BENTONVILLE, ARK. — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the nation’s largest food retailer, has unveiled the “Great For You” icon a year after pledging to develop a front-of-pack label that would give customers an easier way to identify healthier food. The green and white seal is part of the company’s healthier food initiative and is expected to serve as a transparent, summary icon for its private label brand products backed by nutrition criteria.

The “Great For You” icon initially will appear on select Wal-Mart Great Value and Marketside items, as well as on fresh and packaged fruits and vegetables at Wal-Mart U.S. stores nationwide beginning this spring.

By extending “Great For You” to fruits and vegetables and nutritious food options, Wal-Mart said the company will make it easier for its customers to build healthier diets.

“Wal-Mart moms are telling us they want to make healthier choices for their families, but need help deciphering all the claims and information already displayed on products,” said Andrea Thomas, senior vice-president of sustainability at Wal-Mart. “Our ‘Great For You’ icon provides customers with an easy way to quickly identify healthier food choices. As they continue to balance busy schedules and tight budgets, this simple tool encourages families to have a healthier diet.”

First Lady Michelle Obama applauded the Wal-Mart announcement as another example of companies making an effort to ensure children are given a chance to choose healthier foods.

“Just over a year ago, Wal-Mart committed to save shoppers a billion dollars in their cost of fruits and vegetables and the fact that Wal-Mart exceeded this number is a real accomplishment and a milestone in our efforts to support families eating better,” Ms. Obama said. “In addition, the healthy seal will be another tool for parents to identify the best products for their kids. Giving parents the information they need to make healthy choices is a key piece of solving childhood obesity.”

The icon was developed in consultation with food and nutrition experts from the public and private sectors as well as leading health organizations. To receive the icon, products must meet nutrition criteria based on the latest nutrition science and authoritative guidance from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Institute of Medicine.

Wal-Mart said the icon is based on science-based criteria that use a two-step process: Step one focuses on encouraging people to eat more fruits, vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds and lean meats. Examples of these items include brown rice, 1% milk, raw almonds and 93% lean ground beef. Step two limits the amount of total, trans and saturated fats, sodium and added sugars that may be found in items such as sweetened oatmeal, granola bars, flavored yogurt and frozen meals.

The icon will be made available to national brand products that qualify and may be complementary to other nutrition labeling systems being used by the food industry, the company said.

“When it comes to food, our customers want a variety of choices, but they also want help identifying healthier options,” said Jack Sinclair, executive vice-president of grocery for Wal-Mart. “Customers asked us to make healthier food choices easy while keeping prices low. The nutritionists we engaged told us to make the criteria tough and significant. We feel confident the ‘Great For You’ icon balances those objectives, and will become an important tool Wal-Mart shoppers can use to fill their pantries with healthier food at prices our customers can afford.”

In addition to the development of the “Great For You” icon, other aspects of Wal-Mart’s healthier food initiative include reformulating packaged food to reduce sodium and added sugars and eliminate industrially produced fats by 2015; making healthier food more affordable by providing savings on produce and reducing the price premium on better-for-you food items; developing solutions for food deserts; and increasing charitable support for nutrition education programs.

Some of the items the company has reformulated in the past year include a 15% sodium reduction in Great Value ketchup, an average of 15% sodium reduction in Great Value canned vegetables, including corn, green beans and carrots, and more than a 70% sodium reduction in fresh steaks, roasts and other muscle cuts of beef.