Years ago, consumers would push their carts around the produce sections of grocery stores, looking for the best prices. Little concern was given to where the produce was grown, as shoppers were simply looking for the items on their grocery lists. Country of origin didn’t have too much impact on many purchasing decisions.
Move ahead to a few years ago, however, and knowing where produce originated was deemed something that was necessary and Country of Origin Labeling, known as COOL, was the acronym getting tossed around. In fact, COOL was to be part of the 2002 Farm Bill. The implementation of country of origin law for produce, however, was delayed because of the perceived costs involved.
Well, now things are changing. According to the U.S. Potato Board (USPB), a letter from a major retailer was sent recently to all of its perishables suppliers regarding its expectations as they relate to COOL. Despite the fact that there are several elements of COOL that are yet to be decided, many believe that when the Farm Bill is passed, there will be some country of original labeling requirements that could take place as early as this fall.
To prepare for the coming changes, the USPB is recommending that potato growers order new fresh potato packaging, bags, cartons, etc., that say “Product of USA”, or “USA,” or indicate the state where the potatoes were grown, such as “Idaho potatoes” on the primary panel. USPB also plans to work on some standardized point-of-purchase signage that retailers and shippers can use for bulk potatoes.
It might be a good idea for growers of other commodities to follow the USPB’s example. Get out ahead of the game, and be prepared to comply with labeling regulations. The good news is, this time around the burden of mandatory labeling on produce suppliers should be reduced.
Further helping the cause of COOL, consumers continue to show interest in where their produce originated, as support in many areas of the country for locally grown food is increasing. With rising concern about food safety, as well as a new “eco-sensitivity,” an increasing number of consumers also want to know how far their food has traveled to reach its final destination.
In addition, we are hearing more about growth in farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture ventures, and restaurants playing up the fact that their produce is supplied by local growers. Many grocery stores also have jumped on the bandwagon, with signage indicating where the produce was grown. From my own shopping experiences, a couple of chains in Northeast Ohio have areas set aside for the “Ohio grown” produce.
With the consuming public interested in where produce originated, turn any new labeling requirements into a marketing opportunity rather than a burden. Give all consumers the information they want. You just may increase your sales — both here and other areas of the world.