Competition for space on product packaging is higher than ever. Multiple health claims have added icons to food packaging over the years. But no other product certification is as comprehensive as the American Heart Association's.
The American Heart Association's Heart-Check mark, the easy-to-spot red and white shield found on food packages, has been a trusted tool for shoppers for more than 25 years. It was the first certification program of its kind and continues to be a distinction that consumers look for when choosing healthy foods and beverages.
"While other food certifications have their place, they do not necessarily mean that a product is nutritious," says Douglas Allen, director of sales and operations for the American Heart Association's Heart-Check Certification program. "Only the Heart-Check mark takes into consideration a food's beneficial nutrients. It makes it easy for consumers to find products that can support their goals for an overall healthy eating pattern. It also helps food manufacturers set their products apart from others on the shelf by letting shoppers know that a product is a heart-healthy choice."
Allen gave an exclusive interview for Food Dive readers to explain how the Heart-Check mark certification helps consumers navigate the overwhelming food choices available.
What value does the Heart-Check mark add to a product?
Allen: The Heart-Check mark provides value both for the shoppers and companies. For the shopper, research from the International Food Information Council shows that more than 90% of people look for heart-healthy options at the grocery store and yet only 28% find this easy to do. That's why we're here. We've done the homework for you and want to make it easier to find heart-healthy options.
For the food company, the use of the Heart-Check mark allows you and your products to align with one of the nation's most recognized and trusted brands – the American Heart Association.
Our work with the company doesn't end after a product gets a Heart-Check mark. We encourage companies to promote their certified products nationally via a variety of media platforms, such as online, digital and print. To help them, we provide clear guidelines and a marketing toolkit.
What standards do products have to meet to be certified?
Allen: The American Heart Association has a team of dietitians who ensure products comply with 10 different health claims. These experts screen products for compliance with both American Heart Association and FDA requirements. Most nutritional criteria to make a health claim are similar to what is required by the FDA. However, some Heart-Check mark nutrition criteria are more stringent to be consistent with American Heart Association's scientific statements and research.
Dietitians review the product's nutritional data, including total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, beneficial nutrients (protein, iron, calcium, vitamins A and C) and added sugar.
The Heart-Check program certifies products in 13 categories: fresh fruits and vegetables; extra-lean meat; deli meats; poultry; fish; most nuts; whole-grain snack bars; natural oils (canola, corn, soybean olive, high oleic); canned and frozen fruits and vegetables; fruit and vegetable juices; cereals; beans and breads.
Some food categories – such as desserts, sweets or flavored waters – either don't align with the American Heart Association's dietary guidelines, certification criteria, or have no nutritional value and aren't eligible for certification.
Why can consumers trust the Heart-Check certification?
Allen: Heart-Check mark criteria is aligned with FDA guidelines for heart-healthy claims and is supported by the expertise of the American Heart Association and its ongoing science-backed statements and recommendations.
Heart-Check certification signifies the independent voice of a trusted health organization. Market research by the International Food Information Council shows that consumers are more trusting of health claims made by organizations like the American Heart Association than claims made by either food companies or government agencies.
Public trust is important to the American Heart Association and that's one of the reasons we were named one of the top Health Non-Profit Brands of the Year by Harris Poll EquiTrend for 2021.
What sets the Heart-Check certification apart from other food-labeling programs?
Allen: Heart-Check mark certification measures the nutritional components of a food or beverage. No other food-labeling program, food-ranking system or product-certification program is as comprehensive. No one else even comes close.
We make it easy for consumers to find and buy heart-healthy foods at the grocery store. From a public-health perspective, more Heart-Check products on the shelf means more of the right kind of products getting into the hands of consumers.
What are the steps for a product to become Heart-Check certified?
Allen: Although the certification criteria is comprehensive, the application process itself is very easy. After a company contacts us, there are then three basic steps.
First, the company submits a product's nutrition facts panel for a pre-screen to determine eligibility. Then it will work with our team on a formal licensing agreement to use the Heart-Check mark. Next, the company submits product and packaging information for final review and approval.
Unlike other certification programs, the Heart-Check certification does not require a formal site inspection or any related site visit fees.
For more information about the certification contact us at [email protected].