The retail food industry stepped forward Monday with a new, voluntary front-of-package nutrition labeling scheme. It would put calories, saturated fat, and sodium and total sugars content on the front of all food and beverage packages.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute said their new “Nutrition Keys” system would help consumers make informed choices. The trade groups, representing food and beverage manufacturers and retailers, said they developed the front-of-package plan at the request of First Lady Michelle Obama.

If utilized, “Nutrition Keys” would be the most significant modernization of food labels since the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, say the industry groups.


“Forget the consumer-friendly rhetoric,” says Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. “There is only one explanation for this move: heading off the FDA’s Front-of-Package (FOP) labeling initiatives.”  

Nestle’s latest analysis of this front-of-package labeling development can be found here.

Pamela G. Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said credit for development of “Nutrition Keys” should go to Mrs. Obama.  “Today’s announcement would not have been possible without her leadership,” Bailey said. 

To appeal to busy consumers, the “Nutrition Keys” information will be presented in a fact-based, simple and easy-to-use format, the retailers said. The icon will inform consumers about how the key nutrients in each product fit into a balanced and healthy diet as part of the federal government’s daily dietary advice.

In addition, the Nutrition Keys icon on some products will display information about “nutrients to encourage”–nutrients that are important for a healthy diet, but are under-consumed by the general population. Nutrients to encourage include potassium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron and also protein. These “nutrients to encourage” can only be placed on a package if the product has more than 10 percent of the daily value per serving of the nutrient and meets the FDA requirements for a “good source” nutrient content claim.

“Obesity is a serious and far-reaching problem,” said Ric Jurgens, chairman and chief executive of Hy-Vee, Inc.  “As industry leaders, parents and grandparents, we have an obligation–along with government, schools and other stakeholders–to attack our nation’s rising obesity rates.  We are proud participants in the Nutrition Keys program.”

The icon will go on products in 2011 according to seasonality and production schedules.  Consumers will begin to see the Nutrition Keys icon on products in the next few months, and the number of products that carry the icon will continue to increase throughout the year.

To build consumer awareness and promote use of the icon, America’s food and beverage manufacturers and retailers have agreed to support the change to their product labels with what they say is an unprecedented consumer education campaign.  

Participating manufacturers and retailers will initially invest at least $50 million in advertising, public relations and in-store marketing aimed at those who serve as the primary shopper for their family. 

Based in Washington, D.C., the Grocery Manufacturers Association is the voice of more than 300 major food, beverage and consumer product companies. It was founded in 1908. The food, beverage and consumer packaged goods industry in the United States generates sales of $2.1 trillion annually, employs 14 million workers and contributes $1 trillion in added value to the economy every year.

Food Marketing Institute (FMI) conducts programs in public affairs, food safety, research, education and industry relations on behalf of its 1,500 member companies–food retailers and wholesalers–in the United States and around the world. FMI’s U.S. members operate approximately 26,000 retail food stores and 14,000 pharmacies. Their combined annual sales volume of $680 billion represents three-quarters of all retail food store sales in the United States.