Natural Foods Merchandiser

The story behind food: Explaining country of origin labeling to customers may boost sales

In light of food-safety and food-mile issues, naturals consumers are increasingly looking for eats that designate where they are from. While trademarks such as Vidalia onion or Georgia peach indicate where a food is grown, they don’t offer details on how or by whom. For such information, consumers may turn to European Union labels such as Protected Designation of Origin and Traditional Specialty Guaranteed, which ensure exactly how a gourmet food is made. Often these cheeses, wines, meats, sausages, beers and artisanal breads have been prepared for hundreds of years using time-honored methods and traditions, making them not only popular in specialty markets, but also well-suited for naturals customers.

Quality and commitment to standards may make these traditionally gourmet foods a great fit in your store. Share the stories behind them as a way to engage customers.

Nature et Progrès Certified Fleur de Sel.
France’s fleur de sel (flower of salt) is hand-raked by paludiers, or salt harvesters, using all-wooden tools—a process that’s been occurring for centuries, says Megan O’Keefe, international relations director for SaltWorks, a Washington-based gourmet salt retailer. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not recognize any salt as organic, Nature et Progrès (France’s organic-certifying body) grants the distinction to only the highest-quality fleur de sel, O’Keefe says. To be considered, no metal instruments can make contact with the salt (which can corrode and affect flavor) and salt ponds must be exceptionally clean.

Jamon Ibérico de Bellota.
Free-range black Ibérico pigs gorge themselves on bellota (acorns) from oak trees in the Dehesa, an ancient forest and grassland that covers western Spain. “Their presence adds value to the Dehesa and ensures that the land is not developed,” says Jonathan Harris, owner of online specialty food store “The pigs are eating a natural diet that’s rich in antioxidants. This allows for a longer curing time (from two to four years), which in turn helps transform some of the animal’s fat from saturated to monounsaturated, much like olive oil.”

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale.
Authentic aceto balsamico tradizionale certified vinegar production is limited to two Italian provinces—Reggio Emilia and Modena—where it’s been made for hundreds of years. Protected Designation of Origin dictates that only trebbiano (white) and lambrusco (red) grapes are used for their high yields and low sugar contents. After being gently crushed, the grape must is reduced over an open flame. It’s then aged in wooden casks for a minimum of 12 years before it’s tested by five random, trained tasters.

Queso Cabrales.
Small family farmers use milk from cows, goats and sheep foraging on the hillsides of the Picos de Europa mountains in Spain to produce this intensely flavorful blue cheese. The cheese is aged in steep mountain caves that dot the region, Harris says, which adds to its characteristic dark veining and sharp flavor. “These dark, damp caves contain naturally occurring penicillin that penetrates the cheese, making this one of the few blue cheeses in the world that is naturally blue, not manually created.”

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