Food Manufacturers Take Positive Steps Toward Improving the Nutritional Profile of Packaged Food Products
April 19th, 2012 | Press Release from Guiding Star
Consumer Demand for Healthier Options, More Transparent Labeling, and Objective Rating Systems Encourage Both Branded and Private Label Manufacturers to Cut Back on Sodium, Added Sugars and Saturated Fat
New data from the patented nutrition guidance program Guiding Stars® suggests food manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for healthier choices by making positive changes to the nutrient content of packaged food products. As a result, supermarkets are now able to offer a broader selection of products lower in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars and containing more fiber, whole grains, vitamins and minerals.
The formulation improvements come as good news for busy American families who often find it difficult to put healthier, more nutritious food on the table with the ease and convenience that pre-packaged foods can provide.
“Both the national brand manufacturers and private label companies are beginning to move in a positive direction, improving the nutritional profile of their products to meet consumer demand,” said Leslie Fischer, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a member of the Guiding Stars scientific advisory board. ”As consumers become more aware of the health benefits of reducing sodium, saturated fat and added sugar intake—and just how prevalent these ingredients are in many packaged foods—it is great to see manufacturers and retailers respond by providing more products that are aligned with current dietary recommendations.”
Fischer says the changes are the result of several factors. More transparent labeling regulations now require manufacturers to accurately disclose ingredients and nutritional content, as well as substantiate claims such as “whole grain,” “low fat” and others with nutritional data. Efforts by organizations such as the American Heart Association and others have also raised awareness among consumers and encouraged manufacturers to reduce sodium and cut back on other unhealthy ingredients in their recipes.
Meanwhile, nutrient profiling systems like the Guiding Stars program make it easier for consumers to make better food choices by clearly identifying more nutritious foods at a glance, mitigating the need to read and compare every label. Guiding Stars rates more than 100,000 edible items, ranging from fresh produce to packaged foods, prepared deli items, and dairy products using a patented algorithm based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other national evidence-based nutrition policy. Each food is clearly marked with a shelf tag, label, or other grocery store signage that indicates its nutritional value: one Guiding Star is good, two Guiding Stars is better and three Guiding Stars is best. Foods that receive no stars do not meet the program’s rigorous criteria.
Since the program’s 2006 launch in Hannaford Supermarkets, more than 1,700 stores in North America have implemented the program and witnessed significant improvement in the nutritional profile of the foods they offer. During the first year for the Guiding Stars program at Hannaford, only 17 percent of that retailer’s private label products earned at least one Guiding Star. Five years later, after working closely with its private label manufacturers, Hannaford saw the proportion of its private label foods earning one or more Guiding Stars increase to 28 percent. This compares favorably with the 25 percent of overall packaged foods carried by Hannaford—including national brands—earning one or more Guiding Stars.
Across the Guiding Stars database of more than 100,000 national and store brand foods, roughly one-third of all products now earn at least one Guiding Star, compared to only one-fourth just five years ago. A number of manufacturers have made significant improvements in the nutritional profile of their products, earning more Guiding Stars for their efforts, including:
- Dole Pineapple Chunks in 100% Fruit Juice, which went from 0 Guiding Stars to 2 Guiding Stars after changing from “packed in light syrup” to “packed in 100% juice,”
- DelMonte Fresh Cut Sweet Peas increased from 0 to 1 star after reducing both sodium, and added sugars,
- Thomas’ Light Multi-Grain Hearty Muffins went from 2 to 3 stars after removing the added sugars, and increasing calcium,
- Kelloggs Raisin Bran Crunch Cereal changed from 0 to 1 star by reducing the amount of added sugars,
- Hunts Crushed Basil Tomatoes now earns 2 stars instead of 0 since reducing sodium content,
- Ore-Ida Golden Fries French Fried Potatoes changed from 0 to 1 star after reducing the saturated fat content.
While these are just a few examples of what many manufacturers have done to improve the nutritional quality of their food products, Fischer says they represent an overall trend that ultimately benefits both manufacturers and consumers.
“As consumers become more aware of how nutrients in foods are linked to health and desire to make more informed food choices accordingly, manufacturers are developing more nutritious products to match this demand,” Fischer said. ”It’s a win-win for both food producers and consumers that has the potential to positively impact our nation’s overall health and help reduce the prevalence of diet-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.”