AHEAD OF THE HEARD — If you have become skeptical or even cynical about the proliferation of food labels that promote the glories of organic, free-range, natural, free-from, no-added, sustainable etc., you will soon be able to add another label – “honest food.” Yes, patient consumer you may not have realized it after all these years, but apparently, you have been consuming “dishonest food” – well shame on you! Soon you will see devious promotion schemes trying to show you the error of your food shopping ways and how you will be able to save the planet, end corporate creed and bring everlasting peace to the world. Did I mention you will also be contributing to fat new profits to “honest food” scam artists?
It seems the road to honest food marketing has been evolving for some years, it just took clever marketers time to come up with an angle that brought some of the shortcomings of all the other marketing schemes together. But back to the beginning, there was a time say 40 years ago, when organic etc. food was not easily available. Food in the western world was quite abundant and commonplace, as admirable as that was it could be much more profitable if some marketing differential was created.
Clever growers and marketers soon discovered that adding a trendy label to food products could add profits to what was a fairly moribund business. Soon labels such as organic, natural, sustainable etc. started to appear in grocery stores. At first there was some principles attached to the labels with marketers implying that these new products were safer and better than regular products. A whole side industry was created that sold labels and inspection services that assured consumers they were getting the real product. But therein lay a growing problem, much of the certification business was taken over by green lobby groups and commercial interests who were willing to be flexible as to what was organic or free-from. That started consumer suspicion about the credibility of the claims made by the product and the labelling.
Soon corporate food production, processing and marketing had taken over much of the organic food business. To counter that development smaller producers and marketers created “local food” as the new better food alternative. The implication was that it is fresher and better and supported the local farming economy. Organic and natural were thrown in as a matter of course, the one thing all local food had in common was that it almost always sold for a hefty premium. No problem with such an entrepreneurial approach and more power to clever marketing to gullible consumers.
But where there is profit, the commercial market is sure to follow and soon enough the definition of local food was stretched. At first it suggested that it was food grown within 100 miles of where it was sold. That didn’t always work for commercial retail marketers so they stretched local to meaning from within the province, and when that wasn’t enough local became western Canada. That approach soon took all of the wind out of so-called “local food” and premiums decreased significantly. But the heart of niche food marketers never seems to rest, it’s not clear when, where or who but suddenly the concept of honest food marketing appeared. So far it seems to imply the following: it’s grown by small local producers, has a low carbon footprint, uses no packaging, meets all human rights standards, is humanely harvested, and of course it must be organic, free-from etc. But most important honest food cannot be grown and marketed by big greedy corporate interests. I suspect we are getting closer to being able to buy the ultimate guilt-free food products. The only thing that would come close is growing the food yourself.
I expect the development of honest food labelling will create a whole new marketing opportunity for the myriad and dubious enterprises and organizations that are already in the production and food certification business. Most sell labels attest to a product being organic, sustainable, free-from etc. so adding another food label calling it “honest” would just be a new profit-making prospect. One might presume this new label would preclude big corporate producers and processors. But with over 20 certification entities in North America selling labels, one suspects that with such competition the definition of what is corporate will be stretched. So, watch for it soon “honest food” may be coming to a grocery store nearby – marketing don’t you just love it.