20 | Progressive Grocer | Ahead of What’s Next | November 2014
arly in my career as a supermarket
dietitian, I implemented a nutrition
shelf tag program without the assis-
tance of a nutrition shelf tag company
or product nutrition database.
Since I didn’t know then that these companies
and resources existed, I reviewed USDA’s food-
labeling regulations and visited stores to create tag
listings for products that qualified for four basic
nutrition tag types, based on their Nutrition Facts
labels. Customized tag artwork was created in
consultation with our marketing and merchandis-
ing teams, and scan clerks executed nearly 1,000
tags in the retailer’s 50 stores across the state.
Costs and Benefits
My primary goal was to help improve shoppers’
health by providing nutrition guidance at the point
of purchase. A year later, various nutrition shelf tag
companies, including NuVal, Guiding Stars and
Vestcom, pitched their programs to my company, of-
fering a more comprehensive plan to identify and tag
qualifying products. At the time, the
cost of an annual license for one of
these programs varied from $30,000
to $100,000, based on the number of
stores displaying tags.
The ROI of nutrition shelf tags
was one of my first considerations in
deciding to implement a tag program.
Aside from Guiding Stars, there’s little
published research on the ROI of nutri-
tion shelf tags; however, the American
Heart Association has seen a 3 percent to
5 percent sales lift associated with its Heart
Check icon, displayed on qualifying items at the
point of purchase.
With more than 40,000 products lining the
shelves of the average supermarket, the impact of
a shelf tag program is enhanced by executing more
tags. Ideally, a threshold of greater than 10 percent
of all products should have some sort of nutri-
tion tag to be relevant. Make sure that tags ap-
pear throughout all departments, especially in key
categories, to gain customer
awareness and value. To
accomplish this, several
types of tags must be part
of the overall strategy. For
example, in the frozen en-
trée section, many products
may not qualify as “heart-
healthy” or “low-sodium,” but a calorie-threshold
tag (500 or fewer) may work better.
Although Guiding Stars research suggests that
the system shifts consumer choice toward healthier
items, I was concerned that the program wasn’t truly
educating customers on how to select better choices,
but rather training shoppers to look for stars.
Making Qualified Health Claims
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
considers shelf tags extensions of food labels, so tags
are limited to the agency’s approved labeling claims
and must meet its defined nutrition qualifications.
Forget about creating tags for superfoods, probiot-
ics, or other cutting-edge buzzwords or nutrition
trends, as these types of claims aren’t among those
sanctioned by FDA for product packaging without
To remain compliant, nutritional shelf tag com-
panies must continuously update their nutrition
facts databases with product formulation changes
and new product additions. The bottom line: Tags
need to be refreshed on a regular basis, and without
regulatory expertise, the attention of a corporate
dietitian, and a streamlined process, a shelf tag
program isn’t worth the investment.
Most retailers fall short in engaging customers
through nutrition tag programs, and most haven’t
maximized the vast nutrition information at
their fingertips. Those that do so will bring about
healthier, more engaged and loyal customers. PG
Tags — You’re In?
The decision of whether to introduce a nutrition guidance program
at the shelf should depend on cost and potential impact.
By Barbara Ruhs
Barbara Ruhs is a registered dietitian and the
founder of Phoenix-based Neighborhood
Nutrition LLC (www.neighborhoodnutrition.com).
Follow her on Twitter at @BarbRuhsRD.
Without regulatory expertise, the attention of a
corporate dietitian, and a streamlined process, a
nutrition shelf tag program isn’t worth the investment.
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