August 4, 2013

What do Mainers hunger for? More product details

It's a no-brainer, right? Just tell us what's in our food and where our clothes are made. But some manufacturers say: Not so fast.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 3)

Today's poll: Product labeling

How much do you care about “consumer transparency” in product labeling?

A lot

Somewhat

Not very much

View Results

20130724_FoodLabels
click image to enlarge

Hannah Brilliant, left, answers questions about her produce from Limington resident Michelle Twomey at the farmers market in Monument Square last month. Brilliant, who runs an organic vegetable farm in Pittsfield, says she is fielding many more questions from consumers this year about genetically modified organisms.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

A label inside a cardigan sweater sold by a U.S. retailer informs consumers that the garment was made in Bangladesh.

Amelia Kunhardt/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

In 2010, a federal law kicked in requiring colleges not only to be more transparent about their tuition and room and board costs, but also to give reasonable estimates for fees, books and personal expenses.

Many advocacy groups have long called for transparency in the manufacturing of clothing, specifically the disclosure of where certain items are made.

The collapse of a clothing factory in Bangladesh in April that killed 800 workers led to a concerted push by advocates and consumers for retailers, many of whom contract with manufacturers in Third World countries, to ensure safer working conditions and fair wages.

The Sustainable Apparel Coalition, which includes retail giants such as Walmart, Gap and J.C. Penney, launched in 2011 to create industry standards for labor practices. The information gathered by the coalition is used internally, but the group is also considering giving customers access to some of the information.

However, even that may not give consumers the entire picture. While a sweater may be labeled as being made in the U.S., the wool that it's made from could be from another country.

Another major challenge for consumers is the continued consolidation of brands. Larger food companies have taken over smaller brands that have built a loyal following in the natural foods marketplace.

Dean Foods quietly switched from organic soybeans to conventional soybeans after it purchased Silk soy milk in 2002. On its label, "organic" became "natural." Some customers were outraged, according to past media coverage, but sales did not suffer.

Kashi and Bear Naked, which make granolas, are both now owned by Kellogg's, and have come under fire for using genetically modified ingredients.

As the push for more transparency increases, Dhar, the Yale professor who studies consumer trends, says companies likely will continue meeting the demands of their customers, just like they have always done.

"I think if your core promise of the brand is authenticity, it is important to be transparent," he said. "However, if you are a run-of-the-mill offering, there isn't an expectation that everything is relevant to the consumer." 

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@pressherald.com

Twitter: @PPHEricRussell

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors


Additional Photos

20130724_FoodLabels
click image to enlarge

Mark Heidmann, who owns Maple Springs Farm in Harrison, says: “I don’t think people have an understanding of what ‘genetically modified’ means, but they know they don’t like it.”

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

20130724_FoodLabels
click image to enlarge

Barbara Gulino of Whole Foods in Portland holds some of the hundreds of products with labels indicating they’re non-genetically modified, certified organic or locally produced.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

20130724_FoodLabels
click image to enlarge

Prominent labels indicate that these bunches of cilantro from Freedom Farm are certified organic, something many produce shoppers desire.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer



Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)


Today's poll: Product labeling

How much do you care about “consumer transparency” in product labeling?

A lot

Somewhat

Not very much

View Results