retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The Chicago Tribune reports on Hy-Vee’s plans to implement the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI), a system created by David Katz of Yale University that will evaluate virtually every food item on a scale of 1-100 for nutritional value:

“Their goal: To cut through the clutter of nutrition claims -- one-third less fat! multigrains! -- bombarding shoppers. In theory, consumers would be able to make healthier food choices, while grocery stores would likely boost customer loyalty and perhaps corral more shoppers.

“But there's the risk that the Yale-Topco initiative, and other rating systems like it, may only add to consumers' confusion over health and wellness claims, grocery and nutrition experts say. And supermarkets risk alienating their suppliers -- food manufacturers -- who could wind up with weak nutrition ratings, even on products the makers are touting as healthy.”

The Tribune contrasts the ONQI system with the Guiding Stars program created by Hannaford Supermarkets – and now being licensed to other retailers and manufacturers – that rates products that meet certain nutritional criteria with one, two or three stars as good for you, better for you, and best for you. While the ONQI system has not yet been rolled out, so knowing what impact it will have on sales is an unknown, the Guiding Stars program has demonstrated that it can move the needle significantly on products that carry an imprimatur.

KC's View:
While I have consistently said that I prefer the Guiding Stars program to the ONQI system, mostly because the 1-100 rating of every product strikes me as almost too exhaustive and complicated for consumers to understand, Hy-Vee CEO Ric Jurgens made a fairly persuasive case for ONQI when we talked not too long ago. He clearly believes that rating every product, as opposed to just good-better-best products, makes more sense and can have greater impact on consumers … and he makes his case with a clear passion for connecting food with good health. “We want to change the world,” he says…and I believe him.

In the end, all of these systems are better for the shopper. Maybe they all will be successful, and the marketplace certainly will determine which ones the shopper prefers. The most important thing is that the industry is paying attention, and is advocating for the shopper … which is always the best way to change the world.