Retail Efforts Seen as Key
In a long-awaited move, the federal government Tuesday unveiled the successor to the 13-year-old Food Guide Pyramid. And its new shape is ? a pyramid. This time, though, the pyramid is not a symbol of immutability, but one of interactivity and personalization. "MyPyramid is about the ability of Americans to personalize their approach when choosing a healthier lifestyle that balances nutrition and exercise," said Mike Johanns, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Partnerships with health professionals and the food industry are going to be essential, said Dr. Eric Hentges, executive director of USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. "We have already been approached by retailers and food manufacturers as well as foodservice and we are looking at ways that we can appropriately work in tandem with them. It's a great place at the point of purchase to have the pyramid symbol and the key messages right there at the grocery store."
The new pyramid is based on the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which USDA released in January. It features color-coded vertical stripes of varying widths, meant to emphasize the need to eat from various food groups proportionately. Whole grains get the widest swath, with vegetables and dairy products tied for a close second. It advises consumers to "go lean on protein" and to limit solid fats such as butter, margarine and lard. Steps run up the side of the pyramid to highlight the need for physical activity.
The primary message is one of gradual improvement, said Hentges. "We recognize that it is just 'get your feet wet and get started,'" he said. Other messages USDA hopes to convey include moderation and variety. The stripe of color for each food group narrows from bottom to top to illustrate the idea of nutrient density, Hentges said. "You need to use your calories wisely to get as much nutrition as you can."
The new pyramid has three components: a familiar symbol and slogan intended to motivate people; an educational framework; and tools to enable consumers to put the guidance into action.
By going to www.mypyramid.gov, consumers can get personalized nutrition information based on their age, gender and caloric intake. The introductory tool, known as My Pyramid Plan, shows Americans how to make changes in their eating patterns. "For people that have already started we have the more advanced tool," My Pyramid Tracker, which records nutrition and physical activity for up to one year and calculates and individual's energy balance.
Hentges said that the symbol is available for food manufacturers and retailers to use. "We are not endorsing product with this," he added. "It is free for public use and our usage guidelines dictate how it should be used appropriately.
Some retailers are already finding ways to do so. When the new dietary guidelines were released in January, natural foods retailers were overjoyed. "It's huge that the government has stepped out and endorsed everything" that natural foods stores stand for, like increasing consumption of whole grains and fresh produce, said Sonja Tuitele, a spokeswoman for Wild Oats. But many consumers felt overwhelmed. After all, the guidelines included 23 key recommendations. "We commissioned a study of consumers and 52 percent of them said they would not follow the new guidelines," Tuitele said. "We've developed a full consumer education campaign," which includes menu planning tips, a display that illustrates serving sizes, advice on how to tell when a product is made from whole grains, and so forth, she said. "Hopefully we'll get some of those 52 percent to pay attention and say 'It's not as hard as we thought it was going to be.'"
Online retailer FreshDirect also is ready to capitalize on the pyramid, with its Green & Orange campaign. "Those are the colors of vegetables the USDA is recommending that people eat more of," said Melissa Iglesias, a registered dietitian at FreshDirect. Consumers who click on the Green & Orange logo can see all the products the company offers that meet USDA's recommendations and add them to their virtual shopping cart.
"Next week we're going to phase in more campaigns throughout the Web site, pointing consumers to whole grain products, low-fat dairy products and beans." Iglesias said the company would eventually have a section that helps consumers select nutrient-dense products, too. "It's really about educating, point of sale, and streamlining the experience for the customer."