The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and Food Marketing Institute (FMI) today revealed the specifics of the industry's new, voluntary front-of-package (FOP) labeling system, dubbed "Nutrition Keys."
The associations described the system as "fact-based, simple and easy to use," and the most significant revision in food labeling since the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which introduced the back-of-label Nutrition Facts panel.
The front-label icon shows calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars per serving, as well as the daily value percentages for saturated fat and sodium. In addition, participants can choose to list up to two of eight "nutrients to encourage" that the associations characterize as ones that are important to healthy diets, but under-consumed by the public: potassium, fiber, Vitamins A, C and D, calcium, iron and protein. (To list one of these, the product has to contain a minimum of 10% of the nutrient's recommended daily value.)
The system -- to be used by store brands, as well as the brands of national and regional food and beverage makers -- is intended to help busy consumers, and busy parents in particular, make informed choices when they shop, said GMA president and CEO Pamela G. Bailey, during a press conference.
Gary Rodkin, CEO of ConAgra Foods and chairman of GMA's board, and Ric Jurgens, chairman and CEO of grocery retailer Hy-Vee, Inc. and chairman of FMI's board, stressed that helping consumers make informed food decisions is "the right thing to do," as well as good business sense. The Nutrition Keys program represents another major step in the industry's ongoing efforts to improve public health and combat obesity, they said.
The directors of GMA and FMI unanimously adopted a joint resolution in support of the initiative at their January 23 joint board meeting. That puts food and retail companies representing the "vast majority" of food and beverages sold at retail already on board, and the groups "expect more companies to sign on every day," said Rodkin.
Consumers will begin seeing the new icon on some products within the next few months (implementation timing depends on seasonality and production schedules). The number carrying it will grow throughout 2011, and Rodkin said that he would guess that "critical mass" would be reached within about 12 months.
Food and beverage makers and retailers have also committed to investing at least $50 million to build consumer awareness of and educate consumers about the Nutrition Keys icon. That campaign will span television, radio, digital, print, social media, public relations and in-store, point-of-purchase communications, Rodkin reported.
Jurgens and FMI CEO Leslie Sarasin said that food retailers are proud to have joined with food makers to develop this major initiative over the past year and are very much on board with its implementation. The associations "haven't even begun to estimate" how many millions of dollars will be invested when the costs of changing packaging are added to the education efforts, Jurgens noted.
The executives were asked why the food industry pushed ahead with this labeling system, rather than wait to get the results of Phase II of the Institute of Medicine's study on FOP labeling. That report will detail how consumers use such systems and the pros and cons of having a single, standardized front-label food guidance system that is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. (FDA officials have indicated that any standardized system proposed would be voluntary, although food/beverage makers that participate would be required to comply with its specifics.)
Bailey said that the Nutrition Keys program was developed in response to a request to the industry from First Lady Michelle Obama in March of last year, that consumers had been waiting for such a program, and that the industry felt that it "could not wait any longer" to respond. She stressed that the program is grounded in Dietary Guidelines for Americans and consistent with all FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations and FDA's stated objectives.
She added that the industry would be open to additional guidance, if government agencies offer that at some juncture.
In its Phase I report, IOM concluded that FOP labeling should disclose calories, serving size, saturated fats, trans fats and sodium content information, as these address "the most pressing diet-related health concerns and challenges" for consumer nutrition education and compliance purposes. It also concluded that including too much information, including beneficial nutrients such as protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, could result in consumer confusion and encourage the addition of unnecessary nutrient fortifications in food/beverage products.
The GMA and FMI executives said that Nutrition Keys will complement, rather than supersede, other FOP labeling systems currently out there. Jurgens, for instance, said that Hy-Vee will also continue to use the NuVal system on its store brand products, because it provides additional information on "nutrient density."
Asked about Walmart, which announced last week that it would develop its own nutrition-based FOP "seal" for its private-brand products, Sarasin reported that Walmart has indicated that it will use the Nutrition Keys system, as well.