Your Favorite Food Just Flunked the Phone Test

Fooducate, Other Apps Crunch Nutrition Data for Health-Conscious

Don't look now, but that NutriGrain bar you're scarfing down for breakfast is only a C+ choice when it comes to your health.

So says Fooducate, a mobile app that's designed to be, in Founder-CEO Hemi Weingarten's words, a "bullshit detector for marketing messages" on packaged foods. And it's not alone: smartphone-toting consumers are also flocking to apps such as MyFoodWatch, AllergyEats and Don't Eat That to parse what's healthful and what's not.

The new mobile tools are designed to bring a sense of transparency to store aisles, aiding in healthy purchase decisions. And they're surprisingly well penetrated: Of U.S. smartphone owners -- now about half the mobile-phone-toting population -- 44% have a health-related app, according to a January ComScore survey. Seventeen million people accessed health information on their phone in late 2011, up 125% from the year prior.

"Consumers find out about buzz words like 'high-fructose corn syrup' and 'processed meats' and know there can be misleading marketing angles," said Joseph Gonzales, staff dietician for nutrition education and research group the Cancer Project.

With Fooducate, users scan a product barcode, and an algorithm developed with dietitions crunches the ingredient list and nutrition facts and spits out a letter grade. The general rule of thumb: the less processed the food, with fewer fillers or additives, the higher the grade. The app calls out what's affecting that grade -- for example: Kellogg's NutriGrain Mixed Berry cereal bars aren't 100% whole grain and contain artificial flavors.

But as Fooducate looks to capitalize on its growing user base and court marketers to advertise, it'll have to walk the same sacred line between editorial integrity and advertising interest that publishers have for decades. What if a paying advertiser doesn't like what you're saying about them? Read More

Posted on April 9, 2012 and filed under Best Practices.