A new system for scoring the nutritional value of foods will find its way to grocery store shelves next year, the latest attempt to come up with a standard way to make healthier food choices.
The Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI) was developed by a group of nutrition and health experts, led by David Katz, chairman of the Yale Prevention Research Center.
ONQI takes into account a number of factors in assigning a score of 1 to 100 for each food, including negatives like the amount of saturated fat, sugar and cholesterol in a food, and positives like fiber, nutrients, omega 3 fatty acids and the quality of the proteins.
The system will be introduced to grocery stores across the U.S. in 2008 by Topco Associates LLC, a grocery distribution and services cooperative owned by a number of independent grocers, including Wegmans, IGA, Hy-Vee and Food City, Topco said. The grocers that own Topco own about 13,000 stores.
The grocers are not obligated to use the scoring system, but it will be made available to them.
"You really shouldn't need a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry to figure out which kids' breakfast cereal is healthier," Katz told Reuters during an interview this week.
The scoring system will let consumers compare different types of the same food, so they will be able to tell not only that fruit is healthier than candy, but which fruits or candy are more or less healthy.
"It's all candy, none of it is going to compare to broccoli," Katz said. "But face it, when you want candy, broccoli isn't going to do the job."
The scoring initially will be featured on a handful of Topco's private label brands in the second half of 2008 and could be made available to other manufacturers that might want to use the system, Katz said.
But regardless of whether a manufacturer puts the score on its packages, grocers could put the scores on store shelves, next to price information, said Ric Jurgens, chairman of Topco and chief executive of Hy-Vee, in an interview.
Jurgens said Hy-Vee is considering putting the information on shelves next to the price of a product.
"ONQI creates a clear and concise measuring system and makes it easier for consumers to evaluate everyone's products," Jurgens said.
But Katz's group isn't the only one trying to develop a standard, comprehensive nutritional scoring system. Producers also are trying to get a seat at the table.
The Nutrition Rich Food Coalition, whose members include the National Dairy Council, National Pork Board and other commodity organizations, also is developing a system.
The nutrient-rich foods model also goes beyond things like sugar, fat and calories to look at the entire nutrition profile of foods. That index is currently in consumer research and the coalition hopes to have it in use by the middle of 2008.
U.S. consumers are seeing more food labels indicating health claims.
For example, Kraft Foods Inc, the world's largest food company, has a "sensible solutions" label for some products; General Mills splashes the words "whole grain" on its cereal boxes and its 100-calorie pack has become ubiquitous on store shelves.