New initiatives make Med diet symbol more accessible

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Less than three months after its launch, a Mediterranean diet
packaging symbol already appears on 50 products in the US, and a
number of new initiatives are underway to make it more accessible
to smaller food companies.

Launched by nutrition group Oldways, the Med Mark is designed to flag up products that meet the nutrition criteria of the healthy Mediterranean diet. The traditional diet of the people of southern Europe has been repeatedly linked to longer life, less heart disease and protection against some cancers. New science backing the diet's healthfulness continues to emerge, and has started trickling into the public consciousness through extensive press attention. "The buzz is really starting to grow, and consumers are actively seeking out products that meet the Med diet criteria,"​ said Nicki Heverling, dietician and Med Mark program manager. According to Heverling, products that are currently using the new mark include hummus, olive oil and pomegranate juice. Other products that could meet the nutrition criteria include pasta, grain goods, fish and vegetable products. However, Oldways has found that some smaller food companies find it difficult to budget for the costs involved in changing the packaging of their products. "We're trying to find creative ways to help them be able to get some of the benefits of the mark without prohibitive costs for their limited budgets,"​ said Heverling. One solution has been the use of 'shelf-talkers', or signs that can be attached to grocery shelves next to products. These allow for manufacturers to flag up their products without having to spend money to change their packaging, she explained. Another option is the use of the mark on companies' websites. "One of the problems we've found is that small companies may have 50 products but it's not feasible for them to put the mark on all of the products, so by using it on their site it allows them to raise awareness,"​ Heverling told FoodNavigator-USA.com. In order to drive traffic to the individual websites of companies using the mark, Oldways said it plans to link all of its members' sites to its own site, thereby allowing them to benefit from the independent marketing efforts conducted by the nutrition group. Oldways, which is also behind the popular Whole Grains Stamp, said it hopes the Med Mark will start appearing in every US supermarket by the end of the year., Based on experience with its other nutrition initiatives Whole Grains Council and Latino Nutrition Coalition, the group said that within a year it expects to see the Med Mark on "thousands"​ of products. The Med Mark, a postage-stamp-sized symbol, portrays an image of an amphora, the jug used 3,000 years ago by Mediterranean cultures to store and ship their foods and drinks. It guides consumers to a Mediterranean Mark website that provides simple information on the health benefits of the diet pattern. Common foods of the eating plan include bread, pasta, rice, couscous and potatoes; olives, avocados and grapes; eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, nuts and beans; and cheese and yogurt. Moderate consumption of fish and poultry is also encouraged, whereas consumption of red meat is advised only a few times a month. ​Nutrition criteria set out by Oldways for products that qualify for its mark first require that foods form part of the Mediterranean diet pyramid (click here​ to view), and also set limits on the amount of processing a product undergoes, as well as its levels of trans fats, saturated fats, sodium and sugars. More information on the symbol, including a listing of participation criteria and fees, can be found on MediterraneanMark.org. To access the site, click here​.

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