Caroline F. Ware
THE problem thus becomes one of making customary
the accurate labeling of staple products according to such standards
and grades of quality as may be suitable to the product and instructive
to the purchaser. This means that the producer's technical knowledge
must be translated for the consumer into classifications of quality
on the basis of the use to which the object is to be put.
For some products, especially certain foods,
standards and grades as a basis for quality labeling have been
worked out and are in partial use. The US Department of Agriculture
has established grades for eggs which enable the housewife to
know whether or not the eggs which she buys will be firm, clear
and well formed. If she asks consistently for graded eggs when
she goes marketing, she will soon find her grocer carrying them.
The careful purchaser can also buy graded meat and be sure that
she will not find herself serving a tough and mysteriously shaped
cut when she has paid the price of a tender one. Meat grades have
been popular with both housewife and retail butcher, although
some packers have discouraged retailers from carrying graded meat.
Pressure from consumers can make the use of graded meat widespread.
The housewife can also buy graded butter and know how much butter
fat she is actually paying for, although butter grades are somewhat
less satisfactory since different preservatives make a difference
in the quality of butter.
The very richness of the Machine Age and its multiplicity
of goods put the consumer at a great disadvantage. Quality
labeling would help him get what he thinks he is getting.
The Department of Agriculture has also worked
out quality grades for canned fruits and vegetables which are
carried by some companies on the labels. A group of fruit and
vegetable packers in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and another
in Wisconsin have attempted to make the use of government gradcs
on canned goods widespread. In Canada all fruit is packed according
to five grades. Within each grade there is ample variety in flavor,
but the firmness of the fruit, amount of liquid in the can and
so on are uniform for each grade. Actually many American canned
goods are packed according to the Department of Agriculture grades,
for under the Federal Warehousing Act loans are made on the basis
of the grade of stock. But out of some 4500 brands of canned corn
or 1000 brands of canned peaches or salmon, a mere handful have
the grade indicated on their labels. It is still possible, however,
for an interested group of housewives to secure from the Department
of Agriculture a grading sheet, to grade sample cans of different
brands themselves, and then to inform their friends as to the
result of their discoveries. So long as the same quality is maintained
under a brand name, this device may be a useful one to implement
groups of consumers.
CONSUMER pressure has been exerted to make
the use of quality grades compulsory in the master canning code
under the Agricultural Adjustment Administration. At the date
of writing, the code had not gone through with such a provision
in it, certain powerful interests having fought it because their
brands, sold at first-grade prices, are actually second-grade
to foods, much more has been done in working out standards of
quality than with respect to industrial products. In approximately
one half of the industries presenting codes under the NRA, no
standard basis for quality labeling was found to be available.
Standards for the goods which consumers buy at retail are as scarce
as the proverbial hen's teeth. The work of the US Bureau of Standards
has dealt chiefly with articles used in manufacture; steel beams,
industrial chemicals, joints for brass pipes are typical. In the
cases where it has established standards for consumer goods, these
have involved chiefly setting uniform sizes for such things as
underwear, men's shirts and children's blouses. Even in the setting
up of these standard sizes, consumer wants have not always been
well considered, for the standards have been based upon common
trade practices rather than upon what was needed by consumers.
No effort has been made to make the size standards for one article
correspond to those for another. The same child may go to school
dressed in a size six suit of underwear, a size eight dress and
a size ten coat. In attempting to remedy this situation and to
make all sizes fit the same child there are two possible procedures,
one on the basis of consumers' needs, the other on the basis of
industry's habits. Shall the standard for size six be based upon
the usual size for a child of six or on the size most commonly
labeled six in the trade? Shall an average sized six-year-old
child be regularly fitted to eight-year-old garments because most
so-called size eights on the market at the present time are actually
designed to fit a six-year-old? Shall the size of baking tins
be limited to the medium (most frequently purchased) size which
does not fill the ordinary oven but is too large for two pans
to go in at the same time? Shall silk stockings all conform to
the 30-inch-length standard set by the Bureau of Standards or
shall they take account of the needs of short and tall women?
Even for the simplest of qualities, size, the problem of establishing
standards which serve the consumer, upon which informative labels
can be based is, thus, far from an easy one. When it comes to
quality grading, the complexities are multiplied many times over.
What steps are necessary to establish such grades?
shoes as an example of something for which a basis for quality
labeling could well be developed. First, it must be established
what qualities the consumer wants children's shoes to possess.
Perhaps he wants to know how well the shoes will wear. He wants
all parts to give out at once so that he will not find himself
with frayed linings inside perfectly good uppers. He wants the
shoes to be pliable and to contain no ridges to injure the child's
feet. After these qualities have been agreed upon as desirable,
comes the technical job of determining what grade of materials
for soles, uppers, lining, stitching will wear the longest, the
next longest and the shortest time.
On the basis
of technical testing, the specifications can then be laid down
for shoes of grades A, B, C. They can be drawn in one of two ways.
Shoes A may be guaranteed to be made of the quality of leather,
stitching, lining called for in specifications drawn on the assumption
that grade A shoes used every day on city streets will last for
one year; or shoes A may be directly guaranteed to withstand machine
tests which would be the equivalent of one year's daily wear on
city streets. What is important to the consumer is that grade
A shoes are shoes guaranteed to wear at least such a length of
time. Let us say that grade B will wear at least six months and
grade C three months. Grade A, B, and C shoes can be of any style
that is desired since style cannot be graded.
For the consumer
to be adequately informed as to what he is buying, grades must
have sensible and self-explanatory names. It is high time that
he knew when he bought firstgrade products whether he was buying
top grade or not. Without a sensible name for grades, labels which
purport to inform the consumer may only mislead him. Mirrors,
for instance, have been graded by the Bureau of Standards, but
in such a way that most consumers may easily be misled, for the
highest grade of mirror is not grade I but is grade AA. Below
grade AA is grade A and actually the third grade is called grade
I. Names for grades of canned fruit are confusing to the uninitiated.
Although "fancy", "choice", and "standard" are consistently employed
to designate first, second and third grades, it is anybody's guess
as to whether he should pay more for "fancy" or "choice" grades.