Thursday, November 16, 2006

Rose is a rose is a pork chop...

The ongoing strategy to creatively label products to convey some imperceptible quality in order to appeal to consumers is being worked to extremes with food.
Animal welfare is clearly a hot topic in the supermarket these days, as anyone can see just by taking a look at all the different types of labels and certifications that are meant to convince us that the animals we are eating led full, happy lives before they became dinner. The current list includes labels such as "free farmed," "certified humane," "cage free" and "free range," among others. Whole Foods is adding a new term to this group: animal compassionate. [More]
Now throw in the grass-fed/organic/free range stickers and the whole system is in danger of becoming perfectly obscure. The underlying reason: the products (meat, vegetables, etc.) are non-differentiable - you cannot take two competing products and test them and say which is which.

This will certainly be the case for the next technological "horror":
cloned livestock. Despite the hopes of specialty producers, this fact sooner or later dawns on most buyers.

Not coincidentally, it also occurs to many producers who are tempted to falsify claims, since you essentially take their word for it.

To be sure, if the commerce is also coupled with an experience like a farm visit, or a farmer's market that adds some entertainment or social value, it becomes unique and can command a premium. But if it is simply sitting in a display case, this facade is hard to buy over time.

Certainly Whole Foods is finding the market more challenging than it appeared just a few months ago.
Whole Foods has enjoyed a great run as health-conscious shoppers paid premium prices for its fancy and organic produce. But analysts have warned that a slowdown in con-sumer spending and tougher competition from mainstream grocery stores could squeeze Whole Foods profits.
We do not know how large this segment of the food market can become. But it appears that in their desperation to offer food with ethereal, even spiritual qualities they may be drifting off the market radar.

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