By Monica Amburn, MS, RDN, LDN, Sr. Director of Health & Wellness at Vestcom
So far 2016 has proven to be another interesting year for nutrition. With the pending launch of GMO labeling in Vermont, the delayed launch of mandatory menu calorie labeling, and expected federal changes to the Nutrition Facts Panel format, nutrition labeling overall continues to be a top concern for registered dietitians, manufacturers, legislators and grocery executives alike this year.
But outside of the federal and state nutrition issues, consumers are also changing focus in how they decide on “better” foods in the supermarket. No longer are nutrients the sole concern, such as sodium, fiber or saturated fat. Instead, shoppers are looking for more lifestyle-oriented claims, which are more focused on sustainability, lifestyle preferences, avoidance diets, and/or cause-related preferences. And with our industry position at healthyAisles®, we’ve naturally seen a shift in shelf-edge labeling occur in response to consumer demands. The following attributes are the “hot” wellness attributes we’re seeing retailers launch in stores across the country this year.
Currently the FDA allows food manufacturers to voluntary label whether foods have or have not been developed through genetic engineering, provided that such labeling is truthful and not misleading. FDA supports voluntary labeling that provides consumers with this information, and has issued draft guidance to industry and food manufacturers regarding such labeling. And as the political environment around Non-GMO continues to be active, the retailer shelf-edge adoption rate of this attribute has risen this year, and we feel confident that this attribute will be an important one for most retailers for the years to come. As you consider how to call out Non-GMO on the shelf edge, be sure to review the FDA draft guidance on this topic to ensure your retailer’s practices are in alignment with the federal labeling and marketing recommendations for this claim.
Dietary Avoidance Attributes
It is very common to hear the phrase “Free From” these days, but at healthyAisles we focus on individual ingredient or allergen elimination attributes as opposed to one catch-all attribute. The primary reason for this is we have found that the industry as a whole is much divided on what “Free From” really means. For example – does Free From mean “free of top 7 allergens” or does it mean “free of artificial colors and preservatives”? It can be very subjective, depending on the audience. Instead, we see the need for a variety of clearly defined singular attributes due to the emergence of new diet fads and legitimate allergies/intolerances. Our top attribute in this group continues to be Gluten Free, nationwide, as sales and demand for Gluten Free foods continue to be strong among consumers. Also of increasing importance and adoption among supermarket chains is Vegan, Dairy Free, Lactose Free, and Raised without Antibiotics. As always, it is important to know your market(s) and to understand the needs of your shoppers when deciding which of these attributes is most appropriate for your supermarket chain.
“Dietitian Approved” and Custom Attributes
As dietitians continue to receive more visibility in the supermarket industry, there has been increased interest in giving the supermarket RD more power at the shelf edge by identifying “dietitian-approved” foods. Rather than having a manual process for this, we have partnered with clients to create a defined set of criteria that would qualify a food to meet the desired “dietitian-approved” or similar status, which is then incorporated as a new customized attribute to our retailer’s healthyAisles program. This is certainly a great option for retailers that want to give their dietitians stronger influence on shopper decisions, especially when it isn’t possible for a dietitian to be present in every store of a supermarket chain.
It is critical to understand that when creating custom claims or attributes, these claims still need to have criteria that are aligned with federal nutrient claim guidelines, as these types of call-outs are considered to be “implied nutrient or health claims” by the FDA. This is where the healthyAisles team can be a significant help to your team, to work with you to create such customized attributes that will allow for alignment with the federal guidelines, while enhancing your wellness message and protecting your retailer’s brand as well.
For more information on healthyAisles and shelf-edge attribute labeling, contact Monica at firstname.lastname@example.org.