King Kullen institutes at-a-glance nutritional rating system

SAMANTHA BRIX PHOTO | King Kullen shoppers browse nutritional information.

If you’ve ever found yourself at a grocery store reading food nutrition labels and puzzling over how healthy one product is versus another, you’re not alone.

But now, shoppers at King Kullen stores can learn nutritional information with a quick glance at the shelves, courtesy of a nutrition scoring system launched last Friday that stamps food items with a nutritional rating number from 1 to 100.

The least healthful items — like soda, cookies and potato chips — get the lowest scores and the most healthful items — such as broccoli, apples and pears — earn the highest ratings.

The scoring system was developed by the Massachusetts-based nutrition company NuVal and is already being used at 12 other grocery chains around the country.

The Bethpage-based King Kullen is the first chain in the New York metropolitan area to partner with NuVal.

About 13,000 foods in King Kullen stores are now labeled with numbers based on a formula that calculates vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fats, fiber, antioxidants and carbohydrates. The formula is based on U.S. Department of Agriculture dietary guidelines, and will be updated every five years.

NuVal developed the scoring system in 2008 in response to growing rates of health problems in the U.S. related to unhealthy eating, despite the traditional USDA labeling found on many food products, said NuVal spokesman Robert Keane.

“The idea behind it is really to reverse the rising tide of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which are unfortunately on the rise in America today,” Mr. Keane said. “The idea is to have people improve their health one food decision at a time.”

Tracy Cullen, a management associate at King Kullen, said the grocery chain adopted NuVal’s system in response to customer feedback.

“We decided to launch NuVal in our stores because we’ve been following trends and we know nutrition is of paramount concern to our customers,” said Ms. Cullen, a fourth-generation member of the family that owns King Kullen.

Scores are meant to be compared within food categories, like fresh produce or cake mixes, and not across categories. Foods that aren’t identified in the USDA dietary guidelines — like beer and baby food — do not get NuVal scores.

At the King Kullen on Route 25A in Wading River, the NuVal scores can easily be seen on price labels, foods and signs throughout store.

“It’s a good idea,” Wading River resident Len Schutzman, 60, said while food shopping.

“I like eating Kashi, and Kashi has an 89,” he said, peering up at a box of Kashi 7 Whole Grain Puffs. “That makes me feel good about Kashi.”

Store manager Tom Bevacqua said the scoring system has simplified the shopping experience for nutrition-conscious customers.
“They’re making better nutritional choices,” he said.

Ms. Cullen added that the scores aren’t meant to dissuade customers from buying certain products, but are rather intended to provide customers with nutrition education in one easy number, rather than trying to decipher the myriad numbers and the names of chemical compounds often found on traditional nutrition labels.

“We’re not discouraging anyone from buying something scoring a 1,” Ms. Cullen said. “It’s just an additional piece of information.”

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