Safeway Rolls Out "SimpleNutrition" Labels, "Gluten Free" is One of Them

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Safeway, North America’s third-largest supermarket chain, has been working hard over the last few years to build a reputation as a “healthy” grocery store – my boyfriend calls it “Whole Foods lite” – and it looks like it’s starting to pay off. In 2008, this CNN study named Safeway the second healthiest grocery store in America, beating out Trader Joe’s and coming in second only to – yep – Whole Foods itself.

Safeway’s newest initiative is SimpleNutrition, a program designed to alert shoppers to the best, most nutritious aspect of a given food. Safeway’s shelves are now covered in colorful stickers that say things like “Sugar Free,” “Low Fat,” “Good Source of Calcium,” and “Good Source of Iron.” Safeway breaks down the categories this way:

There are 22 benefit messages included in the program encompassing two groups of messages: those that meet lifestyle or dietary needs and those that meet specific nutrition or ingredient criteria.

There are 18 types of the latter “benefit message” – things like “Lean Protein” and “100% Juice” – and only 4 lifestyle benefit messages. Guess which lifestyle made the cut?

You got it! “Gluten Free” gets its very own label, along with “Organic,” “Natural,” and “Sugar Free.”

There’s a lot to analyze in these four little labels, and in the SimpleNutrition program itself. For one thing, it’s becoming clear that Americans are growing more and more educated about what they put into their bodies, and are increasingly demanding better and clearer choices, not just from manufacturers but from distributors as well. No longer satisfied with fine print and hidden Nutrition Information, we want the facts printed in plain view to help facilitate a more informed shopping experience. Since we GF folks have been peering at tiny labels for years, it’s pretty cool that the general population is starting to do the same thing – and starting to learn about the challenges that pop up when one decides to take control over one’s diet.

The other interesting thing here is the 4 labels that Safeway has chosen. At first, I was really excited to see that Gluten Free had made it onto such an exclusive little list. I took it as a sign of the exploding growth of the GF market, which has done so much to expand the variety of GF products available. “I can’t believe gluten intolerance beat out lactose intolerance and got its own label!” I thought, giddily.

But then I thought some more. Yes, “Lactose Free” isn’t here. But neither is “Nut Free” or “Fish Free.” That’s when I realized that the other three labels – “Organic,” “Natural,” and “Sugar Free” – are all about lifestyle choices rather than allergies or sensitivitiesĀ (of course some people do have sensitivity to sugar – I’m one of them, actually – but I’m pretty sure that sugar allergies aren’t exactly common). So what Safeway is doing here isn’t so much acknowledging celiac or gluten intolerance, but acknowledging the needs of people who go GF by choice. Technically that includes people with GI or celiac, which is great, but the fact remains that these labels don’t really have anything to do with allergens or food safety – rather, they’re about facilitating a certain lifestyle that you’ve chosen.

I’m not sure where I come down on this, ultimately. On the one hand – labels! We in the GF community do tend to love our labels. And I don’t think there’s much use in drawing lines in the sand between people who can’t eat gluten and people who don’t eat gluten, especially when our own doctors are often so quick to throw everyone in the latter category. The more the merrier, I always say, so why exclude anyone from our awesome little GF community? On the other hand, aligning “Gluten Free” with “Natural” does send a certain message about the nature of a GF diet, and contributes to that “Oh, gluten-free is such a huge trend now” attitude.

You can get lots of information, including a full list of SimpleNutrition tags, at the SimpleNutrition website.

What do you think? Do you like the new labels? Feel like they missed something or overdid it? Have it at in the comments!

12 thoughts on “Safeway Rolls Out "SimpleNutrition" Labels, "Gluten Free" is One of Them”

  1. Those of us lucky enough to live near a Wegmans store already benef from GF (and other) labeling on the front of many of Wegmans’ store brands. I’ll be sure to check out Safeway stores when I travel.

  2. Really? We’re going to quibble about the fact that Safeway chose GF along with 3 labels that are lifestyle choices? GF is not my religion, I just need to eat and the more choices I have the easier my life is.

  3. Wow! This is great news! I’m just happy that they have narrowed gluten-free products down. Then I would just have to check the label for other allergy/sensitivities. I have multiple food allergies: and sensitivities besides gluten: citrus, tomatoes, pumpkin, coconut (darn! no coconut oil!), MSG and sulphites).

    I used to live in the San Francisco Bay Area which has Safeway stores, but now live in Central California which has Von stores (sister company of Safeway).. Do you know if Von’s is doing the same thing?

  4. Not impressed with Safeway as far as GF goes. Our Safeway does not
    have a separate area for GF and you have to hunt. They had 1 GF pasta
    on their shelves when I went comparing. As I said I am NOT impressed.

  5. My Safeway connection is Von’s and I was pleasantly surprised to walk in there one day and find Gluten Free products that had the Gluten Free label, so much easier than having to read labels. When I was first diagnosed I went to Henrys for my Gluten Free shopping and I loved the way I could go to the spaghetti, sauce etc. aisle (e.g. any food I was looking for) and find the Gluten Free products marked, I only had to decide which one to choose. Incidently quite a few products have been overlooked, i.e. Yoplait is Gluten Free it tells you on the bottom at the back.

  6. Please remember, labels don’t mean anything. Advertisers can put anything on the label they want. To be ‘organic’, 100% juice, gluten free, etc… it must be CERTIFIED by a reputable company known for their strict standards. Just a reminder or what you may be eating may not be truly what the label claims it is!

  7. Im happy that Safeway has decided to climb aboard the gluten free train.
    Trader Joes is not a gluten free happy store so we don’t shop there any more.
    We see that Fry’s (Krogers) has a really nice selection of GF items and because of the hours we work they are most convient to shop.
    We Love love love Sprouts and Sunflower Market. Those two are tops with us.
    Keeping our eyes out to see the changes with Safeway šŸ˜€

  8. BEWARE! I shop at Hannafords and they had shelf flags saying “Gluten Free” to show off GF products (which were in the “Organic & Natural” sections of each aisle). Well, between 2 (stuck on) shelf flags was a box of organic, natural graham crackers. I was delighted to find GF graham crackers, but thankfully, I looked at the ingredient list… GLUTEN?? I checked the product label below, it was the right product. However, on either side was a package of GF cookies, the flags were meant for them. When I complained to the store manager about this misleading advertising, I was told that “corporate” had set up the shelf arrangement and he “couldn’t” do anything about it. Needless to say I came home & wrote to corporate! Took 3 months before they changed it… I wonder how many others got taken in by that in the meantime.

  9. As for gluten free being a lifestyle choice, I really don’t mind as it has led to the production of many more gluten free options for all of us. And if it raises awareness and makes “gluten free” a more understood term, I think that can only be a good thing.

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