Beyond the controversies, wellness movement seen thriving

by Josh Sosland
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A court ruling earlier in March undoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s highly unpopular ban on the sale of sugary drinks in serving sizes larger than 16-oz could suggest a diminished obsession with dictating how it is Americans should eat. Still, a few days later Whole Foods Market announced that by 2018 all the products carried in its stores must be labeled to indicate whether they contain bioengineered organisms.

The decision shrugs off, in the name of transparency, industry worries that mandatory labeling gives consumer cause for concern without scientific justification.

Separate from ups and downs of battles against products and ingredients with image problems, other signs suggest healthier foods are still perceived as an attractive market opportunity. In a conference call with investors March 6, Steve Burd, chairman and chief executive officer of Safeway, Inc., expressed the belief the Pleasanton, Calif.-based supermarket chain has the potential to “own the wellness space.” Wellness will be the lead growth area at Safeway over the next 10 years, Mr. Burd said.

“We’ve increased our offering on healthy foods,” Mr. Burd said. “We’ve created a system called Simple Nutrition that calls out the basic feature of the product.”

Sodium is among nutritional elements called out in the Safeway system. Highly publicized battles over sugary drinks and biotechnology aside, Mr. Burd’s remarks underscore the degree to which pressure on food manufacturers to improve the nutritional profile of their product portfolios is and will remain incessant.

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