October 24, 2008 / 8:56 PM / 9 years ago

Large food companies add new nutritional label

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Several of the largest U.S. food and beverage makers have agreed to implement a new nutritional labeling system on their packages aimed at helping consumers pick healthier food choices.

The new Smart Choices symbol was developed by the companies, scientists, health organizations and others over the past two years that wanted to come up with one standard to identify healthier foods, participants said.

“The whole reason we have been working so hard to develop Smart Choices is to avoid confusion,” Douglas Balentine, director of nutrition sciences in the Americas for food maker Anglo-Dutch food maker Unilever said.

Consumers face a sometimes confusing array of labels meant to convey that foods are healthier, such as Unilever’s Eat Smart and Drink Smart labels and Kraft’s “Sensible Solution” mark. Those will be replaced by the Smart Choices symbol.

The Smart Choices symbol will be placed on the front of packages of foods that meet certain criteria and will contain two simple pieces of information: calories per serving and the number of servings in a package.

The label is designed “so almost in two seconds someone can understand that this is a better for you product,” Eileen Kennedy, Dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, said. Kennedy was part of the group that designed the symbol.

To qualify for the Smart Choices symbol, foods would need to meet certain benchmarks in limiting items like total fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars, while also containing beneficial items like fiber, calcium and certain vitamins.

Among companies that will use the symbol are Coca-Cola Co, General Mills Inc, Kellogg Co, ConAgra Foods Inc, Kraft Foods Inc, PepsiCo Inc and Unilever, as well as retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The Smart Choices label will begin appearing on packages in the middle of 2009, Kennedy said.

Reporting by Brad Dorfman, editing by Richard Chang

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