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To have Best-By Dates or not to have Best-By Dates, that is the question. Somewhere my High School English teacher is both proud and surprised at my corny paraphrase of Shakespeare in my opening statement. But, all kidding aside, the question is still one that deserves a thorough review and proper answer. With an increased focus on food safety, these types of questions cannot be avoided or swept under the rug.

Several years ago, we began putting best-by dates on our products. The reason was pretty simple. We want to ensure that our consumers were getting product that was safe, wholesome and tasted great. That is a noble cause isn’t it? To be honest, isn’t that what we all want?

In the shelf stable beverage industry, if someone uses a product that is out of date, the chances are it isn’t going to taste it’s best. In fact, although it probably won’t make anyone sick, it might not taste similar to the original product or it just might taste down right bad. If the consumer tastes this product without the knowledge that is out of date, they might assume that brand of product isn’t good. They may look to avoid purchasing that brand in the future. On the other hand, if they know that it is out of date, they will avoid purchasing the inferior product and avoid a “bad taste” in their mouth.

When we began this practice, many of our distributors were slow to jump on board. The truth is, having best-by dates benefits the distributor as well. If a customer purchases a product from our distributor which is out of date (unbeknownst to them), they will probably assume that this is jut not quality product. When they make that assumption they might make the decision that they don’t want to purchase a Hartley’s branded product. Subsequently, they may go to another distributor to look for that same product in another brand. Eventually, that may lead to them moving all their business to that other distributor, leaving the original distributor with not only the loss of the product in question, but all the products they purchase from that distributor.

Yes, the best-by dates may cause you to have product that you must discard. We have all been there and, I know personally, I hate throwing away product at a complete loss. But, when you compare the cost of some lost inventory to the lifetime missed opportunity cost of a lost customer, I think I will choose to throw a little product away.

The Best-By date is here to work for us all; the manufacturer, the distributor and the consumer. Make sure your products carry a best-by date to ensure your customers’ get only the freshest and best quality products they deserve.

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