Monday, November 15, 2010

The Label ReDefined

My latest pet project is designing a "front of package" label for all foods sold in the US. Thanks to a few really smart people and time on the agenda at HeatlhCampDC 2010 last week, I'm here to debut the REAL FOOD FACTS label. Keep in mind this is not meant to replace the current information in the "Nutrition Facts" box on our current food packaging. Changing that label would require a epic battle followed by a miracle so let's just leave that as it is and create something new.

The Real Food Facts label is designed with the following goals:
  • Clear, front-of-package information
  • Easily and universally understood symbols
  • Raise awareness of food processing
  • Educate consumers on distance from farm to fork

Now we'll go through the main sections:
  • FAT, SUGAR, SALT: Most consumers intuitively understand a green smiley face is good and a red frowning face is bad. Over time, consumers would choose packages with more  and fewer . Dare I say this would revolutionize the way food is made!
  • MILES: Fresh food that travels long distances has less nutrients. When fruits and vegetables are picked unripe and shipped hundreds, if not thousands, of miles the nutritional value suffers and the benefit to the consumer is reduced. This part of the label is designed to raise awareness about the origin of food and the environmental impact of food travel. 
  • TREE to FACTORY: The amount of natural, real, whole food in much of the food American's eat is growing smaller and smaller. This bar shows the percentage of natural vs. man-made ingredients contained in the package. Those consumers who want to reduce the amount of processed food they eat would select products with a greater percentage of "tree" ingredients. 
  • POINTS: The points system is designed to integrate with public health and consumer-based affinity programs. Consumers could collect points and donate the value to their favorite school or charity. Innovative companies could also offer rewards and prizes in exchange for points.
  • QR CODE: The QR code would enable consumers to quickly and easily get additional nutrition information at the point of sale. Additional information available through the QR Code could include information on chemical additives and even recipe ideas for the food product. 
Next steps:
  • Collect and gather feedback from consumers. Do some market testing. (Hello Steve Case @stevecase! Would you like to fund this?)
  • Get the idea on television. (Hello Oprah @oprah and Ellen @theellenshow! I'd be happy to do an interview!)
  • Have a major food manufacturer agree to adopt this model as the the front-of-package labels (Hello Trader Joe's!! You would be a great early-adopter!) 
  • Enroll a panel of nutrition experts (not beholden to food, big farm or big Ag businesses) to develop the detailed thresholds for each label section (Hello, Mark Hyman @markhymanmd and Andrew Weil @drweil!! You'd be perfect to lead this panel!)
  • Recruit an innovative company to create the points administration and rewards system (Hello anyone who is interested!)
  • Design and develop the QR codes which could also be used to feed an individual's food diary (Hello smart developer people!)
  • Help our elected officials understand how it can be easy to educate consumers on the food choices they make. (Hello First Lady Obama @whitehouse! Help us make this happen!)
  • Combat and reverse the obesity trend in the US by helping people eat better (Hello Jamie Oliver @jamie_oliver! Want to help the cause?).
If you are any of the individuals in the "Next Steps" list, please write to me. 

To the real people that will make this happen (that is you!) the way these things happen is by sharing. Share on the web... Facebook, re-blog, Twitter, media (@huffposthealth), etc.  If you're interested in keeping up with updates, follow along on Twitter @Cybercise

A big, huge dose of thanks to my fellow attendees at HealthCampDC 2010
@ for organizing the conference
@MJChatter for keeping the day organized and running
@Carefirst_News for hosting us
@MatthewBrowning for his great ideas include "tree" and "factory"
And, the others in our little group for which I don't have a Twitter handle. 

I'm looking forward to the day I walk into my local grocery store and see rows and rows of these labels. For now, answer this question, "What can you do today to make a difference?"


  1. We love this concept. I was thinking about the miles to fork concept and how that translates to products shipped nationally.

    My thought is to change from displaying distance to instead display a map of the USA. Divide it be region and Mark in Green where it came from. If ingredients came from outside the USA display the Map of the USA as a negative.

    This might be more palatable to manufacturers. One label that would display origin and still favor produce from the local region. To add one wrinkle to this you could add the State code to the map if all ingredients were from a single state.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks, Mark. I like the map idea. Stay tuned for another mock-up. I think we could create a FoodCamp event!