Food companies form nutrition logo coalition
Study: Food allergies over-reported
PLA undergoes criticism
Americans cutting back on food purchases
Germans can nuke Asian meal kits
Cheerios snack mix now in multipack


Food companies form nutrition logo coalition

by Pan Demetrakakes
Executive Editor

The drive to simplify nutritional information with an easily recognizable front-of-pack logo is gaining.

Studies have shown that many consumers feel overwhelmed by the breakdown of information on the standard “Nutrition Facts” panel at the back or side of most American food packaging. A standardized logo denoting nutritious food would be a more manageable tool.

That’s the reasoning behind a new initiative, coordinated by the Keystone Center, a public-policy institution based in Colorado: The Smart Choices Program. This logo is a simple green check mark with the words “Smart Choices Program, Guiding Food Choices.” In addition, products with the Smart Check also will include calories per serving and servings per container on the front of the package.

Several major food companies have stated that they are likely to implement the program, including Coca-Cola, ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Unilever and Wal-Mart. General Mills, for instance, has announced that it will put Smart Checks on products including cereals, yogurt, snacks, vegetables, and soup, beginning in 2009.

"We believe that a single, credible system that is recognizable and uniform across categories will benefit consumers,” says dietician Susan Crockett, vice president of General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, and a member of the Smart Choices Plenary, the group that put together the program.

The criteria for inclusion in the Smart Choices Program include standards for “nutrients to limit,” such as total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium. In most categories, to qualify for Smart Choices check, the product must also have one or more “nutrients to encourage.” These include calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium and vitamins A, C and E. The Smart Choices Program includes specific nutritional criteria for several food categories, such as beverages, cereals, meats, dairy and snacks.

Private-label foods are moving in the same direction. Ahold USA, the parent of Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets, recently announced plans to put a “Healthy Ideas” logo on the front of private-label goods that meet certain federal nutritional criteria. The new logo will appear on about 10% of Ahold’s private label goods.

There’s no question that these types of logos have the potential to be a good marketing tool, if they build consumer trust. And the key to building trust is enforcement. The Smart Choices Plenary is in the process of finding a third party to administer and monitor the program, ensuring that all products with the Smart Choices check in fact meet the standards.

TOP DEVELOPMENTS

Study: Food allergies over-reported
Between 10% and 20% of people claim to have food allergies, but the real number may only be half this, according to a study published in the German journal Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. This can lead to needless dietary restrictions for some people. The growing number of people reporting food allergies is causing “free-from” market growth, with over 300% growth reported in the UK since 2000, according to Mintel.

PLA undergoes criticism
Polylactic acid (PLA) biopolymer is undergoing criticism for not being compostable or recyclable by consumers. Recycling advocates are concerned that retail PLA water bottles will most likely contaminate recyclables, especially in states where recycling rates are high. Natureworks says that given the small amounts of PLA being used in packaging, contamination is not likely. A 2006 study commissioned by the company showed recycling, not composting, as the greenest way to deal with PLA. For everything but water pollution, it said that PLA retains environmental advantages over conventional plastics, even if it isn’t recycled.

Americans cutting back on food purchases
Nearly six out of 10 Americans are buying less food due to increasing prices, according to The 2008 Hormel Hunger Survey. Two-thirds of Americans say they are losing economic ground as inflation outstrips any increase in income, and 47% of Americans are struggling more this year than last year to pay their bills. Private label products are experiencing rapid growth, as consumers are looking to save money, according to a Nielsen survey. Overall dollar sales of store-brand consumer packaged goods in the United States were up by 10.1% to $80.3 billion for the year ended in September.

NEW PACKAGES

Germans can nuke Asian meal kits
A food kit marketed in Germany by Mars Inc. under its Uncle Ben’s brand has cooked rice and sauce in separate tubs. The Heiss auf Reis (“hot on rice”) line has a single serving of rice in a polypropylene tub, with sauce in a smaller, inverted tub that rests atop the rice container. A paperboard sleeve unifies the tubs. The microwaveable products include Thai Sweet & Spicy, Thai Yellow Curry, Chinese Sweet & Sour, Mexican Chili and Canton Chinese.















Cheerios snack mix now in multipack
Cheerios snack mix from General Mills is now available in boxes of 12 single-serve pouches. The iconic ready-to-eat cereal forms the basis of a new snack mix that debuted earlier this year. Cheerios Snack Mix contains elements of other General Mills cereals, like Wheat and Corn Chex, as well as bread twists, pretzels and other components. The new package comprises 12 pouches of 1.65 ounces each, in a litho-printed paperboard carton with a U-shaped score, a crash-lock base and a self-adhesive paper tab on the top closure.