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Guiding Stars algorithm receives Canadian patent


Guiding Stars, the food rating guide seen in Loblaws banner stores across Ontario, this week announced it has received a Canadian patent.

The program is designed to supplement existing food nutrition information, offering consumers at-a-glance, easy-to-understand ratings at shelf level that reduce shopper confusion, according to the company.

Each food item is assigned a 0, 1, 2 or 3 star rating based on an algorithm, now protected under patent in this country. Guiding Stars credits food for containing higher levels of vitamins, minerals, whole grains, fiber and Omega-3, and deducts points for having trans fats, saturated fats, added sugars and sodium.

"With the density of information on the nutrition facts panel… it's become increasingly difficult for consumers to easily identity nutritious foods during a hurried shopping trip," Jim McBride, Guiding Stars Director of Operations said in a press release. "The scientifically based Guiding Stars program makes it easy for consumers to identify more nutritious foods at-a-glance."

The program has its critics, however. Bill Jeffery of the Ottawa-based Centre for Science in the Public Interest told CBC he believes Guiding Stars has its merits helping consumers make broad product choices. But, he adds, the rating system is not helpful at helping consumers make more nutrition decisions about brands. Nor does it encourage companies to improve their products.

"The main thing is that whatever front-of-pack labelling schemes are used should be developed, tested and evaluated against public health benchmarks in a transparent way by a public health authority, not a food company," Jeffery told CBC.

Alexis Williams, director of health and wellness for Loblaw said the company plans to roll out the program to more banner stores in 2013. It can currently be found in 44 Canadian grocery stores.

The algorithm is already patented in the U.S., where the rating system is used in over 1,600 stores.

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