By Neal Schuman, CEO of Arthur Schuman Inc.
In 1945, my grandfather Arthur started an Italian cheese importing business in New York City. In those days, importing required that he travel to Italy regularly to hand-select the cheese he wanted to bring back to the United States. On his return, he would sell it immediately and directly to customers.
My grandfather’s competitive advantage was that he selected fantastic cheese, and his customers counted on him for that.
The world and our company have changed a lot since then, but I know that if my grandfather were to see us in action today, he’d still be proud of the cheese we provide to customers.
Beware of adulterated ‘Parmesan’ and ‘Romano’ cheeses
However, we’re no longer competing just to sell the best cheese like he was. We’re often not even competing against cheese. Time and again we find grated “Parmesan” and “Romano” available on the market that only partially consist of real cheese. The rest most often includes cellulose, imitation cheeses, potato starch and analog cheese.
While the FDA allows some additives to enable the grated cheese to flow through machinery, that percentage is generally understood to be between 2 and 4%.
A canister of ‘Parm’ with more than 25% cellulose
In a recent random sampling of dry grated cheeses for sale at retailers in Wisconsin, we found “Parmesan” canisters that had more than 25% cellulose in them, and others that were two-thirds carbohydrates.
And according to recent tests, this problem is even more pronounced in the foodservice and ingredient channels.
As the category leader, we feel a responsibility to address this condition. It’s fraud and it’s illegal. And it’s undermining the market for real cheese. Consumers aren’t getting the great taste that they should, and true cheese makers like ASI and many others, are losing business to mislabeled and misrepresented products.
Consumers want real food, not fake Parmesan cheese adulterated with starches
We also checked with consumers, and not surprisingly, they care about this too. They won’t trust a company that sells them fake food products and they want fraudulent products to be eliminated from the market. They want real food, truthfully labeled. And I think that’s a pretty reasonable expectation.
So what are we doing about it? You’re reading it. We’re taking a public stand. I’m writing articles, speaking with industry leaders, and developing a comprehensive plan to raise awareness about this issue at the consumer and buyer levels.
And as long as adulterated cheese is being passed off as the real thing, I’ll continue to raise this issue. It’s the right thing to do for our customers and the right thing to do for our industry.
I recently sat down with two of my children who work at ASI today and asked them where they wanted to take the company. They answered that they would like to hand it over to their children someday.
So, when my grandchildren are in charge of ASI in a few decades, I want to make sure they will still have the chance to fulfill my grandfather’s dream to sell the best-quality Parmesan and Romano cheeses in the USA.
Neal Schuman is the CEO of Arthur Schuman Inc.