Guiding Stars Brings New Clarity to Better Beverage Choices

If you’re familiar with Guiding Stars, you know that we have been helping consumers easily find nutritious choices in the grocery aisles since 2006. We’re excited to announce Guiding Stars has added an enhancement to our algorithm, the patented formula we use to assign stars to foods and beverages. Drink options that are calorie free, like water and seltzer, are now eligible to earn stars, enabling consumers to make better choices while they shop. In addition to water and seltzer, you can now find our nutrition guidance icons on the shelf tags (or while shopping online) of unsweetened teas, unsweetened coffee, coconut water, kombucha, and 100% juice at participating stores. Let’s raise a glass to that!

Why did Guiding Stars update its beverage guidance?

There are a couple of main reasons that we decided to update our guidance in the beverage category. First off, have you seen how many new beverages have been hitting the shelves and coolers at your store? Beverages comprise a booming category. In fact, beverages often comprise the largest percentage of annual new product introductions (the USDA Economic Research Service shows the figures for the last five years here).

Consumers are also seeking beverages with healthier ingredients, new flavors, and a wider variety of serving sizes, according to a 2021 beverage trends report. Manufacturers have been happy to comply, and the resulting array of products flowing into stores—everything from functional beverages to kombuchas, coffee drinks, and plant waters—means consumers have more choices available. In addition, beverage formulations are becoming more complex in terms of added ingredients and nutrients, resulting in products that are completely new and may be totally unfamiliar to consumers. You can check out our recent post about the burgeoning beverage category to dive in deeper.

We always try to encourage people to drink more water. Preventing dehydration and supporting vital body functions without the presence of any added ingredients means water tops our list of recommended beverages. For more information about water’s importance, view our webinar, Dodging Dehydration. However, simply stopping with that advice ignores the fact that people are already purchasing and drinking a wide variety of beverages. More products on the market means more choices, and we recognized that it was becoming increasingly difficult for consumers to easily discern which beverages would be best for them and their families. So, in keeping with our mission to assist consumers in making nutritious choices, updating our guidance so that beverages that are calorie free, like water and seltzer, are eligible to earn Guiding Stars seemed a natural and necessary evolution of our program. Our Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel spent a long time (two years!), making sure the changes to the program operated in a way that provided consumers with the most useful, easy-to-use nutrition guidance possible.

What kinds of beverages will be evaluated with the new beverage algorithm?

The new algorithm will evaluate things like juices, sodas, coffee-based drinks, sports drinks, waters of all kinds (including flavored and carbonated) and water kefir. Some products, such as dairy-based and nut/seed-based beverages (e.g. smoothies, kefir, almond milk) won’t be evaluated using the new algorithm; their inherent nutritional differences from other beverages means it makes more sense to evaluate them using other existing algorithms. And it’s probably no surprise that alcohol, meal replacements, supplements, and medical foods will remain exempt from evaluation by Guiding Stars. Items with fewer than 4oz (e.g. energy shots) and those not intended to be consumed in their sold as state (i.e., powdered or concentrated beverages) are exempt too.

How does Guiding Stars assign stars to beverages?

Like all of the Guiding Stars algorithms, the new beverage algorithm is designed to be quite discriminating. That way, when you choose star-earning products, you can be confident that they are a more healthful choice than products without.

The specifics on how Guiding Stars created the beverage algorithm, and what factors are considered when rating various beverages are discussed in another blog post by a member of the Scientific Advisory Panel. But, in general, the beverage algorithm, like the other Guiding Stars algorithms, is developed under the guidance of the Scientific Advisory Panel, and evaluates beverages based on current dietary recommendations, nutritional policy, and scientific consensus. The algorithm give credits and debits for various components of the products, resulting in a score. The score determines how many Guiding Stars the product then receives (1 star means Good nutrition, Two Stars means Great nutrition, and Three Stars means the Best nutrition).

When will the Guiding Stars show up in the beverage aisles?

It will take some time for this new addition to the Guiding Stars program to be fully implemented. However, can already start seeing stars wherever rated beverages are displayed in participating stores (check shelf tags and signage). Backed by science and built for speed and convenience, Guiding Stars is committed to helping you make nutritious choices, and we hope you are as excited as we are about our updated guidance for beverages. Happy hydrating!

For more, please check out our list of Frequently Asked Questions about our new Beverage algorithm