retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The headline the other morning grabbed my eye.

“STUDY: AMERICANS ARE TOO LITERAL ABOUT EXPIRATION DATES”

The story was based on a survey conducted by ShelfLifeAdvice.com, which determined that more than three quarters of Americans “said they consider food unsafe to eat once the expiration date has passed, even if it has not spoiled.” However, the website notes that the dates on most foods - whether sell-by dates, best-by dates, or use-by dates - are extremely conservative. “If the product was stored properly, it should last well beyond the date on the package,” the site says; “many folks find them more confusing than helpful.  Moreover, these food expiration dates create anxiety, causing consumers to throw out a lot of perfectly good food.”

I agree. The dates are confusing.

But that’s the industry’s fault, not consumers’.

What, exactly, should consumers do? The dates are on the products, the language is vague, and the impression certainly is left that once a date has passed, consumers should toss the stuff out and buy new stuff. (Of course, that does have its advantages for retailers, who get to sell more stuff.)

Here’s an idea.

Food packaging should mean what it says, and say what it means. Transparency and clarity ought to have the highest priority. When the industry avoids specificity, it doesn’t do shoppers any favors...and doesn’t help itself either.

Trust is best engendered when information is complete, comprehensive, and contextual. And trust ought to be the ultimate goal for marketers.

Maybe the headline ought to have read:

“AMERICAN FOOD INDUSTRY TOO VAGUE ABOUT EXPIRATION DATES”

To paraphrase Shakespeare, the fault is not in our shoppers but in ourselves.

That’s my Wednesday morning eye-opener.

- Kevin Coupe
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