Helping Shoppers Make More Nutritious Food, Beverage Choices

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

To help Americans make smarter nutrition choices and improve public health, a diverse group of scientists, academicians, health organizations, food and beverage manufacturers and retailers have created a new, voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling system called the Smart Choices Program.

The Smart Choices Program was motivated by the need for a single, trusted and reliable front-of-pack nutrition labeling program that U.S. food manufacturers and retailers could voluntarily adopt to help consumers make more nutritious food and beverage choices that fit within their daily calorie needs.

The Smart Choices Program will be unveiled Monday at the American Dietetic Association's Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo and will begin appearing on food and beverage packaging next year.

The Smart Choices Program was developed under the leadership of The Keystone Center, a non-profit organization that specializes in creating consensus solutions to public health problems. The Smart Choices Program includes a symbol that identifies more nutritious choices within specific product categories and provides calorie information that identifies calories per serving and servings per container on front-of-pack, with the intent to help people stay within their daily calorie needs.

Several companies have stated that, although not all the details are yet settled, they are likely implementers of the Smart Choices Program. These include Coca-Cola (US), ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Company (US), Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Unilever (US) and Wal-Mart. Companies that have joined The Keystone Center's Food and Nutrition Roundtable recently, including Nestle, are in the process of reviewing the program elements and assessing possible implementation of the program.

"This effort has been extraordinary on two levels," said coalition participant Eileen T. Kennedy, DSc, RD, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "First, it's been a tremendous accomplishment to achieve consensus among a diverse group of influential stakeholders. Second, we've created a program that shows real promise in assisting people in making positive dietary changes to help enhance public health."

The coalition worked collaboratively to develop the science-based nutrition criteria for the Smart Choices Program, relying on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and additional sources of authoritative guidance from consensus science, including FDA standards and reports from the Institute of Medicine and other groups. To qualify for the symbol, products cannot exceed standards for specific "nutrients to limit" and, for most categories, must also provide positive attributes: "nutrients to encourage" or "food groups to encourage." Specific qualifying criteria were developed for 18 different product categories, such as beverages, cereals, meats, dairy and snacks.


-- Nutrients to limit: total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium

-- Nutrients to encourage: calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E

-- Food groups to encourage: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy

Products that qualify for the Smart Choices Program symbol also will display calorie information on the front of the package, which clearly states calories per serving and number of servings per container. The goal is to help people stay within their daily calorie needs and make it easier for calorie comparisons within and across product categories.

Benefits of Front-of-Pack Labeling

Research indicates that a single, at-a-glance labeling system on the front of food packages would help simplify the shopping and selection experience, said coalition participant Susan Borra, RD, president of the International Food Information Council Foundation.

"Consumers said they felt one uniform standard across product categories and brands provided clarity, credibility and assurance that foods were more nutritious choices," she said.

The Smart Choices Program is intended to provide consumers with a consistent message no matter where they shop or what brands they buy. The Smart Choices Program symbol and calorie information will begin appearing on packages in mid-2009.

The coalition is dedicated to transparency, making its process and nutrition criteria publicly available. Additionally, the program was designed to be flexible and adaptable -- allowing for revisions as new public policy, dietary guidelines and authoritative science emerges, as well as encouraging innovation for food and beverage products.