TIGARD, Ore. — Country-of-origin labeling is likely to become more common as a result of the problems with tainted foods coming out of China, a Fred Meyer executive told the 13th annual Executive Forum sponsored by the Food Industry Leadership Center at Portland State University here.
“The Chinese thing has everyone looking at all products,” Paul Enderle, vice president and merchandiser for produce and nutrition centers at Fred Meyer, pointed out. “A lot of very vocal people want information on the point of origin for produce items, and I think we're going to see more of that everywhere.
“And if it's locally grown, people want to know that as well because they want to support those growers, so you're seeing more companies putting that information on their signage.”
Asked how Fred Meyer goes about ensuring the safety of the fresh foods it sells, Enderle said, “We have procedures we may not address with customers, but we are dealing with these things all the time at an operational level to ensure food safety.”
He said the chain had shifted some responsibilities for ensuring food safety to its suppliers, “but we've reintroduced in-store programs at most of our stores because we believe it's easier to control if we do it ourselves.”
In other remarks, Enderle said gluten-free products are a growth segment for the industry.
“We're seeing gluten-free products grow three times faster than [other products] in our nutrition centers,” he indicated. “The section has grown from 4 feet to 8 feet — and up to 12 feet at some stores — and we've developed a ‘gluten-free’ logo in other departments, including the frozen foods case.”
Speaking at the same session, Dennis Gilliam, vice president of sales and marketing for Bob's Red Mill, Milwaukie, Ore., said gluten-free gains are a growing segment of his company's business.
Besides those with celiac disease, gluten-free products have benefits for people with autism, he pointed out.
Speaking on the same panel — Connecting to the New Consumer — Angela Marchand, brand manager for the deli division of Tyson Foods, Springdale, Ark., said her company has done extensive ethnographic research with consumers to determine what they buy and why.
Of the seven consumer segments identified by that research, she said at least three are deli buyers: the “labor of love” segment, which likes to buy prepared meals and put its own spin on them to feel like they made it themselves; “fun-loving foodies,” who like prepared foods for social occasions; and pragmatists, who like the convenience of prepared foods so they can get their shopping done quickly.
One new item that's proving popular with all three segments, Marchand said, is rotisserie pork loin, “because of the healthy halo effect of rotisserie chicken. Pragmatists buy it because it's convenient, foodies like the social interaction that comes from the recipes we provide on how to serve it, and the ‘labor of love’ group likes it because it enables them to add their own touches to make it more like it was home-cooked,” she said.