In response to consumers’ desires to easily identify healthier food and beverage options, a number of major food and beverage producers have announced they are provisionally onboard with developing an industry-wide labeling program.

The Smart Choices Program is being launched under the auspices of The Keystone Center, a nonprofit Colorado-based organization that brings together public and private stakeholders to address social issues. Since the devil is in the details, the details surrounding the program’s implementation have not been settled, The Keystone Center warned in announcing the program’s rollout.

Nonetheless, companies that so far have stepped forward as “likely implementers” of the new labeling program include many of the industry’s heavy hitters: Coca-Cola (US), ConAgra Foods, General Mills, Kellogg Company (US), Kraft Foods, PepsiCo (US), Unilever (US) and Wal-Mart. In addition, Nestlé is in the process of reviewing the program to determine whether it will participate.

“Because shoppers are often strapped for time and need to make choices quickly, the Smart Choices Program will provide at-a-glance information on the front of the package, in addition to the Nutrition Facts panel on the back of packages,” The Keystone Center stated.

Symbols to appear on the front of packaging are a green “Smart Choices” box, which includes a large check mark, and a smaller box that lists calories per serving and servings per package. The goal is to help people easily identify food items that will help them stay within their caloric needs, the Center stated.

The program, which is being put together by a coalition of academicians, nutrition educators, public health organizations, food manufacturers, retailers, and government observers, is designed to be voluntary. The Center said food companies will be encouraged to adopt the system to reduce the clutter that currently exists amid health claims that appear on packaging,

Nutritional guidelines used to develop the program were taken from U.S. Dietary Guidelines, as well as other sources. To qualify for the “Smart Choices” label, products will be evaluated in 18 product categories. For each category, a product must meet the requirements for “nutrients to limit and nutrients to encourage.” Foods that exceed an allowed limit of “nutrients to limit” cannot compensate by have a having a higher quantity of “nutrients to encourage.”

Why This Matters: The food and beverage industry is under enormous pressure from regulators, legislators and advocates to develop self-regulatory solutions that help consumers combat obesity and other diet-related health risks. A voluntary labeling program is one such tool.