Wal-Mart's Great For You Seal

In an effort to connect its customers with healthier food options, Wal-Mart—the world’s largest retailer—is preparing for a Spring launch of a signature icon that will appear on its private label products and in the produce sections throughout the chain’s stores.

Called “Great for You,” the green and white seal with an image of a human figure stretching arms upward, is not a nationally regulated claim, like the USDA certified organic seal, but was developed by Wal-Mart to assist customers in identifying the healthiest options offered throughout Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand of products, of which the retailer claims as much as 25 percent of the line meet the seal’s criteria of lower levels of fat, sugar and artificial preservatives, colors and flavors.

In her blog, Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health and Professor of Sociology at New York University, states that Wal-Mart’s criteria for the label are actually pretty strict and somewhat similar to the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations to the FDA about what should be claimed on the front of packaged foods. But, she says the move may be a bit disingenuous and steering people towards the 20-25 percent of foods that are perceivably healthier than the 80 percent of the product line that doesn’t meet the criteria. “All of these schemes are ways to avoid putting negative information on package labels.  No seller or retailer wants a red traffic light—’don’t buy me’—on its products, especially because research shows that stop signals work. Customers tend not to buy products marked with red traffic lights.”

Unregulated seals and icons litter the packaged food industry—from “all natural” to “made with whole grains” and are the source of scrutiny and criticism from government agencies like the FDA—who has yet to implement national standards on health claims—to consumer health advocacy groups. As the country attempts to slow its accelerating waistline and growing number of cases of type II diabetes, obesity and heart disease—all diet-related illnesses—Wal-Mart sees the “Great for You” seal as a helpful tool, but Nestle wonders, “will customers who buy products with the logo be healthier as a result?”

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image: Walmart Stores