"There's a certain level of frustration in consumers trying to figure out all the different health claims," said Bill Greer, a spokesman for the Food Marketing Institute.
Under Hannaford's Guiding Stars program, "healthy" products are given 1 star, better choices get 2 and the best are given 3. Foods with no nutritional value get no stars at all.
The rankings are based on U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, with points earned for meeting recommended levels of nutrients like fiber and taken away for having too much of the bad stuff - like saturated fats and sugar.
Of 27,000 food items in the store that were evaluated, only about a quarter of them earned at least one star. Some items - like cooking oils, coffee or water - were not evaluated.
"You don't have to have a nutrition degree to understand it," said Caren Epstein, spokeswoman for Hannaford, based in Scarborough, Maine.
The system gives shoppers a good baseline for understanding healthy eating, said Cathy Nonas, a registered nutritionist with the American Dietetic Association.
It's a nice idea. I can see the star rating system being useful for shopping with children. I am continually saying no to products when I shop with my children. Teaching them that foods with three stars are "growing foods" (a phrase that my eldest daughter picked up in preschool) and that the fewer stars the closer to junk food. I can imagine both of the kids who can talk saying, "Oh, I can't get that, Mommy. It doesn't have a star."