Business

Stores get down to the real nitty-gritty in food labeling

CHIBA (Kyodo) The major supermarket chain Aeon Co. will launch an unprecedented program in the fall to list detailed ingredients on prepared foods for the benefit of people with allergies.

In preparation, Aeon kitchen staff assembled at the head office in the city of Chiba in mid-May to listen to a talk given by Sumiko Takeuchi, a representative of Shokumotsu Arerugiiwo motsu Oyano Kai, a private group of parents whose children have food allergies.

“Displaying (allergenic ingredients) is important information for the protection of the lives and health,” of people with allergies, she said.

“People with allergies wish to get more detailed displays” of information than currently shown on packages of prepared dishes being sold at supermarkets and stores, she added.

Aeon’s new plan will cover about 13,000 products prepared at its processing center and supermarkets, the Jusco and Maxvalu chains.

It is the first attempt by a retailer in the food industry to provide detailed ingredient lists on its products.

Examples of information currently offered to consumers can be found on packages of stir-fried vegetables and fried chicken, which list the main ingredients separately, but lump together secondary ingredients, including eggs and flour.

Aeon will change the information on the packages to show that vegetable stir-fry contains egg whites and that fried chicken has been prepared with white flour.

According to the Food Sanitation Law, stores have been required since April 2000 to show the ingredients of products containing eggs, white flour, milk, buckwheat and peanuts.

But the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has been allowing companies to combine information in the ingredient listings.

Behind Aeon’s plan are the voices of a growing number number of people with allergies and those who want to make healthier choices at the supermarket.

Aeon has tried to accommodate them by spending two months analyzing potentially allergenic food ingredients contained in prepared foods.

The results of one study on eight pieces of sushi amounted to about 70 pages alone.

“We’ll have to be prepared to make a great effort” to put detailed information on packages, particularly since ingredients and suppliers change frequently, said Aeon executive officer Kunihiko Hisaki.

Ishii Food Co. of Funabahi, Chiba Prefecture, is another company that is providing consumers with more information.

Ishii’s Chiba factory ships its popular chicken meatballs with quality guarantee numbers printed on the packages.

It also introduced a program on its Web site three years ago so consumers can read about the chicken meat, such as where the chickens are grown and information on agrochemical residue.

Kentaro Ishii, Ishii Food’s president, said he introduced the program as an investment in “the prevention of risk.”

His company has spent about 1.5 billion yen so far on the program. When there were outbreaks of avian influenza in parts of Japan earlier this year, Ishii Food used its Web site to give additional information on its chicken producers and details on how to cook the meat properly.

As a result, it has recorded a 3 percent increase in the sale of meatballs from last year, while many restaurants and retail stores have experienced a decline.

Researcher Seiichiro Samejima of Ichiyoshi Research Institute said, “The enterprises capable of showing consumers what is genuinely safe and giving them a feeling of security will grow in the next five to six years.”

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