SimpleNutrition and Safeway gift card giveaway

I was contacted and asked if I would do a review of Safeway’s SimpleNutrition labeling system in exchange for two $25 gift cards to give away or use myself. Since I do about 75% of my food shopping at Safeway, I decided to split the difference: keep one and give the other away.

At the end of the review, you can learn how to enter to win a $25 gift card at any Safeway Company store. (The card pictures Safeway, Vons, Pavillions, Genuardi’s, Dominick’s, Carrs, Randalls, and Tom Thumb, though not Tom Thumb in CA.)

Through the SimpleNutrition program, healthy/desirable aspects of various foods are highlighted through simple, green tags found on the shelves with the product.

Tags are:

  • Gluten Free
  • Organic
  • Natural
  • Calorie Smart
  • Sugar Free
  • Made with Whole Grains
  • Good Source of Fiber
  • Sodium Smart
  • Fat Free
  • Low Saturated Fat
  • Low Fat
  • Good Source of Calcium
  • Good Source of Vitamin C
  • Good Source of Vitamin A
  • Good Source of Iron
  • 0 Grams Trans Fat
  • 100% Juice
  • Low Cholesterol
  • Lean Protein
  • Good Source of Antioxidants
  • Good Source of Potassium
  • Good Source of Folate

You can see the criteria for the tags here. In an effort to keep things simple, each product has not more than two labels applied to it, even if more than two would be appropriate. This makes sense.

After reading through the SimpleNutrition website and walking around my local Safeway just to check out the tags, I have mixed feelings about the program.

If you have never thought much about what you eat or what’s in your food, this program would be very useful in helping you to start to build awareness. Because I’m very aware of what I eat most of the time, and the people around me are fairly food-conscious (to various degrees), I forget just how many people don’t have a clue. This program is a great place for them to get started.

If you are already a label-reader, I’m not sure this program will help you with your pre-packaged foods. However, the labels for produce (the last three on the above list) would be useful for most shoppers who are nutrient-savvy. I would be able to tell you some fruits and vegetables that meet those criteria, but I definitely could not rattle that off for every piece of produce in the store. However, the only green tags I saw in the produce department at my local Safeway were for organics.

I also think it’s great that they chose to include folate as one of the things to highlight, since that is a big deal in the pre-natal world.

With the number of people who have some degree of gluten sensitivity, I am sure the gluten-free tags will help people find foods that their family/friends/neighbors can eat. Even as an informed label-reader, a little tag that says “Gluten Free” saves me the time of reading a whole bunch of labels.

The tags that I have an issue with are the ones where packaging is legally allowed to be misleading. I am disappointed that Safeway isn’t helping to make the packaging less confusing.

Natural: Identified as “natural” by the manufacturer. “Natural” includes things like “natural flavors,” “spices,” and high fructose corn syrup. I’m not sure what the laws are on labeling something as “natural,” but my guess is that as long as at some point in its history, a plant was involved, it’s “natural.” In my opinion, “natural” is the produce section. Everything else might be made from natural ingredients, but corn chips aren’t natural, no matter what they’re made from.

0 Grams Trans Fat: 0 g Trans Fat per labeled serving. This doesn’t really mean it has no trans fat, but Safeway just went with the legal definition. Food can have up to half a gram of trans fat per serving and still call the food “0 g trans fat.” So if a single-serving bag of chips has a gram of trans fat, the manufacturer can call the bag “2 servings” and then say that it has 0g trans fat. Products that truly are trans-fat free will be labeled 0% trans fat. You can also scan the ingredients for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which is where the trans fat comes from. I would like to see the Safeway label indicate no trans fat when there truly is no trans fat.

Fat Free: 0g total fat per serving. Same issue as trans fat. If you’re looking out for labeling tricks, “per serving” is a phrase that, in context, raises a red flag.

Made with Whole Grains: First ingredient must be a whole grain. If the first ingredient is water, the second ingredient must be a whole grain. Whole grains are another place where labels mislead uneducated consumers. Most people by this point know that whole grains are better than refined grains. From there, however, they assume that anything that includes “whole grain” on the label is good. While a product with whole grains as the first ingredient is better than one without, it can still have a substantial portion of refined flour hiding behind the “whole grains” label. If you really want whole wheat, look for “100% whole wheat” on the label.

I also think that the sodium cut-off numbers are pretty high.

Again, it is definitely a useful program for your average, uneducated consumer and could help them make better food choices without a lot of effort, if they so chose. I was also glad that, while walking around the store looking for green tags, there were many, many products that had no tag. Let me rephrase: I wasn’t glad that there were that many unhealthy food choices available, but glad that the program truly is trying to single out healthier foods, not just point out the virtues of everything on the shelves. It was especially noticeable when there was only one package in an entire section that had any green tag at all.

Also on the website are other sections that some might find useful: Money-Saving Tips, Recipes, Nutrition Center. There is also a section on fitness. I wonder if or how I might be able to work in with the local Safeway to offer some fitness classes, either educational or actually working out. Hmmm…

Do you shop at any of the Safeway Company stores? Have you seen these tags? Do you find them useful?

So the gift card! To be entered in the drawing, leave a comment here with your opinion on the program, or things you find confusing about food labeling, or some tidbit about packaging that you’ve learned and want to share, or anything along those lines. A random number generator will choose the winner a week from today (3/24) at 8 p.m. MST.

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15 responses to this post.

  1. […] SimpleNutrition and Safeway gift card giveaway « Change Is Possible […]

  2. Posted by Mami2jcn on 18 March 2011 at 06:41

    Anything stores can do to simplify the labels and make it easier for consumers to make good choices is a great idea!

  3. Posted by Trisha on 18 March 2011 at 09:18

    Heat, I’ve noticed the tags but really haven’t paid much attention to them. As memory serves, the gluten free tag is the one I noticed the most. I Shop Safeway and Fry’s so maybe I’m confusing the stores? I would love to wander a grocery store with you, have any time to do so??

  4. Posted by Mari on 18 March 2011 at 10:40

    I don’t find the labels confusing at all. In fact, I think they actually make shopping easier.

    • I don’t think they’re confusing — just misleading (in some cases).

      • Posted by Trisha on 23 March 2011 at 13:36

        Not exactly sure which weekend would work. Send me an email when you get a chance and send me your best possible dates/times!

  5. Posted by Karin on 18 March 2011 at 15:32

    I like the ones that point out low Cholesterol foods. Since both of my parents have a problem with cholesterol, it is something I need to pay attention to in regards to what I eat.

  6. This programs would definitely make my life easier, I spend so much time reading labels but sometimes get so confused.

  7. Posted by Deanna G. on 19 March 2011 at 00:13

    I think the program is fantastic. It would definitely make my life easier by helping to direct me to the products I’m looking for. 🙂

  8. I think these will be a good reminder to make better choices.

  9. Posted by Naomi on 23 March 2011 at 12:13

    I am very impressed with Safeway for creating this labeling program. I am trying to cut down on salt, so the Sodium Smart tag will help me to make better low salt choices.

  10. Posted by Terri on 23 March 2011 at 19:32

    I agree that it is a “useful program for your average, uneducated consumer and could help them make better food choices without a lot of effort, if they so chose.” I think making better nutritional choices, like any positive health changes is a journey, and takes time. It’s a great start, but hopefully people will research further, and make changes as they learn new things.

  11. I have to give Safeway a lot of credit for executing this program. I am an avid label reader, but I know many people simply don’t understand what the labels mean and what is the proper portion size.

    Thanks for the awesome giveaway!
    gina.m.maddox (at) gmail (dot) com

  12. Posted by jaimee on 24 March 2011 at 10:32

    I haven’t seen them in person yet, but I think the concept is great. I’m still probably going to double check labels myself, but what a great start!

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