Trader Joe's grocery stores are dropping foods from China to satisfy customers concerned about the quality of that country's products after last year's spate of problems.
By April 1, Trader Joe's will phase out single-ingredient Chinese imports such as garlic, frozen organic spinach, ginger and edamame, a green soybean, says spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki. The ban doesn't include products with ingredients from China, a leading source of vitamins and minerals used in many processed foods.
With 285 stores in 23 states, Trader Joe's is known for good prices on a wide selection of exotic items, from Australian licorice to Indian pilaf. Trader Joe's says the products it bought from China were safe. But "our customers have voiced their concerns about products from this region, and we have listened," Mochizuki said.
Federal regulators last year warned about contaminated Chinese pet food ingredients, fish containing antibiotics not allowed in human food, and toothpaste laced with a chemical used in antifreeze.
Trader Joe's stance isn't likely to be widely copied. Major grocers depend on a global market to meet consumer demands for variety. Instead of relying upon blanket bans, retailers say they must choose product sources carefully and check that safety standards are met.
"There are good suppliers and there are bad suppliers in any country," says Jeanne Colleluori, a spokeswoman for Wegmans Food Markets.
It dropped Chinese garlic last year because of consumer concerns. Sales of other Chinese products, such as frozen tilapia, a fish, have stayed strong, Colleluori says.
Trader Joe's wouldn't say what percentage of single-ingredient items came from China.
Whole Foods wfmi says 2% of its private-label items come from China. Like Wegmans, it says it relies on strong sourcing policies to ensure safety.
China is a leading exporter of garlic, apple juice and seafood, but probably supplies less than 1% of the USA's food, says the Agriculture Department.
Still, China's products show up often in food recalls, Food and Drug Administration data show. Of the 14 food recalls tracked by the FDA since Dec. 1, four of the eight identified as imports were from China. Products from India, Mexico, Turkey and the USA were also recalled, indicating that any country can face food-safety challenges.