Last Saturday, while strolling through the produce aisles at Fred Meyer, I paused to examine the locally-grown fruits, which was on sale, I commented to a woman, picking out pears, that the previous week I’d purchased the peaches. While they were slightly overripe, the taste was amazing.
She smiled, commenting she’d purchased a box of the same peaches from a local produce stand.
Normally, I wouldn’t purchase peaches since they have a very short shelf life, and usually forget to eat them before they get mushy; however, Fred Meyer has started highlighting Northwest Growers. The peaches I purchased had a sign, indicating they came from a local farm, and were the last of this year’s harvest.
“Hmm,” I mused, “I better purchase a couple before I miss out.”
No doubt, knowing where the peaches originated contributed to my purchase decision. Locally grown produce, like that found in farmers’ markets, is perceived as not only be better for the environment – requiring less energy and resources to bring to market – but of higher quality, and supportive of the local economy.
Fred Meyer has further strengthened their campaign to offer local produce by creating short videos, showcasing local farmers. The videos, along with photos, and short write-ups are posted online and also highlighted in their weekly ads.
Unless one worked for Fred Meyer, there’s no way to learn the success of their efforts, but it raises an interesting question. Does indicating where something is produced, whether a manufactured item or a juicy peach significantly impact its purchase?
In 2007, Mattel recalled 19 million toys that were made in China, citing the use of lead paint and small parts, which could be harmful to children if swallowed. The recall was just one category in which Chinese-made goods were deemed defective. The list included contaminated pet food, toxic seafood, faulty tires, and tainted toothpaste.
Stringent oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and other Federal agencies are pivotal in curbing the flow of harmful and dangerous goods to the U.S. With 80% of toys sold in the US manufactured in China, it’s a mammoth task to validate the safety of millions of products, marketed by hundreds of companies throughout the country.1
Complementing the FDA’s efforts are dozens of independent consumer protection agencies who’ve become adept at broadcasting safety and quality issues with both domestic and imported goods.
The key challenge is keeping issues top-of-mind. Press coverage about the use of lead paint on toys manufactured in China, coupled with the oppressive working conditions in their factories, resulted in fewer toys being purchase from China in 2007. However, time erases memories.
The New York Times2 recently reported China’s trade surplus rose in August, the highest level since December. Consider the world’s largest exporter, China’s surplus reached $28.52 billion, a percentage of which is undoubtedly toys.
Consumers, Americans in particular, enjoy shopping and getting the best deal. And the best deal is often items made overseas from toy trucks to tee-shirts, household and kitchen wares, tools, sporting goods, medicine, furniture, human and pet food, and much, much more.
In recently years, however, there’s been a turn towards domestically and locally produced products. According to a Bank of America/Merrill Lynch Global Research3 report there was a 10% drop in U.S. imports in the first half of 2013 compared to the first half of 2010. This change is tied to an increase in US spending on domestic goods and services.
Consumers are making a conscious decision to support domestic companies. Others choose American products because of their quality, safety (especially drugs and personal care products), and innovation.
Interestingly in China, consumers, fearing contamination from locally produced infant products4, are willing to pay significantly more for imported products, including toys, diapers, and formula. With one-child policies, parents in China want only the best for their infant and are willing to pay more for products that are deemed safer.
And on a local level, I’ll have to content with partially ripened peaches, shipped from across the country, as opposed to the giant, juicy, peaches grown in eastern Washington.
1 “Mattel issues new massive China toy recall,” Associated Press, NBCNews.com, August 4, 2007
2 “Economic Reports Ease Concerns in China,” Global Business, The New York Times, Keith Bradsher, September 8, 2013.
3 “Growth in US spending on domestic goods and services vs. imports that can lead to US dollar strength,” foreXlive.com, Eamonn Sheridan, September 6, 2013.
4 “Fearing contamination, Chinese pay more for imported infant goods,” Yahoo, Reuters, Melanie Lee, July 7, 2013.