The supermarket world has changed dramatically in recent years, and that change will only grow as economic pressures increase the competitive nature of courting consumers. Early signs are pointing to shoppers starting to think twice about buying that "natural" or "organic" product. Premium products in general are in jeopardy; while it's not a grocer, Starbucks will be closing 600 U.S. venues within the next year.
Whole Foods, the expensive "natural and organic" grocery behemoth, is featuring more private label products to soften the blow on shoppers' pocketbook. Wal-Mart has announced that it will stock more locally grown produce. Chipotle, quick-serve Mexican restaurant, is following Wal-Mart's move.
Certainly not all premium products will hit the skids. There is continued interest in animal well-being, and ensuring that animals were well cared for before they end up in the meat case. Now, the World Society for the Protection of Animals reports a survey that ranked 23 U.S. grocery store chains by the availability of humanely labeled food.
There's also a Web site, www.eathumane.org, which offers the results and explains and rates humane food labels according to their verifiable impact on animal welfare.
In all, WSPA surveyed about 200 stores in 34 states across the country. The survey recorded the availability of humanely labeled products in four categories — dairy, eggs, unprocessed meat and poultry, and processed meat and poultry. It then rated stores according to the food selection's quantity and quality.
It should come as no surprise that Whole Foods scored highest in the survey, offering twice as many humanely labeled products per store as the grocer in second — Wegman's Food Market. Also no surprise to many, Wal-Mart Stores was among the lowest of the 23 retail companies.
According to the Web site, humane food status was identified as "a good start," "even better" or "the best options" based on "animal care standards and whether they require third-party verification."
The site also rates and explains what labels such as "natural," "free range," "USDA organic" and "cage free" really mean as it relates to the way the animals are raised.