An independent study found that Guiding Stars, a nutrition guidance program developed by Hannaford grocery stores, delivered notably increased demand for products that are rated more nutritious, at the expense of those that are not.
In conducting the study, researchers examined purchase data of ready-to-eat cereals before and after implementation of the Guiding Stars program at 134 Hannaford stores, comparing it to data from an equal number of Hannaford-like control stores across the country without the Guiding Stars system in place.
The study, published in the journal Food Policy, found sales of no-star cereals dropped 2.58 percent, while one-, two-, and three-star products saw modest gains from 0.5 percent to one percent in the first 20 months of the study.
"Although the percentages are small, if you think in terms of the actual quantities or boxes of cereal sold in the national market," study author and FDA scientist Jordan Lin told The Associated Press, "this could have some important implications on the nation's health."
Julie Greene, healthy living manager at Hannaford, told AP that the cereal aisle is "a virtual billboard of health claims," and Guiding Stars is helping consumers quickly navigate often confusing claims. She also said manufacturers have been reformulating their products to improve the nutritional value of their offerings partly due to the ratings system.
Guiding Stars was instituted in 2006 in Hannaford stores and is now licensed for use in more than 1,800 stores in the U.S. and Canada.
The research, conducted by scientists at the USDA, FDA and the University of Florida, was undertaken in response to the Institute of Medicine's October 2011 report calling for a uniform point or star system to rate foods on the amount of added sugars, sodium and saturated or trans fats.
Many grocers also use a rating system from NuVal or have developed their own. Grocery Manufacturers of America and Food Marketing Institute in 2011 began rolling out a Facts Up Front system, which simplifies the back-of-pack nutrition information, in a bid toward "self-regulation."
Health advocates continue to call for the FDA to create federal standards for front-of-package nutrition labels system to avoid the confusion created by competing rating systems. Other critics claim putting healthier labels on processed foods such as potato chips works against the goal of getting people to eat more actual fruits and vegetables.
What's the likelihood that federal standards for a front-of-package nutrition labels system will arrive in the next three to five years?