Food company ConAgra has decided to launch its own nutrition labeling system in a bid to make it easier for consumers to get useful advice about the food they eat.
The company believes that the MyPyramid system run by the US Department of Agriculture is difficult to follow.
"The new nutrition guide, designed by ConAgra Foods, will be featured on the packages of such popular brands as Healthy Choice, Chef Boyardee and Orville Redenbacher's."
"The bold package graphics, which can be read and understood at a glance, will leverage MyPyramid and use simple, clear facts to show consumers how the company's products can help them satisfy the government's dietary recommendations," the company said.
It stressed that while MyPyramid was "widely recognized", few consumers knew if the foods they chose to eat would provide them with meaningful amounts of the key food groups, including grains, fruits and vegetables.
"ConAgra Foods' unique label design will clearly show the amount of each key food group contained in each package, making it easier for consumers to build more healthful diets," the company said.
For example, a ConAgra brand Healthy Choice Fiesta Chicken meal that contains chicken, rice, fruit and vegetables will have a graphic indicating the product provides 15 percent of the grains, 30 percent of the vegetables, 15 percent of the fruit, and 40 percent of the meat and beans that a consumer should eat based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.
The decision to introduce a complementary system of food labeling was driven by ConAgra's consumer research which showed that the vast majority of its customers wanted product packaging that helped them better understand and apply USDA's recommendations to their food choices.
But the company stressed that it would not follow the example of European companies, many of which have started their own labeling schemes that are at odds with the official system operating across the EU.
ConAgra has signed a memorandum of intent with USDA, affirming its support for promoting the MyPyramid through its packaging and other tools.
"We're proud to bring consumers a unique tool based on USDA's MyPyramid that will help them lead healthful, balanced lives," said Gary Rodkin, ConAgra Foods CEO.
"ConAgra Foods' approach provides consumers with simple and clear nutrition information using the USDA's science-based dietary recommendations-rather than creating yet another nutrition standard," he said.
"By utilizing MyPyramid in a unique and USDA-approved manner, we are providing consumers a transparent and easy-to-understand source of dietary information at the point of purchase."
"Our packaging information will complement the information available in the nutrition facts panel, and help Americans know how their food choices contribute to a healthful diet based on MyPyramid," he added.
Labels featuring USDA's MyPyramid will appear on more than 700 different ConAgra Foods packages. The company is using the MyPyramid graphic on all of its packaging for products that provide consumers with a meaningful amount of at least one of the key food groups - grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat and beans.
ConAgra Foods' products with the new, USDA-approved label design, will begin appearing in stores in May 2008.
In Europe, food retailers, food companies and food labeling authorities have argued over the best way to provide nutritional information to consumers - some companies prefer "traffic light" labeling of good, bad and OK foods, while others have opted for guideline daily amounts (GDAs), which is also the preferred option of the European food labeling authorities.
But in the US, there has been a much more harmonized - and, it is hoped, less confusing - approach to nutrition labeling, with the MyPyramid scheme welcomed by food processors and grocery stores alike.
The Grocery Manufacturers of America association and the Food Products Association have worked closely with USDA to ensure that the MyPyramid message about healthy eating gets through to shoppers in stores.
And earlier this month, 25 food industry associations met USDA officials to discuss efforts to tackle childhood obesity using the MyPyramid scheme.