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Algorithmic Database Food Product Tool to Align Food Service with Guidelines


Phase I SBIR proposals will be accepted. Fast-Track proposals will not be accepted. Phase I clinical trials will not be accepted. Number of anticipated awards: 1 Budget (total costs): Phase I: up to $243,500 for up to 6 months; Phase II of up to $1,000,000 and a Phase II duration of up to 2 years PROPOSALS THAT EXCEED THE BUDGET OR PROJECT DURATION LISTED ABOVE MAY NOT BE FUNDED. Background Improving nutrition and reducing obesity are key objectives for Healthy People 2030. In addition, reducing consumption of calories from added sugars by persons aged 2 years and over is a leading 2030 health indicator for the nation. As part of the effort to encourage availability of healthier food and beverage options, numerous business industry standards and practice guidelines have been developed. For example, the US federal government has developed food service guidelines that include nutrition standards based on Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Food service guidelines, such as the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, are used widely by institutional purchasers including government facilities, worksites, hospitals, universities, and schools. Notably, these guidelines provide desired food standards but do not list specific food products meeting the guidelines. The difficulty in identifying qualifying packaged products is a major obstacle in using food service guidelines, particularly when guideline specifications may differ slightly from one jurisdiction to another. For example, New York City’s and Los Angeles County’s food service operations, which serve 25 million people combined, have reported difficulty meeting their own food service guidelines because their primary suppliers do not have the resources (i.e., time, staff) to determine which of their products meet guidelines. The problem faced by these large purchasers led to creation of an excel list tool, but the current format and its databases are not automatized and require users to hand search product lists to determine which foods meet guidelines. We are aware of static PDF versions such as on the Costco website and the Business to Business section for ordering on Amazon. However, non-automated paper type methods quickly become outdated as products and their ingredients change frequently and excel sheets need input from the product by a person. An algorithmic processing tool that creates a database of foods and beverages meeting nutrition standards within food service guidelines can increase the ease of operationalizing food service guidelines by food service operators, retail, or the charitable food system (food banks/pantries). Identifying foods that meet food service guidelines is crucial for food service operators to fulfill contractual requirement to institutional clients. Easy identification of foods that meet guidelines is also helpful for retailers who want to market specific products to personal or demographic interests. Project Goals The goal of this project is to create a mobile and desktop computer software tool that enables food service, retail, and charitable food sectors to identify food and beverage products that align with various food service guidelines. Phase I Activities and Expected Deliverables During the Phase I period, the activities can include, but are not limited to: Page 123 The deliverable is an easy-to-use web-based application that is able to import food databases, determine which foods meet guidelines by comparing the individual food records with particular food service guidelines and export the results as a list. The tool must be easy to use by food service operators, retailers, charitable food systems, manufacturers, and distributors. Expected key activities include: Phase 1 (6 months) • Create computer program with algorithms that identify foods and beverages meeting food service guidelines. The program must be able to process large food databases, incorporate nutritional and other information into algorithms and provide output of foods that meet guidelines. o Provide ability to import individual or groups of food items from food databases or other sources and determine if they meet guidelines. o Program must be able to process and translate input from primary computer database software (i.e., MS Access, MS Excel) and food management software (i.e., Computrition Hospitality Suite, Foodservice Suite, etc.). o Include algorithms representing the major public food service guidelines, including but not limited to: Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, Smart Snacks guidelines, NYC’s Food Standards, LA County’s food procurement initiative, Philadelphia’s Comprehensive Nutrition Standards, and Department of Defense’s food service guidelines. Use programing infrastructure that enables the addition of further sets of guidelines that may be of interest by the private or public sectors. o Ability to analyze products against several different sets of guidelines or standards simultaneously. o Output must create a list of products that meet guidelines that is usable in ordering and meal planning software. o Algorithm results need to include foods that fail to meet guidelines and the reasons they fail. o Ability to assess product costs to determine most affordable products meeting guidelines. • User Interface (UI) features need to include: ○ Easy to use UI for the target audience. ○ Operator-end and supplier-end interfaces. ○ Enable user to input available list of products from a company database and generate a formatted list of foods that comply with customer’s food service guidelines. ○ Secure user account. ○ Account and login system. ○ Functionally easy to use. ○ Overall aesthetic experience. ○ User training. • Conduct concept and feasibility testing to identify any issues with user experience, algorithm guidelines processing, or outputs. • Collect data and modify application based on operability, acceptability, efficiency, and sustainability. • Test on most potential users, including manufacturers/producers, distributors, wholesale clubs, and food service operators. NOTE that testing can only be done on 9 or less persons. • The proof-of-concept can be tested and refined with a selected industry partner (manufacture, distributor, etc) and a single set of guidelines, such as the Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities. • Business Plan Page 124 ○ The offeror needs to provide an assessment of the tool’s commercial potential, including methods to remain solvent by both making profit and expanding reach, while supporting a public health mission. Impact Operationalizing nutrition guidelines in institutional settings has the potential to improve dietary intake by aligning available dietary options with dietary requirements. This tool will assist institutional food operators to align their offerings more efficiently with food and nutrition guidelines by providing lists of products that meet guidelines. It will also assist retail and charitable food operations to procure and provide food items that align with guidelines and, in turn, are healthier. We envision that program recipients funded by CDC such as State Physical Activity and Nutrition (SPAN), Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH), and High Obesity Program (HOP) would be able to use such a tool via their partners to support organizational purchasing efforts. This tool will enable manufactures and distributors to provide more easily to their customers (e.g., food service operators) products that meet specific jurisdictional guidelines or standards included in food service contracts. The tool will also enable food service operators to quickly identify and select products that align with guidelines or that appeal to specific health-conscious market segments. In areas with difficulty accessing healthier foods (e.g. rural areas and inner cities), this tool can incentivize broader distribution and easier access of those foods, thereby enabling greater prominence of heathier foods and beverages in the supply chain. Furthermore, food banks might use this tool to purchase food for donation that meets dietary guidelines. Commercialization Potential Currently, public health departments and other organizations responsible for procurement of food service contracts must use scarce resources to develop one-time lists of products that meet guidelines or spend time adding nutrition facts label information into excel macros. Current tools are static PDFs or excel sheets. This creates an attributable time and cost burden and does not provide a consistent tool for the user. Placing the ability to determine foods that meet guidelines within the hands of suppliers, eliminates the burden of developing these lists. It also helps suppliers use a new type of tool to enhance their business model and advances competition in the marketplace.
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