business news in context, analysis with attitude

AdWeek reports that “In a new survey from Deloitte & Touche released last week, Americans expressed great reservations about foods produced outside the U.S. More than half -- 56 percent -- say they think imported foods are ‘not at all’ or only ‘somewhat’ safe. In contrast, 80 percent of Americans say they believe that domestically produced foods are safe.”

The story also notes that imported foods “now account for 15 percent of the U.S. food chain, an increase of about 50 percent in the last six years” … which means that simple math suggests that people should be less confident in the foods they eat. Except that for the most part, there is no requirement to disclose where food is from on packaging.

Which is why Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is getting new attention.

AdWeek writes that “wary consumers may be getting some help -- the kind that could create a new vulnerability for marketers, who spend millions to win the public's trust and loyalty in their brands. On Sept. 30, mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) will be enforced for beef, lamb, pork, fruit, vegetables and peanuts. The provision was originally approved as part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, but special interests have lobbied to delay it since then. (Purveyors of wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, nonetheless, have had to disclose their origin since 2005.) And as the date nears, COOL is gaining momentum in Washington: Last month, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 expanded the list of covered commodities to include chicken, goat meat, ginseng, pecans and macadamia nuts.

“Of even more concern to marketers: In April, two Democratic congressmen from Michigan, Rep. John Dingell and Rep. Bart Stupak, leaders of the Energy and Commerce Committee, proposed country-of-origin information be extended to include product ingredients, which would be detailed on manufacturers' Web sites. For the first time, consumers would see the extent to which many venerable American brands outsource ingredients around the world.”

KC's View:
I know that a lot of MNB users don't agree with me, but I firmly believe in the essential concept of COOL. I’m not saying that the way COOL is structured by existing and potential legislation is the best way…but utter transparency is going to be demanded by shoppers and will be a requirement for food marketers.

It doesn’t matter whether this is done for scientific purposes or marketing reasons. It will simply be a cost of doing business.