Shoppers at the Wantagh King Kullen now may notice a new label on their food purchases that may help them make healthier choices.
The Bethpage-based chain, known as America’s first supermarket, announced the launch of a new nutrition scoring system in all of its 45 Long Island and Staten Island stores at a news conference at the grocery chain’s on Wednesday.
King Kullen is the first in the New York metro area to partner with NuVal, a Massachusetts-based nutritional scoring system designed to help customers make healthier choices when grocery shopping.
“This an effort to get everyone a little more healthy” said Jim Leonard, manager of King Kullen’s located on 1340 Wantagh Ave. ““So far every other market that has implemented this has done very well with it.”
“People actively seeking nutrition should be able to get it,” said Dr. David Katz, a nutrition expert and the founder of NuVal. “The front of every box, can, etc. is an advertisement. The nutritional facts are on the back, but virtually no one in the general population has been trained to interpret them.”
Approximately 13,000 food items carried by King Kullen will receive a NuVal score from 1 to 100; 1 being the lowest nutritional value and 100 being the highest. Scores will be presented in easy-to-read blue hexagons placed on price labels, as well as on signs throughout the store.
“The nutritional scoring system will revolutionize how people think about food,” said Brian Cullen, co-president of King Kullen.
The system is set up so that shoppers can compare similar brands and items within a category, such as pasta or cereal, rather than the overall nutrition of different foods. Its assumed that most shoppers recognize the disparity between the nutrition values of soda and fresh vegetables.
“We encourage customers to compare items within categories so you can see if there are healthier alternatives,” said Management Associate Tracey Cullen. “We’re not mandating that anyone trade up; it’s just an option.”
Cullen added that the supermarket will continue to carry all of its current brands and items, regardless of their score. The system is not intended to discourage customers from buying certain items, but rather present nutrition facts in an easy-to-understand way.
Dr. Katz likened NuVal to GPS navigation. “You decide where to go. All GPS does is make it easy for you to get there,” he said. “This is the same concept, but with food.”
NuVal is designed to not only guide shoppers to make healthier choices but also to make them aware of misleading labels like “diet” and “low fat,” which do not always equal better nutrition. For example, Dr. Katz pointed out that a jar of regular peanut butter has a score of 15, while reduced fat peanut butter, which may appear to be healthier, scores a 7 due to factors like added sodium and lower fiber content.
The scores are derived from a system designed by Dr. Katz and a team of medical and nutrition experts, which includes an algorithm that calculates more than 30 nutrients including vitamins, fats, antioxidants and carbohydrates. The system also takes into consideration the long-term effects of these nutrients on the human body.
“It took two years to turn nutrition into a single number,” said Dr. Katz, adding that the system is ever evolving, and the algorithm will be updated approximately every five years. “We’ll continue to tweak the engineering and make it a more valuable tool."
Wild By Nature, a natural food market owned by King Kullen with three locations on Long Island, has not implemented the scoring system, although Tracey Cullen said it is a possibility.
“We wanted to try it in the mainstream market first, on common grocery items,” she said. “We may expand to Wild By Nature in the future.”
The current system focuses on commonly used items that significantly affect nutrition and overall health. Items like ground coffee and spices are not rated.
NuVal may be soon expanding to other supermarket chains within the region. The system is already in place in two schools, and developers aim for it to be used in restaurants, deli counters and even vending machines in the future.
While the scores of many items in King Kullen are already labeled, the program officially launched on Friday.