Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Real Food Label Explained

As the debate on GMA and FMI's nutrition keys label continues, we're going to devote today's article to exploration of our Real Food label. If you'd like, you're welcome to go to the backstory.

The objective of a package label is to:

  • Clearly communicate
  • Be consistent across all products
  • Require little to no "training"of the end-user

The Real Food label meets these objectives and is designed to give inform consumers with a simple red-yellow-green system. The benefits of the Real Food label are:

  • People of all ages inherently understand green is good and red is not so good so little training would be required. 
  • Language and cultural barriers are minimized.
  • In a sea of packaged foods lining store shelves, the healthier options would be very easy to spot.
  • It provides subtle education which, over time, could help consumers become more aware.
  • It introduces "real food" and "miles traveled" to labels to further the underlying concepts and health benefits of whole and local foods.
  • The points system could be used for personal rewards, societal rewards (walking paths, new parks) or group rewards (schools, churches).
  • The QR code gives the consumer an opportunity to get more information and could lead to a "Yelp" type site for crowd sourcing and reviews of products.
  • Non-packaged foods could easily use the same labeling system attached to store shelves and displays vs. the package. There would be huge benefit of 100% consistent labeling across ALL foods. 
  • This label could also be required in all eating establishments (restaurants, carry-out, cafes, etc.) so consumers would have the same information about the choices they make while dining out. 
I'm not naive enough to think implementing this label design would be easy. The challenges:
  • Big ag, the fake-food industry and the restaurant associations would amass their lobbying power to keep this from happening. 
  • We have to establish the thresholds for red, yellow, green. Possible certainly, but it would require some wrangling because nutrition science is hotly debated.
  • Innovators would need to build the point system and the QR code system (I trust there are plenty of entrepreneurs out there to take this on).
All of that being said, we could easily implement the Real Food label in 9 months like so:
  • Month 1: Congress passes the Read Food Label Act. The President signs and while doing so names the Real Food Panel members. 
  • Month 2-4: The Real Food Panel members, comprised of nutrition and food experts, meets to establish thresholds (to be clear independent would mean no employer, consultant, investor or fiscal relationship to food or the Government)
  • Month 5-6: The thresholds are published for public opinion while the innovators develop and test the points and QR code systems. 
  • Month 7: Final rules published. Implementation begins. 
  • Months 8-9: Implementation period 
The moral of this story? If some enterprising leaders in our Government take this on, we could have the Real Food label system everywhere by October 2011. Now that is progress. 

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