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Traceability And “Food Miles”

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 31, 2006

The trend is for people to want to know where their food is from and who produced it. This goes far beyond country-of-origin labeling. It is a French and Italian trait, always foreign to British culture, but now catching on. It is part of the Slow Food movement and much more. I expect we will get much more consumer demand for this.

We already have traceability technology back to farm level. With today’s sophisticated computers, we should be able to tag each bunch of carrots, say, with a hang tag that tells who grew it, shows a picture of the farmer, gives its location, etc. It would be a big winner for Whole Foods and Wild Oats right now, and others might do some experiments.

The other issue is “Food Miles”, basically telling consumers how far the produce was shipped. This is a proxy for the environmental impact of the food. Although there are also food security issues that are creeping in, not so much about terrorism fears but about the vulnerability of countries to be cut off from their food supplies. In this article, The Times rated each box on food miles.

I really think it would behoove companies like Earthbound Farm to consider growing and processing operations on the east coast, probably somewhere in the triangle of Baltimore, Boston and Chicago. This is America’s greatest population center, and I think it is clear that Earthbound’s constituency wants more locally grown or, put another way, fewer Food Miles.

By diversifying its operations, it would help Earthbound position itself in what is likely to be the sweet spot on this issue. Then it could say something like: “We grow locally when seasons permit but work worldwide to keep products available 52 weeks a year.”

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