“The Heart-Check mark is really a leader of nutrition icons in terms of consumer recognition,” and it quickly signals to them that a product is a heart-healthy option, said Eryn Balch, executive VP of the North American Olive Oil Association.
She explained that NAOOA worked closely with the American Heart Association to qualify olive oil for the Heart-Check program because there is a lot of consumer confusion currently about whether fats are healthy and, if so, which ones.
The NAOOA wanted consumers to understand quickly that olive oil, which has the most monosaturated fat of all common cooking oils used in the US, is healthy, and can play a role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease when it is used in place of saturated fat, Balch said.
She added the Heart-Check log also is easier for most consumers to understand than the qualified health claim for olive oil that FDA approved in 2004. Like most qualified health claims, the one for olive oil contains restricting phrases and words that soften the claims impact and can confuse consumers.
In olive oil’s case, the claim states that evidence “suggests” eating about two tablespoons of olive oil daily “may” reduce the risk of coronary heart disease due to the monosaturated fat in it.
Logo could boost sales
The influential logo also could help boost olive oil sales in the US, where they lag far behind those of Mediterranean countries and the UK, Balch said.
“Per capital consumption of olive oil in the US is one liter per person per year. Whereas in the Mediterranean it is closer to 12 liters per person per year and even in the UK it is closer to a lot of opportunity for consumers to start using olive oil in more ways and get the heart health benefits,” she said.
Specifically, the Heart-Check mark can help sales because it is so widely recognized, with 86% of shoppers recognizing it, and 85% saying the know it means food is heart-healthy, according to research presented by AHA.
In addition, AHA says, shoppers look for the Heart-Check mark more than any other on-package mark when shopping for heart-healthy food products. In particular, 62% of shoppers are influenced by the mark when shopping for new heart-healthy food products and 60% are influenced by the mark when shopping for food products they already buy, AHA reports.
These figures are even more striking in the context of the current consumer trend towards healthier eating, which has prompted 93% of consumers to say health and nutrition is important when deciding which food products to purchase, according to AHA. In addition, it notes, 81% of shoppers make at least some effort to eat healthy.
Qualifying for the logo
Qualifying for the Heart-Check logo “is a lot of paper work,” but NAOOA has helped streamline the process for its members by working with AHA to create a template that association members can use to register for the mark.
Balch encourages all olive oil makers, whether or not they are NAOOA members, to register and use the mark to better promote the category overall on store shelves, which is where the majority of shopping decisions are made.
She also encouraged manufacturers to use the logo to help Americans make healthier choices.
“Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the US and olive oil can play a part in reducing that risk when it is part of an overall health message,” she said, adding it is up to the industry to get that message out, though.
Balch expects the logo to start appearing on olive oil packages in about three months.