BOX 5-1

Definition of Front-of-Package System Categories

Nutrient-Specific Systems: Systems with symbols that display the amount per serving of select nutrients from the Nutrition Facts panel on the front of the food package or use symbols based on claim criteria. Percent daily values (%DV) or guideline daily amounts (%GDA) appear on the front of the package, which may also include traffic light colors or words to indicate that a product contains “high,” “medium,” or “low” amounts of specific nutrients. A declaration of calories per serving may also be on the front of the food package. Systems using symbols based on claim criteria may award multiple symbols indicating that a product is “low fat,” “high fiber,” etc.

Summary Indicator Systems: Systems with a single symbol, icon, or score that provides summary information about the nutrient content of a product. No specific nutrient content information is given in these systems. Systems may be based on nutrient thresholds or algorithms. Products that meet the criteria are awarded the system’s symbol. Systems often use different criteria based on food categories (e.g., type of food or food product). Algorithm systems evaluate food products based on an equation that takes nutrients and other components (positive and/or negative) into account. Products are given a numeric score (i.e., 1–100) or number of symbols (i.e., 0, 1, 2, 3) to indicate the nutritional quality of the product.

Food Group Information Systems: Systems in which symbols are awarded to a food product based on presence of a food group or food ingredient. Some symbols indicate the presence of a serving (or partial serving) of a particular food group; other symbols indicate the presence of ingredients considered to be important dietary components, such as whole grains.

Nutrient-specific systems have been developed largely by food manufacturers and retailers (Wegmans, Harris Teeter, Kellogg’s, General Mills), with the exception of the U.K. Food Standards Agency’s Traffic Light system. Wegmans’ and Harris Teeter’s systems feature symbols to indicate nutrient content—e.g., LF for “low fat,” HF for “high fiber,” etc.—and are based upon Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nutrient content claims. General Mills and Kellogg’s present select information from the Nutrition Facts panel, such as calories and fat per serving, usually accompanied by the percentage of Daily Value (%DV)1 or Guideline Daily Amount (%GDA).2 The systems are aimed at providing consumers with a snapshot of the nutrient content of a food and what that food contributes to their daily diet. If consumers want to consume a specific amount of fiber or limit their sodium intake, this type of system can help them to do so quickly by glancing at a package and selecting or rejecting the product based on its nutrient content. Some of the nutrient-specific systems, such as the UK traffic light characterize the amount of various nutrients by using color, words, or some combination of the two to indicate that the products contains “high,” “medium,” or “low” amounts of each nutrient of interest.

Summary indicator systems have been developed by independent (nonprofit) organizations or advisory groups, food manufacturers, and consortiums of those groups. No specific nutrient content information is given in these systems. Generally, a single symbol or score is used. Summary indicator systems may be based on nutrient thresholds or algorithms. Threshold-based systems such as Smart Choices or the Heart Check use a single symbol to indicate that the food product upon which it is featured has satisfied that system’s nutrient criteria. These sys-


Daily Values (DVs) were developed by FDA to put the amount of a nutrient in a serving of food in the context of a total daily diet; %DVs are required in the Nutrition Facts panel for those nutrients for which Daily Values were established (21 CFR 101.9(8)).


Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) are used in Europe on a voluntary basis by food and beverage and retail industries to give context to the energy and nutrient content of foods and beverages. In June 2006 the Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries introduced EU GDAs based on Eurodiet recommendations (available online at [accessed June 17, 2010]). Nutrition at a Glance (from Kellogg’s) uses the term “GDA” in system descriptions, and uses Daily Values as the basis for the %GDA presented on products sold in the United States.

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