The number of US food manufacturers that have joined the Smart Choices Program, a labelling scheme drawn up to encourage healthy eating, is set to double within the next year, according to a leading nutritionist close to the initiative.

Eight food makers, including Unilever, ConAgra Foods and PepsiCo, have signed up to the programme, which was officially launched last week.

Mary Lee Watts, director of science and public affairs at the American Society for Nutrition, one of the research bodies behind Smart Choices, said more companies were considering adopting the labels.

"There are eight companies that have implemented the programme and we expect that to double by next year. There are a number of companies that we are in discussions with," Watts told just-food. Watts, however, refused to be drawn on the identity of the companies that could join up.

Smart Choices is just one of a number of labelling schemes in use in the US and all initiatives claim to help consumers achieve a balanced diet.

However, industry watchers have questioned whether the co-existence of Smart Choices alongside the likes of Supervalu's nutrition iQ scheme and Hannaford's Guiding Stars labels could confuse consumers.

Watts admitted that those who worked on Smart Choices would like to see the programme rolled out further and emphasised its benefits over alternative schemes.

"In terms of helping consumers make smarter choices, we would like to see it become the one out there in the market place," Watts said.

"It's the only labelling scheme developed by a coalition of leading scientists and with food industry representation. We have had some of the biggest companies with some of the most familiar brands [sign up]. Also, it's based on consensus science."

Next year, the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans will be published, which is likely to mean changes to the labelling schemes live on the market. Watts said the Smart Choices initiative would have to "adapt" but insisted any changes would prove attractive to consumers.

"We will adapt accordingly. It's something consumers will actually like about Smart Choices," she added.