April 6, 2018 – For Megan Hellstedt, VP of Sustainable Retailing for Ahold Delhaize, the celebration of World Health Day on Saturday is a perfect opportunity to highlight the importance of driving and supporting a commitment to healthier eating. And there is plenty of good news to share.
This week, four additional brands of Ahold Delhaize USA will begin offering the Guiding Stars in-store nutritional navigation system. With the rollout, the program will be available to millions of the U.S. brands' customers in over 2,000 stores along the East Coast, making nutritional labeling more user-friendly so shoppers can make informed food choices.
The announcement is part of Ahold Delhaize’s commitment to promote healthier eating for customers, including the company's public target to achieve 50% of healthy own brand product sales – fully half of total own brand sales – by 2020.
In the following interview, Megan took a few minutes to reflect on Ahold Delhaize and the brands' accomplishments – and what's ahead.
Is healthier food going mainstream?
Absolutely. Demand for healthier food is on the rise as consumers are increasingly aware of the benefits of a healthy diet on their overall wellbeing. On both sides of the Atlantic, we see customers are demanding more transparency about their food, and are proactively shifting their diets, underscored by the rise in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan eating. They are turning to food more as preventative medicine, and are aided by growing technology solutions to track and understand their specific health needs.
Are retailers helping meet the healthier eating demand?
It's clear that demand for healthier eating is rising, and we aim to meet our customers' expectations to provide them with fresh, nutritious and delicious family meals, every day. However, despite progress by food manufacturers and retailers to offer healthier foods around the world, consumers can still struggle to make the shift toward a healthier diet.
As one of the world’s largest food retailers with more than 50 million customers a week, Ahold Delhaize and our brands are uniquely positioned to promote healthier eating and help reduce diet-related diseases. In fact, with nearly three in four adults making dinner at home at least four nights a week, the majority of food consumed comes from grocery stores.
What has Ahold Delhaize committed to do?
Because food choices have such a big impact on health, it's important that nutritious products are accessible and understandable to everyone. We are unique among retailers for measuring the percent of our own brand sales that come from healthy products. And we set a target to move this up to 50% by 2020.
Two recent moves – the launch of Guiding Stars in the Ahold Delhaize USA brands' stores and the creation of a new internal program to reward great ideas to drive healthier eating – are helping us progress toward that goal. We also are investing in improving the nutritional value of own-brand products.
What is Guiding Stars?
Guiding Stars is a user-friendly nutrition navigation program that takes the guesswork out of reading nutrition labels with one overall rating that helps consumers quickly make informed food choices. It was originally piloted at Hannaford stores in 2006, and the positive consumer response led to its introduction at Food Lion in 2007. This week, Giant Food, Giant/Martin's, Stop & Shop and Peapod are introducing Guiding Stars as well.
How specifically are own-brand products getting healthier?
We improve nutrition of our product offering in two ways: reformulating our own-brand products and bringing new healthy offerings to the shelves. Registered dietitians provide guidance to our private brand teams on improving the nutritional profile of the products that carry the names of our brands. This includes efforts such as sugar and sodium reduction, removal of artificial ingredients, and the addition of positive attributes such as whole grains and omega-3 fatty acids – all while keeping the food affordable and tasty.
Delhaize in Belgium, for example, has lowered the sodium levels in its breads and reduced the added sugars in own-brand cereals – changes that customers welcomed. And Albert Heijn in the Netherlands introduced an innovative, healthy product line with pasta and rice products made from cauliflower, broccoli and zucchini.
What are the priorities ahead?
We see many more opportunities, and we're eager to partner with Ahold Delhaize brands' customers, associates and broader communities to do more. As customers become more interested in healthier eating, we want to be the retailers they turn to for support and inspiration. So we are looking forward to introduce many more products and services in the years to come to help customers consider healthier food choices.