Kroger, Giant join rush away from ‘pink slime’
NEW YORK | Supermarket chains Giant, Kroger Co. and Stop & Shop said Thursday they will join the growing list of store chains that will no longer sell beef that includes an additive with the unappetizing moniker “pink slime.”
Federal regulators say the ammonia-treated filler, known in the industry as “lean, finely textured beef,” meets food safety standards. But critics say the product could be unsafe and is an unappetizing example of industrialized food production.
Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores LLC on Thursday cited questions and concerns raised by hundreds of customers as the impetus for the move, which will affect the 144 Giant stores in Pennsylvania and the 39 Martin’s food stores it owns in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Company spokesman Chris Brand says customers felt pink slime “was not something that they wanted to purchase.”
Kroger, the nation’s largest traditional grocer with 2,435 supermarkets in 31 states, also said it will stop buying the beef, reversing itself after saying Wednesday that it would sell beef both with and without the additive.
Earlier Thursday, Stop & Shop said that while the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said the product is safe for consumption, it will stop selling the beef because of customer concerns. Stop & Shop is a unit of Dutch supermarkets owner Royal Ahold NV and operates 400 stores in the Northeast.
Winn-dixie and Bi-lo also said Thursday they will no longer sell beef with the additive, joining Safeway, Supervalu and Food Lion, among others, who have said they won’t sell beef with the filler.
“Our customers have expressed their concerns that the use of lean finely textured beef — while fully approved by the USDA for safety and quality — is something they do not want in their ground beef,” Kroger said in a statement.
The low-cost ingredient is made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and spun to remove most of the fat.
The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product is exposed to ammonium hydroxide gas to kill bacteria, such as E. coli and salmonella.
Though the term “pink slime” has been used pejoratively for at least several years, it wasn’t until early March that social media suddenly exploded with worry and an online petition seeking its ouster from schools lit up, quickly garnering hundreds of thousands of supporters.
Wal-mart Stores Inc., the retail giant that sells significantly more food than any other chain, said Wednesday that its Walmart and Sam’s Club stores will begin selling meat that doesn’t contain the additive. It did not say it would stop selling beef with the filler altogether.
On Thursday Wal-mart updated its statement to say that it will have new products in stores as quickly as possible, and that its meat department and customer service staffers will inform customers who inquire about the new meat offerings.
Other stores have come out in recent days saying either that they never sold beef with the filler or that they plan to stop doing so.
“Our ground beef vendors do not use an ammonium hydroxide treatment in their production processes,” Target said in a statement. “Any additional questions can be directed to vendors.”
The nation’s franchises are seeing a modest uptick in business as they seek to recover ground from the recent recession, according to a new index of the sector that debuted Thursday.
The new Franchise Business Index, compiled by the International Franchise Association (IFA), pulls employment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, personal consumption expenditures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, and small-businesses optimism and credit conditions from the National Federation of Independent Business.
The index showed a 0.3 percent uptick in February and 1.4 percent increase compared with February 2011. Based on historical data, the latest overall index reading of 107.7 would be the highest since mid-2008.
IFA President and CEO Steve Caldeira said that the main purpose of the index is to provide franchise businesses with a month-to month base of data so they can make wiser investments.
The recent recession has proved that “the state of the industry is constantly changing,” he said. “. . . Our members need real-time data in order to make sound financial decisions, and policymakers need to know how their decisions impact an important part of the economy.”
The recent index increases were mainly because of growth in the labor market and small-business optimism components, according to IFA officials. In addition, consumer demand improved after being flat at the end of last year.
“For the first time, the franchising sector had economic information based on solid government data,” said Mr. Caldeira.
According to the IFA, franchise-operated businesses account for more than 3 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product. The franchise trade group comprises some 300 lines of business accounting for nearly 18 million jobs.
Before the new index, the U.S. Census Bureau was the only organization to track franchise businesses, although it only showed data about franchise businesses across the country and not how they were doing, as the new index tries to do.
“Through the development of the economic-impact reports, the IFA began working with the Census Bureau to include franchising questions in its economic census,” said Mr. Caldeira.
Supplementing the new charter for franchises, the IFA also released an update to its 2012 economic outlook prepared by IHS Global Insight that showed little change from the previous December 2011 forecast of “weak growth.”
The updated IHS forecast projects that the number of franchise establishments in the United States will rise by 1.6 percent in 2012, down slightly from the original forecast of 1.9 percent. Employment and economic output growth forecasts are unchanged at 2.1 percent and 5 percent respectively.
Association officials said Thursday they plan quarterly updates of the franchise sector outlook, instead of just an annual survey.