(April 24, 3:28 p.m.) Consumer reaction to the Hannaford Bros. Guiding Stars food nutritional rating system has been so favorable that the Northeastern supermarket chain plans to start a subsidiary to nationally launch the program.

A spokeswoman said the Scarborough, Maine-based chain was in the process of developing a business plan for the yet-to-be-named wholly owned subsidiary and that by the end of the year, retailers in all of the East Coast, including Florida, would be using the program.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based upscale Bloom stores planned to sign on to the program in the next couple of months, and Food Lion Stores Inc., Salisbury, N.C., is expected to join shortly after, said Julie Greene, Hannaford’s director of healthy living. The Brussels, Belgium-based Delhaize Group owns both chains along with Hannaford and Sweetbay Supermarkets, Tampa, Fla. The program is used in Hannaford’s 164 stores and in 112 Sweetbay stores.

By the end of the year, Hannaford expects the program to be used in 1,500 stores, Greene said.

Delhaize also plans early next year to roll the program out in its European stores, she said.

The program, introduced in 2006, rates foods throughout the store on a scale of zero to three stars based on their nutritiousness. The stars highlight foods possessing the more positive nutritional attributes such as vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and whole grains.

The rating system was designed to help end consumer confusion over competing nutrition claims, especially among center-store items, Greene said.

All fresh produce items, Greene said, receive at least a two-star rating.

“You can’t trip in the produce aisle and not fall on a product that has at least two stars,” she said. “One thing we have noted in the program in doing our research, shoppers have told us that the high cost is a barrier to them picking fresh produce.”

After other retail stores, foodservice providers, restaurants, and food manufacturers expressed interest in the program, Greene said Hannaford decided late last year to license the program to others. Greene said she couldn’t provide additional details on how that program may take shape.