Coalition launches Smart Choices Program

by Eric Schroeder
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CHICAGO — The Keystone Center, a non-profit organization that specializes in creating consensus solutions to public health problems, will unveil a new, voluntary front-of-pack nutrition labeling system called the Smart Choices Program on Oct. 27 as part of the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo.

The Smart Choices program includes a symbol that identifies more nutritious choices within specific product categories and provides calorie information that identifies calories per serving and servings per container on front-of-pack. The goal of the program is to help consumers stay within their daily calorie needs.

To qualify for the symbol, products may not exceed standards for specific "nutrients to limit" and, for most categories, must also provide positive attributes: "nutrients to encourage" or "food groups to encourage." The criteria were based in part on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Food and Drug Administration standards and reports from the Institute of Medicine.

Earlier today, The Coca-Cola Co. said it is planning to place the new symbol on the front of all packages in its U.S. beverage portfolio beginning next year. Other companies that have stated they are likely to follow suit include ConAgra Foods, Inc., General Mills, Inc., The Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., PepsiCo, Inc., Unilever and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. The companies are part of a coalition within The Keystone Center’s Food and Nutrition Roundtable dedicated to transparency within nutrition labeling.

"This effort has been extraordinary on two levels," said coalition participant Eileen T. Kennedy, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. "First, it’s been a tremendous accomplishment to achieve consensus among a diverse group of influential stakeholders. Second, we’ve created a program that shows real promise in assisting people in making positive dietary change to help enhance public health."

The announcement comes at a time when many companies are making nutrition labeling a priority, and in some cases moving information to the front of packages.

On Oct. 17, Mars, Inc., which is part of the Roundtable, said it would implement Guideline Daily Amount nutrition labeling on all its products. The new label is called "What’s Inside" and will help consumers locate key nutrition information. The new labels will be rolled out in December and be on all Mars products by the end of 2010. Mars is also the first confectionery company in the United States to voluntarily implement such nutrition labeling.

In February, ConAgra Foods, Inc. built on its Start Making Choices program enhancing its packaging to include graphics with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid in an effort to show consumers how products can help meet dietary requirements.

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