thousands of which are retailer branded items) is a difficult undertaking. You might think that the manufacturers of those products might well have that data readily at hand, but they do not.
So, it falls to companies that specialize in collecting CPG product data, or to the retailer themselves to collect and catalogue that data. This is a huge undertaking and very costly. More importantly it has not been done to date, and there remains some substantial work before it will every be done. Several reasons come to mind, among them:
1. The data must be accurate, complete and comprehensive on the products currently handled by the store.
2. In order to be built into the retailer PIM infrastructure, the data must be consistent.
3. The labeling rules allow a good deal of flexibility in how product nutritionals are displayed. This can make some products impossible to rate in some categories.
4. Serving sizes and product sizes are often not the same. Figuring out how to rate a product takes human ijudgement after the data has identified the gap.
5. It is not necessarily obvious under what official criteria products should be evaluated. Olives for instance might be included in the vegitable category or a condiment category. The rules of evaluation change depending on where you put a product.
6. The Labeling authorities continually change the groundrules, as new information or theories come to light. At that time, the process can literally need to start from scratch.
Both efforts by these bodies are commendable, and begin to offer some very important tools for the consumer to help in the health/wellness and obesity issues. However, the programs will frustrate as much as they help over time if the majority of products cannot be rated in a timely, accurate and current fashion.