Local Coffee Beans From Brooklyn

Are they near the tree that grew in Brooklyn?

Whole Foods "Local" Coffee

If you think about where coffee beans are grown, Brooklyn does not spring to mind—unless you are a marketing exec at Whole Foods. Coffee and Brooklyn call up images of little coffee shops in Brooklyn, not big plantations near the Brooklyn Bridge.

Whole Foods marketing wants consumers to believe coffee beans are certifiably local, wherever grown, including Sumatra—which is local provided the definition is “within 10,000 miles.” For Whole Foods, any stop along the way to your coffee pot qualifies the beans as local: After harvest, the Sumatran beans shown here were shipped to Brooklyn to be roasted and repackaged for supermarkets.  The Whole Foods definition of local resembles the slippery olive oil deception: Olive oil labeled “from Italy” can be made elsewhere and not contain much (if any) olive oil grown in Italy. The qualifier is a product stop in Italy (for re-bottling or repackaging) to get the Italian connection. *

Whole Foods’ management is currently on the local label bandwagon. Today it’s local coffee beans, months ago it was cheese from France. Coming soon to a Whole Foods near you may be bananas from South America locally repacked in cello-paks to justify local stickers.  Or fish might be caught in the South Atlantic but cut up within a 100 miles before distributed to a Whole Foods and legally labeled local.

Whole Foods Corporate has not responded to my past requests for its definition of local. My labeling refinement suggestions are:

Somewhat Local

Once Local

Lately Local

Local, Shmocal, Tastes Good

* See Tom Mueller’s article, Slippery Business in The New Yorker of 13 August 2007.


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