Nutritional food labels are an essential aspect of buying groceries because they help shoppers buy the most nutritionally-balanced processed foods and ensure that people with dietary restrictions like celiac don’t endanger their health (per Harvard University). However, while we may currently live in a world where experts are constantly working to improve the readability and quality of food labels, the U.S. didn’t always know what was going into its TV dinners (per a 2010 report in Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols) — and we may never have, if it wasn’t for Del Monte Foods.
Even if you aren’t familiar with the name Del Monte, if you’re partial to stocking your kitchen with canned green beans and peaches, odds are you’ve bought one of the brand’s products. As the company notes on its website, Del Monte is one of the globe’s most prominent canned veggie and fruit producers. The business’ success is often attributed to its eagerness to sell only the most high-quality products, which is why it was able lead the nutritional food label revolution.
Nutritional labels in the U.S. have a less than straightforward history, according to a 2010 report in Front-of-Package Nutrition Rating Systems and Symbols. In fact, labels declaring foods’ calorie counts and sodium percentages didn’t even appear in grocery stores until the 1940s. And even then, only foods the Food and Drug Administration deemed special exceptions actually featured these dietary markers. However, as the U.S. started shifting its diet to feature more processed foods, Americans voiced concerns over not knowing what was in the pre-made meals they were reheating at home.
With this in mind, after the 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, the government decided it might be beneficial for food producers to put nutritional labels on their products. However, the new proposed regulation was not a requirement. Instead, adding nutritional labels to food products was voluntary. But after this new suggested policy was announced, Del Monte Foods reports that, in 1971, it took a leap of faith. The produce brand was the first large-scale company to voluntarily add a nutritional label to its canned tomatoes and pineapples.
In 1994, 23 years after Del Monte’s history-making decision, the USDA reports that the FDA officially required that most food products feature nutritional labels. But no one in the food industry has forgotten that Del Monte was the first.