SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. -- Sunkist announced it will begin phasing in country-of-origin notations on all price look-up stickers as part of the ongoing effort by the entire produce industry to develop an acceptable, voluntary labeling program that satisfies government regulators.
The growers cooperative is the latest entity to take such steps after the fresh-foods industry won a two-year reprieve from mandatory COOL rules that would have taken effect this September.
"We're doing things we believe should be done anyway," said Michael Wootten, vice president of corporate relations. "We believe in the consumer's right to know."
Wootten noted Sunkist supports the concept of COOL, but came to oppose the regulations developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year. The co-op joined the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and the Produce Marketing Association, two trade groups, in calling for voluntary measures that would satisfy the spirit of the federal mandate, but be less of a burden on grower/shippers and retailers.
"[The produce industry] has been given two years by Congress to come up with something better, and woe to us if we don't," he told SN. "Because if we don't, it defaults back to the original proposed rule, and no one is happy with that."
Sunkist has long labeled bags and boxes of product with a USA label, but will now include the information on individually stickered, first-grade pieces. "And if retailers need or want it, we have prepared signage that would deliver that same information on all our product lines," Wootten added.
Sunkist, one of the best-known names in the citrus category, historically has been a domestic producer centered in California and Arizona. Concurrent with the labeling initiative, however, Wootten said the co-op is building an international sourcing network for certain items, such as limes from Mexico. Last year, it tested shipping lemons from Chile for U.S. consumption. The international items would also be labeled with country of origin.
"These were test cases to see how the process works, to familiarize ourselves with all of the unique requirements of importation, rather than being exclusively export-oriented," he said.