Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, and Dudley Square’s Tropical Foods to display “Rethink Your Drink” signage in stores and circulars

Mayor Thomas M. Menino today announced a partnership with Shaw’s & Star Market, Stop & Shop, and Dudley Square’s Tropical Foods to help educate shoppers about healthy beverage options in supermarkets across Boston. The effort is perhaps the first time that a major city and local supermarkets have come together to promote healthy beverages, such as water, seltzer, and low-fat milk. Today’s announcement builds on Mayor Menino’s leadership in raising awareness about the negative health impacts of consuming too many sugar-sweetened beverages. The participating grocers will display signage from the city’s “Rethink Your Drink” campaign in their stores and weekly circulars for at least the next six months.

“In Boston, we’re always striving to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” Mayor Menino said. “We were an example for other major cities when it came to eliminating food deserts and increasing access to fresh, healthy options. I want to thank Shaw’s, Stop & Shop, and Tropical Foods for stepping up and being great examples for how we can continue to work together to create healthier communities.”

The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) and Harvard School of Public Health’s Prevention Research Center will evaluate whether the effort changes consumer behavior and results in healthier shopping habits. The 15 participating supermarkets account for a large majority of Boston’s full-sized grocery stores, meaning that tens of thousands of shoppers will see the messaging.

“We’re always happy to work with Mayor Menino when it comes to promoting the city’s health,” said Ronn Garry Jr, President of Tropical Foods. “This campaign gives our customers easy access to information to help them live healthier lives, and it reflects the growing trend for choosing beverages with less sugar.”

The stores will implement a variety of strategies to promote healthy beverages. Starting today, the participating supermarkets will begin running Rethink Your Drink advertisements in their weekly circulars in Boston in addition to making in-store changes, such as displaying the signage in beverage aisles and reconfiguring front-end and point of purchase displays to highlight healthy options. Upcoming billboards and advertisements in community newspapers will help to reinforce the campaign’s message.

“At Shaw’s and Star Market, we want consumers to have as much information as possible so they can make the shopping decisions that are best for them,” said Shane Sampson, president, Shaw’s & Star Market. “Parents are making a lot of decisions when they’re doing their weekly shopping, and having a quick way to discern which drink choices are the best for their children can help to create a more healthy population in the long run. We are happy to work with Mayor Menino in support of this educational awareness program.”

Rethink Your Drink is based on a color-coding system that makes it easy for consumers to understand how healthy or unhealthy different beverages are. Posters featuring a traffic light symbol categorize drinks as red, yellow, or green. “Green” beverages, such as water, seltzer, and low-fat milks are the healthiest options, while “yellow” beverages like diet sodas, iced teas, 100 percent juices, and low-calorie sports drinks should be consumed only occasionally. Health officials suggest that “red” beverages, such as non-diet sodas, energy drinks, and juices with added sugar, be consumed rarely, if at all.

There is a growing base of evidence to show that color-coded systems such as Rethink Your Drink can be more effective than standard nutritional labeling or calorie counts in helping customers understand their purchases. Massachusetts General Hospital, for example, began color-coding food items in their cafeteria to reflect their nutritional value in 2010. A recent study by researchers there indicated that the system led to increased sales of “green” items and decreased sales of “red” items.

The Mayor originally launched the Rethink Your Drink campaign in 2011. Since then, schools, community centers, libraries, and many hospitals around the city have used the posters and informational brochures to educate the public. Earlier this year, BPHC and Health Care Without Harm were honored with a Model Practice Award from the National Association of County and City Health Officials for a collaboration with ten Boston hospitals to reduce sugar sweetened beverage consumption.

The collaboration with supermarkets is one part of a larger work plan for the $4.6 million REACH (Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health) grant that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded the City of Boston last year. The goal of the project is to develop strategies that reduce rates of obesity and hypertension among Black and Latino residents in Boston.