Supervalu, the US grocer, has defended its plans to introduce its own labelling scheme, a programme the company believes will encourage consumers to buy healthier food.

The company today (14 January) announced plans to affix colour-coded labels on shelf facings underneath products that meet selected nutritional criteria.

Under the initiative, dubbed nutrition iQ, Supervalu will place shelf tags beneath the product's price, unit price and bar code.

The programme aims to "help consumers make better-informed, better-for-you food choices right at the store shelf", Supervalu said.

The scheme covers 11 nutrient claims for products in seven categories. For example, products high in fibre will be have be denoted with an orange tag. Products low in saturated fat will be given a red tag.

US consumers have already seen other retailers, including Delhaize's Hannaford and Food Lion, introduce nutrition labels. The nation's largest food makers, including Kraft Foods and ConAgra Foods, have also given their backing to a separate scheme, the Smart Choices Program, which will be rolled out this summer.

Supervalu declined to comment on other labelling programmes but praised its scheme, describing it as "comprehensive, objective, transparent and simple".

"Nutrition iQ is [also] more personal," a Supervalu spokesperson told just-food. "Since we call out the top one to two key health attributes - like low sodium and whole grains - of each product that receives a nutrition iQ shelf tag, it's easy for shoppers to find those items that help them meet their own personal health goals," the spokesperson said.

Not all products on sale in store will be included in the initiative. Products that fail to meet the nutritional criteria behind the scheme, including confectionery and ice cream, will not be denoted by a coloured tag. Supervalu, however, said the move would make it easier for consumers.

"We wanted to ensure that all products receiving a nutrition iQ shelf tag are at a base level, better for-you in order to give consumers an easy way to compare and contrast the nutritional value of the vast number of items in the grocery store," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the Supervalu initiative would help US consumers cut through the "often overwhelming and confusing" nutrition information already available.

"We recognised an opportunity to make our customers' shopping experiences more convenient by providing them credible, at-a-glance nutrition information on store shelves," the spokesperson said.

The nutrition iQ labels will first appear in Albertsons stores and will be then rolled out to Supervalu's other banners.