Different threat seen from ‘pink slime,’ Starbucks episodes

by Josh Sosland
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As the flour-based foods industry looks to tilt the focus of the Grain Foods Foundation more toward issues management and less toward mainstream product promotion, a review of recent food industry incidents may help frame this evolution.

Traditionally, the industry has worried principally about pseudo-scientific criticisms of the healthfulness of bread, including accusations that it isn’t nutritious, it causes chronic disease and, mostly, it makes people fat. But recent episodes in the meat and beverage industries have centered around something else — consumer interest in “clean labels.”

In the first, the ground beef industry was jolted by a sudden scandal over the inclusion of fine textured beef, a product that proved ready made for extreme caricature in the news media.

In the second, Starbucks had to backtrack when it substituted cochineal extract (from insects) to replace artificial coloring for its drinks, replacing one perception problem with another.

The fact that grain-based foods are made with wholesome ingredients does not mean the industry’s products are not immune from damaging misrepresentations. Grain-based foods tend to products have some of the longer ingredient lists in the food industry, a testament to the industry’s versatility but a characteristic increasingly viewed by the public with suspicion.

Both the G.F.F. and individual companies need to proactively look at individual's ingredients (beginning even with enriched, bleached flour) and develop plans to deal with potential crises that, judging by recent episodes, begin swiftly and with fierce intensity.

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