Walmart’s newly unveiled “Great For You” logo is intended to highlight healthy choices among the retailer’s own-brand products, but it has also said it will be available to national brand manufacturers, if their products qualify.
However, front-of-pack labeling schemes are a hot spot for controversy in public health circles, as well as for industry.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said back in October 2009 that it would consider using its regulatory tools if voluntary approaches did not result in a common, credible approach to front-of-pack and on-shelf labeling. Its warning to industry coincided with broad criticism for the now-defunct Smart Choices program, after it gave its green check mark to sugary cereals.
The FDA has yet to finalize any recommendations, although the Institute of Medicine (IOM) was tasked with reviewing the plethora of current label schemes in use, and it put forward a proposal to overhaul front-of-pack programs last October. (No one from the FDA responded to a request for comment from FoodNavigator-USA prior to publication.)
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), in collaboration with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), was criticized for unveiling its own “Facts Up Front” label just three weeks before the IOM issued its recommendations, but the trade body says consumers increasingly are seeking out information about the foods they eat, and said at the time that consumers couldn’t wait forever.
Commenting on Walmart’s new logo, the GMA said in an emailed statement: “We are pleased that Walmart’s new “Great for You” icon can complement Facts Up Front and other industry efforts…As a result of industry innovation, [consumers] now have access to more nutrition information about their food than ever before – on packages, in stores and online.”
‘Where is the FDA when we need it?’
But is more information justified, or just confusing? Professor of nutrition at New York University’s School of Public Health, Marion Nestle, said that she thinks the FDA should get busy developing a plan for front-of-pack (FOP) claims.
“Yet another FOP label added to the 20 the IOM reviewed? Oh please,” she said. “Where is the FDA when we need it? I do not believe that consumers are clamoring for another company-designated rating tool. If ever something needed independent regulation, this is surely it.”
Nestle also pointed out that the criteria, although reasonably strict, ignore the IOM’s finding that consumers tend to respond better to labels that point out product negatives than those that highlight positives.
“This is a positive,” she said. “…And just because a product is ‘better for you’ does not necessarily mean it is a good choice.”
In terms of specific criteria, Nestle said that the Walmart program’s standard for sodium is actually below the IOM’s recommendation. It also allows 25% of a product’s calories to come from added sugars “which seems like a lot but cuts out practically everything (kids’ cereals are 40% or more).”
The new Walmart logo was more than a year in the making, and the company says the nutrition criteria were informed by the latest nutrition science from government agencies, as well as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Whether products qualify is decided by a two-step process. First, the scheme considers food components to encourage, such as fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds and lean meats. Walmart said these items would include brown rice, 1% milk, raw almonds and 93% lean ground beef.
If a product qualifies under the first step, the scheme then considers the amount of total, trans and saturated fats in the product, sodium, and added sugars.
More information on the scheme is available here.