The Fermentation Association (TFA), getting more people to enjoy fermented products. Join us at http://ow.ly/dfN030mfgBY .
When in doubt, throw it out? Smell check? Taste test? Eyeball it? Food date labels have become so confusing that many consumers use their own sensory check to decode food expiration dates.
The food industry noticed. “Use By” dates are becoming uniform, with nine in 10 grocery store products now printing consumer-friendly labels. By 2020, all products will carry a simplified date. The 10 date-label categories will pair down to two – “Best if Used By” and “Use By.”
From Farm to Trash
Critical to food product relabeling is curbing massive amounts of food waste. A study by Harvard Law School’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and the Natural Resources Defense Council found more than 90 percent of Americans are throwing away food before it goes bad because they misinterpret the food label.
“Expiration dates are in need of some serious myth-busting because they’re leading us to waste money and throw out perfectly good food, along with all of the resources that went into growing it,” said Dana Gunders, NRDC staff scientist. “Phrases like ‘sell by,’ ‘use by,’ and ‘best before’ are poorly regulated, misinterpreted and leading to a false confidence in food safety. It is time for a well-intended but wildly ineffective food date labeling system to get a makeover.”
Over 40 percent of the American food supply doesn’t even make it to a plate. That amounts to $165 billion worth of food that’s thrown away annually. Food waste has become the single largest contributor of solid waste in U.S. landfills. The USDA and EPA set the first national food waste reduction goal in 2015: 50 percent less food waste by 2030.
The product labeling initiative was launched in 2017 by the two largest grocery trade groups – the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute. Geoff Freeman, GMA president and CEO, called it a “proactive solution to give American families the confidence and trust they deserve in the goods they buy.”
The standardized labels are not mandatory. They are voluntary.
The USDA Food Inspection and Safety Service made the recommendation in 2016 for food manufacturers to to apply “Best if Used By” to product label. But the industrywide label standardization is not government mandated.
“Virtually every discussion included concerns regarding waste generated as a result of consumer confusion about the various date labels on foods and what they mean,” said Mike Conaway, R-Texas, the House Agriculture Committee Chairman. “I am pleased to see the grocery manufacturing and retail industries tackling this issue head on. Not every issue warrants a legislative fix, and I think this industry-led, voluntary approach to standardizing date labels is a prime example.”
Dozens of consumer packaged goods brands and retail companies voted unanimously to change expiration dates exclusively to “Use By” by January 2020. Major brands like Walmart, Campbell, Kellogg and Nestle all spearheaded the change.
The 2020 date was set to give companies time to change dates on their packaging. It also coincides with the release of the new FDA nutrition facts panel.
The old labels – which included options like “Sell By” and “Display Until” – left consumers in a guessing game. Most products don’t include an explanation of the date, like whether it’s a descriptive feature for the store or the consumer. Even grocery store workers were confused. Employees were polled and reported they, too, cannot distinguish dates on food labels.
The new labels mean:
- “Best If Used By” – quality designation. This is the date the food manufacturer thinks the product should be consumed for peak flavor.
- “Use By” – safety designation. Perishable food is no longer food after this date.
Legal Change on Horizon
Is a government mandate likely?
Currently, the only product federally regulated for expiration dates is infant formula. There is no legal definition for food expiration dates in most states. And state food labeling standards vary widely – 20 states restrict stores from selling products after the expiration date, while 30 states don’t enforce such a rule.
The Food Date Labeling Act was introduced to Congress in 2016, but no further action has happened. The act would legally require food date standardization, and require the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services to educate consumers on date label meanings.
Interesting, the proposal also questions the subjective nature of expiration dates. It states no one could “prohibit the sale, donation or use of a product after the quality date for the product has passed.”
Food Industry Lessons from the Great Recession: How Will Food Spending Change in an Economic Crisis?
Fermented food producers, it’s time to be vigilant. Economists predict America is on the cusp of a recession. Thankfully, sectors of the food industry remains strong in an economic downturn. Food is a basic necessity consumers won’t cut out of their budget.
But that’s no reason to wait out a recession without caution. That recession-proof statistic only applies to select parts of the food industry. During the Great Recession of 2007-2010, household food spending declined by 7 percent. The United States Department of Agriculture reported it was “the largest inflation-adjusted decline in food spending that accompanied a recession since 1984.” Food purchase patterns also changed, as budget-conscious consumers focused on money-saving methods.
Based on food spending data, there are key lessons fermentation leaders can use to prepare for an impending economic downturn. Here are five ways consumer food spending will change in a recession.
1. Grocery Store Spending Remains Fairly Steady
When the economy is bad, more consumers cook their own food. Spending at grocery stores dropped minimally during the Great Recession, falling only 1.3 percent from 2006 to 2009. The number of home-cooked meals increased, as did the amount of meals eaten in the home with family members.
2. Restaurant Spending Plummets
Restaurant spending rises and falls along with income levels. Dollars spent on food away from home declined 18 percent ($47 billion) during the Great Recession. This large dip in restaurant sales didn’t recover for 10 years. Restaurant sales began decreasing in 2006, and didn’t return to pre-recession levels until 2016. Restaurant Business Online said 2009 and 2010 “would prove to be the
worst two years in the modern era for the restaurant industry.”
3. Consumers Focus on Health
During an economic crisis, consumers are not turning to cheaper, unhealthier food options. USDA data shows adults had “increased concern” for their nutrition during the Great Recession. When the economy was at its worst, more adults were rating their diet as excellent, very good or good as compared with fair or poor. Food quality also improved. Total calories from fat and saturated fat declined; cholesterol content dropped, while fiber intake increased. More adults were also using the Nutrition Facts Panel on food packaging, too.
4. Discount Retailer Sales Rise
As consumers cut their budget, they trade high-end stores for discount, big-box retailers. Sales at Costco, Wal-Mart and Target all climbed 15 percent from 2007 to 2008. Economists point to the purchasing power of big-box retailers. Big-box prices help the retail giants outlast luxury stores and small shops during a recession. Natural supermarket Whole Foods, once criticized for premium prices, shed their “Whole Paycheck” reputation after the recession decreased their sales. In 2008, they began offering discounts, adding store brands and emphasizing value in their marketing.
5. Cost-Cutting Methods Reign
Consumers eliminate discretionary spending in a recession. They clip coupons, watch food sales, shop for generic brands and buy items in bulk. Interestingly, the average number of shopping trips to the grocery store increased during the latest recession, but the amount paid per transaction was 12 percent less. Private-label products (or generic or store brands) expanded faster than well-known, national brands during the recession. A record number 810 new private label food and beverage products was released during the recession, seven times more than the amount released in 2001.
(Photo: Foodies Feed)
Business advice from the No. 2 pickle brand in the nation: hire the right high-level people, use creative marketing and sell a fresh product rather than one packed with preservatives. Grillo’s Pickles owner Travis Grillo talked with Yahoo Finance about growing his business from humble beginnings as a pickle street cart in Boston to a brand now sold in Whole Foods and Target, netting $25 million in sales a year. Travis said some of the most well-known pickle brands are made with chemicals for a long shelf life. But Grillo’s is made fresh with an all-natural, fourth-generation family recipe.
Read more (Yahoo Finance) (Photo: Grillo’s Pickles)
Fermented food and drink products are the next big thing in the food industry. How does your product stand out in the marketplace? The Fermentation Association (TFA), getting more people to enjoy fermented products. Join us at fermentationassociation.org
Food venture centers are proving a valuable resource for fermented food startups. The Cornell Food Venture Center is helping aspiring food entrepreneurs in the Northeast with business development, product safety and commercialization. New York-based Perfectly Pickled Products (P3) shares their experience going from an idea to an agribusiness with the food venture center. They sell pickled eggs, sausage, beans and, of course, pickles. Many customers are drawn to the nostalgia, remembering eating these fermented favorites at their grandparents table.
Read more (Cornell Chronicle)
As fermented foods become mainstream, more products are launching and “each new brand is having to work even harder to capture consumers’ attention,” says the managing director of Carter Wong design studio. Kefir drink brand Nomadic (formerly Bio Green Dairy) is launching a new line of drinks. Their unique packaging labels were designed by the studio as part of Nomadic’s acquisition and rebrand. The aim of the packaging was to stand out on a supermarket shelf and include typography with an “authentic eastern European feel.”
Read more (Packaging Today Magazine)
How can #fermentedfoods businesses positively respond to unhappy customers in a digital era of online reviews?These #foodbusiness owners say, in the food industry, hospitality matters. Some of their key tips: always offer an angry customer incentive to buy from your brand again (like give a reimbursement or coupon), give quality feedback on online reviews less than three stars and share with your staff both the positive and negative reviews.
Read more (Ratchet + Wrench)
A professor in Culinary Food Arts & Science shares his expertise on how restaurants can safely (and legally) put fermented foods on their menu. Because health code regulations require a time limit foods can go without refrigeration, the restriction makes it near impossible for restaurants to serve their own fermented foods. Creating a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) plan approved by the health department helps. Another option is to stop fermenting in the restaurant and instead buy high-quality fermented foods from a third-party that can be refrigerated.
Read More (Restaurant Business Online)
Fermented food producers, take note: gut-friendly foods is one of the hottest trends on Instagram. The social media platform is a hotspot for foodies, and food retailers should leverage the platform to attract new customers and communicate with current customers.
Read more (Sonoma Magazine)