For decades, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been touting schemes to attempt—at least ostensibly—to help Americans eat more healthfully. From the 4-food-group concept to the current food pyramid, the idea has been to help us think more intelligently about what we eat. The development of these formulations have always been under influence by industry groups representing food companies and health advocates, and it has never been clear that the resulting compromises have been effective. Note the current obesity epidemic as evidence.

But now, the Hannaford Brothers supermarket chain is taking matters into their own hands. Hannaford’s nutritionists have developed a simple coding system to let shoppers know the relative health value of foods. Three stars is most healthy. Zero stars is least healthy. And while the coding system is simple, the underlying algorithm—the algorithm that assigns the ratings—is complex.

Listen to this: 77% of all the items on Hannaford’s shelves rated zero stars. Even most of the Hannaford Store brand items get zero stars. Our choices are not very nutritious!!

As you might imagine, some manufacturers are not happy.

Only time will tell whether shoppers will change their eating habits—or whether food manufacturers will change the formulas for their processed foods to get a better star rating, and Hannaford will be able to track this data very easily. It’s hard to tell whether the food pyramid has had an effect. Hannaford’s Guiding Star system will be much easier to assess. I hope they’ve got some control-group stores to make comparisons.

I love the simplicity of the system. It’s like a job aid on steroids. It’s simple. It’s provided exactly when needed (as shoppers make their selections), and it’s based on proven nutritional recommendations.

Those of us in the learning-and-performance field can learn a lot from this design.

  1. Ensure that learning designs impact performance situations.
  2. Simplify, to increase how much your learners/performers actually use your stuff.
  3. Base learning designs on proven content. For example, is the stuff you teach in your leadership classes really been proven to improve management performance?
  4. Utilize systems to track your success, so that you can make

To read the excellent NY Times article, click here.