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Representatives of top U.S. food and beverage manufacturers and retailers have introduced “Nutrition Keys,” a voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling system that will aid shoppers in making informed choices. Developed in answer to a request last year from First Lady Michelle Obama, the program marks the most significant modernization of food labels since the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990.
“We share First Lady Michelle Obama’s goal of solving childhood obesity within a generation,” said Pamela G. Bailey, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) during the Jan. 24 launch at Phoenix’s Arizona Biltmore, where the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference is also being held. “Food and beverage companies have a strong track record of providing consumers with the products, tools and information they need to achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle, and this program represents a significant milestone in our ongoing effort to help consumers construct a healthy diet.”
“Today’s sophisticated consumer wants more information about their food than ever before,” added FMI president and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin. “Nutrition Keys, combined with the many innovative nutrition education tools and programs in retail stores, is helping us meet that challenge and exceed consumer expectations.”
The Nutrition Keys label will place key nutrition information, such as calorie, saturated fat, sodium and total sugars content, squarely on the front of food packages. For maximum appeal to time-pressed shoppers, the information will be offered in a fact-based, clean and easy-to-use manner. An icon will show consumers how the key nutrients in each item fit into a balanced and healthy diet as part of the federal government’s daily dietary advice.
To view the icon, visit the GMA website <http://www.gmaonline.org/issues-policy/health-nutrition/providing-innova... or the FMI website <http://www.fmi.org/media/> .
Further, the on some products, the icon will display information on “nutrients to encourage” that are important for a healthy diet, but that most people don’t get enough of. These nutrients include potassium; fiber; vitamins A, C and D; calcium; iron; and protein.
The boards of directors of influential industry groups GMA and FMI adopted a joint resolution backing the Nutrition Keys initiative at their Jan. 23 joint board meeting.
“Obesity is a serious and far-reaching problem,” noted Ric Jurgens, chairman CEO of West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee, Inc. “As industry leaders, parents and grandparents, we have an obligation -- along with government, schools and other stakeholders -- to attack our nation’s rising obesity rates.”
“Helping consumers make informed decisions is not just good business sense, it is the right thing to do,” affirmed Gary Rodkin, CEO of Omaha, Neb.-based ConAgra Foods, and chairman of the GMA board. “Our industry has stepped up to the plate in a big way to help improve public health and combat obesity, and this program is a very important step in the right direction.”
Companies will start rolling out packaging including the Nutrition Keys icon this year, taking into account seasonality and production schedules. Shoppers should begin to see the labels on shelves in the next few months, and the number of products bearing the icon will continue to grow throughout 2011.
To raise consumer awareness and promote icon usage, an unprecedented consumer education campaign with an initial investment from manufacturer and retailer participants of at least $50 million will consist of advertising, public relations and in-store elements aimed at primary shoppers for their household.
So far, the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest has weighed in against the system, comparing it with the disastrous industry-led "Smart Choices" initiative in 2009. "It's unfortunate the industry wouldn't adopt a more effective system or simply wait until the Food and Drug Adminstration developed a system that would be as useful to consumers as possible," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson.
According to Jacobson: "A system with green, yellow and red dots to indicate whether a food has a good, middling or poor nutritional quality would probably be a lot more effective than [the] industry's system. Alternatively, numerical ratings from -100 to +100 or 0 to 10 would allow people to easily compare one brand of food to another. In contrast, Nutrition Keys ... appears to be designed to distract consumers' attention from, not highlight, the high content of sodium, added sugars or saturated fat in all too many processed foods."