Other than directories, this 220-page issue is the largest since I joined Prepared Foods 16 years ago. Our editorial increasingly has focused on ingredient and product development issues, leaving food quality control concerns, such as plant processing, to sister publications. However, having been responsible for QC in food companies and having an over-worked FDA inspector as a close friend, I follow news on ingredient quality and sourcing with interest. Of course, specifying safe ingredients from reliable vendors is crucial for successful product development.

Consumers want natural, great-tasting, convenient and healthy foods with zero safety risk for little cost. Providing food with all these characteristics is more difficult than achieving all three goals often displayed on posters in R&D labs: “Cheap, Fast, Good…choose two.”

Companies are pressured to keep ingredient costs down in order to offer foods at competitive prices. However, they also need to provide a profit (since staying in business is a good thing). Thus, processors pressure their ingredient suppliers, who in turn pressure their suppliers for inexpensive materials. However, quality costs. It costs to pay qualified production, quality control and purchasing staffs. It costs to throw out materials that are substandard. It costs to have processing plants in well-maintained buildings while meeting regulatory standards such as environmental compliance.

However, it also costs when quality fails. It costs brands. In an April 2007 Harris Interactive online survey of 2,563 adults, 55% said that they would at least temporarily switch to another brand, and 15% said they would permanently switch if a brand they usually purchased was involved with a recall or safety concern issue. A failure in quality costs whole categories. In the same poll, 17% of respondents that remembered a national recall of chicken in February associated the recall with the wrong brand. Of those who remembered a recent peanut butter recall, 12% attributed it to the wrong company. Failed quality costs nations. Mission Foods and Tyson Foods, among others, have reportedly declared they will no longer source ingredients from China.

I really have no advice and no admonishments for anyone. I’ve chosen inexpensive options with expensive results a few too many times myself. Even when one suspects a deal to be too good to be true, it can be hard to resist. So, I’ll end this column on a more positive note. A hearty “thank you” goes to everyone involved in this healthy issue; readers, advertisers and fellow employees.