Regardless of what's motivated the retail giant to come up with its new front-of-pack labels, they'll give consumers valuable information.
Last week, in conjunction with the announcement of the new "Great for You" front-of-pack icon that Walmart introduced for its private-label products, which Marion Nestle summarized, I moderated a panel on the effects it might have on underserved communities, and how closely or not the criteria for the icon do and don't match the Institute of Medicine's report on and recommendations for front-of-pack labeling last November -- recommendations that the FDA has yet to act on. I asked Walmart to include a nutritionist who'd worked on the IOM report, and so they invited Tracy Fox, a former president of the Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior who served on the IOM committee working on front-of-pack labeling and has been involved with other in-store nutrition ratings systems, particularly the respected Guiding Stars, from Hannaford Brothers. (None of the panelists, including me, was paid by Walmart to appear, though two -- Josh Wachs, chief strategy officer of Share Our Strength, and Brent A. Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens -- represented organizations that have received grants from the Walmart Foundation.)
The first suspicion of anyone reading about the icon is that Walmart is making an end run around the IOM and the FDA: cherry-picking nutritional criteria that will better sell products -- like Froot Loops, which notoriously merited the "Smart Choices" seal of approval devised by manufacturers and grocer groups. Then comes the suspicion that this is just another way to dupe consumers into buying highly processed foods, with all the added-on costs of processing and none of the benefits of unprocessed, unpromoted fresh food, which never has marketing muscle behind it.