March 18, 2010

Hannaford looks to license popular food-rating system

DAVID SHARP

— By

click image to enlarge

Stars used in the Guiding Stars system help shoppers determine which nuts have more nutritional value, Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006, at a Hannaford Supermarkets location in Latham, N.Y. The rankings are based on federal guidelines, with points earned for meeting recommended levels of nutrients like fiber and taken away for having too much of the bad stuff--like saturated fats and sugar. "You don't have to have a nutrition degree to understand it," said Caren Epstein, spokeswoman for Hannaford, based in Scarborough, Maine. The system gives shoppers a good baseline for understanding healthy eating, said Cathy Nonas, a registered nutritionist with the American Dietetic Association. (AP Photo/Candace Choi)

AP

The Associated Press

The Hannaford supermarket chain plans to license its gold star rating system that has been applied to more than 25,000 food items.

Billed as the first program of its type, the Guiding Stars system is in place in 164 Hannafords throughout the Northeast and 106 Sweetbay stores in Florida. It will be implemented in Food Lion stores next year.

If the licensing is successful, the program could be rolled out to other supermarkets.

''With obesity, and related diseases, continuing to be a serious problem, Hannaford is committed to being a part of the broader public health solution,'' Ronald Hodge, Hannaford's CEO and president, said in a statement.

Other supermarkets, along with vendors and health care groups, are interested in using Hannaford's program because it would be too costly to ''reinvent that wheel,'' said Caren Epstein, a spokeswoman for Scarborough-based Hannaford.

Epstein declined to say how much money is invested in Guiding Stars, other than to say it's ''in the millions.''

That doesn't include the time and effort that went into setting up the program and an advisory panel with experts from across the country.

The program, introduced in Hannaford stores in September 2006, rates food items with zero to three stars based on nutritional value.

Vitamins, minerals, fiber and whole grains earn more stars. Added sodium, trans fats, saturated fats and cholesterol mean fewer, or no, stars.

Hannaford is seeking a patent for the formula, which is a secret for now.

Hannaford reports faster sales growth for items that receive stars, indicating that the program is steering shoppers to healthier products.

The idea of the Guiding Stars came from shoppers who were frustrated and confused by available nutritional information.

As it stands, the system consists of signs and shelf tags in the stores, in addition to an advertising campaign, collateral materials, training materials, a Web site and community outreach, Epstein said.

There's also interest by at least some vendors in having the Guiding Stars placed on the products themselves, similar to the heart-check symbol on products receiving the American Heart Association's seal of approval, she said.

Interest from outsiders has picked up since the first-year results were released in September, said Mark Doiron, Hannaford senior vice president.

''We know we have a program that works and has demonstrated results,'' he said. ''We're optimistic about the opportunity to share it with a broader audience.''

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