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The Washington Post reports on how Ahold-owned Giant Food recently created problems for itself when it stopped labeling beef as "choice" or "select," but rather shifted to what is described as "an unfamiliar blue crest that read 'USDA graded' on every package of beef."

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) got complaints about the shift, and Ahold and Giant were ordered to change back to the old labeling system (though, according to the story, the change back has not taken place yet).

Larry Meadows, a USDA official, tells the Post that the new label was "problematic," and while "the label is truthful … it’s also misleading." Virtually all meat is USDA-graded, he said, adding that "one reason a company might use a more generic label is to save money, or to blur the impact of introducing an unusually high amount of lower-quality beef."

Giant apologized for any confusion created by the new labels, and said that it did not know that the USDA-graded label was not permissible.
KC's View:
The Post story suggests that the attempted change by Giant reflects a disturbing tendency these days on the part of both manufacturers and retailers to use labels as advertising vehicles rather than only as ways to communicate ingredient and nutrition information.

That's true, but I don't think it is the biggest problem. The fact is that other than saying that the label change was part of an overall re-branding, Giant really doesn't have a good reason for being less transparent on its beef labels. Which leads one to believe that, in fact, it did want to dilute the amount of information it was giving to consumers and that it hoped this would have a positive impact on its bottom line.

Here's the deal. Reducing transparency almost never has a positive impact. It makes companies seem small, rather than large. It makes food companies look as if they are more focused on their own fiscal needs rather than the broader - and ultimately more important - needs and desires of its customers.

Someone at Giant should have raised his or her hand at some point and questioned this decision before it was implemented. It is like the old Jurassic Park lesson - just because you can do something does not mean you should do something.