FULL DISCLOSURE

Corporate transparency is gaining status as a differentiator among competitors, and it's especially potent where food is concerned. The realization has led Applegate Farms to start building a program that opens up its internal control systems for its line of meat products. Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to get answers at Applegate's website. As it's now envisioned, consumers would

Corporate transparency is gaining status as a differentiator among competitors, and it's especially potent where food is concerned. The realization has led Applegate Farms to start building a program that opens up its internal control systems for its line of meat products. Anyone with access to the Internet will be able to get answers at Applegate's website.

As it's now envisioned, consumers would go to the site and plug in a product name and on-pack data from the meat package. Someone who wants to know, for example, who owns the farm that produced the animal that was the source of the meat would be able to find out. Anyone interested in discovering the state where the meat came from, or how farmers treat sick animals, would be able to get the information online. Bridgewater, N.J.-based Applegate plans to roll out the service sometime in the first quarter of 2008.

Consumers today are suspicious about the origins of their food, so having an open system is logical and in step with the times, said Stephen McDonnell, Applegate's founder and chief executive officer.

“The natural foods customer has always been deeply inquisitive,” he said. “They care about what they eat.”

While McDonnell doesn't expect the site to get millions of hits from curious shoppers, he thinks having an open system is just good for business and consistent with the company's philosophy.

“Our motto is taste, truth and trust,” he said. “They can verify the taste. We tell the truth about how [animals] are raised and handled. You've got to do more than just say, ‘Trust me.’ They need to know you're committed to being open and philosophically transparent in the way you operate your company,” he said.

The initiative is likely to involve everybody working at the company, and the responsibility for entering data will be left to the farmers and processors, McDonnell said.