Starting Monday, Metro customers will see green labels on nearly 9,000 products, indicating items that include plant-based, gluten-free and keto-friendly.
The labels are part of My Health, My Choices, a program launched by Metro (MRU.TO) this week that will categorize thousands of products based on a list of nearly 50 “attributes”. Those attributes includes categories such as gluten-free, lactose-free, plant-based, keto-friendly, vegan, whole grain, and organic.
The move is part of an effort to provide nutritional information to customers, while learning more about consumer choices and food trends. The program will be featured in store, online and through Metro’s app.
“Our research has shown that 51 per cent of Canadians say they look for information on the quality and health aspects of the products that they’re looking at,” Mike Thomson, Metro’s vice president of grocery merchandising, said in an interview.
“People are doing a lot of homework these days before they hit the grocery store or when they’re preparing meals. This is very much in response to that.”
Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food policy at Dalhousie University, sees the program less about providing a service and more as part of an effort by Metro to build market intelligence about its customer base.
“I think they’re trying to build loyalty and also trying to learn about a customer base that is forever changing,” he said.
“Demand is becoming more fragmented, people are looking for different things for different reasons, and they want to keep up.”
Metro spent two years developing the program with the help of Spins, a U.S.-based company that works with retailers selling natural and organic products, as well as in-house nutritionist Linda Montpetit. The guide was also based on consumer trends, Canada’s food guide, as well as information published by Health Canada.
Part of the development process included creating an algorithm that will automatically prioritize certain “attributes” for products that fall under a wide range of categories, as in-store labels only have enough space for two. For example, a bar of chocolate could be considered organic, free trade, non-GMO, keto-friendly and vegan. Metro’s algorithm would prioritize fair trade as one of the two categories on the label.
It’s not the first time Metro has featured a guide aimed at helping consumers make healthier choices. The company previously had a program that featured a smiley-face label on foods that were considered healthy.
“I would say it wasn’t particularly useful to the customer because it was too generalized,” Thomson said.
“Not everyone has the same dietary need. Your mom has a different needs than a body builder, or someone who has allergies or an intolerance. We wanted to provide information to help people personalize grocery shopping to their own situation.”
The program is also a reflection of the rise in prominence – and sales growth – of the health and wellness industry.
According to a 2019 government report prepared by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, health and wellness products have shown steady growth between 2013 and 2017 – and that growth is expected to continue through 2022. The report said that health and wellness industry made up US$1.8 billion in 2013 and reached US$16.7 billion by 2017. The market is expected to hit more than US$20 billion by 2022.
The report also said that Canadian consumers are “paying close attention to and examining labels and nutritional ingredients more than ever.”
“This is being reflected in the clean label movement spreading across the packaged food industry, such as high-fibre food and cereal bars,” the report said.
“Those categories enjoyed steady growth in the 2013-2017 period and are forecast to continue growing in the 2018-2022 period.”
Thomson says he hopes the program will help retain existing Metro customers as well as attract new ones, whether it’s in-store or online.
“The health and wellness space is constantly evolving,” he said.
“We don’t know what the next year is going to bring, but we want to stay on top of the trends and be as relevant as possible for the customer.”
Alicja Siekierska is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow her on Twitter @alicjawithaj.