The introduction of the Guiding Stars system in supermarkets "translated into measurable nutritional benefits" by prompting customers to make healthier food choices, according to a study published by Guiding Stars, Scarborough, Maine. Researchers also noted an increase in sales and revenue at supermarkets that implemented the Guiding Stars food rating system.  

The investigation outlined in the study, "Consumers' Response to an On-Shelf Nutrition Labelling System in Supermarkets: Evidence to Inform Policy and Practice," was led by Erin Hobin, scientist at Public Health Ontario, Canada, and colleagues from Duke University, Durham, N.C., the University of Toronto, Canada, and the University of Waterloo, Canada, was designed to reveal whether simple nutrition labels on grocery store shelves help consumers make healthier food choices. According to data from three supermarket chains and interviews with nearly 800 shoppers, the Guiding Stars system helped shoppers choose items with less trans-fat and sugar and more fiber and omega-3 fatty acids.

The study also found that stores that implemented Guiding Stars generated higher sales and revenue. The report discovered increases in the number of products per transaction, price per product purchased and total revenues. This was said to be the first investigation of its kind to note a positive effect on store sales and revenue from an on-shelf nutrition labeling system.

"Unhealthy diets are a top risk factor for chronic disease worldwide, so it makes sense for public policymakers to explore interventions that inspire consumers to make better choices," says Jim McBride, director, Guiding Stars Licensing Co. "As this groundbreaking investigation shows, not only does the Guiding Stars system help consumers make small but significant positive changes in their nutritional choices, supermarkets also benefit through higher revenue."

Researchers found that the effect of Guiding Stars varied according to food product categories. The greatest positive shifts were seen in categories consumers perceive as healthier, such as fruit and vegetables, grains and cereals, dairy products, eggs, meats and fish. Exit surveys also suggest that building shopper awareness about how the system works could provide additional benefits for consumers.

"The Guiding Stars program is based on scientific consensus around the nutritional quality of foods, so it is encouraging to see a study that demonstrates its use to consumers," says Alison Duncan, professor at the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences at the University of Guelph, Canada, and a Guiding Stars advisor. "The study adds to the evidence that the simple and clear Guiding Stars program can help shoppers make healthy choices when purchasing groceries. Although the shopper shifts toward purchasing foods with higher nutritional quality were small in this study, small changes in behavior over time are realistic and contribute to a healthy lifestyle."