Shopping by a Gold Standard

If a quick glance could help you determine which foods on grocery shelves are best for your health, would it influence your purchases?

One New England grocery store chain tested it out with a ratings system for its products, and found its recommendations for shoppers had made a difference.

For the last year, shoppers at Hannaford grocery stores have had gold stars to guide them toward healthier products. The chain ranked more than 25,000 items, giving one star to an item with ingredients considered good and three for those with the healthiest content. Foods with little nutritional value received no stars.

The chain is now evaluating the program, and a company spokesman told ABC's Lisa Stark the rankings have had an impact on what they've sold this past year.

"When given a choice between a product with stars and one without stars, customers consistently choose the one with stars," said Hannaford spokesman Caren Epstein.

They found sales of healthier breakfast cereals rose 5 percent, while lean ground beef sales jumped 7 percent and fattier ground beef sales dropped 5 percent.

"When I'm deciding about a product, if it has stars, I'm more likely to get it," said shopper Sarah Morel.

"It's a very convenient way to make sure I'm making the healthiest choices for me and my family," said another shopper.

But the strategy may not be embraced by all supermarkets. While grocery stores are increasingly interested in helping consumers make smarter choices, when ABC News asked several major chains if they were willing to go as far as Hannaford with its ratings, they declined to comment.

A food retailing expert said stores are caught between two sometimes conflicting goals as they conduct their business.

"One is doing the right thing for people's health, and the second is doing the right thing for sales," said Jim Hertel of Willard Bishop Consulting. "And that really puts them in somewhat of a difficult position."

Hannaford is gearing up to rank even more products, as the chain is confident that consumers have an appetite for its gold standard.