A blog series on Shopper Marketing.

By Cyndi Pyburn

It seems to be common knowledge that Canadians aren’t nearly as healthy or as active as they should be.  Working parents, exhaustive work days, lengthy commutes, busy lives, making ends meet, all consume the precious commodity of time, leaving little to devote to leading a healthy lifestyle – the winning combination of nutritious food and consistent exercise.  Fast food, takeout food, prepared foods, and casual dining can all help to successfully land a meal on the table at the end of the day.  However, high calories, too much sodium, trans-fats and sugar can lead to serious health concerns – not surprisingly obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure are all on the rise.

This is where the Guiding Stars program steps in.  It is billed as ‘Nutritious Choices Made Simple”.

Loblaws launched this program last year. Decoding nutrition labels can be confusing. Guiding Stars takes the guesswork out of choosing foods that are nutritious for you and your family with a three star system.  In a nutshell, Guiding Stars is a food rating system that rates food based on nutrient density using a scientific algorithm to assign a 0, 1, 2 or 3 star rating. ”No stars” means, although the food was rated, it didn’t meet the nutrition criteria to earn a star.  Two of Canada’s leading nutrition scientists work with the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel to adapt the Guiding Stars nutrition rating algorithm to specifically meet the dietary standards of Canada.

  • Credits = vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre, whole grains, omega 3 fatty acids
  • Debits = saturated fat, trans fat, added sodium, added sugar

At first glance, good for Loblaws – I believe that this is a game changing effort by the grocery industry.  Loblaw’s should be applauded for their thought-leadership.  But does it really work?  Do shoppers know about it?  Understand it?

My guess is probably not.  That may sound harsh, given the simplicity of this concept.  But when I personally went for a stroll around the store, I’m not sure that I found it as useful as it should be.  Here’s my issue:

Of course fruits and vegetables are going to get 3 stars – that’s a no-brainer.  But what about the shelf tag with no stars?  If the shelf tag has no stars, it simply means either:

1.      The food doesn’t meet the nutritional criteria for a Guiding Star.   Hence ‘0’ rating.

2.      The food is not rated. For example, products like bottled water, dried spices, coffee and tea are not rated by Guiding Stars because they contain fewer than 5 calories per serving.

3.      The food hasn’t yet been rated. There is a chance that a new item has hit the shelf and has not yet gone through the full rating process.

So if the food has yet to be rated, I could easily mistake this for an item that doesn’t meet the nutritional criteria for a Guiding Star.  Then I am back to reading the nutritional content of every label.

Navigating the world of what is healthy and what is not IS complicated.   What Guiding Stars can do is to quickly identify a good choice.  I think it is particularly powerful in eliminating confusion on foods that are generally positioned as healthy …. like cereals and crackers for example.  It demystifies what is healthy and what is not.

So what is the lesson for marketers?  It seems like Loblaws has overinvested in executing this program with minimal effort in communicating it to the consumer.  There is opportunity at many points along the shopping path to educate the consumer on Guiding Stars from display at the store entrance, on shopping carts, at cash and in particular, a special page devoted to this in the “Insider’s Report”.  Secondly, email blasts about the uniqueness of this program can further spread the message.  In this way, consumers will start to understand the simple advantages of this program.

Will Guiding Stars ultimately change behaviour?  Hmmm…….

We’re all guilty of spontaneously buying a bag of potato chips, a tub of ice-cream or a fully loaded deluxe pizza, extra cheese, please!  Perhaps Guiding Stars is a constant reminder to have a balance in your basket or cart – 3 star choices complemented with some 1 star doubts from time to time.