The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Indy Grocers Should Have a Major Beef with COOL

Indy Grocers Should Have a Major Beef with COOL

In the News

March 29, 2009

An unkind cut has just been perpetrated on independent grocers with the enactment of the Country of Origin Labeling law, as it pertains to meat. 

SupermarketGuru.com certainly endorses COOL, which requires labels that show where fruits, vegetables, most fresh meats and other foods come from. The issue we have with meat labeling is the consumer confusion that will arise from showing where animals were born, raised and slaughtered.

A single package of ground beef, for example, could say 'Made in the U.S.A., Mexico and Canada' if the cow was bred in America, raised in Mexico and slaughtered in Canada — a process that occurs more often than people realize.

This will leave three kinds of meat packages in the case — those with mixed labels, those with foreign origin, and those that say ‘Made in the U.S.A.’

SupermarketGuru.com fully expects that large supermarket chains — especially Kroger, which has carved much of its reputation on meat — will use their market clout to corner all or nearly all of the ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ beef available. This, in turn, will bring large operators an enormous marketing advantage in driving traffic to their stores, selling meats, meal solutions and more.

Imagine how difficult it will be for independent and regional stores to counter a Kroger campaign that boasts, “All of our beef is made only in the U.S.A.”

Why will it be so tough?

Two out of three consumers (64%) would switch stores in order to buy meat labeled as ‘Made only in the U.S.A.,’ according to findings of a new, exclusive SupermarketGuru.com consumer poll.

More than eight out of 10 (82%) say they prefer meat that has been completely bred, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. — and 84% are likelier to buy meat bearing this label than other meat.

About three out of four (76%) say it “matters a lot” what country their meat comes from. Nearly as many (72%) believe U.S. meat is safer than meat from other countries. 

Undoubtedly, many shoppers will stop in their tracks when faced with these new labels. Nearly eight in 10 (79%) say they “would be confused by a label saying a meat was a product of two or more countries.” Nearly seven in 10 (68%) admit they don’t understand what it means “when a label lists more than one country.”

As these findings translate into new shopper behavior, meat sales will falter in stores that sell mixed labels. More than one-third (36%) say that if confused they will not buy the meat. Another 32% say they will look for meat that is labeled ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ Another 25% will look for a sign or ask a butcher to explain, and just 3% will buy the meat anyway.

People simply trust the U.S. most when it comes to meat. If large chains are allowed to cloak themselves in the flag of domestic production at the expense of smaller operators, that would unfairly tilt competition in their favor. More work needs to be done to ensure fair access to all.