SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Kroger executives believe their new OptUp mobile app will change the way America eats, and they might be right.
Before I share my impressions, an explanation of how the app works:
In a nutshell, OptUp gives every food product a score of 1 to 100 based on nutritional content, and every shopper gets a score of 1 to 1,000 based on the overall nutritional value of their recent purchases. To develop nutrition scores for individual items, Kroger crunched information from various giant databases.
Along with answering the question “Is this item healthy?” in a straightforward way, the app also suggests incremental improvements. When a shopper views a product on the app, a list of similar items with higher scores will also pop up.
While recommendations related to specific items are designed to meet shoppers where they are, the app does encourage shoppers to fill half their basket with items like fresh produce. OptUp can also scan the bar code of a product and show the app’s nutrition score for that item along with slightly healthier alternatives.
Shoppers can also sort products by tags including keto-friendly, dairy-free, gluten-free, heart-smart, high-protein, vegan and free from artificial sweeteners.
So now for my observations, after several days of listening to Kroger’s vision for OptUp at a recent media event.
First, OptUp clearly hits the mark on two of the biggest trends in food — knowing more about what one is eating and being more health-conscious.
Second, the decision to meet shoppers where they are is a smart one. OptUp puts simple information in the hands of consumers and lets them decide on the pace of any changes.
Third, Kroger has a much bigger vision for OptUp than simply answering shopper questions and providing a better customer experience. The company believes it can spur a big positive shift in how America eats.
While I like the app and the broader concept, I see two limiting factors — and both may be addressed before all is said and done.
One, not everyone has a Kroger store nearby and thus may not use the app.
Two, OptUp accounts only for purchases at Kroger during a time when out-of-home food spending is on the rise, so its view of the nutritional intake of an individual is incomplete.
A more complete picture could be on the horizon, however. Kroger intends to add a fitness component to the app, helping more accurately calculate the overall wellness of a person.
I asked Richard Hall, vice president of digital and wellness for 84.51, the data-focused subsidiary of Kroger, whether this app could eventually include food purchases beyond Kroger. He said it could.
The long and the short of my impression is this: I think the app is smartly designed and truly helpful, and I would use it regularly if I had any closer Kroger locations.
Ashley Nickle is editor of Produce Retailer magazine. E-mail her at email@example.com.