There was a time when consumers used to depend on the neighborhood grocery shops for ensuring supply of dependable quality of food but the emphasis was on trust and transparent communication between them with heavy emphasis on reasonableness of the price and unwritten guarantee of overall quality of items supplied by the grocer with a proviso to return if not satisfied. With the advent of modern retailing where the buying environment has lot of ambiance and consumer has the power to pick and choose whatever he likes, the sales personnel becoming highly impersonal and ignorant about the details of products displayed, there is a heavy dependence on the labels on the packages which for many are 'Greek and Latin' making little sense! Of course the super markets are supposed to create an image that would attract the customers repeatedly through ' quality and dependability'. Under Indian conditions this is not found to be happening with the customer being herded to buy only selected brands or the in-house brands which are on the shelves. It is here that consumers need a reliable tool to discriminate between products based on price, quality and the nutritional value of the products offered by the retailer.
Consumer awareness about nutrition is rather foggy with many misconceptions prevailing amongst common man especially regarding processed foods and only an authentic nutrition based guide can help him to buy products with highest nutritional quality. How can this be done when subject of nutrition is a complex one defying simplistic interpretation? Thanks to the innovative approach by Yale University in USA a new 'algorithm' has been developed to generate a simple summative score for the overall nutritional quality of a food based on its micro nutrient and macro nutrient composition and several other nutritional properties. The spark for evolving such a tool came from the Department of Health of US government, National Institute of Health and 15 academic centers in 2003 to counteract the deteriorating health scenario amongst its population and improve dietary intake pattern with emphasis on curtailing spread of obesity. The Griffith Hospital of Yale University started the project in late 2005 and a working version for Overall Nutritional Quality Index(ONQI) was made available for more than 1000 foods being retailed in that country. Most of the major food retailing chains are expected to introduce ONQI during this year across USA.
ONQI is designed to grade the foods on a scale of 1-100 giving a definitive ranking to each food and thus indicate the relative nutritional quality of foods across all food category or within specific food categories like bread, cereals, frozen desserts etc. It is bound to have applications at point of purchase in retail super markets, on food packaging, in restaurants, in print materials and on-line. On this scale items like mustard greens, raw broccoli, orange, fresh strawberries, raw spinach and several others, mostly fresh, will have a score of 100. The ONQI score goes down with processing to varying extent depending on the contents of natural components. While fresh orange enjoys a score of 100. orange juice slides down on the scale to just 39. 1% fat milk hos a score of 81.
Though no scheme can be 100% perfect, the ONQI is a welcome beginning for bringing some relief to the much harried consumer, especially those with least awareness about food and its nutritional implications.