Is Walmart’s New Nutrition Label Really “Great For You”?

Wal-Mart's Great For You Nutrition Seal

Yesterday, Walmart announced the launch of its new nutrition labeling system called “Great for You”. Starting this spring, a small selection of Walmart’s private label products – Great Value – will be decorated with this healthy seal of approval.

This is not the first, nor the last FRONT-OF-PACK nutrition labeling attempt coming from the food industry. The list is long and can be found here.

But because of Walmart’s size and reach, this program may have a significant impact on the market.  The foods that are eligible for the seal of approval must meet strict nutrition criteria, according to Walmart:

Items with the “Great For You” icon must meet rigorous nutrition criteria informed by the latest nutrition science and authoritative guidance from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Institute of Medicine (IOM). Developed in consultation with food and nutrition experts from the public and private sectors as well as leading health organizations, the “Great For You” nutrition criteria are available to the public on the web (www.walmartgreatforyou.com), representing a collaborative and transparent effort to develop a trusted and reliable system for consumers. The icon will also be made available to national brand products that qualify and can be complementary to other nutrition labeling systems being used by the food industry.

We took a look at the criteria and were PLEASANTLY SURPRISED at the rigor used by Walmart:

- Mostly single ingredient items like fruit, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, eggs.

- Processed foods that have low sodium, low added sugar, low saturated fat

What we didn’t like:

- Fruit juice is considered Great for You. We disagree. Juice removes most of the benefits of the fruit, concentrates the sugars, and its calories don’t contribute to satiety.

- Some products, with a mix of added and naturally occurring sugars can be very high in sugar. For example, this Raisin Bran Cereal, with a whopping 18 grams of sugar (4.5 teaspoons)

The list of Great for You products is actually quite short at launch. Only 2 short pages, including canned tomatoes, fresh bagged produce, dried fruit, rice and beans, and some cereals. Walmart is inviting additional manufacturers to adopt its logo and nutrition criteria.

Why is Walmart forging ahead with this program, full knowing that over 90% of its products will never be eligible for the seal of approval? Keep in mind that the initiatives from the private sector are a way to “get a better deal” than if the FDA were to mandate Front of Pack labels based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine. If the private initiative will be deemed good enough by the regulator, perhaps the regulator won’t go ahead with its own plans.

What do you think about Walmart’s Great for You system?

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  • Sdbrougher

    A far cry from where it needs to be but a small step in the right direction.  There are so many things wrong on their list that it makes me laugh or cry, not sure which.  However, a far cry from the SAD.

  • http://www.thefrugaldietitian.com/ Frugaldietitian

    SNAP (food stamps) needs to take a look at doing their own “Great For You” program. And then allow only those foods. It will be interesting to see the progression of the WalMart program. Most things good (and bad) starts with small introductions.  We shall see.  I like the http://www.nuval.com system found in grocery stores.

    • Happyme

      NuVal is a secret code however. You have no idea what the ratings are based on. At least GFY is open and you know how the food is being assessed.

      • Gerome

        NuVal’s scoring is proprietary, and so, yes the math to get to the score is not shared. However, that does not make it bad. Check out the all-star advisory board who agreed to have their names associated with the system. NuVal shared the algorithm with academics for their review, and I believe they share the basics of what kinds of food score well. There is little to no disagreement that the scoring itself is sound. They also do not partner with producers, and are not beholding to makers of non-nutritious foods.

    • Gerome

      I hope in your police state, you’ll make sure the SNAP recipients can get free home delivery of the foods you dictate…. and if Mom is not home at dinnertime, the kids will have the education to make the quinoa and tofu dinner salad. Your heart’s in the right place, but the practicality of dictating food choices is not the solution. What I’d like to see with SNAP is a discount program that makes those better food choices really cheap, so the brown rice and whole grain breads cost less than the white counterparts. We are happy to underwrite the cost of growing corn. How about the consumer’s cost of lettuce?

  • Ken Leebow

    I think Walmart should use Tony the Tiger as its spokesperson … Greeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaat for you! 

    • http://www.fooducate.com/blog Fooducate

      lol

  • Malmedia

    Who are “You”. I don’t know if they take allergens into consideration, and I am not allergic to any foods. But if someone allergic to Peanuts or Gluten sees this symbol on something with those ingredients, is the front of pack label really true?

  • Vince Londini

    What’s important about this announcement is what Wal-Mart is NOT doing. Note that Wal-Mart both operates the stores and owns these house-brands. This announcement is not from Wal-Mart acting as the store operator, but Wal-Mart acting as a food brand manager. In other words, the “Great for You” program basically amounts to a marketing initiative for their house-brand food products (Marion Nestle called it “Buy Me!”). Wal-Mart is not requiring the other brands it carries in its stores to adopt any such scheme. 

    Wal-Mart has long exercised impressive power over its supplier network. In recent years, Wal-Mart has pushed its suppliers to solve business problems such as improving logistics by requiring RFID tags on incoming containers, stocking only concentrated detergents, and reducing packaging waste. Yet Wal-Mart shies away from using its leverage to accomplish real food labelling change in the face of continued silence from the FDA.

    That said, as Fooducate points out above, the “Great for You” guidelines certainly look reasonable. And to echo the post’s sentiment: because they are reasonable, you’ll notice how few foods will carry the label (PDF). 

    Bottom line: Consumers should remember that Wal-Mart’s “Great for You” health claims are essentially brand marketing and not a public service. Treat them the same way you’d treat similar claims from any other food manufacturer (e.g. lightly). Be sure to check the nutrition label.

    • Ghjkl

      I totally agree. And I think Its ridiculous that food is allowed to be marketed in such a way that puts the nutrition labels hidden on the least visible spot on the packaging and in the smallest font possible. It should be the most important thing on the packages and on the front without flashy health logos in green or food shapes to sway your opinions as people impulse shop.

  • DjGoLo

    Maybe Wal-Mart is in effect leveraging their weight to “encourage” other entities (FDA included) to develop labeling schemes…as well as getting the jump on the market saying “look what we’re doing for your health before we are all forced to by the FDA”.  I can see other companies trying to follow suit to try and capture more of the “we’re helping you be healthy” market.
     
    Also, you’re right that there are only a few selected foods that meet the requirements but I think that means they nailed it.  There shouldn’t be a huge list of items.  Most major manufacturers will NOT be willing to limit their products to this degree saying that only 10% or less of them are actually really good for you given the effort that they are making to say that EVERYTHING they produce is good for us. ;-)

    • Lllllllll

      Whatever. Wal-mart is marketing. They r trying to sell more stuff. Who doesn’t know a darn banana or a container of oatmeal is good versus cookies or oatmeal with sugar flavors? We’re not that helpless. But places like Walmart will market just strategically like this to make more money. I’m not saying they r evil but I think its unnecessary to do that but maybe they r trying to present it as if they want to appear better and more trusting than the government and trying to appear as influential like they were the first to ever think of this, but it’s reallly unnecessary. Give us REAL facts about food on the shelves. Not a green sticker slapped on food everyone could guess was healthy with their eyes closed.

  • Diane Beere

    Walmart’s ‘Great for you’ Labels, begs the question is ‘Great for you’ simply a marketing strategy of Walmart? To answer that question follow it up with a second one which is who is authorizing that claim of ‘Great for you’ labels?  Is it out of a FDA mandate based on the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine? The answer is no; it is ‘Walmart’s, according to ‘Walmart!’  They generated a Walmart label that they are now selling to third party vendors.
    So goes the story of the fake nutrients that glut Walmart shelves and others so they can market greater amounts of ‘Great for you’ packaged foods with those labels. The truth is it is most of the time an empty claim and when the customer reads the ingredients they will know for themselves the difference between good and not ‘Great for you.’ 

  • Ghjkl

    So, instead of responding, ur just going to take the story I asked you about, copy it to your website and not respond or mention anything… Nice way to social network fooducate. Guess I won’t be helping u out again. Lesson learned here.

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