PF Exclusive Survey: Countries and Quality

Claudia Dziuk O’Donnell, Chief Editor, Prepared Foods

Consumer interest in where their food comes from has steadily increased. A range of factors drives this, such as the desire to support local businesses, as well as the idea that foods sourced closer to home have less impact on the environment and are perhaps safer as well. The melamine and salmonella in peanut butter issues have recently added to this latter concern.

These trends also impact the food industry in areas ranging from regulations to the perceived reputation of various countries as sources of quality ingredients.   

For example, the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 with a provision that requires country of origin labeling (COOL) for various commodities. This includes ground and muscle cuts of beef, lamb, pork, goat and chicken; both wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (e.g., fruits and vegetables); peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng. Processed foods do not need to be labeled, and the term “processing” is interpreted broadly. For example, cooking, smoking, restructuring and curing are all considered processing.  The final COOL rule became effective March 16, 2009 (74 Fed. Reg. 2658).

COOL may bring some surprises to consumers. For example, American ginseng, Panax quinquefolium L., is native throughout certain areas of North America from where it was historically collected from the wild but is now endangered, says Peter Dziuk, botanist. Today, American ginseng is widely commercially cultivated in the U.S. but also in such countries as New Zealand, which grows and exports both American and the native Asian ginseng species, Panax ginseng. Listed under its common name, American ginseng can theoretically be sourced from any country cultivating it as a crop.

Indeed, the percent of imported food consumed in the U.S. has steadily increased from 1990-2005, according to USDA data. In 2005, 7% (based on value) or 15% (based on volume) of all food consumed in the U.S. was imported. Based on volume, 79% of all fish and shellfish was imported, 32% of fruits and nuts, 11% of sweeteners and candy, and 3% of dairy products. Based on value, 5% of “processed foods” were imported.

So too are food, beverage and dietary supplement ingredients globally sources. World trade in value-added ingredients is helped by a high ratio of value per pound vs. distribution cost.

Like products, companies and individuals, countries have a reputation or “brand image” for various attributes. In October-November 2008, Clear Seas Research conducted a Prepared Foods’ R&D Trends: Functional Foods and Beverage 2009 survey that investigated countries’ reputations for supplying quality ingredients. Two specific questions answered by 195 U.S. and Canadian R&D, marketing and sales and general management respondents were:1.    How do you perceive the overall quality of ingredients coming from the following regions? (A cross section of nine regions was listed with responses showing a statistical significance of 90% CI, +/- 6.6%.)2.    For each of these regions, do you feel the overall quality is improving, decreasing or remaining the same? (Responses had a statistical significance of 90% CI, +/- 6.7%)

The U.S./Canada region received top rank, with 85% of respondents saying the overall quality of its ingredients was “high”--that is, given a rank of 1 or 2 on a scale of 5. Only 4% gave the region a rank of 4 or 5 for a “low” quality. The European Union followed, with 67% of the respondents giving ingredients from the region a high quality score. Israel, Chili and Brazil ranked well with 48%, 33% and 31% of respondents rating overall quality as high. Respondent data indicated that China’s overall image for quality still has room for improvement.

The good news for some regions such as Brazil, Chili, India and Mexico was that 42%, 38%, 38% and 36% of the respondents, respectively, also said the quality of ingredients from these regions was increasing. Indeed, only 1% of respondents said the quality of ingredients from Brazil was declining, and only 3% of respondents said the same for Israel and Chili; even the U.S./Canada did not do quite as well. 

More details of this study will be presented in “Trends in R&D: Practical Tips to Influential Insights” to be given at Prepared Foods R&D Applications Seminar-EAST, May 5-6, Somerset, N.J. See

For more information: - Clear Seas Research contact information - Country of Origin Labeling regulation - Imported consumed food dataFrom the March 30, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition