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November 9, 2010

Codes Let Shoppers Trace Food Origins

Cincinnati Enquirer

by Polly Campbell | November 9, 2010

"Where does our food come from?

"It's a question that's being asked more insistently in the marketplace. Many of the trends in food shopping have arisen as an answer to it, from the popularity of farmers markets and the quest for local foods to the interest in organically grown products.

"Kroger Co. is now giving consumers another way to find answers about food's origins. It is using a coding system called HarvestMark that lets purchasers trace where their salad mixes, peppers, mushrooms or other produce was grown, sometimes to the actual farm. It's called traceability, and Kroger says it is committed to making more products traceable.

"'A couple of things drive this. One is that with all the food safety issues in the past few years, including spinach, tomatoes, and ground meat, there's been a heightened sensitivity among a certain group of customers,' said Reggie Griffin, Kroger's vice president for produce. 'Other people just want to know where their food comes from. It dovetails with the local food movement.'

"On each item that is certified by HarvestMark, there is a 'Quality You Can Trace' code and a web address. Customers type the code into the site from a computer or smart phone, and receive information on where the item was grown and see its safety status - that is, whether there are any recalls of the product. Other information might be available, such as recipes or nutritional facts. Users might find the name of a specific farm, or just the region or country where a product was grown.

"'It's a little like bringing the farmers market to the produce aisles.' said Scott Carr, president and CEO of HarvestMark, the California company that created HarvestMark. 'It connects the consumer to the person who grew their food. People are interested in health, wellness and sustainability.' Customers can also provide feedback to producers through the website.

"HarvestMark works with more than 2,000 farms, helping them with the technology that allows them to accurately mark and track all their items. But Kroger is the first retailer to have its private-label produce carry the HarvestMark code.

"A year ago, Kroger introduced Fresh Selections salad mixes, and worked with HarvestMark to make them traceable. Now, they've added greenhouse peppers and mushrooms, and are ready to add potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and other store brand items. Organic chicken from Kroger's Private Selection Organic brand also carries the mark."