Cover & Feature Stories
The issue of sustainability has acquired some odd flavors over the years. Most notably, sustainability has come to be seen as a set of demands that retailers dictate to the supply chain. What was once a hearkening to a new way of thinking about business and life — a vision of the world reordered around sustainability priorities — has, in fact, simply become a quest for efficiency, and with much of that efficiency expected to be gained, not at retail itself, but in the supply chain.
It is the essence of sustainability to consider all parts of the three responsibilities: environmental, social and economic. Yet, for simplicity's sake, the world will wind up getting what Wal-Mart has recently proposed: An index that is little more than an arbitrary weighting of highly limited criteria.
Done well, sustainabilty can and should be joyful, a kind of celebration of a journey of continuous improvement with priorities established and projects undertaken because doing so is so compelling to stakeholders and, especially, employees.
The business importance of the green and social responsibility movements is that one's customers - consumer or trade - will now evaluate not the product, price or service; instead they will evaluate the vendor itself in deciding from whom to purchase. They look to align themselves with marketers who represent the values with which the customer wants to affiliate itself.
It is really the end of the world. I'm talking about the produce industry and referring to a series of small changes, each one of which in and of itself might be unremarkable. A confluence of these small trends is coming together that represent the final curtain call of the post-war model in the produce trade and the birth of a brave new world in produce - a world in which the old rules fall by the wayside and make way for new structures, institutions and ways of doing business.
As the produce industry gathers in Monterey to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the PMA Foodservice Conference, the industry finds itself in a quandary: Undoubtedly dependent on foodservice for big volumes and destined to become more so, the produce trade looks ahead and sees great challenges as foodservice approaches a tipping point at which its retail base will be a secondary customer. Our world will be turned upside down.
This year's Mystery Shopper Report has a twist. We asked three industry volunteers - people on the supply side - to be our mystery shoppers. We asked them to report their perceptions of what happens to their product when it appears before the consumer. And we took three geographically diverse markets - an East Coast, a West Coast and a Midwest city.
A grower/shipper came up to me at a trade show once. He just sort of wanted to shake hands. Around my age, with a wife and children around the same age as mine, he just wanted me to know that he felt connected. And I suppose it is that connection that has come, as much as anything, to define what we do. To be so integrally a part of something, yet remain independent enough to speak objectively, is a special trick.
There is talk about building a new terminal market for New York. With thought that it may come tumbling down, I had a little conversation with myself about the possibility of a new market.
One could go on and on with various ways to create better rules and, since the future is uncertain, it is only prudent that the industry associations do their best to influence the ultimate rules. We shouldn't kid ourselves, however: Either the rules will water down the law as to make the law inconsequential, or the law will be a terrible thing. In either case, COOL should be repealed.
This year, the Mystery Shopper Report focuses on the non-verbal interaction with consumers: The signage, displays, literature available, and the labels - all the countless ways retailers communicate with a customer in the department. There is an opportunity to build business in the silent interactions between consumers and our produce every single day. The question is, will the industry seize the opportunity?
Will Internet shopping continue to grow? Will it change the way produce is bought in the trade or sold to consumers? Is there action that needs to be taken by the produce industry to capitalize on an opportunity? Or is a passive approach - letting the chips fall where they may - likely to lead to success?
Public officials' acceptance of money under the table erodes the foundation of society. It undermines the assumption of honesty and trust that is a prerequisite for both a capitalist economy and a republican government. The recent Hunts Point Market bribery scandal is a black mark on the industry's reputation. But the industry should be grateful for the scandal, as it brought to the surface a serious problem.
The argument against genetically modified foods has always been more a generalized fear of the unknown - Franken-foods - than a scientific case. In contrast, the benefits of using genetic tools to alter the food supply are tangible.
Suppliers are known for their unhappiness with retailers. Yet the 1999 PRODUCE BUSINESS survey of suppliers to identify retailers that exercise excellence in merchandising, marketing and management also found suppliers generous with praise for retailers around the country. What are the traits of retailers that most win the praise of suppliers? We've changed the names to protect the innocent - and the guilty.
There is no place in the supermarket more competitive than the produce department's fresh-cut display cooler. Although issues such as space and promotion of new items are understandable from the retail perspective, it is also clear that it poses grave challenges for the future of the produce business. For the defining journey that produce has been making since the advent of fresh-cuts is a merging into the mainstream of the food business.
When I study retail merchandising programs I find that stores are missing out on volume and profits because they don't adequately promote items that move quickly, excite customers and make money but that require special labor allocations to be done correctly. In fact it is shocking how often people miss opportunities for profit just because it means adjusting labor schedules or restocking racks.