Dissecting Healthy

The road to defining the ambiguous, but most popular word in food marketing these days just got longer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently extended the comment period on their final rule meant to define "healthy" on food labeling. The new deadline is April 26, 2017 – an additional 90 days granted after it received requests to extend the deadline beyond the typical 120 day comment period. The FDA reported "The [extension] requests conveyed concern that the current 120-day comment period does not allow sufficient time to develop meaningful or thoughtful comments to the questions and issues we presented in the notice." 

Healthy as of today 

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary defines healthy as a state of being. Healthy means to enjoy health and vigor; be well, with health being defined as a condition of being sound in body, mind and spirit -- free from illness or pain. It never mentions food, yet most U.S. Consumers associate the word healthy with items they eat these days, especially those that are fresh, natural and minimally processed, according to a Nielsen Healthy Trends report in 2015.   

In vending, healthy is certainly a buzz word. It has been important to locations trying to improve the overall health and wellness of their employees, despite being a challenge to profitability for vending operators. Schools were required to limit vending products to only healthy ones, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Healthy and nutritious products are often a key selling component of micro markets, a fast growing segment of the vending operator's revenue.    

NAMA, the national association representing our industry, has taken a proactive stance on healthy products, developing a program years ago to define healthy, pre-packaged, single-serve items sold in the vending channel. The names and program have evolved to become the widely used FitPick program that has set definitions for items that could be deemed healthy. Hopefully, NAMA's research and program can be submitted to the FDA to help with their definition of the word.  

Healthy guidance 

Currently, the FDA only has recommendations for the use of the claim "healthy." The administration would like to see it used on foods that : "Are not low in total fat, but have a fat profile makeup of predominantly mono and polyunsaturated fats; or contain at least ten percent of the Daily Value (DV) per reference amount customarily consumed (RACC) of potassium or vitamin D."   

This is their guidance while they work through the public process to redefine the “healthy” nutrient content claim for food labeling. 

Personally, I feel federal regulation would help solve one dilemma operators have and that is that everyone's definition of healthy is different. For some it's baked chips, while others define it as all natural items with no added colors or synthetic substances. Having a set definition we could all use would be beneficial. It will be interesting to see what the FDA decides this April.