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September 28, 2016

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    From the Land of Milk, er … Pasta and Honey

    The quest for authenticity hits center store

    As grocers look to the future in center store, it’s important to occasionally cast an eye to the past.

    Such is the case with DeCecco, the Italian pasta company that recently celebrated the 120th anniversary of its introduction to the U.S. market at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. I was among a group of food journalists and industry experts invited to commemorate the milestone at a recent luncheon at Chicago’s Field Museum, where a spread of tasty DeCecco products preceded a private showing of the Field’s new Columbian Exposition exhibit.

    DeCecco started in Italy in the 19th century after its founder invented an innovative process to dry pasta, a task that up to then was accomplished by laying fresh pasta out in the sun, and thus was subject to the whims of nature. DeCecco bested its competitors by replicating the sun-drying process in an enclosed, temperature-controlled environment and thus expediting the process, explained Marco de Ceglie, CEO of DeCecco USA.

    But while other pasta companies have since employed even faster drying times of four hours or less, which De Ceglie asserted makes for an “uneven product,” DeCecco has adhered to its pioneering technology that dries pasta in 18 to 40 hours, depending on variety. This demonstrates, in the words of the company's chief executive, a “commitment to quality and not making any compromises.”

    Also giving DeCecco an edge: the use of bronze dies to stamp each pasta shape, which De Ceglie explained creates a better textured surface for sauce to adhere to, compared to the smooth surface of most other boxed pastas that are made with Teflon dies.

    So while DeCecco secures its future by holding true to its past, what lies ahead for the company? “I would like to have a gluten-free pasta that performs like DeCecco pasta,” De Ceglie said, noting that the company would have to come up with a process that remains faithful to its brand promise. DeCecco is as good as it is, he declares, largely because of its high gluten content, and while rushing a gluten-free version of DeCecco to market to compete with all the other gluten-free pastas on the shelf would likely be profitable, it would compromise the brand.

    Or as De Ceglie quite pridefully put it, “How many Ferrari minivans do you see?”

    Sweet Justice

    Honey producers are upping their efforts to protect consumers and customers from illegally sourced honey and maintain the reputation of their products as a high-quality, highly valued food.

    A new search function on www.TrueSourceHoney.com allows U.S. shoppers to be sure that they’re not mistakenly buying honey that has been illegally shipped from China and allows retailers and manufacturers to trace their product back to the hive. Consumers can enter the UPC code on the back of their packaged honey to see if it is True Source Certified.

    “The True Source Certified logo tells you that the honey you’re buying was ethically and legally sourced,” said True Source Honey Executive Director Gordon Marks. He further tells consumers, “If you don’t see the logo, ask your retailer or honey company to join the program. And make sure that your favorite foods with honey – from breakfast cereals to snacks – are made by a manufacturer that purchases honey from a True Source Certified honey company.”

    About one-third of honey sold in North America today is now True Source Certified. Many large grocery retailers and club stores only use certified honey for store brands, including Costco (Kirkland Signature) and Target (Market Pantry and Simply Balanced).

    Earlier this year, the group reports, two of the nation’s largest honey suppliers admitted to buying illegally imported Chinese honey, including some that was adulterated with unauthorized antibiotics.

    The U.S. imports more than 60 percent of the honey it needs from other countries. While most is from high-quality, legal sources, the group says some honey brokers and importers illegally circumvent tariffs and quality controls. By selling honey to U.S. companies that is of questionable origin, they threaten the U.S. honey industry by undercutting fair market prices and damaging honey's reputation for quality and safety.

    At a time when consumers are more curious and concerned than ever about where their food comes from, this online resource should be a useful tool for retailers to ensure their shelves are stocked with quality products and so they have the answers to their shoppers’ questions.

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