'Low in fat' ... 'High in fibre' ... 'A good source of Vitamin
C.' There is a lot to keep in mind when you go grocery shopping,
if you want to eat healthy. But some people are worried we're
not getting enough information to make wise choices.
A program called Health Check aims to change that. "The
Health Check program is designed to make the healthy food
choice the easy choice," according to Doug MacQuarrie of the
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada - the sponsor of the
Health Check program.
"Consumers are bombarded with nutritional information,"
says MacQuarrie. "And while they're very interested in
nutrition, they find that when they're in the stores it's
potentially confusing. There's lots of information on packages,
there's lots of competing things for their attention. So they're
interested in a quick way to identify healthy food choices.
Health Check is a way for us to do that."
This is the type of message you'll see on a package carrying
the Health Check logo: "When choosing meat, choosing leaner
meats more often is part of healthy eating." Or, "Florida
oranges are very high in dietary fibre and high in folacin;
emphasizing vegetables and fruit is part of healthy eating."
The Health Check program, which has been around for a year,
is voluntary. Companies have to apply to take part and their
food has to meet specific nutritional requirements.
If it does, the company can put the Health Check logo on
its product by paying a fee - anywhere from $150 to $3,000
for each product.
That raises a red flag for critics. They say it gives people
the wrong impression, that a product carrying the Health Check
logo is more nutritious than a competitor's, when in fact
the logo has been paid for.
Bill Jeffery doesn't
like the idea that companies pay the Heart and Stroke
Foundation to take part in the program
Bill Jeffery is one of those critics. He's with a consumer
group called the Centre for Science in the Public Interest.
Jeffery doesn't like the idea that companies pay the Heart
and Stroke Foundation to take part in the program. He says
they gain an unfair advantage.
For example, Jeffery is concerned about products like Generation
brand fruit products - the only ones on the shelf with the
Health Check logo. "The problem with that," says Jeffery,
"is that all of the fruits on this shelf would be eligible
for that label. That may not be apparent to the consumer who's
walking down the aisle of the grocery store.
"They may think they're getting some kind of an edge with
the Generation product and so they may be drawn to it for
the wrong reasons. Some of these other fruits may actually
have more vitamin C or less added sugar and they would be
better choices from a health perspective."
Jeffery is all for nutritional
but he thinks it
should be mandatory for all food products.
Right now there aren't that many products carrying the Health
Check logo. The current total is 200, ranging from juice to
eggs to bananas. In the sea of food items available at any
grocery store, that hardly seems enough to make a change in
people's nutritional choices.
"It's a great marketing tool for industry," Jeffery says.
"Unfortunately it doesn't really help consumers reliably separate
the wheat from the chaff."
We asked Chiquita Banana if the Health Check program is
just a form of glorified advertising. "It is certainly part
of our marketing efforts in that everything we do is to communicate
the benefits of eating a Chiquita banana every day," says
Chiquita's David Lund.
He adds that when the program was first launched, Chiquita's
sales went up by about 10 per cent for a couple of weeks,
and then returned to normal.
That may not sound like much, but Chiquita sells millions
of pounds of bananas a year. A 10-per-cent increase in sales,
even for a couple of weeks, is significant, especially if
you consider the low cost of joining the program.
Chiquita would have paid an initial fee of $525, plus an
annual fee of $3,000. And for that, the company is getting
continuous exposure for a year.
So, nutritional education becomes good marketing.
"At 4:00 in the afternoon 60 per cent of consumers don't
know what they're going to have for dinner," says Lund. "And
so a lot of consumers are coming in trying to decide what
they're going to eat. We want them to be able to make informed
decisions about healthy food choices and this is a nice way
to reinforce that bananas are something they should be considering."
Marketplace's informal survey of grocery shoppers
suggested that Lund is right. Many of the people we talked
to said the Health Check logo -once they knew what it meant-
would make a difference in their buying decisions.
But there are some inquiring consumers who want to know
more. We asked one woman if the Health Check label might sway
her. "Well, I guess I would want to know why these bananas
have that check mark," said Cheryl. "What makes them different?"