Country of Origin – Why provenance matters

Diane Harvey
Updated on


As consumers are becoming increasingly choosy about the provenance of various foodstuffs, country of origin labelling can have a considerable influence on their perceptions and purchasing decisions. For the growing number of shoppers who believe it’s important to know where our food comes from to make an informed choice, where for ethnocentric or ethical reasons, country of origin is among extrinsic “quality cues” they use to evaluate a product.

For consumers who are concerned about the exploitation of people, animals and habitats, their interest in origin might lie in an attempt to reduce food miles from field to fork, or a preference for the higher welfare standards that prevail in certain countries. For others, it may be about supporting local and national economies, or a belief that domestic brands are more trustworthy and better attuned to consumers’ needs or tastes.

Country of Origin

Country of origin is also sometimes used as a proxy measure for quality and safety standards, where certain practices, pesticides or fertilisers are used (or not used) in a particular country or region. In 2017 there was backlash in the UK against importing US chicken washed in chlorine as part of a post-Brexit transatlantic trade deal, while chlorination is currently prohibited in the EU.

For epicureans, country of origin has more to do with place-based branding and protected designations of origin providing assurances around distinctive local goods. Certain products have a specific quality or characteristics that are due to the geographical environment or local tradition in which they’ve produced, such as Champagne, Roquefort, Chianti and Darjeeling.
Telling fact from fiction.

However, country of origin labelling on food products has become a somewhat controversial topic. Amid a plethora of “fake foods” scandals, in 2015 Italian extra-virgin oil flooding the world’s market shelved was neither Italian nor extra-virgin – or even olive oil in some cases.

While brands promote an image, for example UK grocery retailer Tesco, in 2017 come under fire for using controversial “fake farm” names on its own-brand produce and meat, based on comfortingly British-sounding such as Woodside Farms – in fact, some of these products were not even sourced in the UK but imported from overseas.

It’s not only supermarkets capitalising on deception. Under an EU labelling loop-hole, UK retailers – including farm shops and local butchers – are entitled to call a meat product ‘British’, even if the meat itself is sourced from abroad as long as the end product has been processed and packed in the UK. It’s not unusual to see ‘Wiltshire’ cured ham that, on closer scrutiny of the label, is made from EU pork – and it can even bear a union flag on the packaging.

Traceability as a competitive advantage

Country of origin is not a guarantee of food safety: 2013’s “horsegate” scandal illustrated that if you believe you’re buying a beef lasagne, horsemeat is horse-meat, regardless of where it comes from. Nor does country of origin provide any real certainty about the way livestock has been reared, slaughtered, processed or packaged.

However, country of origin is an important component in food traceability – the ability to track any foodstuff, feed or food-producing animal through all stages of production, processing and distribution. But with increasing globalisation, products often traverse complex global supply chains to reach consumers, making traceability a technical, logistical and financial headache.

Some countries have introduced legal reform, such as the US FDA Country of Origin Labelling (COOL), which mandates specific labelling practices for a number of “covered commodities”. But private sector traceability initiatives and voluntary quality assurance systems are also emerging, often as a result of pressure from downstream food retailers, motivated by a justifiable desire to reduce their own risk exposure.

For both distributors and manufacturers, the ability to reliably select products based on country of origin can be a distinct competitive advantage. For example, a company making authentic passata will specify Italian tomatoes in its recipe, rather than Spanish. Or a Mediterranean supermarket may have a strict requirement for apricots grown in Turkey rather than France or Algeria. A batch of reasons to capture data whether meeting regulations or requirements, an effective traceability system is at the heart of solving the country of origin conundrum.

A modern, fit-for-purpose food traceability system should enable every single pallet, case or item to tell its story wherever it goes, at any point in the supply chain – not just provide the bare minimum of ‘one step back, one step forward’ visibility.

Batch attributes a standard feature supported by Food & Beverage industry edition for SAP Business One are of vital importance for any food business that has to manage and track information such as country of origin, GM status and farm, which can then be used to provide documented evidence to customers and supply chain partners. While system users via RF mobile devices are able to capture a purchased product’s country of origin at the moment of receipt, re-corded at the item batch/lot level.

This data is available from the point of receipt, through one or more production activities, packaging, and movement through the warehouse and as part of each and every shipment to the customer.

In the digital era, traceability of origin is highly feasible using an industry focused solution, offering an opportunity for progressive food industry enterprises to position their businesses at the forefront of the market.

To understand more how Signum Solutions and SAP Business One supports country of origin contact

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