Gordon Food Service Distributor Show: A growing appetite for product transparency

By Patti Dollarhide, R.D., director of beef value chain alliances

The food service industry, much like the cattle industry, is built on relationships. We develop a network of people we want to do business with, trade ideas with and eventually trust.

Recently at the Gordon Food Service (GFS) show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it was evident that the company’s food service customers are looking for suppliers they can trust, including those who provide beef.

GFS took a big step to demonstrate they value their customers and suppliers by providing an attempt at product transparency with a new program called “Clear Choice.”  Each of their vendors, including beef suppliers, were asked if the items they provide meet the criteria for one or all of six attributes. If their customer wants to find products that have one or more of these attributes, they can now locate them with a quick sort of the GFS product catalog.

Attributes and descriptions:

  • Cleaner Ingredients, meaning one, several or all of the following “no’s” are met:
    • No artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, thickeners or emulsifiers, color from artificial sources, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, trans fats or GMOs
  • Specialty Agriculture:
    • Certifications are in place for USDA Organic, Food Alliance or Biodynamic
  • Animal Care:
    • Certifications for one or more: American Humane Association, Animal Welfare Approved, Cage Free, Crate Free, Free Range, Global Animal Partnership, Grass Fed, Pasture Raised, Raised without Added Hormones, Raised without Antibiotics
  • Sustainable Seafood:
    • Certifications in place for one or more: Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Best Aquaculture Practices, Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch
  • Ethically Sourced:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Fair Trade, International Farmer Direct Sourced, Rainforest Alliance
  • Environmentally Friendly:
    • Third-party certifications in place: Biodegradable Products Institute Compostable, Compostable and Biodegradable, EcoLogo, Green Seal, Made from Recycled Materials, Made from Renewable Resources, SaferChoice

Beef fits in five of those six “Clear Choice” boxes. (Sorry, we cannot make the grade for Sustainable Seafood!) No doubt, the descriptions of the GFS attributes will mature and continue to be reviewed.  Transparency is a journey we are on together. How timely it is for the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB) to be working on six similar attributes, and put compliance targets in place to help our beef industry continue to improve. See more from USRSB here: https://www.usrsb.org/. Kudos to GFS for showcasing what their vendors are already doing, as well as setting targets for the future. Learn more about GFS’s Clear Choice program here: https://www.gfs.com/en-us/products/clear-choice.

Educational sessions were held in conjunction with the show. The BCI presented “What’s the ‘Beef’ about Beef, Health and Sustainability?” for healthcare, and college and university food service leaders as well as distributor salespeople. Participants noted they learned new information about the beef industry. Normally the message they receive is to reduce beef consumption. It was refreshing to have an engaged audience who learned something new as a result of the information.

Relationships –– what a pleasure to reconnect with industry food service professionals that I had worked with since 1995 and trust. This food business gets in your blood just like raising cattle. More than 20 years later, my colleagues are still asking their distribution partners to find quality products at a reasonable price, but now we also want to feel good about our purchases and what we choose to eat.

Food service customers are asking for more transparency. Beef producers know the answers. Let’s figure out how to translate them to the people who want to enjoy eating beef.