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Tops adds system to simplify selection of nutritious foods

Customers struggling to make healthier food decisions will get some help from a new system at Tops Markets that assigns scores to more than 18,000 items.

Tops unveiled the new effort Thursday in its location at Maple Road and North Bailey Avenue in Amherst.

The system, called NuVal, is designed to improve and quicken customers' ability to choose between products according to their nutritional value. It is now available in more than 1,000 stores and 23 states.

"We're always looking for ways to help our customers navigate through the wide variety of products we offer," Frank Curci, Tops CEO, said in a news release. Curci said Tops does not want to dictate what consumers buy or eat but feels a responsibility as a leading grocer to aid those who wish to follow healthier lifestyles.

In all Tops locations, more than 18,000 products have been scored from 1 to 100, with 100 being the best possible rating. The numbers appear on store signs and on price labels on the shelves.

The criteria, developed by nutritional authorities and doctors, include more than 30 nutrients and nutrition factors, such as carbohydrates, proteins, sugar, sodium and trans fat.

Examples of foods with the highest score are blueberries, broccoli and strawberries. A fresh apple gets a 96, apple sauce a 30 and apple juice a 15, reflecting value lost from peeled skin and the addition of sugar. Among popular snacks, Nutri-Grain bars get a 30, while Quaker Chocolate Chunk bars receive a 23.

"The NuVal Nutritional Scoring System turns a lot of nutrition details into a single number, Dr. David L. Katz, NuVal's chief science officer, said in a news release. "It is a [global positioning system] for nutrition."

At the unveiling Thursday, Curci said he believes the system can succeed where traditional labels, those right on the products, have failed in fostering healthier choices. "It's so simple and easy to understand. It allows comparisons across different products and categories. Nutritional labels are hard to follow. Claims by manufacturers can be hard to follow."

Curci said the chain has received a significant volume of requests from customers about ways to make healthier choices. "This has become more and more important to people to make better, healthier decisions about what their families eat."

He said the stores chose NuVal over other scoring systems because it "gave the best combination of science and simplicity."

NuVal already covers food categories that include meat, seafood, poultry, salty snacks, milk, yogurt, vegetables, cereal, bread, cookies, soft drinks and crackers.

Dr. Leonard Epstein, a University at Buffalo professor of pediatrics and social and preventive medicine, praised the program, on which he worked. "Small, incremental changes shoppers make as they trade up within a certain category have the potential to make significant nutritional differences."

e-mail: vsherry@buffnews.com

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