retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times this morning reports that Panera Bread has made the decision to eliminate "a variety of artificial preservatives, flavors and colors, as well as different kinds of sweeteners and meat from animals raised with antibiotics, in response to consumer demands for transparency and simplicity in the foods they eat."

In doing so, the story says, Panera joins a number of other retailing and manufacturing companies - including Chipotle, Tyson, Nestle, Hershey, Kraft, and even McDonald's - that have simplified menus and ingredient lists in response to consumer concerns.

The Times notes that such moves are harder for big companies than small, because retooling iconic products requires maintaining texture and taste on a broad scale; it is a lot easier for new and smaller brands to make such changes.

And, the response can be mixed.

"While most of the companies have been careful to say they are merely responding to consumer demands, not making a value judgment on such ingredients, they often face heavy criticism. Chipotle Mexican Grill’s announcement that it had eliminated genetically modified ingredients from the foods it makes — though, like Panera, not from the sodas it sells — evoked a torrent of outraged responses," the Times writes. The Washington Post editorial board called Chipotle's move a 'gimmick' that was 'hard to swallow,' while NPR’s popular food blog, The Salt, accused the company of having a double standard for adopting sunflower oil, which it said was often treated with a pesticide known for weed resistance."
KC's View:
A couple of things here.

At the most basic level, I think the moves to simplify menus and ingredient lists, in response to consumer demand, reflects a growing desire to know what is in our food. After all, who the hell really knows what "ethoxyquin" is? And do we really want to put it in our bodies?

And this is why I continue to believe that products with GMOs ought to be labeled as such. It is just a matter of knowing what is in our food.

Which leads me to my second point.

I find the criticism of Chipotle to be amusing, since it seems to attack the company for doing its best to eliminate certain ingredients at a time when it is extremely difficult to do so ... and the fact that there are certain compromises even within that commitment is the best possible argument for labeling.

A suggestion, if I may, to the biotech companies, manufacturers and trade associations who seem to prefer spending time and money whining about labeling legislation and lobbying public officials to make sure that GMO labeling mandates do not become law.

Here's what you should do.

Label. Explain. Educate. Illuminate. Repeat.

And then stop whining about it. In the long run, it'll be better for your business, and better for your consumers.

Because here's the deal. (I'm going to keep explaining this, if I have to.) I am not anti-GMOs. I think it is entirely consistent to accept the necessity for GMOs and still want them to be labeled and explained. But when companies and trade associations resist such a policy, spending millions to protect and promote their increasingly hardened position, it only makes people like me more suspicious and less trusting.