New York: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to help its customers figure that out by adding a new green icon that reads "Great for You" to packaging of some of its house-brand foods.
The green and white seal, which shows the stylized outline of a human figure with its arms spread toward the sky, is part of a multiyear campaign the world's largest retailer is undertaking to promote healthier products and fight childhood obesity.
Food makers and sellers have come under scrutiny in the past for adding nutritional seals to the fronts of packages. The Food and Drug Administration said in 2009 that some companies used them misleadingly.
The FDA is developing standards for what health claims can be made on food packages, but Wal-Mart says its customers want the information now.
Wal-Mart's new seal, which echoes the name of one of its key house brands, Great Value, won't impart any actual nutritional information when it starts appearing this spring. But the company says the seal will be affixed to in-house products with lower levels of fat, sugar and artificial additives.
The seal also will appear on signs near bins of fruits and vegetables and on some of Wal-Mart's in-house products under the Marketside brand. The company said 20 to 25 percent of its Great Value-brand foods meet the criteria for the new seal, though it didn't say how many products will carry it.
"It helps customers see very, very quickly what healthier choices are for them," Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability for Wal-Mart Stores, said in a conference call with reporters.
The criteria will be outlined at www.walmartgreatforyou.com and allow all-natural foods, as well as foods without added sugar or too much fat, including fresh fruits and vegetables and items such as whole wheat pasta and low-fat dairy products.
Foods that have too many artificial additives, or too much fat, don't make the cut, Wal-Mart said. Regular pasta, white rice and yogurt with added sugar will not carry the seal.
Nutritional guidelines always have gray areas. Eggs were debated because of worries over their high cholesterol, for example, but Thomas said they earned the seal because they are a low-cost source of protein.
The FDA in 2009 said it would develop its own standards for health claims on food package fronts, but it has yet to do so. The agency said then that the proliferation of different labels created by different food companies could confuse consumers.
Wal-Mart officials say they consulted with the FDA as it developed the "Great For You" seal and would comply with whatever standards the agency eventually sets. But customers are looking for information now, they say.
Wal-Mart, which is based in Bentonville, Ark., says it determined the guidelines after a year of meeting with health organizations, customers, its suppliers and others.