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Family Fresh color codes healthy foods

Mary Jo Brunner, corporate dietician at Family Fresh Market in New Richmond, shows the "Well Balanced" tags that help guide customers in making healthier food choices.

With 45,000 different products on its shelves, Family Fresh Market in New Richmond has decided to try something new to help customers find healthy food faster.

As part of its "Well Balanced" program, the local grocery store has begun a pilot program to place color-coded tags on more than 4,300 grocery items on its shelves.

The store has contracted with Healthy Aisles, which provides nutritional information about various food products available to customers. The program helps generate tags for each food with the appropriate health attributes featured in the product.

Foods that are gluten free have a tag with a yellow box with the words "Gluten Free" printed in it.

Organic items have green tags; sensible carbs gray; 100 percent fruit juice orange; low sodium aqua; heart healthy pink; calcium blue; fiber gold; whole grain maroon; and low saturated fat purple.

Foods tagged "heart healthy" must contain low levels of fat, sodium and cholesterol.

All the foods must meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines for being designated with these healthy attributes.

"There's a trend among retailers to try and make it easier for the customers to shop," said Mary Jo Brunner. "It can be a little hectic when you're shopping, and this helps make it a little easier to pick the right foods."

Brunner said there are a number of companies that provide nutritional tagging programs but many of them rely on numbering systems that can be confusing.

With Family Fresh's "Well Balanced" tags, Brunner said customers have a quick reference to use when searching for certain types of food. Diabetics can search for food tagged "sensible carbs." Customers searching for truly organic foods can look for the green tag.

"We liked that the fact that this called out the different attributes for food," she said. "It's really a way to shop by colors."

Customers in Family Fresh's New Richmond and Hudson stores can pick up flyers that describe the 10 different healthy food attributes and show the colors associated with those foods.

"There's no guess work behind why the foods get the tag they receive," Brunner said. "You can quickly decide if this is something you want to put in your body or not."

Brunner said people can determine that by looking at nutrition labels as well, but often people don't want to spend the time finding the information they seek on such labels.

"Food companies like to cloud out the nutritional information," she said. "They want to focus on some of the other claims that they want to make."

Brunner said several customers are already using the color coding system to find the products that match their dietary requirements. The response has been favorable so far, she noted.

"They really enjoy just being able to glance at a product and knowing if they want to buy it," she said.

Family Fresh is nearing the end of its three-month pilot program with the "Well Balanced" tagging effort. Brunner said store employees will soon roll out an official launch of the program.

Right now the tagged foods are limited to many of the prepackaged items the store has for sale, Brunner said. Eventually Family Fresh wants to expand their color-coding system to their deli, bakery, produce and meat areas as well.