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This App Rates The Ethics Of Your Groceries, So You Don’t Have To Agonize Over Labels

With a simple rating system based on deep research, HowGood makes it much easier to support the greenest farmers and brands.

This App Rates The Ethics Of Your Groceries, So You Don’t Have To Agonize Over Labels
[Top Photo: Flickr user Chris Waits]

Around 80 percent of consumers say that they want to buy products from companies that share values like sustainability–but when they actually get to the store, most people don’t actually choose the greener product. Part of the problem might be the fact that it’s hard to tell which companies are actually doing a good job.

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A new app called HowGood is designed to solve that challenge in grocery stores. The app rates foods using dozens of different criteria–sometimes incorporating week of research on a particular product–and then provides a simple score that makes any similar products easy to compare.


“The big problem we found is self-marketing,” says Alexander Gillet, CEO of HowGood. “One company can have amazing practices but they can only put so much on the packaging. Another company might do two things well, and advertise that very largely and ignore the other practices. So how do you start to create a system of trust where consumers can really start to understand and buy products that they feel good about?”

The company spent years developing a reliable rating system. Once they had a system that worked, they started adding it to shelves in selected stores, so a consumer can see “good” or “great” next to the price tag for products with the best environmental and social practices. (The worst products don’t get any label at all.)


The app helps anyone who wants more detail. “Typically when someone’s grocery shopping they’re in a rush,” Gillet says. “They’re going home to cook dinner, or it’s right after work and they’re tired, so it’s actually not the best time for someone to spend an enormous amount of time researching. But if you can give them access to that information once they’re at home, it’s a great way to assist.”

Since the in-store labels are time-consuming to produce–HowGood works with each store to painstaking research every single product they offer–it’s not available in many stores yet. The app is a way to reach everyone else.

The stores that do have labels have seen a huge impact. On average, products with a “great” label increase in sales by 32%, helping incentivize producers to use best practices even when that costs more.

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“We’re providing stores with a way to help people understand the real cost of food,” Gillet says. “If you want something that is made well, made healthy, and made in a way that’s good for the world, it will cost a little bit more. We’ve found that when people have that information in front of them, the same information across the store in a standardized way, they feel uplifted to make their choice.”

The app isn’t the only attempt to help consumers make better choices while they shop. GoodGuide is another service that rates the ethics of products. For the politically inclined, BuyPartisan will tell you if the brand you’re about to buy supports Republicans or Democrats.

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.

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