American Food Hero 2019: Colleen Lindholz
Who she is: President, Kroger Health
What she's doing: Supporting better grocery choices
We've all been there: standing in the grocery store aisle trying to pick out a box of cereal or choose between seven kinds of blueberry yogurt. You want something relatively healthy, but there are so many options and they all look pretty much the same. You could pore over each nutrition panel and ingredients list or do what most of us do: just grab one and hope for the best.
It shouldn't be this hard to make good nutrition choices. But the average American supermarket carries more than 40,000 products and the difference between any two can be significant. In the case of that blueberry yogurt, one brand may contain twice the sugar of its neighbor. Colleen Lindholz, a trained pharmacist who heads up all things health at Kroger, the nation's largest grocery chain, knew there had to be a better way. "I saw there was a need for someone to step in and not only talk about what's better for you, but to push companies to put items on the shelf that are healthier for you," she says.
Lindholz is the architect of a smartphone app that Kroger launched last October, called OptUP. It assigns a health score to every item in the store, whether it's sweet potatoes (92 out of 100), Bush's Vegetarian Baked Beans (76) or Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter (62). Higher-ranked foods are lower in things like sodium, sugar, saturated fat and calories and contain more beneficial nutrients, such as fiber and protein. The app allows shoppers to easily scan a food to see how it ranks, compare it to other brands, and get suggestions of ways to "opt up" for something healthier. "We're not going to take people from eating Oreos to broccoli overnight, but maybe we can suggest a Fig Newton," she says.
When the items go through checkout, the app gives you a total score that quantifies how nutritious your shopping habits have been over time. And because it's linked to a loyalty card, the process is automatic—no burdensome manual data input like other diet-tracking apps.
Of course, systems that rate products—such as Guiding Stars and NuVal—have been introduced before. But what makes OptUP revolutionary is its utter simplicity and user-friendliness. In less than a year, more than 300,000 people have downloaded OptUP, and early research shows that a third of users saw their scores rise a significant 30 points over a 12-week period. More studies are in the works, including one in partnership with the University of Cincinnati that's examining the impact of the app in combination with nutrition advice to reduce hypertension.
The goal, says Lindholz, is to provide science to back up what we all should know: that food truly is medicine.