Are nutritional rating systems a market basket killer?
A new study by Cornell University Study found that nutrition rating guides in stores led to a sharp decline in sales of "junk food" but only a more marginal gain in healthier items.
The researchers, including Cornell Food and Brand Lab’s David Just, PhD, and Brian Wansink PhD, author of the upcoming book, "Slim by Design," studied the sales records of over 150 Hannaford Supermarkets in the northeast between January 2005 and December 2007. They collected data from over 60,000 Guiding Star rated food items. The Guiding Stars System brands items with zero, one, two or three star ratings, with three stars being the most nutritious. The amount of beneficial ingredients, such as vitamins and whole grains, are taken into account along with the amount of innutritious ingredients, such as trans-fat or added sugars.
Researchers found that sales of less healthy foods — such as highly processed snack foods — fell 8.31 percent when branded with a nutrition rating while the percentage of healthy food purchases rose by 1.39 percent. The authors also noticed that the use of the Guiding Stars system led to an overall decline in supermarket sales.
According to lead author John Cawley, PhD, the decline in the sales of the less healthy ("junk") foods was "perhaps the leading catalyst for the trend toward more nutritious food purchases."
Guiding Stars, launched in 2006, is currently found in more than 1,800 supermarkets in North America, including Hannaford, Food Lion, Sweetbay, Homeland, Marsh Supermarkets, B&R and Mar-Val in the U.S., as well as more than 350 Loblaw, Provigo and Provigo Le Marche stores in Quebec and Ontario.
- The impact of nutrition rating systems on supermarket food sales – Cornell Food & Brand Lab
- Guiding Stars System to rate nutritional value of foods – Science Daily
- New Study Confirms Guiding Stars Program Helps Shoppers Make MoreNutritious Food Choices – Guiding Stars
- Testing out carrots and sticks to prompt shoppers to buy more carrots – Cornell Chronicle
Should grocers expect lower basket sizes as part of the push toward healthier eating? Does it make sense that in-store nutrition ratings labels lead to a much more drastic shift away from unhealthy foods than toward healthy options?