The Media Starts to ask “What is ‘Real Kraft Cheese’?”

Can I tell you how much I love this Chicago Business piece? I love it so much that I wish I had written it.

What is the absolutely best line in the article, the one line that should be on the lips of every food consumer?

Mr. Leli, a 29-year-old Northwestern University student who was grocery shopping at a South Side Dominick’s last week, isn’t surprised that his definition of real cheese differs from Kraft’s. “Food companies are only as honest as the labeling laws force them to be,” he says.

Amen to that. It’s not enough to have label laws…the FDA has to enforce them, something that they are not particularly fond of doing.

One quick observation…The only weakness to the article is continuing the narrative set by most news stories dealing with labeling, organic foods and industrial food production: that customers are solely seeking “healthy” foods (which is why words like ‘natural’ are often applied to products).

While many people are looking for healthy foods, it’s not the only factor regarding Kraft’s recent shortfall. People are looking for honesty in their foods as well. In my own case, I seek out honesty in food labeling more that I seek out health claims.

Words such as ‘natural’, “high-quality’, ‘delicious’ are either subjective or are not defined well enough to have any weight to their claim. As an example – here’s a paragraph from the article:

Kraft says any product with the “Real Kraft Cheese” tag contains “a cheese ingredient that meets the high standards for taste, quality and performance consumers expect when buying a Kraft-branded cheese product.”

The flaw in Kraft’s statement is that they don’t tell us what those standards are. Taste, quality and performance are all subjective criteria unless a person/company/regulatory agency specifically defines what these terms are supposed to mean. For the everyday consumers who don’t have the time nor inclination to seek out those standards, those words end up becoming an article of faith. The problem, as I’ve talked about before, is that many major industrial food companies abuse that faith.

The solution to the above is rather simple, and one that is already taking place: don’t trust a food company to look after your own needs. Set your own standards and make shopping decisions based on those standards. It’s the basic premise that has lead to the Organic food industry (which, predictably, is having labeling issues of their own), locavores, and the Michael Pollan fan club.

Technorati Tags: Food,, Food Labeling