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Credible Sources: Going Behind-the-Scenes with the Founders of Where Food Comes From

The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora.

“Grass fed.” “No added hormones.” All the claims of 21st-century food production sound full of promise. There’s just one problem: How do consumers know they are true?

Say hello to Where Food Comes From, the nation’s leading source for onsite food certification and verification – and Heinen’s trusted partner in verifying the claims on the chicken, beef and pork that proudly wear the Heinen’s label.

Founded by partners John and Leann Saunders in 1995, the company, headquartered just south of Denver, Colorado, serves as an independent, third-party auditor, educating and informing consumers by thoroughly vetting the claims of farmers, ranchers and food manufacturers. “We strive each and every day to ensure that everyone involved in the food business – from growers and farmers to retailers and shoppers – can count on Where Food Comes From, Inc., to provide authentic and transparent information about the food we eat and how, where and by whom it is produced,” is how it’s put on the company website.

John and Leann Saunders

Indeed, when it comes to examining “credence attributes” – Leann’s term for claims that consumers can’t verify with their own eyes – the Saunders and their team might just comprise the country’s ultimate food nerds. “We know way too much about food and where it comes from,” John jokes. “Our team of onsite food auditors are extremely engaged and detail-oriented, examining everything from the way the animals are treated to the way the company treats its employees.” And while one person can’t possibly know everything about all types of foods, Leann adds, “together, our company represents so much expertise in food, there’s not much we don’t know.”

Meat Case with CARE Button

The couple came to their calling naturally. Leann is the daughter of Colorado cattle ranchers and John, an Ohio native, was raised on a small family farm outside Toledo. In fact, John recalls, he grew up shopping at Heinen’s. So when their work in the meat industry brought John and Tom Heinen into professional contact in the mid-1990s, their respect was mutual and immediate.

“I call us ‘Buckeye brothers,’” John says, adding that his company’s first formal relationship with the grocer came in 2010. “It was clear that Heinen’s would be the perfect partner for us,” he says, “because their values align so perfectly with ours.”

Where Food Comes From Meat Department CARE Sign

Those shared values – building trust by helping customers truly understand the sources of their foods – have only become more important since the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated shortages, the couple says.

“Just the complexities of getting food onto their tables, shoppers really started asking questions at that point,” says Leann. “They felt an urgency to know, ‘where does my food come from and how do I know it is sustainable?’”

CARE Sign with Ground Beef

“Fortunately for their customers, Tom and Jeff Heinen have been asking those same questions for years, even before it was trendy,” John adds. “In the process, they have become industry leaders in terms of making sure producers’ claims are accurate.”

And, Leann adds, while Heinen’s commitment to transparency is longstanding, the brothers have never grown complacent. “Not only are Tom and Jeff the best at what they do, they are always looking to improve. That’s why we are so excited to partner with them.”

Jeff and Tom Heinen

That partnership translates to a big win for Heinen’s customers, John says.

“We are very concerned about Heinen’s and their reputation. We understand they are a generational company that has earned a high level of trust in their community, and we feel a huge obligation to help them ensure the claims they make about their meats can be defended.

“I’m a Buckeye at heart, and I just can’t say enough about what Tom and Jeff have accomplished,” he adds. “Their customers are so lucky to live in an area where they have the opportunity to experience a relationship with a local, family-run grocer. Being a Heinen’s customer is a very fortunate position to be in, especially during a pandemic.

Customer Shopping

“Tom and Jeff have done a remarkable job in earning their shoppers’ trust over the years – and we are all better for it.”

Discover more about Heinen’s partnership with Where Food Comes From.

Heinen's logo in black
By Heinen's Grocery Store
In 1929, Joe Heinen opened the doors of a small butcher shop on the east side of Cleveland, Ohio, aiming to establish himself as the city’s purveyor of quality meats. As customers came into Heinen’s new shop for their meat purchases, they began asking him to carry groceries as well. Joe added homemade peanut butter, pickles and donuts and by 1933, business had grown enough to include a line of produce and canned goods. Heinen’s Grocery Store was born.

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