Carolyn Preston of Cape Elizabeth always thought she was a healthy eater. Then she started using a new app that scores her purchases in the grocery store according to their nutritional content.

Those cheddar bunny crackers her toddler loves scored lower than she expected, so now she buys her family whole grain wheat crackers instead.

The best part? She’ll get a small rebate from her employer, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, for making that healthier choice, and others – up to $10 total in cash back rewards each month.

The new program, called Eat Right Rewards, has been so popular among its own employees that the health insurer is now offering it in a pilot program to all individual and small group members of its health care plans. That adds up to tens of thousands of grocery shoppers in Maine.

Shoppers who sign up for Eat Right Rewards online use a mobile app to scan the bar code of products they want to purchase. The app, designed by a Newton, Massachusetts-based company called NutriSavings, assigns a score to the product based on nutritional content. The higher the score, the better the product is for you. Most ice creams, cookies and sodas, for example, score a 0, or some other very low number. Fresh or frozen vegetables score 100, the highest possible score.

A panel of nutritionists have assigned scores to more than 100,000 products for the program, according to Susan Amsel, product manager for Eat Right Rewards at Harvard Pilgrim.


At checkout, customers are linked to their purchases through a store rewards card or a number provided by the store. In Maine, Hannaford, Shaw’s, BJ’s, Food City and Save A Lot are participating in the program, and Wal-Mart is expected to join by the end of the year, Amsel said. In other communities, the program has also partnered with local farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs, according to David Venter of NutriSavings.

Each shopping trip generates a score that is emailed to customers to help them earn points and cash rewards. Customers can go online to examine each shopping trip and read more details about the nutrition of the products they purchased, or they can search for more healthful options to buy next time they shop. A box of Cheez-its, for example, scores a 15, while a box of Triscuits scores a 70.

Amsel said Harvard Pilgrim first offered Eat Right Rewards to its employees in 2013. Harvard Pilgrim was the first insurer in the country, as well as the first insurer in Maine, to offer the app, Venter said, but it’s a wellness benefit that any employer can tailor for their own use.


Most wellness programs have an average adoption rate of about 15 percent, but more than 40 percent of Harvard Pilgrim’s employees signed up to use the Eat Right Rewards program.

“We don’t expect that kind of adoption rate for all of our clients,” Amsel said, “but our goal is to get a significant adoption.”

MaineHealth has offered a similar program, “Cash for Your Cart,” to its employees since 2014. Within the first month of rolling out the program, 12 percent of its employees signed up, and that number quickly grew to 67 percent, according to a case study published by NutriSavings this summer.

Cash For Your Cart is just one of several strategies MaineHealth has used to get its employees to eat better, but its efforts seem to be working. According to the case study, an examination of the eating habits of 8,000 employees found that the number who reported eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day increased from 35 percent in 2012 to 53 percent in 2014.

Venter said the healthy eating app is popular because “you don’t have to do anything extra.”

“Everybody shops,” he said.

For Preston, the app became a little addictive, like a Fitbit for food. She has found herself constantly trying to improve her shopping score.

“You’re able to really track it, and it motivates you the next time you go,” she said. “You get kind of competitive with yourself.”

The program also has an extensive online recipe library, and the stores that participate offer special savings for members.

Preston said that using the program has taught her to watch out for sodium levels in store-bought soup stocks and sugar levels in flavored yogurts, which are advertised as healthy but often contain as much sugar as a candy bar. The Eating Right website lists 173 pages of yogurts, ranging from one low-scoring fruit-flavored yogurt that contains the equivalent of 9 cubes of sugar to one that contains actual chunks of pineapple and the equivalent of just three cubes of sugar.

“I don’t really buy flavored yogurt at all anymore,” Preston said. “You can get the plain and add fruit to it at home.”