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Identity Crisis (Part 2 of 2)

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Read: Going Through an Identity Crisis Part 1

“Regionality” of Products as Identity

The manufacturers of champagne have, for a very long time, been protected from competition from other wine makers. The reason: Since part of champagne’s Product Identity states that only grapes grown in the province of Champagne in France can be used in the manufacture of the wine. Any other similar product can only use “Sparkling Wine” as their identity. This is also true of balsamic vinegar that, technically, can only be vinegar made in the Province of Modena, Italy.

One of our favorite products when talking about Product Identity is vinegar. There are, to date, no less than 70 different products in the Philippines that include the word “vinegar” in its name.

By definition, vinegar is the liquid produced by alcoholic and/or acetous fermentations of one or more of the following: malt, spirit, wine, cider, alcoholic liquors, fruits, grain, vegetables, honey, glucose, and sugar (including unrefined crystal sugar and refinery syrups) or molasses (DOH AO134, 1970).

It would be interesting to note that the United States did not see it fit to come up with its own Product Identity for vinegar. This opens up lots of possibilities for the Philippines to export its different vinegar variants in the same way it markets them locally. Not having a legal definition for vinegar is just like the US saying “let’s see what you’ve got.”

By changing the raw material and locality of the vinegar, myriad identities are created. We have sukang paombong (Bulacan Nipa Palm Sap Vinegar), sukang iloko (Northern Luzon Sugar Cane Vinegar), sukang sasa (generic Nipa Palm Sap Vinegar), and many more.

Tapping the inherent uniqueness of vinegar’s flavor, coupled with the age-old process for making it, could potentially create a very large gourmet market. This could more than double the current market in terms of reach, variety, and overall value. We’d love to see the day when standard textbooks by the Culinary Institute of America or Les Roches finally includes our native vinegars as professional kitchen must-haves.

Mislabeling

Just because regulations are in place does not mean consumers will be safe from mislabeling. Although there are times that having the wrong Product Identity on a label is probably due to some oversight, there are instances when mislabeling happens when manufacturers try to sell consumers something other than what they expect.

As food technology grows and evolves, new products are continuously being developed. Each of these products needs to be defined and in a lot of ways, redefined. For instance, the biscuit Uraro has been around for a very long time. It is a type of biscuit made from the starchy part of a tuber called Aro, which grows very easily in the eastern side of Luzon.

Although there are a lot of other similar products, the proponents of Uraro can submit an application so the term “Uraro” can be defined as “a starchy biscuit made from the tuber of the Aro plant found in Eastern Philippines.” All other similar products NOT made from the tubers of the Aro plant and not made in Eastern Philippines can then be referred to as something else. Uraro will then be elevated to a food category all its own, its uniqueness defined by the single term.

The rules and regulations for Product Identity are not just for creating restrictions. More importantly, they create opportunities for innovative products to gain more markets.

There is a dire need for industry groups—and possibly even government—to create more value for Philippine products through developing better Product Identity standards. Indeed, the best way to protect the diversity of our regional products is simply to define them.

 

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