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.

  • This is a good step, but we get so caught up on the nutrition aspects instead of what is actually in the products like high fructose corn syrup and all of the other additives.

  • ecofoodologist

    I second ML. We can’t assume that any label describes what any food does for us nutritionally and processed foods are designed for profitability, not consumer nutrition. We are fed the sugars from commodity crops in competition with real food. Now that the price of junk food is so low, the White House is sanctioning WalMart to bring the price of real food in line with junk food. How did we become the laboratory for this “feed the masses cheap processed food?” We, the people, bought the junk, pushing real farmers to provide cheap commodity grain etc. to the sugar factories.
    Interesting that the First Lady of the United States lent her BRAND to this partial farce a few days after her WalMart promo. These are precarious days for American nutrition. Dems must be against a wall if there is any wisdom remaining. Anyone who knows how WalMart operates AND knows how food farms (not big-ag monoculture) works, can see this as another step toward turning large scale food production into a proprietary venture in guarded, level three, biohazard facilities. My exaggeration is minor and possibly nil. Only BigAg can afford those unnecessarily sterile facilities that are less about food safety than promoting cheap eatable calories (with carefully measured salt and fat) to a frightened public.
    In a few generations of eating processed foods, most Americans have forgotten what their ancestors knew about farming. We mostly depend on proprietary technology to feed the masses because of problems (reduced genetic variation, cheap commodity sugar, CAFOs, superbugs, bottlenecked food transport, junk food advertising, and consequent scarce supply of whole foods)caused by those with the patents. In the BigAg world, food is assumed to be hazardous unless and until it is managed by a corporate processor. (We endure a similar insult regarding availability of clean water via municipal treatment.)
    Can’t we afford to pay the true cost and a reasonable profit to make regional whole food agriculture a competitive career for prospective farmers? The fact is that we can, if WE treat BigAg like Obama says he will treat the Oil Companies. Cut off their subsidies, including free advertising from Pennsylvania Ave. (The new Madison Ave.) BigAg is choking us and we are paying them to do it, with the “change” President now assuming the healm. Demand local high quality food and this farce will end! ef