People the world over are buying more processed and packaged foods, sometimes with unwanted side effects:  foods high in salt, sugar and fat.  But a supermarket chain based in the northeastern U.S. state of Maine decided to rank the food it sells based on nutritional value, and, as VOA's Carol Pearson reports, shoppers responded.

It takes some insight and understanding to read most food labels and figure out the nutritional value. So one supermarket chain in United States decided to take the guesswork out of shopping for nutrition-minded consumers.

For the past year, gold stars have guided shoppers toward healthier products at Hannaford Supermarkets.  One star indicates a good choice.  Two stars are better.  And three is best.

Spokeswoman Caren Epstein says it has made a difference in what shoppers are buying. "When given a choice between a product with stars and one without stars, customers consistently choose the one with stars."

Hannaford ranked more than 25,000 food products. After 12 months, the company found the greatest impact was in the packaged foods. Shoppers bought cereals, bread, pastas and soup with stars two and a half times more often than similar foods without stars. Sales of lean ground beef went up seven percent, while sales of fattier ground beef went down by five percent. The company saw sales of fat-free milk increase and sales of whole milk decrease.

"When I'm deciding about a product, if it has stars, I'm more likely to get it," said one customer. Another added, "It's a very convenient way to make sure I'm making the healthiest choices for me and my family."

Hannaford determined the star ratings system with the help of a scientific advisory panel. The store says it plans to expand the star ratings on other foods in the near future.  

And the trend seems to be catching on. Another grocery chain, this one in Florida, is now using the star system and others are considering the move as well.