Fruits of Thought

Straight Talk And Trump

In the New Year, I find myself thinking of my time on the platform at Hunts Point. It was one of the most important experiences in my life. Among other things, the memories of my experiences there help me to understand the Trump phenomenon, because he expresses things bluntly, in an unadorned way, exactly the way most of the guys I worked with on the loading dock and sales platform of the market expressed things.

January, 2018

Joe Procacci’s Lasting Impact

It is widely known in the produce trade that Joe Procacci, an industry icon, passed away on Nov. 17, 2017, at age 90. Joe’s accomplishments are legend. In a day when innovation cannot be emphasized more, this is a man who, almost singlehandedly, developed the grape tomato industry in the United States. Joe was a gentleman, humble and quiet. That he loved the industry and enjoyed being in it, there was no doubt. But his greatest pride and most intense joy came from his family.

December, 2017

Time Is Ripe For Innovation

Lots of things are innovative. The risk, though, is that many products are innovative because they serve smaller and more specific slices of the market. That can make someone a living, but it won’t change the world. The truly disruptive changes typically happen on a different plain, such as structural innovations outside the industry that transform the way business is done.

November, 2017

New Retail Challenges Need Special Attention

There is little question the produce industry is convulsed by the portents of change in the buying base. Two independent events — the U.S. entry of Lidl, the so-called “deep discounter” with more than 10,000 stores in Europe, and the acquisition of Whole Foods by Amazon — hold out the threat, or the promise, of a reimagined distribution system for fresh produce in the United States and Canada.

October, 2017

Fashion, Food And The Value Of Scarcity

In the produce industry, we tend to focus on metrics of intrinsic value — nutrition, health, etc. — but a Los Angeles Times story shows how many people value style and fashion. It also speaks to how manufacturers can create value by ensuring scarcity. In other words, Adidas could easily manufacture more “Pirate Black” Yeezys, but the value is created precisely because Adidas makes it exclusive and hard to get. One thinks about the implications of this for something like the Amazon/Whole Foods merger.

September, 2017

NAFTA Discourse Divides Us Again

Since President Trump expressed his intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the produce industry discussion reminds one of Yogi Berra’s famous quote, “It’s Deja vu all over again,” as the arguments have changed little since the original debate over NAFTA, which came into force in 1994.

August, 2017

Looking Upward At Howard Marguleas

For those old enough to remember, there was a time in which Howard defined produce innovation. After founding Sun World, it seemed as if no week passed without another innovative product. Before anyone was talking about proprietary produce or club varieties, he saw the necessity of taking produce beyond a commodity and, in so doing, he set the pattern for innovative marketers who have ever-since strived to emulate and build upon the vision of Howard Marguleas.

July, 2017

Inflection Point To Future Success

The produce industry is at an inflection point. If you sit in on the strategic planning sessions of company after company, as I do, you see the same dilemma. The tools, the people, the organizational structure of most organizations in the produce industry are simply inadequate to the challenges of today and, certainly, of tomorrow.

June, 2017

Immigration And Our Conflict Of Visions

To many in the industry, the issue seems clear. There is no indication that Americans or Brits are willing to do the backbreaking work done by people with fewer options. Indeed, from official industry testimony given to the government and to the general public, the industry message is clear: Americans and British citizens are not willing to take these jobs and, therefore, allowing immigrants to do harvesting is not taking anyone’s job; it is doing work that citizens are not prepared to do.

May, 2017

Deja Vu Retailing On A Different Scale

Virtually no mainstream retailers are rolling out their own divisions to combat deep discounters. They just seem prepared to watch while 10% of their business go away. In this, retailers are echoing the response to Wal-Mart’s rollout. It was clear supercenters were a big part of the future and hardly anyone rolled out competitive concepts. At least with supercenters, competing with them involved selling more non-food products – and supermarkets didn’t have that expertise. But the response to Aldi and Lidl requires only evaluating and adjusting assortment.

April, 2017

Revival Of Target Stores Requires Greater Focus On Food

The “upscale discount” format that led to consumers to say they bought items at Tar-jay is easy to execute in some areas. Target, for example, sells a collection of items designed by Michael Graves, the famous architect, which are inexpensive but they offer a little style. These types of items create a reason for many consumers to go to Target, rather than, say, Wal-Mart. So Target knows how to do this with a tea pot – but not with ham or a HoneyCrisp apple.

March, 2017

Mixed Expectations Ahead For Produce

When it comes to specific interests of the produce industry, the Trump administration’s priorities seem to hold much risk for the trade.

February, 2017

Lessons From Trump’s Controlled Agenda

Trump has proven that with not too much money, organizations can directly connect with people. That has important implications for brand-building, and that means the forces that enabled a Trump victory also could enable a transformational age in produce.

January, 2017

Big Picture Industry Perspective Needed On Trump Presidency

One of the most interesting facets of industry-led government relations programs is because they almost always focus on particular industry concerns, they often fail to deal with the bigger picture. Although we may think our specific industry concerns are key, in most cases, it is the overall success of the country that will matter more to industry executives.

December, 2016

Now That We Have A New President...

It is said that Will Rogers, the famous American humorist, used to include in his act a comment that when a President was elected, we instantly knew one thing for certain about him: An awful lot of people didn’t want him to be President. This is forever so, and maybe more so this year. Will Rogers was referring to the people who voted against the winner, and this year there seems to be an exceptionally large number of people who aren’t thrilled even with the people they voted for.

November, 2016

Right Man For The Right Time

The real test of a leader is not how he runs an organization. It is what happens to the organization after he is gone, and without a doubt, Bob Carey’s single greatest contribution to the growth and management of PMA was in hiring Bryan Silbermann and, ultimately, encouraging his appointment as his successor.

October, 2016

Why Relationships Matter

What have we learned in publishing Produce Business for more than three decades? A bunch … and especially this: When all is said and done, it is all about people.

September, 2016

Smoke-And-Mirror Retailing

The idea of price matching is a relic of days when retailers were comparable. Now the specialized retailers, such as Trader Joe’s, Aldi and Whole Foods, have different cost structures, different merchandising approaches, different clienteles. It will be impossible to match price and assortment with these radically different concepts.

August, 2016

Perspective Needed On Current State Of The World

It is easy and true to say these are not good times or a happy world we live in. Still, perspective is called for. The market panic over Brexit is part of a short-term run to safety by the capital markets. British productive capacity is unchanged by the vote. Perhaps the missing link in modern political discussion — be it about immigration or broadening the franchise or regulations for party politics — is this: Will these policies lead to better governance?

July, 2016

Local Food Safety Risk Not To Be Ignored

Having known people in the produce industry my entire life, there is simply no question that the issues around food safety are taken more seriously than ever before on the production side. Yet on the buy side (e.g. supermarkets and restaurants), it is fair to say that the commitment to food safety has not evolved as rapidly — post-Spinach Crisis — as it has on the production side.

June, 2016

What Is The Future For A Supermarket?

Our cover story focuses on sustainability, and Market 32 is a tip of the hat to the mindful executive team behind the inclusion of sustainable practices in the rebranded stores. It is also a salute to the engaged and informed consumer, to the idea that consumers will make choices based on more than quality and price. Of course, there are many other chains that claim their products and services represent something uniquely good and worth supporting. And more are coming. The competition will be tough.

May, 2016

Belgium In Our Thoughts

As we go to press, horrid terrorist attacks have hit Belgium. The Mabru wholesale market (the Hunts Point Produce Market of Brussels) was temporarily closed for security reasons, along with much of the city and country after attacks at both the Maelbeek metro station near central Brussels and Zaventem international airport. The metro explosion occurred right next door to the offices of Freshfel, the European produce trade association.

April, 2016

A 10-Year Transition — Produce Moves From Presumed-Safe To Always-Suspect

When the Great Spinach Crisis of 2006 broke out, it confused the industry and changed the way the media and regulators thought about fresh produce. Up to that time, produce was mostly seen as an unlikely source of foodborne illness. It was meat, especially used for hamburgers, that was the big issue. Produce deteriorates in such a way that makes it unappealing, and thus not likely to be eaten before it would get consumers sick. A whole variety of changes in the structure of the produce industry reduced the validity of this argument.

March, 2016

'Message' Sent By Wal-Mart's Store Closings

Retailers close stores all the time without making a big deal. When Wal-Mart made a prominent decree that it was closing 269 stores globally, of which 154 were in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the interesting question was not so much why it was closing those stores — after all, the same announcement included reassurance that Wal-Mart is growing, and it would open more than 300 stores in the next year. The interesting question was why make a big deal of it?

February, 2016

The Produce World Of 2016: Power Shifts To Producers

Want to know the state of the produce industry in 2016? True story: A California grower/shipper, one of the largest in the world, meets with an old friend who works for one of the largest produce buyers on earth. The buyer asks the seller: “So, what can I do for you in the new year?” The seller, without missing a beat, responds: “If you really want to do me a favor, then give me less business.” He wasn’t joking.

January, 2016

A Step Backwards, To Move Forward

As 2015 heads to a close, we find ourselves living in uncertain times. The attacks in Paris brought a sense of danger and unease closer. Yet, for all the challenges of our times, the world moves relentlessly to become more closely integrated.

December, 2015

Helmet Laws, The Dirty Dozen, FSMA And The Disincentives To Selling More Produce

Public policy decisions have to depend on more than idiosyncrasy. They have to depend on a good understanding of the situation — and the situation is almost always broader than the issue at hand. Very often public policies have unintended consequences.

November, 2015

Indebted To Those Who Stand Up And Speak Out

One score and 10 years ago, we launched PRODUCE BUSINESS at the PMA Convention in San Francisco. A lot can happen in 30 years. I gained a wife and two strong sons, but lost my father. I’ve seen good friends pass, one, literally, in my arms. I learned that time is the medium for the truly important achievements of life.

October, 2015

Turbulent Times For Retail

All across the country we see evidence that food retailing is fundamentally changing. Consolidation abounds. There is interest by almost every chain in opening smaller scale urban formats. The discounters are rolling out fast across the country. Online is booming. In contrast, conventional grocery struggles.

September, 2015

Will California's Drought Cause Industry's Positive Reputation To Dry Up?

The severe drought in California — and the subsequent public attention to agricultural water use — threatens the produce industry and its reputation for being one of the good guys in society. An effective response will require more than good PR; it will require the industry to reposition itself from being perceived as water gluttons to wise stewards of our water supplies. In doing so, the industry must take a harder look at the potential of GMOs.

August, 2015

As Retail Morphs Into Foodservice, Procurement Agents Will Have New Hurdles

There are few things for which we have more than 100 years of good data. One of the rarities is the government’s records on consumer household expenditures on food — where measurements have been taken for more than a century. Yet the trends are dramatic and clear: For as long as records can show, the movement is toward increasing percentage of expenditures for food to be consumed outside the home (such as dining in restaurants), and a declining percentage of money spent on food to be consumed at home (such as food purchased in the local grocery store).

July, 2015

The Value of Flavor

The existence of such a wide variety in flavor of products marketed as essentially the same poses large challenges for the industry. It does seem that robust flavor is a reasonable expectation by consumers, and if we are going to disappoint, we probably should make that clear.

June, 2015

McDonald's Identity Crisis

Strategically, McDonald's faces the same problem that mainstream supermarket chains do. Not all that long ago, the local supermarket served everyone in the community. Now, markets are fracturing. So the competitive threat is not typically another supermarket trying to do the same thing a little better. If McDonald's wants to succeed, it doesn't need to reorganize which country is in which division. It needs to answer the question: "What does McDonald's care about?"

May, 2015

Will Supermarkets Take Pre-Emptive Strike Against Deep Discounters?

Aldi is the fastest growing food retailer in America. With a market share of around 0.8 percent of U.S. food sales and, perhaps, 1.0 percent of produce sales, it is not a major market factor, but deep discounters have reached double-digit market shares in many markets. The so called “big four” British multiples scramble to stop a market share increase that has brought the deep discount sector to 10% of the market in the UK, according to the latest Nielsen figures. What approach should American retailers take to blunt the growth of deep discounters? It is not an easy task -- the deep discount business model is powerful.

April, 2015

Solving The Right Problems

One of the most difficult challenges in life and in business is choosing to work on the right problem. In the produce industry, we are constantly confronting issues about industry efforts to boost consumption. Is offering salad bars a path that leads to increased long-term consumption of fresh produce? The honest answer is we don't know, but there are some indications that salad bars -- which, by definition, leave assortment to the customer -- may not be the optimal tool to increase produce consumption.

March, 2015

The Complexity Of Waste

Surely, we should do everything possible to reduce food waste. To many, it seems a moral imperative, but in reality, the situation is more complex. Food waste is, in fact, a sign that an efficient supply chain for food has triumphed. Nobody writes about the waste of polished diamonds or gold coins, because these are so expensive that they are carefully guarded through every stage of their production and distribution. In contrast, food in general and fresh produce in particular is now so inexpensive that it often does not pay to eliminate waste.

February, 2015

Whole Foods' Reaction To Organic-Margin Squeeze Threatens Efforts To Boost Consumption

For many years, the organic industry provided a disproportionate share of the industry’s profitability, extending from growers to retailers. There is, however, indication now that the organic market is at a tipping point, and although the category may continue to grow, it will not be disproportionately profitable in the future. This, of course, is a very big problem for a retailer such as Whole Foods.

January, 2015

Wake Up Call On Labor

With the President extending protection from deportation to about 5 million illegal aliens, one wonders if the produce industry will face up to its real labor problem. The sad truth is the fact that legalizing the status of illegal immigrants — even if it holds up in court — is not going to do very much for the produce industry. Indeed, it may actually hurt the produce industry, as some of the workers will feel free to compete for more desirable jobs.

December, 2014

The Independent Opportunity

National chains have lots of advantages in expertise, capital, procurement, etc., but for every action there is a reaction, and the homogenization of national chains will create an umbrella in which local retailing can thrive. This can be a farmers market, a CSA, an independent supermarket chain, a single-unit operator and a panoply of ethnic specialists. Indeed this issue’s cover story, which deals with the renaissance of independents, profiles this trend. But we would actually go a step further.

November, 2014

The Cost Of Change

Retailers are a fiercely competitive group, monitoring competitors’ prices and promotions on a daily basis, carefully measuring market share statistics and demanding vendors offer prices that enable the retailer to win in the marketplace. Yet, retail supermarket companies are often very narrow in their perception of the market.

October, 2014

Supermarkets Beware: AmazonFresh Attempts National Distribution Platform

The Postal Service has its eyes on what role it can play in grocery delivery. Of course, many food items are shipped via Amazon and similar services, which use the Postal Service as well as UPS, FedEx and other carriers to deliver everything from specialty hot sauce to rolls of paper towels. Now, however, the Post Office is doing a two-month trial in San Francisco in which it is delivering for AmazonFresh. AmazonFresh is supplying perishables in insulated totes, and the Postal Service delivers between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. when its trucks generally sit unused.

September, 2014

Will Wal-Mart's Price First Brand Lead It To Lean First On Produce Shippers?

Last year, Wal-Mart began a test of a new private label “brand” called Price First. The brand was identified by Wal-Mart executives as an “opening price-point” brand, meaning its appeal was to those customers wholly or primarily focused on price.

August, 2014

Five New Priorities For Increased Foodservice Sales

A half decade ago, the CEOs of the Produce Marketing Association, the National Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association stood together on the stage of PMA’s annual Foodservice Conference in Monterey, CA, and announced an audacious goal: to double produce usage in foodservice within 10 years. Now at the five-year mark of the 10-year plan, one might expect a serious report on progress made. Instead the three associations seem to be anxious to forget the whole thing.

July, 2014

Global Platform Transforms Procurement Paradigm

One would despair, but the new procurement paradigm is Schumpeterian “creative destruction” at work. It will destroy the retail base as we knew it; it will destroy the supply base as we knew it. But through the haze, a new global vision is emerging, with different ways of sourcing and selling products, and also ways consumers will find beneficial. The challenge itself is to be the one who sees through the haze.

June, 2014

A Flight To London

As we have prepared for the grand unveiling of the inaugural edition of The London Produce Show and Conference, I have often felt like Henry Kissinger doing a shuttle of my own — in this case, back and forth across the pond. I love launching these events. Each event has its own pulse and personality. In the end, we are usually successful for the same reason: Because we care. Because wherever I stand, I carry the legacy of a multigenerational produce family.

May, 2014

Despite Positive Produce Affiliation With Chefs, Collaboration Is Still Needed

Cracking the “Chef Code” is essential if the produce industry is to achieve its consumption goals and if the nation is to achieve its public health goals. We now know that simple admonition to consumers to eat more produce won’t boost consumption, so we have to focus on creating produce-rich meals that are so delicious people choose to eat more produce by accident.

April, 2014

Consolidation Need Not Lead To Margin Compression

The news that the team controlling Albertsons would acquire Safeway is very meaningful for those vendors that sell to either one of the companies. If they lose the Safeway or Albertsons business, it is hard to see where they can pick up volume on such scale. For vendors, there are many directions to go.

March, 2014

A Value Beyond Price

When this columnist was in his salad days and green in judgment, he went to work for his father. After a baptism on the loading dock, we were given the job of buying for export, and we quickly learned that buying simply for price was not a wise decision.

February, 2014

Taking A Cue From Aristotle When Marketing Produce & Health

The produce industry has long sought a marketing message that would resonate with consumers — thus increasing consumption and sales. To many in the trade, indeed to most of the top executives, it often seemed that this message should play on the healthfulness of fresh produce and how a diet rich in fresh produce is likely to lead to healthier living. More broadly, produce executives and industry leaders yearn to tie produce to fitness and health. Yet many such efforts, over many years, have not succeeded in moving the needle on produce consumption.

January, 2014

DC Lacks What Bob Carey Had: Humility

The produce industry lost a man of exemplary character and an extraordinary leader this month when Bob Carey, longtime leader of the Produce Marketing Association, passed away. Back in those days the association didn’t pay much. Bob joined the Reserves because he didn’t have a pension plan, so leaders in his day had to have non-pecuniary motivations. He once told this columnist to never worry about getting credit for one’s work; if you do the right things, for the right reasons, those who need to know, will come to know. It was as wise advice as I have ever received, and I earnestly try to follow it.

December, 2013

Time Is Ripe For Deep Discounters

Tesco’s ill-starred venture into American retailing is now history. Of course, while the British were getting all the press, it was the Germans who were showing all the growth. Aldi now has over 1,200 stores in America, and Trader Joe’s has nearly 400 stores.

November, 2013

A Call To Arms

The produce industry is blessed with a cornucopia of national and regional organizations, many of which play an important role in advocating the trade’s positions before government. Key issues these trade groups currently wrestle with include things such as the Farm Bill, immigration reform, food safety regulation and much more. The recent arrest of Eric and Ryan Jensen of Jensen Farms challenges every trade association in our industry.

October, 2013

Lessons From Hong Kong

I would strongly recommend Americans go to Asia Fruit Logistica, partly because it is a well organized event with quality programming and attendees — but mostly because not too many Americans go. It is, of course, important to attend the mainstay American events, but we see that as the ante necessary to remain competitive. To gain a competitive edge, one has to go beyond what one’s peers are doing by visiting new places and making new contacts.

September, 2013

Sysco's San Francisco Food Safety Failure Reflects On Industry's Broader Problem With KPIs

When Sysco of San Francisco was caught using 14 unrefrigerated outdoor public storage units as jerry-rigged warehouses for all kinds of products – including raw meat, milk and produce – it gave the industry a black eye. Everyone well knows this is unacceptable. In fact, anyone who knows Sysco, its food safety people, its produce people, its corporate culture… knows that it was a rogue operation going on in the City by the Bay. Yet there is more to it than that. And more in a way that implicates the whole industry.

August, 2013

Retailers Poised For Foodservice Growth

The produce trade needs to get more, not less, engaged in foodservice. Part of the issue is, as Ed McLaughlin — director of the Food Industry Management Program at Cornell University — has pointed out, we have 100 years of good data showing a long arc of a continuous increase in the percentage of food dollars spent in foodservice rather than retail. Nothing new there. What is much newer is that retailers themselves are increasingly becoming foodservice venues.

July, 2013

Training At Wal-Mart & Beyond

One can view Wal-Mart’s announcement that it will provide enhanced training in produce to 70,000 associates as a kind of surrender to the primacy of people in the produce industry. Even Wal-Mart, a company built upon excellence in logistics, is acknowledging that in the produce industry, where product quality is so variable and so dependent on care and handling, it is impossible to optimize a produce operation without knowledgeable people. Of course, this is not just Wal-Mart’s problem, nor the problem of retailers.

June, 2013

Pivot Point For United

As the United Fresh Produce Association gathers in San Diego, CA, it can be certain of a strong event. Part of it is that San Diego is a very attractive city for conventions, and part of it is that numerous issues that are very important to core United members, such as immigration, are hot right now. Mostly though, the convention will be a success because United itself is stronger than it has been in decades.

May, 2013

Enhancing The Front Line: Raising The Bar For Produce Managers

There is a general recognition that produce managers and their clerks are our front-line troops, and the industry as a whole benefits from having better people and better trained people on the front line. After all, these are the salespeople for the industry, and if they are warm and excited and knowledgeable, there is little question that sales will increase.

April, 2013

Guest-Worker Program At Heart Of Immigration Reform

Might this be the year that immigration reform actually happens? If not, it is quite possible that the demands of the produce industry and other industries that need unskilled workers for a guest-worker program could be the blocking point for any immigration deal.

March, 2013

A 'Public Choice' Perspective On Food Safety

Indeed there is unanimity in both the supply chain and the public policy community that food safety is not only desirable but imperative. On the public policy front, we are now confronted by rules proposed to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act. Yet, oddly, even by the standards of the advocates of this law, the impact on food safety will be negligible. So why do we wind up with public policies so unlikely to be optimal?

February, 2013

Tesco, Fresh & Easy And The Price Of Being Alone

No joy should ever be taken in the failure of a business, for each business represents jobs, and every business is a customer to others. Each business, whether a small operation or a division of a giant corporation, represents some person’s dream, and for a dream to be extinguished is always a sad thing. Yet the astonishing reaction to Tesco’s failure in America — the announcement that Fresh & Easy was not long for this world — is how many people are glad to see them go.

January, 2013

Start Now On Increasing Consumption

The one thing we know for sure is that whatever will increase fresh produce consumption, it is not what we, as an industry, are doing now. All our efforts have failed. There is always the ‘amen corner’ for any policy, and they will tell us, with little evidence, that we are on the right track and that all that is required is for us to do what we are doing now, but more so.

December, 2012

Pick Your Retail Turf

There are many strategies stores have adopted to fight off new competition. Most competitive strategies are reactive, and thus likely to fail. Another common mistake is to rely on pricing to achieve a positioning that is more economically achieved in another fashion. A proper competitive strategy has to begin with a self-assessment. What is your chain good at? What does your chain want to be? Once that is understood, one can build on those strengths to get where one wants to go.

November, 2012

Florida-Mexico Tomato Battle Distracts From A Focus On Consumers

The dispute between Florida and Mexican tomato growers, along with their importers, has turned into something of a brawl. Unfortunately, the way the issue has been framed is confusing the situation, not clarifying the issues. Beyond politics, the shame for the industry is that the whole controversy distracts from the economic imperative of the produce industry: To produce products that consumers wish to buy at prices they can afford, yet are still profitable for the producers.

October, 2012

Could Texas Association's Realignment Suggest A New Direction For PMA/United Talks?

The saga over the recent attempt to combine the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association turned out in a way unsatisfactory to almost everyone. Perhaps, though, as an industry we have been so focused on a merger, we may not have considered alternative approaches, perhaps more fundamental approaches, to dealing with industry issues. The whole focus of the negotiations has been to consolidate when, perhaps, a more effective approach would be to try and deconstruct. The thought comes to mind as we consider the old Texas Produce Association.

September, 2012

Is United/PMA Merger Dead?

Arranging a merger between two wholly owned subsidiaries of the same “produce corporation” is not very hard. Yet every effort at combining the associations collapses. The recent talks fell apart, after 18 months of bridging every gap, nominally over the issue of who ought to be the CEO. Are the efforts to merge dead? Is there a chance they will be revived quickly?

August, 2012

Two Cheers For Bacon

Want to get children to eat more vegetables? Try adding cheese. We’ve had an extraordinary boom in consumption of Brussels sprouts over the past five years, and we can credit one very important ingredient: Bacon. All over the country, top chefs are adding pancetta, braising in bacon, topping with prosciutto bits, not to mention olive oil, Pecorino Romano, crumbled blue cheese and Parmesan. The most immediate and flexible way to bring flavor to produce is through cooking techniques.

July, 2012

Best Mentorships Happen Organically

Corporate decisions to commit to mentoring can be helpful; the transmission of skills from generation to generation is important. Yet as anyone who has ever had a real mentor knows, it is a relationship that can’t be willed into existence.

June, 2012

Kroger Sustains Strong Perishable Donation Program

The recipient of this year’s Produce Business Retail Sustainability Award is The Kroger Company, and, of course, in such a large and varied entity, there are many things it does that fall under the rubric of sustainability. Yet the selection was made, above all else, for Kroger’s Perishable Donation Partnership (PDP) program.

May, 2012

Confusion In The Marketplace

All over America, indeed all over the Western world, there are conventional supermarket chains that, for decades, have carefully cultivated reputations as quality venues in their markets. They may have focused on meat, sometimes produce, great customer service or other attributes that staked the claim that this was the place where you wanted to buy your food. For some time now, the positioning of these chains has been under attack.

April, 2012

Obstacles To Wholesaling

The world is filled with business books that detail how companies succeed. Yet most are of limited utility, because the very same companies that succeed typically go on to fail. Although in some cases, it is because success changes the company radically and the executives decide to abandon the methods that led to success. Such had been the case for hundreds of independent wholesalers.

March, 2012

Independent Retailers Step In Where Chains Falter

In urban areas all across the country, independent retailers are booming, often filling up spaces vacated by conventional chain stores. These new independents are typically ethnic stores, very often Latino or Asian. The success of such retailers deserves careful study by anyone who cares about things such as food deserts or, for that matter, about the policies necessary to revive the economy.

February, 2012

Weighing In On Immigration

There is little doubt that immigration is the great issue that will determine the shape of the produce industry's future. It is widely acknowledged that production depends heavily on illegal immigrants, and the recent "Silent Raids" on Chipotle have shown how important illegal immigrants are to the customer base. Yet immigration reform is one of the most difficult issues to resolve.

January, 2012

Big Decisions In The Year Ahead

Decision-making is at the core of leadership. How do decisions get made and what types of conditions and what kinds of leadership lead to optimal decision-making?

December, 2011

Cantaloupe Crisis Reveals FDA's Lack Of Leadership

As we take pen to paper, there are 28 people dead and one pregnant woman who miscarried through illnesses associated with the listeriosis outbreak that has been linked to Rocky Ford brand cantaloupes from Jensen Farms in Colorado. It is worth reading that line again because the enormity of this outbreak can hardly be overstated. If the expectation is going to be that it is a regulatory apparatus that will ensure safer food, then the FDA will have to become more like the FAA.

November, 2011

iProduce - Lessons The Industry Can Learn From Steve Jobs

The death of Steve Jobs requires no memorial here. Along with Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, Jobs altered the everyday lives of countless millions of people, and his life and death have been chronicled everywhere. Nobody else can be Steve Jobs or live his life. We can, however, attempt to draw lessons from his life that can help in the businesses we have and the lives we lead. A lifetime of observation in the produce trade leads to these thoughts.

October, 2011

The New Kings Of Sustainability

Retailers have pulled back or abandoned sustainability programs altogether, except in those areas where they can see an immediate profit boost. In foodservice, though, sustainability especially the local aspect of it is a cause clbre among chefs and young adults, especially college students. How this situation came about is intriguing and not instantly obvious, even to players deeply involved.

September, 2011

A Financial Precipice

The produce industry is an excellent example of the way our political system is producing a kind of dysfunction. The produce industry is a fairly conservative lot and generally votes Republican. Yet our government relations efforts are heavily focused on getting the government to spend more money on any number of programs. We wind up in this wacky situation, where people who would vote in a minute to end a government program instead wind up lobbying for their share.

August, 2011

Mindshift Needed In Production Agriculture

A great challenge for the produce industry is that our cultures current locally grown focus is pushing for a deconstruction of the existing food system. Oddly enough, the local movement will probably lead to more produce consumption, but whether it leads to a larger produce industry depends on the extent to which the industry at large is able to surf this wave of consumer and activist interest.

July, 2011

Wal-Mart's Low Price Struggle

With Wal-Mart, it is the value perception of consumers that makes it the go-to spot for a good deal. To lose this consumer perception is to lose something more vital than a physical asset... and it is to lose something that, once lost, is incredibly difficult to regain.

June, 2011

Pesticide Usage Under Attack Again

With the release of a study proclaiming that there is a link between maternal exposure to pesticides and lower intelligence, the focus of activist interest in the produce industry is transitioning away from the pathogen concerns of the past few years to a new focus on pesticides. This particular study is very weak and really tells nothing about the issue of eating fresh produce.

May, 2011

Industry Concerns Should Trump Association Concerns In Merger Talk

The question of whether the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association ought to merge has vexed the industry for decades. This year, the industry is confronting this decision once again, behind closed doors.

April, 2011

Food Prices At Core Of Middle East Unrest

In a place like Egypt, where much of the population spends more than 50 percent of disposable income on food, price increases lead to destitution quickly. Although it is rarely the destitute that protest, it is, instead, those who thought they had opportunities and see them slipping away.

March, 2011

Wal-Mart's Health Move May Lead To Pressure On Produce Producers

What are we to make of First Lady Michelle Obamas decision to join with Wal-Mart executives to announce a new Wal-Mart program that, it is claimed, will offer more healthful foods, less expensive produce, clearer nutritional labeling and more stores in food deserts. This endorsement of the commercial activities of a private company made for an unusual announcement, which President Obama said has the potential to transform the marketplace. But does it?

February, 2011

Is Private Label A Mistake For Fresh Produce?

In produce, private label combines being of little value to the retailer with being particularly deadening to the future growth of the category. Many a supermarket CEO has demanded that his produce VP do a private label program in fresh produce so that the retailer can realize the additional margin. In virtually every case, those CEOs have been disappointed in the results and they dont know the half of it.

January, 2011

Prosperity, Not Regulation, The Key To Food Safety

As this column is written, it is unclear whether the food safety bill that has been heralded as the first major modernization of the nations food safety laws in over 70 years will actually become law. In endorsing the bill, the industry bought into a vision of food safety that holds that the route to safety is governmental regulation. If one is looking for the key to food safety, note this: As societies become more affluent, food becomes safer.

December, 2010

Return To New York

I write this as I prepare to leave for New York City. The visit to New York would normally be unremarkable; it is, after all, a trek I have made many times before. Yet I travel now to launch the inaugural edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference. Bringing it to fruition is, by far, the hardest thing I've ever done. Yet each step has been an inspiration.

November, 2010

An Election Of Significance

It is quite likely that Barack Obama will go down in history as one of the most consequential Presidents the nation has ever had. Depending on how this current election falls, however, it might be that the reason he turns out to be so significant makes it an honor on which he would have rather passed.

October, 2010

The End Of Homogenization

Whether it was the organic growth of Wal-Mart rolling Supercenters across the country, or chains such as Safeway and Kroger doing a roll-up on regional chains, consolidation has been a defining characteristic of the age. More intriguing, though, is what this means for the next 25 years.

September, 2010

Is NRA Really Serious About Doubling Produce Usage?

When the CEOs of the Produce Marketing Association, the National Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributors Association stood together at PMA's annual Foodservice Conference last year in Monterey, CA, and announced an initiative to double fresh produce use in foodservice over the next ten years, we were enthused but cautious.

August, 2010

Higher Taxes Will Sharpen Focus On Produce In Foodservice

The Bush tax cuts expire this year and so on January 1, 2011, there will be a significant tax hike, probably the largest in U.S. history. People who pay tax at the 10 percent rate will pay 15 percent; people who pay tax at the 35 percent rate will pay 39.6 percent. Capital gains and other financial income will be taxed more heavily. All of this is very bad news for the foodservice industry.

July, 2010

Food Safety Stakes Just Went Higher

The confluence of recent recalls demonstrates that the trade's approach to food safety issues may require some serious rethinking. None of the recent recalls were of a scope remotely comparable to the spinach crisis of 2006 or to the Salmonella Saintpaul tomatoes cum chili pepper crisis of 2008. None of the May 2010 outbreaks caused the FDA to issue industry-wide recommendations not to consume, but the implications of this cluster of outbreaks is profoundly troubling.

June, 2010

Tale Of Two Chains

Here is a tale of two large retailers, each proclaiming its interest in sustainability. Both are large chains; both have various pilot efforts; both an extensive supply chain. Though there are many similarities, a few minutes with each and an obvious difference surfaces.

May, 2010

Daring To Challenge Food Safety Dogma

The emotional power of the argument for food safety makes the industry something of a "mark" for those interested in promoting a particular ideology.

April, 2010

What Makes A Winning Vendor?

The crucial matter is quite basic: To have the product. To consistently have product of the size, grade and variety required is no easy matter, and to have it where it needs to be is even harder. Of course, few retailers will ever know what a producer has at any point in time.

March, 2010

Best Laid Plans...

Every once in a while, we have a freeze or El Nino strikes and, all of a sudden, like a puppy on a leash suddenly tugged while running, we are shocked into remembering that produce is not just like other consumables. All of our efforts are at the whim of Mother Nature, and the best laid plans, well, as the poet Robert Burns wrote, "go often askew."

February, 2010

The Great Disconnect

With efforts to establish a national generic promotion order for produce set aside right now, this leaves open the question of how the industry can increase sales volumes. Since population growth in the United States is modest, this is really the same question as asking how the industry can boost consumption. In the end, produce promotion is hindered by a great disconnect between the producers and the consumers.

January, 2010

Lessons From The Year's Great Issues

Like the three wise men carrying gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense, the year 2009 brought the produce industry in contact with three great issues, each one carrying lessons for the future.

December, 2009

Risks Of Direct Importing

Most who have attempted such projects found the projects floundered on a fundamental dilemma: Direct importing puts a retailer into a business that is not its forte. Whether the issue is forecasting volume requirements a season in advance or knowing how to maximize returns on poor quality arrivals, importing involves a whole roster of skill sets not typically found among retail executives.

November, 2009

Advantage Shifts To Production

Industries evolve and C.H. Robinson's acquisition of Rosemont Farms, following up on its acquisition of FoodSource in 2005, is a clear sign the model is about to shift. Or perhaps swing is a better word, for the industry pendulum tends to move back and forth over generational periods to place primacy on production or on the buyer.

October, 2009

When Price Trumps Standards

The greatest threat to the future of the produce industry is this: We rely principally on large buyers to set and enforce standards for important supply chain issues such as food safety, traceability and sustainability. These buyers, however, find it difficult to turn adherence to these standards into a compelling competitive advantage with consumers.

September, 2009

Doubling Foodservice Produce Consumption

Before the assembled attendees at PMA's annual Foodservice Conference, Bryan Silbermann, speaking on behalf of PMA, the National Restaurant Association and the International Foodservice Distributor Association, announced what strategic planning consultants are wont to call a "big, hairy, audacious, goal" - to "double the use of fresh produce in the foodservice sector over the next ten years."

August, 2009

Casualties of Super-Sizing

In our protein-centric food culture, most restaurants use the protein as the draw. Then to fill up the plate, restaurants use copious amounts of mashed potatoes, rice or pasta. Produce gets relegated to an almost garnish-like role, and that pound of steak and mountain of mashed potatoes is served with two asparagus spears and a grape tomato. We need a solution. It is, however, more than the produce industry that needs a solution.

July, 2009

Generic Promotion Program Requires Due Diligence

There is confusion at the heart of this debate over a generic commodity promotion board with a mandatory assessment on the industry. The proposal as it stands lacks independent research on any of the important issues. If we are to even consider this proposal, we need to get professional input on many unanswered questions.

June, 2009

Publix Does It Right

Done well, sustainability is enriching to business and to life. Publix Super Markets, perhaps because it's employee-owned and has such long-standing family management, has realized this. For this reason, as much as any other, we are pleased to honor Publix with the 1st-ever Produce Business Award for Retail Sustainability.

May, 2009

Staircase Of Value

In our mad rush to deliver value during these economic times, there is great danger we will inadvertently and unnecessarily move the produce industry from the normal distribution of demand along a range of value propositions and head straight to the bottom.

April, 2009

Good Decisions In Bad Times

Bad times tend to simplify tough decisions. If core operations are no longer producing bountiful profits, the decision to not spend money one doesn't have is fairly easy. These are company-by-company decisions, but on the production side of the produce industry they tend to group around a common theme: Fire the customers or customer segments that won't pay enough to allow you to make a living.

March, 2009

The Squandering Of Goodwill

It is now public knowledge that the California Avocado Commission and expenditures by many of its employees have come under scrutiny. This situation, though, will cost the industry a great deal because it will cause a breakdown in trust in many boards and associations across the industry. It will do so because the situation is more complicated than just saying that one man was dishonest.

February, 2009

New Face Of Retail

Are retailers integral parts of the produce industry or just customers of the produce industry? It is a question on which practically everything depends, and 2009 may be the year in which a great divide between buyers and sellers becomes evident.

January, 2009

Counting Our Blessings

With the stock market down and "crisis" in the air, is it right to look at this year drawing to a close as an annus horribilis for us all? We have our challenges and it is not trivial when people lose their life savings because their homes suddenly have negative equity or their 401-Ks are decimated. Still, it would be ahistorical to think this is the "worst of times."

December, 2008

Produce Is The Silver Lining

This economic downturn has characteristics that will be felt differently than those of other recent recessions. What a great time to be in the produce industry!

November, 2008

Despair Overstated

As it happens, we suspect that the chorus of current despair is overstated. We have been so astonishingly lucky to live when we do - and where we do - that even small problems are perceived as catastrophes requiring immediate action and signaling fundamental changes.

October, 2008

Sustainability Pull Back

Just as sustainability had started to permeate the industry, one senses a pull-back. Part of it is consumer-driven, with the real estate crash and fear of a recession leading to a dive in consumer confidence. In such a situation, sustainability starts to be seen as a luxury good - and one we maybe cannot afford right now.

September, 2008

Food Safety Policies For Buyers

It is all fine and dandy for top retailers and foodservice operators to have high food-safety standards. It also is fantastic for the big service wholesalers and foodservice distributors to have similar standards. We cannot, as an industry, allow a kind of "secondary" trade to operate through smaller local wholesalers, distributors and purveyors that operate without these rigorous standards.

August, 2008

The Courage Of Our Convictions

It is now the fate of our industry not merely to demand a more reasonable food safety system but to be the catalyst of a movement to reign in the arbitrary exercise of power by the state.

July, 2008

Defining Sustainability

Sustainability has become so frequently spoken of in the produce industry that one might presume executives had a clear vision of what it entails. There are as many industry definitions as there are programs and proposals, and the end result of this cacophony on the subject is very unclear.

June, 2008

First Priority For Produce

One need not be a skeptic on global warming to realize it is unsustainable to divert food to fuel in a world still increasing in population and with many populations finally able to eat at a level above subsistence. It is crucial to use this moment to remind the world and the non-governmental organizations about the purpose of our industry - to feed the world.

May, 2008

Straight Talk On Food Safety

By focusing on what people wanted to hear during the spinach crisis of 2006, we encouraged unreasonable expectations and neglected an important job: Getting regulators and consumers to recognize the reality of field-grown crops.

April, 2008

Merchandising Disconnect

Although "fresh" is an attribute most consumers desire, much of the Fresh & Easy offering doesn't strike Americans as fresh. In the vaunted prepared foods or ready-meals department, food prepared in a commissary and sitting cold in a plastic platter seems significantly less fresh than the offering of many other retailers.

March, 2008

Prelude To A Recovery

If we are currently in a recession or are about to enter one, we can count ourselves blessed to be in the produce industry. For the industry as a whole, the effects of a recession may be surprisingly small.

February, 2008

Effectiveness More Crucial Than Leadership

Effective executives, - people capable of good decisions - can, in fact, be developed. Much of the focus on leadership and executive development leaves business people scratching their heads because it turns leadership into some high-fallutin' function and avoids wrestling with business realities.

January, 2008

Localizing Our National Products

The great marketing dilemma for the produce industry is how to be a large, national and international industry gaining economies of scale while also maintaining the public good will that comes from being authentically tied to the land.

December, 2007

Locale Not Local

It is now commonplace to say consumers thirst for "locally grown" produce. Yet qualitative research being done by Produce Business is starting to indicate this is not the complete story.

November, 2007

The Consumer Covenant

Fundamentally, food safety remains problematic because retailers are not willing to accept responsibility for the safety of what they sell. Though the search for industry-wide solutions is admirable, it doesn't absolve retailers of their responsibility for safeguarding their own customers.

October, 2007

Wages And Responsibility

Terms such as "green" and "socially responsible" are subject to many interpretations. If you read the press releases, you may think the focus will be on reducing packaging waste, solar energy or biodiesel in trucks. Yet part of sustainability and social responsibility is certain to be interpreted to include improving wages and working conditions for farm workers.

September, 2007

The Power Of Independents

For independent retailing, it is the best of times and the worst of times. In a sense, following 15 years during which Wal-Mart rolled its supercenter concept across America, crushing independents everywhere it went, all the independents standing today in America can throw a party - they are the survivors. Some are even expanding and remodeling, at the same time, many independents are horribly backward.

August, 2007

Foodservice And Food Safety

As the produce industry gathers in Monterey for PMA's annual foodservice conference, there is much to celebrate. The great culinary trends - local, fresh, organic, seasonal - have led white tablecloth chefs to emphasize fresh produce. Yet these same trends must be channeled into safer directions, or the whole industry can find itself at risk.

July, 2007

Tesco's Take On American Consumers

The long-range impact of Tesco's new venture in America will be determined by whether its new concept, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market, is a success. More research and a more sophisticated understanding of the consumer indicates that this either/or model is not capturing the dynamic nature of consumer shopping patterns.

June, 2007

Wal-Mart's Organic Woes

A sensible role for organics at Wal-Mart, even one tied to a sustainability strategy, would probably involve years of promoting transitional product and selling that as Wal-Mart's big contribution to making the world a better place.

May, 2007

Industry At A Crossroads

This highly flexible industry of interchangeable product has been the produce industry. It is the way virtually everyone now in the business grew up and there are thousands of jobs - whole companies - that revolve around this model. Yet it is increasingly clear that just as the model of buying most things at auction has long since faded, this freewheeling environment of buying from anyone, anywhere shall fade in turn.

April, 2007

Food Miles

"Food miles" is a concept built around measuring the distance foods travel to get to market, the idea being that foods traveling shorter distances leave less of a "carbon footprint" and are, in general, kinder to the environment. Although it makes sense to think a locally grown product places less strain on the environment than product shipped from a great distance, things don't always work out that way.

March, 2007

The Economics Of Mandatory Regulation

The affirmation of mandatory regulation by industry groups that had previously resisted anything mandatory is entirely predictable based on the interests of the vast majority of the members of these associations. The issue is how society creates an incentive structure that will result in safe food, including safe fresh produce.

February, 2007

Beyond Our Borders

In February, Produce Business magazine and its sister website,, will be exhibiting at Fruit Logistica, a produce trade show in Berlin. We decided to go because a significant number of our business associates started asking if we were going to be there. In addition, significant trends and events are drawing our attention beyond our borders.

January, 2007

The World Turned Upside Down

On Oct, 19, 1781, 8,000 or so sullen, despairing British soldiers marched out of Yorktown, VA, where they had been besieged by the American army and French navy. Although the war would drag on for two more years, there was palpable sense that the world everyone had known had changed forever at Yorktown. For the produce industry, 2006 will go down as the year in which something palpable also happened.

December, 2006

Food Safety Action Plans

We must be careful about an overemphasis on the specifics of the spinach/E. coli situation. The next food safety crisis might involve scallions, melons, tomatoes or some other product. We need to look for lessons learned from this crisis that can help individual companies and the industry as a whole avoid future crises and, just as important, minimize their impact when they do occur. Here are some suggestions.

November, 2006

Food Safety Is A Retail Issue

It is easy to perceive the spinach/E. coli 0157:H7 situation as a crisis for farmers. The water supply in Salinas, the location of cows, the frequency of water testing, the cleanliness of machinery - all these are, seemingly, producer issues. Yet the food safety issues surrounding this type of outbreak are, most decidedly, retail issues at their core.

October, 2006

Out Of Africa

South Africa is a major participant in the international world of produce, thus vitally important for those U.S. firms with global operations. It is a market of very specific opportunities for firms that operate solely in the United States - supplied during the off season.

September, 2006

Web Sense

The Kaiser Family Foundation just did a study of online food advertising targeted at children. The study basically looked at 77 websites of branded food manufacturers who advertise on TV and also have websites with content for kids. The key issue: On the web, kids can spend an unlimited amount of time interacting with food brands.

August, 2006

Science For Chefs

The recent appearance on NBC's Today show of nutritionist Joy Bauer telling viewers which organic items to buy and which conventional items not to buy because of relatively high pesticide levels illustrates part of a cultural penchant for saying things for which there is no evidence.

July, 2006

Organics Redux

Although portrayed as big companies lobbying to "corrupt" industry standards, it is more accurate to say the people producing and eating organic foods are getting more diverse. The organic community is not so much being beaten out by "big business" as it is fracturing into its many components.

June, 2006

Seeking Effectiveness

Maybe what is wrong with 5-A-Day isn't the slogan or even the budget. Maybe public health messages are just a very difficult tool to use to change eating habits. We ought not just barrel ahead assuming we are accomplishing something just because we are doing something.

May, 2006

Fixing Wages Or Immigration

Both national produce trade organizations have joined the call for a guest worker program to maintain an adequate labor force to plant, tend and harvest crops. It is often stated that 70 percent of the farm labor force in the United States is illegal and that a strict enforcement policy would lead to a loss of billions of dollars in production. Although politically these organizations need to be responsive to grower groups, it is not clear that the arguments being made are persuasive.

April, 2006

Keeping It Clean

After 18 years of doing the Produce Business Mystery Shopper Report we find many of the problems we were talking about 18 years ago are still problems today. A good example is the consistent fact that produce departments deteriorate during off hours. Problems such as this are not insolvable, but they tend not to get solved because the intellectual framework in which they are evaluated is limiting the solutions that can be considered.

March, 2006

Evil Legislation

When the Maryland legislature passed a law requiring those who employ over 10,000 people in the state must spend over 8 percent of their payroll on health insurance or else contribute money to the state's Medicaid program, it followed the form of a general law applicable to all. As a result they may get away with it and not have it declared unconstitutional. It was not merely a foolish or mistaken vote, but an evil and tyrannical one, because it was a bill of attainder in all but name.

February, 2006

ReThinking 5 A Day

It is natural for executives to claim a success and try to establish their program's responsibility for it. But in the case of the Produce For Better Health's touting a recent, small increase in produce consumption, such crowing is counterproductive because reassuring an important constituency of the success of the program is likely to breed a complacency that prevents the kind of radical reassessment that may be required.

January, 2006

Wendy's Wake Up Call

With fast feeders, movie companies, character licensing organizations, etc., the pitch is simple: Align with the produce industry and be on the side of the angels. Which is why Wendy's may have given the produce trade a bracing but useful wake-up call by discontinuing its fresh-cut fruit cups and bowls.

December, 2005

Parents First

Increasing produce consumption among children has become a priority in our industry. Leaders have begun to pursue marketing to children to better compete against snack foods and to win the loyalty of a new generation of consumers. A windfall of these initiatives is that it would help raise the issue of what parents' responsibilities are when feeding their children and what the responsibilities of schools and other institutions are when acting in loco parentis.

November, 2005

Future Of Organics

Fundamentally, the grounds for believing the organic business will inevitably dominate the produce industry are not that strong. Without scientifically valid studies providing convincing evidence that organically grown produce tastes better or improves human health - studies that do not currently exist - the organic industry is built on shaky ground.

October, 2005

Meaningful Research

We introduce a new column to be written each month by a member of the staff of the Produce Marketing Association. Entitled Research Perspectives, the column will analyze the latest findings of PMA's ongoing consumer and trade research. This month's column, written by PMA president Bryan Silbermann, examines the disconnect between consumer perceptions of serving size and the government's own conflicting definitions.

September, 2005

Foodservice Barriers

The industry has always struggled with its relationship to foodservice. There is good reason for foodservice operators to be fully integrated in the produce trade, but the main reason why executives at foodservice operations would only sporadically choose to identify with the produce trade is this: Foodservice operators do not have dedicated produce personnel.

August, 2005

Saying Goodbye To Joe Nucci

If it is possible to shake an entire industry and send its members into a state of trembled mourning, the passing of Joe Nucci will certainly be remembered as a total earthquake with months and perhaps years of aftershocks in its wake.

July, 2005

Young Blood

This year is the 20th anniversary of the launch of Produce Business magazine. And one of the ways we are celebrating our completion of a generation in business is to inaugurate an annual celebration of the produce industry's best and brightest young leaders. Thus this month's cover story is an unveiling of the charter year winners of our "40-under-Forty" award program.

June, 2005

Isn't That Special!

The most common contract buying works like this: A chain awards a particular vendor the authority and responsibility for a specific commodity, either nationally or for a particular distribution center. All of a sudden the phone rings, and the chain tells the grower to take a week off because it has done a special buy for next week. In other words, it bought on the free market at a price below the contract price. This makes no sense.

May, 2005

Show Me The Love

There is a sea change sweeping the business. More and more produce suppliers are being confronted with supermarket chains wanting the shipper to partner on an entire category of business, including coordination of the whole process, from determining the quantities required to handling the purchase orders to enticing consumers to buy the product. In a sense the old buyer-seller thing stops making any sense.

April, 2005

Absence Of Paranoia

Winn-Dixie had the misfortune of having stores across the south where land was available. So Wal-Mart moved in and Winn-Dixie became schizophrenic, with half the chain trying to compete with Wal-Mart on price and the other half trying to go upscale to compete effectively against Publix and other competitors. But with each approach, Winn-Dixie found itself competing against companies that were better than it was.

March, 2005

Lessons From P&G

As a few commentators noted, it makes more sense to say that P&G learned how to work with Wal-Mart and make money at it. Therefore, P&G bought Gillette in the hope of duplicating P&G's success with Wal-Mart on a broader product line. The nature of P&G's success with Wal-Mart should be the subject of study by every marketing executive in the produce business. And perhaps Wal-Mart's produce team needs to do some rethinking as well.

February, 2005

Ralph, Dave And Carl

One of the reasons I love my job is because it leads me to deal with the best and brightest in the business every day. How fortunate I am to have had mentors and teachers, acquaintances and friends with real ideas and real accomplishments.

January, 2005

Export Opportunity

To some extent a depressed currency is sufficient to change the world. For the most part, however, a depressed currency creates some temporary opportunities and raises the interests of foreign buyers, but long term success in export depends on an attitude that few American produce shippers ever quite grasp.

December, 2004

Beneath The Skin

UglyRipe is a brand of tomato bred not for looks but for taste. In developing such a tomato and effectively marketing it, Procacci Bros. has legitimate claim to the appreciation of the produce trade. After all, there is scarcely a study or analyst who has not criticized the industry for breeding for yield, easy and effective transport and cosmetic appeal while neglecting taste.

November, 2004

Looking Too Closely?

In theory, RFID technology will create absolutely clear supply chain transparency. Every item, everywhere and always, can be tracked. When it happens, though, be ready for an earthquake in the produce industry. It has been written that the truth shall set you free, but ours is a business filled with dirty little secrets.

October, 2004

A Visit To Bentonville

If you want to visit the most powerful retailer in the world, you don't go to New York or Chicago, London or Paris - instead you go to Bentonville, AR. By creating a mini air force to send his executives out into the field, a progressive thinker by the name of Sam Walton made it possible for Wal-Mart to grow while keeping its headquarters - and its heart - in rural Arkansas. What is so impressive about the Wal-Mart culture? Six things stand out.

September, 2004

Statistical Mirage

Whenever consumers report something in a few focus groups - in this case that cost is a barrier to consuming more fruits and vegetables - and the data shows that this is not true, it is usually a mistaken response to assume that consumers are wrong and need to be instructed as to the reality of the situation. Especially when it comes to retail pricing, consumers are remarkably astute.

August, 2004

Wholesale Opportunities

The state of wholesaling in the produce industry is often misunderstood. With major chains having long since made the transition to direct buying, it is obvious that wholesalers can't serve the same function they served 50 years ago. But when challenged, aggressive businesspeople find new waves to ride - as did produce wholesalers around the country.

July, 2004

Success In Chicago

United's show was once the largest produce event in the world. By the time we launched Produce Business in 1985, PMA was the leading event, and we knew that was the place to unveil our inaugural issue. For those with only a decade or so of memories of United shows, the new event in Chicago was an astounding transformation. For those whose memories go back further, it was a taste of how things used to be - except maybe better.

June, 2004

Outreach To CEOs

The orders supermarket CEOs are giving to their produce directors these days are very clear: Increase margin and reduce shrink. In an age where Wal-Mart, Costco and Whole Foods are the three biggest challenges to conventional supermarkets, it is hard to think of a more counterproductive strategy.

May, 2004

Retail Shake Up

The current expectation is for continued consolidation. Driven on the retail side by the growth of Wal-Mart and supermarket chains, the volume needs of the chains are expected to reverberate through the marketing channel and encourage consolidation at the wholesale and shipper levels. It seems so obvious, and yet there are countervailing trends that indicate we may have reached the peak of consolidation frenzy and point to the possibility that the industry will turn the other way.

April, 2004

Abandoning Quality

The role of quality in the produce trade is a question always subject to much dispute. I've never been to a seminar or conference in which a buyer for a retail chain store didn't insist that quality was the number one factor in buying produce. Yet it is also true that I rarely hear a shipper talk without hearing him complain that all retailers want is price and that they ignore quality.

March, 2004

Broker Is Not A Dirty Word

If a grower wants to focus on growing, a packer on packing, and both elect to use brokers as their sales force, that is not necessarily more expensive than having an in-house packing and sales operation. The small profit these steps might produce can often be more than compensated for by the expertise and dedication of having owners working at each level of the business.

February, 2004

Demon Wal-Mart?

Sometimes demonizing the enemy is motivating. But exuberance is no substitute for strategy, and the recent attempts to demonize Wal-Mart as the source of countless problems from low wages to community disintegration are not likely to solve the problems confronting supermarket operators.

January, 2004

Contract Solution

The history of contracting in the fresh business, particularly at retail, has not been successful. This time it is the buyers who are screaming but, typically, it is the shippers who complain. As market conditions fluctuate, more than a few buyers view contracts as "lids" designed to protect them on the upside but irrelevant on the downside. It has made more than one vendor decline to enter into contracts at all.

December, 2003

Paradigm Shift

The great dilemma for the produce industry is how to get retailers to care. Within the produce trade, there has been a dramatic shift over the past half century. The industry went from a situation of almost chronic shortage, to a situation of almost chronic surplus.

November, 2003

Two Cheers For Wal-Mart

Big guys attract the shots - especially when most competitors have not the slightest idea of how to compete and thus hope to stop Wal-Mart's expansion by supporting "grass-roots" organizations and hostile labor unions to block new stores. But Wal-Mart is a national treasure, probably the single largest factor in enhancing the prosperity of the common man in the latter quarter of the 20th century. And Wal-Mart is one of America's best tools for keeping our competitive edge in the 21st century.

October, 2003

Seven Sins Of Marketing

If a vendor abandons the marketing arena to some other organization, the vendor loses the opportunity to provide an added value. In a world where commodity prices are often brutal, being completely dependent on the swings of the market isn't a great place to be.

September, 2003

A Quiet Giant

Yet the loss we have suffered in losing Stephen D'Arrigo is incalculable, for he was, in the biggest city in the country, in one of the oldest industries in the world, a living reminder of an age when people put their own name on the company door, as if to tell the world that "I stand behind what happens here".

August, 2003

Produce And The Atkins Diet

The 5 A Day program, backed by the authoritative National Cancer Institute, can confidently urge increased produce consumption for better health. The produce industry can ride the wave. But the main public health problem today is obesity, not cancer, and here the role of produce is more problematic.

July, 2003

No Accidents In Life

It is no surprise that when Ken Whitacre and I, who have spent our adult lives together building this very publication, told our friends and family that our wives were due to have children on the very same day, more than a few suspected some conscious coordination.. They were wrong, but as I sit here writing, I feel the exhaustion of having lived more than most men will ever know and the serenity of having slept the sleep of the blessed.

June, 2003

Back To Square One

The Supreme Court has decided that compelling people to contribute to commodity promotion boards in order to fund most marketing functions is an unconstitutional abridgement of the freedom of speech, as it compels people to support speech they may disagree with. In all likelihood the collapse of the commodity promotion boards is likely to lead to the industry relying more heavily on its national trade associations, the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.

May, 2003

Little Taste Bud

Carrots, peas, corn, plums, nectarines, pineapple, bananas, citrus, apples, pears - William Ian Prevor is a forthright aficionado, and he will gladly spit out substandard produce. Following William around for a few days points out that the industry, as a collective, needs something beyond 5 A Day as a tool to increase produce consumption.

April, 2003

The Bigger They Are

"It's deja vu all over again," Yogi Berra would say as the produce industry watches the big boys struggle with three timeless strategies: Vertical Integrations, Geographic Spread and The Public Market Imperative.

March, 2003

A Serious Nation

One cannot weigh the value of 3,000 lives lost on September 11th versus the seven lost on the Shuttle Columbia. But, as a nation, we have acquired a recognition that we do not have as much time for frivolous indulgence as we once did. We recognize that bad things happen in the world and that we have real enemies out there who want to kill us.

February, 2003

New Year's Resolution

The test of our political leadership no longer lies in how well they conduct this kind of Kabuki opera over domestic policy. We now stand at a precipice, and our future will be determined by how the international situation is dealt with.

January, 2003

Customers First

Wal-Mart is often admired for its efficiency and, indeed, MIS, logistics and all sorts of technology help Wal-Mart win its place in the world. But all too often we look at efficiency as solely a matter of driving costs out of the system. The truth is more complicated though. It is virtually impossible to cut costs to prosperity if the price of the cutbacks is reduced appeal to consumers and reduced sales.

December, 2002

True Partnerships

True partnership depends fundamentally on the retailer having an attitude that says that, long term, the retailer cannot prosper unless its suppliers prosper. In other words, that negotiating one's suppliers into insolvency is not a solution.

November, 2002

Cuba Caution

The buzz in the produce trade, indeed in the whole food industry, is all about Cuba. There has been a crack in the embargo, and Cuba is permitted to purchase food as long as U.S. firms do not provide credit. So all the sudden, it is like a tidal wave of new business as trade patterns begin to switch back to their natural state. Now we get the chance to go where every business opportunity is new and potentially substantial. It is like a breath of fresh air for a seller. The air, however, is not completely clean.

October, 2002

Tax Reforms Needed

Public policy has played a large role in our country's economic travails. As policy debates start to bubble, the produce industry needs to look for opportunities to join alliances and fight for the kind of policy environment that will help produce prosperity.

September, 2002

Taking Stock

If you are interested in the produce industry, you need to pay attention to proposals for reforming corporate governance and procedures at publicly held companies. Although consolidation gets all the attention, it is in many ways a sideshow. The fact that companies are bigger will probably not influence corporate behavior half as much as the fact that these bigger companies are likely to be publicly held.

August, 2002

Are We Doing Enough

In wrestling with issues of taste, the accepted mantra is that the industry has bred flavor out of produce since the priorities of seed companies and growers were yield, shelf life and easy transportability. There is certainly something here, and we need to make taste a priority in breeding programs. However, there also are structural barriers that serve obstacles to increasing per capita consumption.

July, 2002

Recipe For Disaster

Retailers see Wal-Mart's centralized procurement system and figure they should also reap the benefits. But there isn't much evidence Wal-Mart is purchasing much cheaper than major supermarket chains. The latest PRODUCE BUSINESS study shows competitive chains selling at around 30% higher than Wal-Mart. It is inconceivable that good buying accounts for the difference. In fact it is a cultural and philosophical difference and, unless it is addressed, merely putting all the buyers under one roof won't make a difference.

June, 2002

Quitting At The Start

For the moment, conventional supermarkets may compete with Wal-Mart based solely on location and assortment, but these don't strike me as promising long term strategies. It doesn't mean the supermarket chains will go out of business, but if they can't make their operations competitive on price, supermarket chains will become more marginalized as an enterprise. Certainly they can be successful, but they won't be mainstream choice for buying volume.

May, 2002

Charge To Shippers

Tto break out of the feast-and-famine cycle, producers will have to help retailers sell more product at higher profits. To do this, retailers need better information. Who are the customers for a given produce item? What is their value to a store? What other products do they buy? What effects do different merchandising techniques have on consumer propensity to purchase?

April, 2002

United In DC?

It is not surprising that a produce industry show, without much produce, is also not going to be seen as crucial. Yet, while the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association trade show has declined tremendously in importance, especially from the vantage point of the old timers who remember when the United show was THE place and PMA was just a small meeting, the United event has actually grown enormously useful.

March, 2002

After Enron

It is best to look at Enron as the entrails of the dot-com decade in which fortunes were made instantaneously and the expectations of people began to change regarding work and prosperity. All of the sudden, the guy who worked 40 years to build a good business seemed like a sap. The smart ones could make billions in a fortnight. The produce industry has been relatively free of this cultural contagion.

February, 2002

Consolidation: Phase II

When Kroger Co. announced its earnings and revealed its strategy and assessment of the industry, shareholders of virtually all publicly held supermarket chains saw the value of their stockholdings tumble. Their stock market value dove because what the market took from Kroger's comments is that this stage of consolidation - where big companies could keep growing in sales and profits as the industry consolidated - was at an end.

January, 2002

Spread The Gospel

Effective sales and marketing are tools to align oneself with the most rapidly growing customers. This is really Marketing 101, but in produce there is a twist. One can use marketing efforts to raise the average price received, even if one's marketing efforts do not lead customers or prospects to purchase even one additional box from a shipper. How can this be? It's the impact of certain types of marketing - specifically those designed to assist retailers with effective merchandising techniques - on the whole industry.

December, 2001

Retail Revitalized

Although a weakening economy was impacting foodservice sales all year, post-September 11th we find ourselves in a new environment, one in which foodservice sales are severely suffering. It is uncertain at this point what will be permanent and what will be temporary, but the manner in which foodservice sales are suffering provides a great deal of insight into the long-term challenges for retailers looking to capture this market.

November, 2001

The Watermelon Vote

The National Watermelon Promotion Board is holding a November referendum hoping to break the long tradition that commodity board assessments be marketing-channel neutral. The argument is superficially appealing, and PRODUCE BUSINESS is giving the NWPB the chance to say its piece in a Q&A on page 14 of this issue. But this proposal is wrong and will hurt the trade. It should be defeated for the following reasons.

October, 2001

Gas As A Loss Leader

Wal-Mart has gotten into the gasoline business, installing gas pumps at many of its stores. Beyond whatever Wal-Mart might make in selling gasoline, it is reasonable to surmise that Wal-Mart hopes to gain customers for its stores and increase the frequency of their shopping at Wal-Mart by offering great prices on gasoline. It is interesting to note, though, that this marketing strategy is the exact justification for selling food in general and perishables in particular at mass marketers.

September, 2001

For The People

Politically, issues like mandatory assessments cause a schism in the body politic. On the one hand, Americans love liberty, and any attempts to compel people to fund activities that they prefer not to offend our sense of liberty. Economically speaking, we also are skeptical of governmental programs. That attitude, however, presumes indifference to what would happen to the composition of the industry without commodity boards.

August, 2001

Cross-Docking Terminals

Smart leadership at wholesale markets is starting to think outside the box. For decades now, wholesalers have bemoaned the fact that chain stores have abandoned the markets – using them only for fill-ins or exotics. But, today, technology combines with a search for economy, and this has led to a rise in cross-docking throughout the grocery industry.

July, 2001

Profit Squeeze

The way a given business reacts to difficult circumstances - be it a general recession or just particular profitability issues - determines how the business will be positioned when a crisis passes. As such, businesspeople struggle to maintain their means of production under difficult circumstances. This seems to make sense, but what is not so widely recognized is that the world has changed. That the most important assets of most businesses are no longer their production capabilities but, rather, their brand and reputation.

June, 2001

Produce Sclerosis

In the produce industry, structural changes on the trade level often wind up having significant, and unexpected, effects on the volume of produce sold. The focus on formal consumer promotion also can lead to neglect of the informal consumer promotion that goes on every day in stores across America and around the world. And the focus on cost-reduction can lead to inflexibility, which winds up costing the trade, and consumers, a great deal of money.

May, 2001

Innovation Blockage

More than in any other area of produce, though, retail has failed to belly up to the bar and do what has to be done to boost fresh-cut sales. With fresh-cuts having become so important and, with their importance growing, this increasingly means that retailers are stunting the prospects for the department.

April, 2001

Chiquita's Woes

Chiquita's management identifies the cause of its current situation as being the decision of the European Union to impose quotas on so-called "dollar bananas" - those from Central and South America - some eight years ago. There is no question that the European Union was wrong to impose the quotas. But, this all being said, it does not seem likely that the EU's various schemes are really the cause of Chiquita's problems.

March, 2001

Death And Taxes

So much attention is paid within the industry to government relations efforts specific to the produce trade - food safety, PACA, the inspection service, etc. - that it is easy to forget how often the more generic issues that concern all of America impact the future of the produce industry. The current battle over the estate tax - or as its adversaries put it, "the death tax" - is such an issue.

February, 2001

Veneman's Dilemma

By the time you read this, Ann M. Veneman will probably have been confirmed as the new Secretary of Agriculture. From the standpoint of the produce industry, it is hard to think of a better choice. The problem is that being Secretary of Agriculture in a Republican Administration is a thankless task, because the Department of Agriculture sits astride the fault line of Republican thinking.

January, 2001

Does Cooperation Bring Prosperity

Ocean Spray has long been seen as the crowning example of the cooperative movement in agriculture. This co-op took a scarcely edible highly seasonal fresh product and created a world-class beverage company more similar to Coca-Cola Company than other produce firms. But Zeus's lightning flies to level mountains, and now the future of Ocean Spray is unclear. The cause is, as always, multiple. But as in a Greek tragedy, hubris surely played a part.

December, 2000

Just Say No???

Produce shippers in general are being assaulted by demands for various fees and they are, in many cases, confronting a breed of buyer that is less a creature of the produce industry than of Wall Street. The controversy over slotting fees is thus a battle as much between two different perspectives on business as it is a financial issue.

November, 2000

Loose Accounting

I became interested in the area of accounting practices of public companies years ago when a public company in the produce business wanted to buy a grape ranch. That incident illustrated how private and public companies really do differ. Most private companies look for legal ways to reduce their taxes, but many public companies generally want to show higher earnings in the hope of boosting the stock price.

October, 2000

Dictates From Retailers

You can see it in informal behavior - unreturned phone calls, unanswered letters and so forth. You can see it in more formal decisions, such as unwillingness to attend supplier events. The fact that retailers are so few in number at United, WGA, FFVA and similar meetings has always bespoken a kind of arrogance. The message is being communicated to suppliers that "we are not partners; you work for us and do our bidding."

September, 2000

Restricting Supplies

What should the policy response be when growers can't make a living? In the produce industry the politically correct response has been simple: Let's all work to increase demand. The dirty little secret of efforts to increase demand is that even if they succeed, they probably won't help growers realize better prices, those who are looking to improve the lot of farmers are going to be looking somewhere else. And that place is toward the restriction of supply.

August, 2000

Looking At Retail Fees

To put it simply, any buying organization is both legally and morally permitted to buy from whomever it chooses to buy from. If the buying organization wants to demand a flat payment of a million dollars before one can get on the approved vendor list or insist on a monthly check of a quarter a box for anything it purchases, this may be smart or may be stupid, but it is morally neutral and legally unobjectionable.

July, 2000

Margin Creep

It is time for the produce industry to act. Simple principles of supply and demand dictate that higher prices for fruits and vegetables serve as disincentives to consumption. Therefore, as it is public policy to encourage increased produce consumption, public policy should also ensure that consolidation does not become an enabler of higher produce prices for consumers and thus a cause of less consumption and poorer public health.

June, 2000

Begging For More

The real loser of these "partnership" programs is actually the chain itself and the consumer. Both lose because these programs make a store less dependent on good merchandising to turn a profit. All of the sudden a buyer can no longer purchase the best product, or get the best value. All of the sudden the buyer's hands are tied with another imperative: Has this supplier agreed to pay us a quarter a box?

May, 2000

Paradise Lost

We live in a world in which production is no longer a big challenge. And for a typical farmer, that is a very serious problem. After all, what a farmer wants to do is produce. A lot of focus for growers around the country is on consolidation at the retail end. It really doesn't matter to a grower who owns what, but if buying gets consolidated, that is a scary thing for a mid-size grower/shipper.

April, 2000

Inspecting Inspectors

The hot area that Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) wants to develop is a database on every inspector, every lot and every company. By noting statistical anomalies, the AMS hopes it will be able to identify possible corruption. It is a fine idea as far as it goes, but the dynamics of inspection make it a less useful tool than one might expect.

March, 2000

Dotcoms And IPOs

Currently the hot segment on Wall Street is the business-to-business marketplace. Thus venture capital money is pouring into business-to-business projects, and smart people are trying to ride the bandwagon to IPO riches. So these dot-coms in produce are creating upward mobility for good managers. Of course, this doesn't mean that they will actually work.

February, 2000

Gone Bananas

The news has been uniformly discouraging for those who follow the banana industry. It seems as if every major banana company is announcing the expectation that final 1999 earnings will fall below already depressed estimates. Stock prices are setting new lows. Something has gone very wrong. It's not so much that bananas have never been so cheap; it's that banana prices have never been so low for so long.

January , 2000

Inspecting Standards

The focus on the bribery scandal in Hunts Point, in which inspectors are alleged to have accepted bribes to throw loads out of grade, has usefully focused attention on inspection reform. Just as important, though, and almost completely ignored in coverage of this scandal, is the nature of the grade standards themselves and, more importantly, the standards for good delivery.

December, 1999

Internet Analysis

The most prominent "new product" at the Produce Marketing Association Convention in Atlanta was not a type of produce item at all. It was, instead, an application of technology - a new system to buy and sell produce over the Internet. Most of the promoters of the new trading systems are talking about something different. They are claiming their systems can be the marketplace for produce, and on this point, I think they have their work cut out for them.

November, 1999

Organics And E. Coli

Conventional growers may not like the yields that organic farming produces, and wholesalers and retailers may question its appearance, availability or price, but the "cottage industry" reputation and favorable media image has protected organic producers from many food safety inquiries. That really must change.

October, 1999

Saving 5 A Day

We have a problem in the industry. The problem is that 5 A Day has come to be a kind of vegetarian version of the sacred cow. No one dares question it for fear of being attacked. This "eat-your-vegetables; they-are-good-for-you" promotion for produce is going to be death for the industry.

September, 1999

Science And Sense

The EPA has announced it is banning methyl parathion, an important pesticide used for many decades. The ban is the beginning of a long process to reevaluate all pesticides that were approved a long time ago. The produce industry's efforts in this area have focused around insuring that good science, rather than emotion or scare tactics, is what governs the process. Increasingly, however, the premise of this effort seems inadequate.

August, 1999

Damage Limitation

You don't actually have to suffer a food safety problem to have your product withdrawn from the market. You just need a little hysteria. We should not be under the delusion that even if HACCP procedures are followed properly, such guidelines will protect the produce industry against food safety scares.

July, 1999

Foodservice Dedication

The big distinction between retail and foodservice in relation to fresh produce is the paucity of dedicated produce buyers at the foodservice-operator level. Though virtually every supermarket chain of even the smallest size has a dedicated produce buyer, even large foodservice operators function with a food buyer responsible for procuring many different product categories. Though even a tiny supermarket has a produce manager, a giant hotel is unlikely to have a dedicated produce person on staff.

June, 1999

High-Tech Deliveries

Though the high tech warehouse is the way to go, many pitfalls remain. Remember all the problems at the new Denver Airport in getting the high-tech baggage system to work properly? Developing a high-tech grocery-packing warehouse is no lesser a challenge. Most fundamentally, it is not clear that the demand is there.

May, 1999

Crime And Food Safety

Many produce industry people are always frustrated at every food safety flare-up because they think the issue is purely a matter of science. Others are resigned to periodic outbursts thinking it a matter of selling newspapers. Both perspectives are partly correct. Mostly, the periodic outbursts of pesticide concerns are really not about food safety, or the media's need to boost subscriptions. Mostly the issue is about control. It is a war about the kind of society we will live in; with one tiny battle being fought in the produce trade.

April, 1999

Science As A Weapon

No matter how egregious the problem of pesticide contamination may be, no one can urge an alternative without carefully determining the problems with alternative methods. There have been, to my knowledge, no studies done on the comparative safety of conventional vs. organically grown produce. So these groups are urging adoption of something, not on the basis of careful study - because the study hasn't been done - but, instead, on the basis of ideology.

March, 1999

Playing To Win

I have been fortunate to know many industry leaders since I was a boy and to have intensely worked with many of them. Almost without exception, I've found that those who did a weak job in their association role were also weak in their own business. The shrewdest, smartest, hardest working and most effective industry leaders, however, were pretty effective in building produce businesses first.

February, 1999

Breaking The WTO Rules

The produce industry stands at the very crux of a dispute that is likely to define the trading rules under which all produce, indeed all exporters and importers of anything, are forced to exist. The dispute is over bananas and the U.S. may impose retaliatory tariffs against a range of European products, which, of course, could lead to European retaliation against the United States. The issue at stake is whether a world trade system - in the sense of an agreed set of rules - can actually be sustained.

January, 1999

Lessons From A Disaster

If you want to know how different today's produce world is from that of just a few years ago, just look at banana prices this year. In the face of almost unimaginable damage in Central America, literally wiping major producing countries off the produce industry map, prices were surprisingly moderate. The banana situation is instructive because the elements are likely to gradually play out throughout the produce trade. If so, we may need to rethink our attitudes toward grower profitability and much else.

December, 1998

Through The Looking Glass

The implications of consolidation on the retail end for marketers are ominous. Conventional wisdom is that as retailers get larger, they will require larger suppliers. Many believe that there will be a place for the boutique operations specializing in obscure items or niche markets. For the medium-sized shipper the future doesn't look bright. Perhaps. While it is preordained that the most efficient way to purchase, say, diapers, is with massive buying, that is not necessarily true with produce.

November, 1998

5 A Day Wake up Call

We, as an industry, must question our assumptions about 5 A Day - if it works, how it works and what can make it work better. That is the implication of the data contained in the release of the latest update of the California Dietary Practices Survey, published by the California Department of Health Services.

October, 1998

Buy Low, Sell High

Produce traders seem to particularly enjoy working the stock market. It makes sense. Buying and selling fruits and vegetables gets one used to fluctuating markets. Produce is so dangerous because of its perishability that playing the stock market can look easy. If you make a mistake and overpay for cantaloupes, you better sell fast and get what you can. If one overpays for the stock of a fundamentally sound company, one can hold on and the company's growth in time can turn a loser into a winner.

September, 1998

Notes From Italy

I write from a villa in Tuscany, where my parents have gathered their children to help celebrate their fortieth wedding anniversary. We are here on vacation, but as with fruit men the world over, I can't travel without stopping to inspect every fruit stand and supermarket I come across.

August, 1998

Assessing Assessments

The whole issue of commodity promotion boards is controversial. Many growers take umbrage at being compelled to participate in such ventures. Although recently there was a Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of such boards, one can count on additional challenges in the future. But now, and for a long time to come, the industry will have boards and commissions. If one's interest is increasing produce consumption, this is a good thing.

July, 1998

Mud Slinging

If the U.S. asserts the right to tell every country in the world what each country's agriculture practices ought to be, surely other countries will respond in kind. What a disaster for U.S. food exports when we are confronted with hundreds of countries making up lists of agricultural practices. It need not even be said that a lot of these lists will be developed for reasons of protectionism.

June, 1998

The Cat Trap

Category management is all the rage. Unlike many other management devices that seem to come and go with little more impact than that of boosting consultants' incomes for a few years, category management seems to be having some real impact in produce operations. Unfortunately, the impact is not positive.

May, 1998

Should QTV Be The Standard?

Over three years ago, I wrote a column urging the International Fresh-Cut Produce Association to set up a verification program for fresh-cut processors. There were a lot of substandard fresh-cut processors out there and if a food safety problem arose, the whole industry would be smeared. Today that program is called Qualified Through Verification (QTV), and its purpose is much as I thought it out three years ago. Yet, the involvement of a government agency has changed significantly the dynamics of the program.

April, 1998

Produce Next On The List

In the U.S. the expectation has developed that anything one buys in a supermarket is going to be completely safe. For decades now this expectation has applied to processed products with the Food and Drug Administration assuming an active role in ensuring the safety of food processing plants. The United States Department of Agriculture also has, for a long time, taken steps to ensure the safety of meat and poultry. Well guess what? We're next.

March, 1998

Requiem For A Heavyweight

A man is dead. He was not famous. His life was not glamorous. But he was my friend, and in important, if often unappreciated ways, he influenced the kind of produce industry we have today and will have tomorrow. His life stood as an example of many things to his friends and loved ones, but to all human beings, his life stands as an example of how broad and deep the influence of one man can run if he is only willing to give his all.

February, 1998

Asian Eye Opener For All

The industry knows the importance of international trade. Yet, very often, different segments of the trade are myopic on the point. Progressive domestic shippers follow carefully the opportunities for export, and U.S. buyers are always on the lookout for the new imported item. Yet, the world is so closely linked today that only a comprehensive view of international trade can keep one abreast of all the opportunities. The unrest in Asian financial markets is a case in point.

January, 1998

Adapting To Consolidation

Consolidation at retail has long been a fact of life for the produce industry. It is a fact newly brought to the fore by the news of additional mergers in the supermarket industry as Fred Meyer moves to acquire Smith's, Ralphs and Quality Food Centers. In all likelihood, even greater consolidation is in store for the supermarket industry. It has caused a lot of hand wringing among suppliers, and not without reason.

December, 1997

New Products Will Build Sales

Perhaps the biggest single challenge facing the produce industry is whether retailers are willing to make the investment necessary to build the produce category through new products. Anyone attending the PMA show in Anaheim saw the truth: The produce industry is witnessing a literal avalanche of new products. Yet over and over I see retailers taking these products, giving them tiny displays, attempting to make 60 percent gross margins and then eliminating them when they don't meet movement requirements.

November, 1997

Food Safety And Free Trade

U.S. consumers benefit from a greater variety of products at better prices, and poorer countries benefit by having a market for their wares. The solution to food safety problems overseas is clear - we must help less developed countries rise to our sanitation standards. The problem is that many have never bought into the logic that we will be more prosperous by living in a free-trading, more prosperous world. As such, food safety problems become not problems to be solved but, instead, an opportunity to block trade expansion.

October, 1997

Where Is Today's Hero

In some future age someone will write a book about irradiation that will tell the story of a primitive people frightened by what they could not understand. Even more, though, it will speak of a terrible lack of courage on the part of leaders, both private and governmental, who were so fearful of controversy that they allowed ignorant rabble-rousing extremists to dictate policy rater than going through the steps necessary to educate people on the facts. And they did this while innocent people fell ill and died due to food safety problems.

September, 1997

What Consumers Really Want

Democracy, through the ballot box, tells us what people want, but it is capitalism, through spending decisions, that tells us what people want most. The last several decades of retail experience have told us that what people want most is: broader selection, easy parking and lower prices.

August, 1997

Forewarned Is Forearmed

We can have a scare over Alar on apples, even a panic over alleged cyanide on Chilean grapes, and the industry can recover relatively quickly. Just announce we are banning Alar or that only particular grapes are affected and the public is usually satisfied. The question is how does the industry deal with spates of small problems, each one of which effects relatively few people but which, cumulatively, create a sense of unease with the safety of the commercial food supply, in general, and produce in particular?

July, 1997

Governmental Road Blocking

I could go on about the Dept. of Commerce's document containing loads of restrictions incompatible with the free conduct of business. The truth is, however, that this kind of stuff is inevitable and will get worse as long as the Department is trying to enforce an agreement to maintain a minimum price, which by itself circumvents free market functioning.

June, 1997

Industry Growing Pains

For the produce industry, as we approach the millennium, the ghost of economist Joseph Schumpeter hovers high over the trade. For perhaps not since the collapse of the auction system and the blossoming of direct retail buying have we been so close to a dramatic change in the way in which produce is bought and sold.

May, 1997

Is The Force With Us

I'm hopeful that the Produce For Better Health Foundation is on a course toward significantly enhancing its operations. From its birth as a national organization, PBH has been searching for the right kind of leadership. Elizabeth Pivonka, recently named president of the foundation, strikes me as making all the right moves. Elizabeth is sort of the Princess Leia of the insurgency, fighting to increase health by increasing produce consumption.

April, 1997

United's Crowning Moment

The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association trade show we once knew, one focused on the sale of fruit and vegetables, is gone and has been replaced by one focused on equipment and technology. It was a gutsy move on the part of the United board and the staff leadership. By biting the bullet and recognizing that the old show format was not sustainable, they set the stage for possible growth.

March, 1997

Consequences Of 'Assured' Safety

Long before this President came around, we, as a nation, adopted the notion that the government should guarantee the safety of many things, including food. Yet, in many ways, it is all a big confidence game. Even with this $43 million extra, the federal government has nowhere near the kind of resources necessary to make sure the food supply is safe. Indeed, even if they had inspectors at every plant from New York City to the most remote hamlet, the federal government couldn't assure the safety of the food supply.

February, 1997

Taking Undercover Too Far

Television network ABC, now owned by Walt Disney Co., has been engrossed in a legal battle with Food Lion, Inc., a supermarket chain based in Salisbury, NC. The focus of the lawsuit was a 1992 segment of "PrimeTime Live," which claimed the retailer sold old food and repackaged out-of-date merchandise. Aside from the legalities of the dispute, however, there is a bigger question: To what extent can the media pursue a story?

January, 1997

Of Fat, Fruit And 5 A Day

The counter-revolution is here. Cigars are big. Martinis are back. A question: Is produce well positioned? I fear not. It is obvious there is something missing. The devotion to 5 A Day, to the exclusion of all other promotional dimensions, is increasingly turning produce into a medicine and, as such, severely limiting the market potential for our industry.

December, 1996

Training Is Not Enough

The produce industry, and retailers especially, should not be so confident that, just because we've done something for a long time, like fresh cuts at store level, it is a fine practice. Very possibly, we've been causing illness the source of which simply hasn't been clearly identified. The truth is that produce department employees are far less conscious than those in many other perishable departments in the store when it comes to food safety and sanitation.

November, 1996

Assessing 5 A Day's Impact

Five A Day is celebrating its fifth birthday as a national campaign. Five years from now, I would like to see it as a thriving organization having real impact, not only on the sales of fruits and vegetables, but on the health of Americans. Despite many good intentions, some excellent and exciting programs, and the support of the National Cancer Institute, getting there won't be easy.

October, 1996

Keeping A Fresh Perspective

home or have them home delivered. Meal replacement is an area in which restaurants and supermarkets will do battle in years to come. It is also an area that will attract numerous hybrids, such as the now-famous Eatzis in Dallas. What is not obvious, however, is what role, if any, the produce department can serve in helping the supermarket fight for the home meal replacement market.

September, 1996

The Responsibility Of Ensuring Safety

In the past, our determination as a society has been to let government set a standard and then to put a sharp edge on it; have the government lie to everyone and say that aviation, nuclear power plants, food - pick your controversy - is perfectly safe. Government, though, is losing its credibility

August, 1996

A Matter Of Focus

The United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, faced with an urgent need to revamp its annual convention after a disappointing show in New Orleans this past February, has made an announcement: The Association intends to refocus its trade show on "tools, technology, equipment, goods and services." In other words, the United trade show is getting out of the business of produce display. This is a step in the right direction, but a much less dramatic step than it might seem.

July, 1996

Face The Branded Truth

I'm not all that old, but years of involvement with the issue of fresh produce branding is enough to make anyone feel like an old man. Here is the drill: two or three times a year, every year, for the past decade, I get a call: "We are going to bring real branding to produce." Sometimes the call is from a big company, explaining that they just hired top people who "really know what branding is all about." Without any exception these efforts have failed.

June, 1996

Focus On Advantages Of PLU's

An almost surreal quality permeates the industry debate over separate "up-charges" for applying PLU-numbered stickers to various produce items. On the surface the argument presents itself as a debate as to whether growers should pay or retailers should pay for the cost of stickers and stickering. This whole line of thinking, though, misses the point.

May, 1996

Of Mad Cows And Walking Tightropes

Some scientists suspect that 10 Britons have contracted a horrible brain disease by eating meat from British raised cattle infected with "mad cow disease" or bovine spongiform encephalopathy. For the produce industry in the United States, this all may seem kind of far away. There is no threat on the horizon of anything remotely similar to this situation in Britain. And yet the U.S. produce industry can learn from the predicament facing the British beef business.

April, 1996

How United Can Prevail

With all the pageantry of the United Convention, in all the claims and counter-claims of how well or poorly the association is doing, one statement rings true: The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association has become irrelevant to retail chain stores. Because the truth is, United does not need one single retailer at its convention, on its board of directors, or as a member, to be a vibrant, successful and growing association. United's main purpose is government relations.

March, 1996

Entering The Meal Business

As the numbers for foodservice have been rising steadily, with the best estimates now being that around 45 percent of food dollars are being spent somewhere other that at retail, supermarkets have responded with all kinds of efforts to recapture this business. Though the deli/foodservice departments may get the glamour, the produce department is an important part of this effort.

February, 1996

Overcoming Fresh-Cut Obstacles

Most of today's comments about fresh-cut fruit are irrelevant. They are based on an assessment of products that don't exist commercially as of yet. If national shippers can produce high quality fresh-cut fruit at good prices with reasonable shelf life, they will be shipping fruit all over. Still nothing happens automatically, and processors will face three big obstacles beyond technology in bringing fruit and meals to market.

January, 1996

Sense And Sensibility Of The PACA

Now that the new PACA bill is the law of the land, however, I think it important for all of us to understand that, even though we may benefit, the PACA trust exemplifies a way of using government that is often used against the produce industry and is part and parcel of a system that truly impoverishes us all.

December, 1995

Money Is Your Compass

No matter what an association calls itself, nor which group it claims to represent, generally speaking all associations follow a variant of the golden rule. Namely this: He who has the gold, makes the rules. That is why the issue of financing government relations is crucial.

November, 1995

Merger Begs Question Of Compatibility

A quarter century ago a group of directors from the Produce Packaging and Marketing Association approached the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association with a question: Is there any way in which United might consider working with the smaller PPMA? The answer: No interest whatsoever. Now that United has approached PMA and suggested a merger, the industry has come full circle. But an industry can't move forward if it is only moving in circles, so the challenge is to find a way to move ahead.

October, 1995

Merger Mania

With the regularity of the tide, this industry often turns to discuss the combination of its two national trade associations, the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Produce Marketing Association. The discussion has occurred so frequently that one is tempted to ignore the latest talk. This time, it's different. When United's leadership reached out to PMA to discuss a possible combination of the associations, the very public nature of the outreach showed how times have changed.

September, 1995

The Walls Tumble Down

In the produce industry, lately, there has been a confluence of battles going on. Each, individually, might mean little, but, taken together, they point to the crystallization of a line of thought that, in its modern version, has been brewing since the 1950's. The switch in the ideological currents, manifest in the Republican takeover of Congress, has important implications for how individuals and companies need to approach their business problems.

August, 1995

PACA Deal Doesn't Guarantee New Law

Association leadership would be wise to save the champagne until their compromise agreement becomes law. Though it is possible it will be approved by the House, the Senate and the President, it is also possible that the compromise itself has created new enemies for PACA, which could derail the passage of this legislation.

July, 1995

Japan Retribution: Produce?

As an American, I am ashamed at the actions taken by President Clinton regarding the Japanese automobile manufacturers. As you know, the President has ordered 100 percent tariffs on a select group of high-priced vehicles entering the U.S. from Japan. This basically closes the U.S. market to these cars and deprives those Americans who wish to purchase them of their liberty to do so. If sanctions come from the Japanese, a very likely target is U.S. produce.

June, 1995

Reality Check

Growers have told me that retailers are profiteering at their expense for as long as I can remember. I get calls and letters on the subject, and wherever I travel, this is the number one column I am requested to write: One blasting the retail segment for failing to either pay more for produce or cut prices to consumers. I understand, emotionally, the complaint of the growers. But intellectually, this claim makes little sense.

May, 1995

Hard-Headed Assessments

At every industry roundtable, lecture or panel discussion, some industry member will give the following speech: "We, in the produce industry, have the world's most beautiful, best tasting and most nutritious food, and so, all we have to do is get our message out to the consumer, and we will boost consumption." This statement is repeated like the chant of a religious cult. And like most chants, repeating it often can serve to block thought. The industry would benefit by thinking about this claim rather than just asserting it.

April, 1995

Averting Fresh-Cut Disaster

Today the fresh-cut industry includes major national companies, dozens of regional companies, plus loads of in-store and chain-operated packing operations. There is not one major produce company not at least thinking about getting into fresh-cuts, and many have already made the plunge. But amidst all this success, there hovers the spectre of a terrible disaster that could cost the industry tens of millions of dollars and set back the growth of fresh-cuts for a generation. The threat: Food safety.

March, 1995

Imagine There's No PACA

Though the Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act seems like a fixture of the industry, it has become clear that many large supermarket chains would like the Act repealed. And the supermarkets may get their way when a proposal to eliminate PACA is debated in Congress during the current session. To see the picture clearly, we have to analyze PACA in its parts.

February, 1995

Ten Years Of Progress

On the cover of this issue you'll see a small logo that reads: "PRODUCE BUSINESS 1985-1995 Ten Years of Progress." It's a bit premature - our 10th anniversary will be celebrated in October of this year at the PMA's convention in San Diego - but worthy achievements are rare enough in life that it makes sense to make the most of those that come by. So we are going to use this whole year to celebrate.

January, 1995

Successful Selling

My father once had a very big deal selling imported melons, in fact, working virtually alone out of a small office in Pompano. My father was actually able to sell more melons at a higher average price than did some of the big multinational produce giants. How was he able to do this, operating without the advantage of numerous salespeople strategically located around the country? Well, the answer is two-fold.

December, 1994

PMA's First Food Show

The change at PMA is a reflection of changes sweeping the industry, and people like Dick Spezzano, this year's PMA chairman, Jeff Gargiulo, chairman-elect, as well as Bob Carey, PMA's longtime president, all were smart enough to encourage the flowering of seeds that were just ready to burst out in the produce trade.

November, 1994

5 A Day Solution

There are true visionaries in this industry who dream of a day when the whole trade, linked arm-in-arm, will march into an age where each citizen eats at least five servings of fruits and vegetable each day, thus roughly doubling industry volume over current levels. But many a marcher may have his arm in a sling from it being twisted for contributions. This is unattractive and unnecessary if 5 a Day is as good for members of the produce industry as its supporters claim.

October, 1994

Shakedown In Chicago

Today the gangsters of Chicago are mostly a memory, and you can visit Capone's downtown for a nostalgic tour of the excitement of that bygone era. But if you happen to own a unit down on the terminal market in Chicago, you'll probably skip Capone's. After all, why pay to see a shakedown when you are living one?

September, 1994

The Revenge Of Wade Whitefield

Fresh-cuts are indeed a miracle product for produce. In the months and years ahead, the produce department will increasingly resemble the deli and the grocery aisle as other vegetables, and fruits are gradually transformed from ingredients to be used in preparation of meals into foods that are ready to eat. The produce department is changing, and it is changing in a very specific way: money is corrupting merchandising.

August, 1994

Fresh-Cut Challenges Ahead

It should be no surprise that when new technology, new products and new ways of doing things enter the produce department they have unintended consequences. We're starting to see this in the area of fresh-cuts. Despite the seemingly high profitability of fresh-cuts themselves, it seems that two big challenges are looming in the not-so-distant future: Competitive pricing and the loss of department profit margins.

July, 1994

Going Beyond Buying Groups

My phone has started ringing again and it's from shippers - particularly west cost shippers - lamenting the growth of buying groups. To sell more produce to consumers, we need more cooperation between shippers and buyers, not less. Buying groups add another level between shippers and the end user.

June, 1994

Fresh-Cut Branding May Alter Industry

Certainly the appeal of fresh-cuts to consumers is substantial and if retailers don't do the job, some processor will provide the right type of in-store refrigeration in exchange for exclusively filling that case with that supplier's product. It may well be that the processors are investing countless millions in a market that may never develop as they have hoped. So when shippers invest in these super high-tech plants, they do so with something else in mind - the birth of a branded product.

May, 1994

Beware The Supercenter

The glaring message of a study recently released by Cornell University is: supermarkets beware, here comes some real competition. Though the study - entitled "SUPERCENTERS: The Emerging Force in Food Retailing" - specifically deals with the New York and New Jersey area, the message applies throughout the country.

April, 1994

Technological Timidity

Technological advances face a big obstacle, namely the timidity of many supermarket chains. We are seeing it most vividly now in the case of the BST hormone where supermarkets have made pledges not to carry milk that came from cows treated with the synthetic hormone. But we all see similar pledges regarding irradiated foods and can expect similar response on bioengineered produce. Scientifically there is just no reason for any of this.

March, 1994

The Produce Category

The question of allocating space between Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples may be significant, but it pales beside the question of how much space should be allocated to apples versus bananas. It may well be that we should all implement category management but with the emphasis on far broader categories.

February, 1994

Buyer Study Flawed

The retail produce buyer is getting industry attention through the release of a new study: "Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Procurement Dynamics: The Role of the Supermarket Buyer." Everyone involved in the study gets an A for effort. At the same time, the study is just a beginning, and much research remains to be done. The weakness of this study is that it suffers from being an "outside looking" portrait of the retail produce buyer rather than a study of the buyer himself.

January, 1994

Aftermath Of NAFTA

In the aftermath of the NAFTA vote, the produce industry has a right to feel it played its cards right. It passed by a margin large enough to have passed without any of the Florida representatives who switched votes following side agreements made to protect the Florida citrus, vegetable and sugar industries. The agreement would have passed even without industry support. Getting these concessions is a great victory for an important part of the produce industry. So the question is why don't I feel much like celebrating?

December, 1993

Missed Opportunities

The produce industry is on the side of both logic and justice in opposing legislation to allow health claims on certain dietary supplements that are not allowed on foods. It is unacceptable and unfair to have one food product held to a higher standard than another in terms of what their manufacturers advertise as a benefit of their product. But in pursuit of the industry's interest in preventing unfair competition, we may be missing out on an opportunity for loosening the restrictions on health claims for produce.

November, 1993

NAS And EWG Studies Require Scrutiny

Most of the produce industry is made up of practical men who run their business and do their jobs quietly. They work hard and are understandably happy to have headed off a crisis. But ideas have consequences, and the ideas published in the NAS and the EWG reports will also have consequences. These ideas will influence academia and government, and in the end these ideas will influence policy.

October, 1993

Chocolate Flavored Bananas, Anyone?

This theme of releasing forces we can't control runs through human history, mythology and literature, from Pandora's Box to Frankenstein to our great feats of technology, such as the building of the Aswan Dam in Egypt. Over and over again we have both dreamt of and performed actions that led to results not anticipated by the actor. I think all this is important to think about when considering the issues of genetic engineering and produce.

September, 1993

Building A "Fresh Foods" Wall

If, as an industry, we look hard into the reflection of the shiny bags that hold the fresh-cut lettuce mixes, we may see a future that is not simply an extrapolation of the past. It is not at all clear that supermarkets couldn't get big portions of the fast food market if they combine ready-to-eat products with the proper hours and delivery mechanisms.

August, 1993

Let The Race Begin

PMA and United are both very peculiar trade associations. They are peculiar because they encompass a broad swath of voting membership running up and down the distribution chain. Because PMA and United both think of their membership as the whole industry, what is needless duplication in one association's eyes is an essential service to members in the eyes of the other association. Is there an answer to the duplication of services? Yes and no.

July, 1993

Will Green Giant Stand Tall?

Anyone with the pocketbook of Grand Metropolitan, PLC (the parent company), the food industry experience of Pillsbury (the food subsidiary), a brand such as Green Giant and aspirations to take 10 to 15 percent of the produce industry has to be paid attention to. But a little skepticism is in order too. If you look at the history of most food companies' involvement in the fresh produce industry, you find that they were big stars for a short time, and then gave up.

June, 1993

The Cost-Plus Pay-Off

Two trends are booming in the produce industry. Each alone poses a significant challenge for the trade, but combined they may be laying the groundwork for the crushing of countless produce firms under liability lawsuits, Robinson-Patman Act violations and PACA violations. The trends are the various rebate schemes being created by major buyers combined with the growing use of cost-plus pricing agreements, particularly by foodservice distributors.

May, 1993

The Dumping Of George Dunlop

George Dunlop's dismissal as President of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association was almost inconceivable. After all, even as the firing was in motion United was boasting of its most successful convention ever. Board members were trumpeting the association's recent success and there was scarcely a negative word said about him. The board, instead, issued cryptic statements about philosophical differences and praised Dunlop for years of tireless work on behalf of the industry. So why was he fired?

April, 1993

Death By A Thousand Cuts

It is the exception that the major competitive threat is a new supermarket chain coming into town, anxious to take major market share. More typical is that supermarkets and their produce departments face death by a thousand cuts- death not from one new chain seizing 40% of the market, but instead from a plethora of new formats, each one seizing a few percentages of the business.

March, 1993

I Support Free Trade

Free trade is a relatively simple concept. That is why the fact that our "free trade" agreements should clue everyone to the truth: Neither the existing treaties, nor those proposed, are really free trade agreements. Even after all the phase-in periods, doing business with other countries does not resemble business among U.S. states. This being said, we should acknowledge that we don't want the best to become the enemy of the good, and there are still many positive things to come from these free trade agreements.

February, 1993

The Ten Percent Solution

The health authorities of America are lying to the American people and as a result people are dying earlier than necessary. Such is the thesis of The 10 Percent Solution For a Healthy Life by Raymond Kurzweil. The book is subtitled "How to Eliminate Virtually All Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer," and for the produce industry the real story is that our 5 A Day program is urging woefully inadequate consumption of fruits and vegetables to really help people's health.

January, 1993

The Dollar Elections

We have elections in business too. Every day people vote not with ballots but with dollars. But in business we have the disadvantage that our elections don't always give business people the wake-up call that political elections do. Political elections are held on one day, at one time, in one place and the winners are clear. In business, the dollar elections are continuous, and the winners and losers may become clear only over an extended period of time.

December, 1992

Cinton And Us

What will Bill Clinton mean for the produce industry? It's hard to say. On some produce specific issues, we can probably expect tougher attitudes as a matter of policy. Pesticide use is likely to be under greater pressure, as people such as Congressman Henry Waxman get the President's ear. Perhaps more important than policy, though, is personnel.

November, 1992

An American Abroad

I just returned from a trip to Australia where I served as the keynote speaker for the Australian United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association's annual combined industry conference. I met with dozens of produce and retail groups down under and ran through an exhausting schedule of 10 major speeches and a significant amount of private consultation with some of the largest retail operations in Australia. It is an industry in the throes of change.

October, 1992

In The Eye Of The Storm

Some areas hit by Hurricane Andrew are developed only because subsidized Federal Flood Insurance is available. People point out that flood insurance available at prices lower than the commercial insurers would charge is encouraging inappropriate development in areas with real flood danger. If these moves to limit the Federal Flood Insurance program bear fruit, more land might be available for agriculture. The aftermath of a disaster such as this points out why making sound public policy is so difficult.

September, 1992

Call In The Ump

One of the key trends of the last generation has been the growth of international trade, and one of the key challenges of the next generation will be for American growers to expand their market overseas. What kind of system can be put in place that might make life easier and business robust for those exporting American produce? Are there lessons from the domestic industry that we could apply to expanding U.S. exports? The rules that are followed in the produce trade wouldn't work without "umpires" agreed to by all parties.

August, 1992

What's Fair Got To Do With It?

A self-proclaimed "consumer group" tried to spring a trap. They published a newsletter and sent letters to some major retailers, all in the cause of disclosing supposedly "unfair" mark-ups being imposed by the chains. The plan was simple: try to embarrass the chains into lowering their produce prices. Even though the politics of this story is a big deal, it seems to me that the more interesting question is: Are the growers correct? Should retailers charge less for produce particularly when the F.O.B.s are down?

July, 1992

Accidental Wholesaler

Selling the wholesale operation was, in a sense, an emotionally wrenching decision. After all, my family's heritage is in wholesaling. When my great-grandfather, Jacob Prevor, settled in America after abandoning the old world, he set up a wholesale operation on the Wallabout market in Brooklyn. And my grandfather, Harry, though for most of his professional life an auction buyer, would also come to own and operate a produce wholesale company. But my father, Michael Prevor, is a different man.

June, 1992

The Convenience Store Market

Previously the snack choices sold at 7-Elevens were limited to chips and cookies with an occasional shrink-wrapped apple as the only produce alternative. But today, 7-Eleven is getting serious about fighting hard for a piece of the produce business. And this is very good news for the industry, because, almost certainly, the great bulk of the sales 7-Eleven wins will not be taken from supermarkets and other traditional outlets, but from additional demand for fresh produce created by the availability of a convenient source.

May, 1992

Selling One At A Time

The biggest obstacles that surfaced during my "in-store weekend" regarding artichoke consumption came in the area of usage. In the industry we tend to get very excited about the nutritional attributes of our products. Yet, the funny thing was not a person asked about the nutritional attributes of the artichokes.

April, 1992

Finding "Real" Partnerships

Few areas have been more discussed lately than the issue of marketing partnerships. But the more I hear people talking about partnerships, the more I think a good idea is going to get a bad reputation as people call anything they feel like doing a "marketing partnership." To get to real partnership, you need to keep five points in mind.

March, 1992

Death Of A Commission

The problems of the California Iceberg Lettuce Commission are very real. In fact they are inherent in the nature of a lightly funded commission in a highly concentrated industry. There are really only two justifications for a commission funded by mandatory assessments.

February, 1992

Fraud In The Produce Department

It is always tough to pass on a major supermarket chain's business, and when prices are as tough as they have been lately, desperate men do desperate things. But mislabeling tomatoes as "vine ripe" when they are really gassed green tomatoes is bound to be discovered as there are not enough "vine-ripe" tomatoes grown in the state of Florida to possibly meet the commercial scale needs of these chains.

January, 1992

Buying The Business Back

My father, Michael, and brother, Barry, have contracted to purchase Prevor Marketing International, Inc. back from Polly Peck. What's interesting though, is that when Polly Peck bought the company for twelve $12 million up front in 1988 - Polly Peck sent press releases around the world. This year, as it sells companies for fractions of what it paid, the press releases no longer arrive. And yet, these past three and a half years have had pressures all their own. And when I look at my father today, I see a new kind of relief.

December, 1991

Five A Day Maneuvers

As 5 A Day grows, an interesting questions will be to see if the Produce for Better Health Foundation (the sponsoring organization for 5 A Day) will be able to carry the 5 A Day message to its logical conclusion. Despite all the hoopla, there is not really much evidence that merely increasing produce consumption has an effect on human health. That is to say that if everyone kept eating exactly what they have been eating, but included produce to make sure they have five a day, nobody would be getting much healthier.

November, 1991

Challenge To The Trade

The industry is currently promoting a massive 5 A Day campaign which, along with other industry efforts, is principally a consumer education effort designed to explain the health benefits of consuming more fresh produce and less of other items. These efforts are noble and can only be praised. The danger, however, is that the produce industry will be distracted from dealing with the real road blocks to increasing produce consumption.

October, 1991

Three Big Lies

The produce industry is awash with plans to increase consumption. If produce can't register an increase in per capita consumption, then the industry is doomed to fight among itself for a stagnant share of stomach. It is only by increasing the amount of produce that each person eats that our industry can grow. But the truth is that retail produce at the chain level is stagnant today.

September, 1991

A New Focus

Just about one year ago, we joined with The Fresh Approach, the generic consumer promotion organization of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association and together, we committed our organizations to a singularly massive undertaking: To produce the largest, most extensive, most authoritative research on the relationship between consumers and fresh produce that the world has ever known. We called that project Focus On Produce.

August, 1991

The Year Round Riddle

Is year-round availability of product a good thing for the industry? This question is implicit in the examination of growers' claims that they are hurt by the depressing effect of imports on prices during the beginning and end of the season. The answer depends on what perspective one brings to the issue, and which arguments one buys.

July, 1991

Dumping Kiwi

Despite the sins of the New Zealand kiwifruit industry (or to be more specific, the New Zealand government's willingness to mandate a marketing structure), and the many legitimate grievances that can be made about the structure of New Zealand's marketing effort in the U.S., the complaint by the California kiwifruit growers is not on any of these subjects. It is an allegation, instead, that New Zealand kiwifruit is being dumped at less than "fair market value" in the United States.

June, 1991

PMA's Big '5 A Day' Move

The Produce Marketing Association has announced the intention to form an independent charitable foundation in order to promote the "5 A Day" program. Of course establishing an organization is an awful lot easier than achieving much with it. And the industry needs to watch carefully. "5 A Day" is such an exciting concept it is easy to get caught up in the idea of the program. But the new foundation needs to deal with many questions.

May, 1991

Bold New Venture

In Houston, TX a brand new produce company was recently born using geographical, technological and organizational advantages combined with an experienced staff and an awful lot of old-fashioned money to establish itself as a contender in the produce field. The new company is ICN Produce, and it looks like this firm will end up as the fourth or fifth largest importer of Chilean fruit in the U.S. this year. How did they do it? And is there a lesson about opportunity that we all would do well to learn from this experiment?

April, 1991

Lessons From United

A couple of years ago the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association was on the ropes. Talk throughout the industry was about the possible merger with another association or other dramatic changes. Yet today United is coming off of what was, in many ways, its most successful meeting ever. Still, the turnaround from two years ago at Houston is remarkable. And I think it's worth noting how United pulled itself up by its bootstraps because the lessons apply to every business.

March, 1991

In Harm's Way

People's feelings are particularly intense over the "peace" protestors. And I must admit that as a journalist, I'm a little embarrassed at the attention this small minority is getting on television. Those people who have supported this battle in the Persian Gulf love peace no less than any other person. And, I think to imply otherwise demeans what our soldiers are fighting for, which is peace and stability in the Persian Gulf and throughout the world.

February, 1991

Diversify Sunkist?

What is Sunkist, and what sort of organization should it try to be? This is the question that western citrus growers have wrestled with for generations, and it is a question the urgency and importance of which has only increased with the horrible losses of the recent freeze and concomitant loss of a substantial portion of the western citrus crop. As a cooperative, Sunkist is owned by its grower-members, and its purpose must be to further their interests.

January, 1991

Education Breeds Success

Most companies spend more money on payroll than they do virtually anything else. So the obvious corporate desire is to increase productivity. If companies can improve the productivity of their workforce by 10%, they can easily recoup enormous investments in training to accomplish that increase. When you try to analyze why many firms are hesitant to invest heavily in training, the objections are two-fold.

December, 1990

Lessons From Big Green

By the time of the vote in November, it had become clear in California that the Big Green initiative was in trouble. The shocker was that it lost so overwhelmingly: 64% to 36%. How did it happen that this initiative, so certain to win a few months ago, could be defeated so decisively? And what are the implications of its loss to the produce industry?

November, 1990

Defending Our Retail Turf

A new report, "Facts About Store Development," recently released by the Food Marketing Institute, may indicate a great threat to continued growth in produce sales at retail: Supermarkets are no longer getting bigger. We may be entering an era when produce directors will be continually engaged in hand-to-hand combat with other department heads as they struggle to convince top management to take space away from other departments and devote it to produce.

October, 1990

The Volume Incentive Fallacy

Grower/shippers have been calling looking for help in dealing with "volume incentive plans" being introduced by some retailers. Now, of course, this is a free country, and if a supermarket wants to buy produce this way, it has the right to. However, it is interesting to consider why a chain wants to do this and what the effects on the industry and consumers might actually be if these programs gain sway over the field.

September, 1990

Perils Of Produce Marketing

Marketing is an extremely complex subject, and the perils of produce marketing, in particular, are enough to keep anyone on their toes. Though marketing to consumers is glamorous, the successful large produce companies are equally aware of the need to use consumer advertising to get the trade behind the product. Still, it seems to me that this whole area of branding and consumer advertising continues to be misunderstood by the trade.

August, 1990

Wholesaler Or Scapegoat?

Terminal market wholesalers often seem like the Rodney Dangerfields of the produce industry: They just don't get any respect. In fact, it's hard to go to an industry function without listening to some industry member dump on the terminal markets. This is senseless because the reality is that wholesalers on the terminal markets are a vital ally of all growers, shippers, retailers, foodservice distributors and commodity promotion boards in the battle to distribute produce while making a buck.

July, 1990

Danger: Slotting Fees Ahead

The whole idea of slotting fees, basically payments made by suppliers to ensure a certain amount of display space at retail, has the potential to dramatically alter the way produce is purchased and merchandised. A lot depends on how it all works out, but there is a minefield of issues to be resolved.

June, 1990

A Boost For Organics

A mandate for substantial changes in food production methods - spearheaded by the burgeoning environmental movement - should be watched carefully by those of us who seem more inclined to abandon organically grown produce as a profitable venture. Strong trends in our society are reducing the tolerance for farming of any type and particularly those of anything toxic or carcinogenic.

May, 1990

The Broccoli AmBush

When the news came out that the president was banning broccoli from Air Force One, I thought that the produce industry may just want to send a thank you letter to President Bush. Why? Because the broccoli affair may serve as a needed reminder that we are selling food, not medicine, and that of all our emphasis on nutritional marketing may need to be reassessed.

April, 1990

The Real Members Of The Year - Our Readers

After 86 years, the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association decided to unveil a Member of the Year award. The Award, which was presented at United's convention in San Antonio, was given to PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine as well as to this author's family. Winning an award is always a pleasant experience, but being recognized by the UFFVA is especially meaningful to someone such as I, someone who grew up in the produce industry.

March, 1990

United On The Rebound?!

We have to give them credit. The folks at United pulled off a truly terrific convention when many in the industry didn't think that they could. They were helped by nice weather in San Antonio and a new hotel. But the real reason it was a better convention is that now that the association has new management on board, the staff was free to experiment and implement new ideas.

March, 1990

Social Security Reform

With many produce employees paying more in Social Security taxes than in income taxes, the debate over Social Security is one produce people must pay careful attention to. Fundamentally, a program such as Social Security is necessary because, as a society, we are unwilling to have our elderly citizens suffer terribly due to financial problems. Is the Social Security system the best way to achieve the goal of forced savings? I would say it is not.

February, 1990

Diversify Or Die

I remember, as a boy, watching my father handle his produce business. I recall how he would respond to even the most disastrous loss of business with equanimity. If we would lose business abruptly to some calamity in a foreign land, he would say that it didn't matter - we'd make just as much next year. Why? Because "We are in the business." What he meant is that he had carefully structured a business that was not overly dependent on any one crop or facet of the trade.

January, 1990

A Brave New World

A new trend at the retail level may open an astonishing marketing opportunity for vendors of produce. The trend is database marketing, and the opportunity is a chance to engage in the target marketing of consumers.

December, 1989

Advice For New Parents

Buying companies is easier than running them, and the multinational produce conglomerate is still something of an unproven concept. Companies are trying, however, and as they are spending a lot of money and bringing new capital and ideas to the industry, we should wish their efforts good luck. Meanwhile, here is my list of seven key concepts that hopefully will be kept in mind by the "parents" of newly acquired companies.

November, 1989

A Blessing In Disguise

The simple fact of the matter is that if consumers do not fear scarcity or higher prices (and they do not), then consumers will naturally and continually side with those who claim they can achieve other goals of concern. Perhaps growing restrictions on chemical use and produce handling practices, which at first glance seem destined to hurt the industry, may be its salvation.

October, 1989

Heart Of The Matter

The American Heart Association's seal-of-approval program for processed foods should be strongly opposed by the produce industry. The basic idea of this program is that processed food products deemed worthy by the AHA by virtue of meeting standards for total and saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, will get to wear a special "HeartGuide" symbol and to be part of an American Heart Association-sponsored advertising and marketing campaign.

September, 1989

United We Stand

Like a breath of fresh air sweeping a house clean, Richard Jahnke, chairman of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association has set the stage for a renaissance at United, and in doing so he has earned the loyalty of the staff of United and the industry at large. Today United has a new opportunity. And you can count this writer among those hoping United will make the most of it.

August, 1989

Developing Demand

There is something peculiar about branded produce and consumer advertising. It seems that all the advertising has not developed brand loyalty among customers. Consumers are not giving their grocers any indication that they really have brand preferences in fresh produce. And as a result, retailers really feel no compunction to purchase any particular brand.

July, 1989

The Great Chasm

What seems to have happened, not only with apples but also with other crops, is that you have two separate worlds. One world is composed of the growers who worry about yields and fertilizers. In another world are the packer/shippers and brokers, the marketing people. They worry about salesmen and advertisers, promotional allowances and getting on ad. The two groups need each other desperately, but they don't fully trust each other.

June, 1989

Raising The Minimum Wage

It may seem that the battle to raise the minimum wage should not be an important matter to owners, salespeople, buyers and merchandisers. I think it is important, however, in part because the issue itself is vital when it comes to providing opportunity for America's poor, but also because the minimum wage battle is the opening salvo in a war to require businesses to provide benefits which elected officials don't want to pay for with taxes.

May, 1989

The Exalted FDA

Importers, wholesalers, retailers, plus all the people of Chile stand as victim to an act of terrorism. But in this case the terrorists who put cyanide in some grapes were foiled. Not one person fell ill or died. But although the terrorists failed to achieve victory through poisoning, they were handed another victory by an FDA official looking for a chance to stand tall. By its actions, the FDA established that terrorists will be allowed to disrupt international trade and our domestic economy at very little cost or risk to themselves.

April, 1989

Lessons In Fundraising

At the United convention in New Orleans, the Center for Produce Quality (an organization established by United and PMA) unveiled a substantially revised program designed to enable the produce industry to address consumer concerns about food safety. Yet despite enormous problems and the obvious industry stake in doing what can be done, the Center for Produce Quality is having trouble raising money to fund its operations. Why is this?

March, 1989

Capital Gains

George Bush, during the recent campaign, advanced the idea that he wished to restore the capital gains differential. The virtue of the Bush proposal is that it realizes there is a problem with the current capital gains structure. The problem is that it is an unprincipled response. Is there another approach that could deal with the capital gains in a fair and effective way? I think so.

February, 1989

Moving On Up

At least since Horace Greely admonished young men to "Go West", moving in search of greater opportunity has been a classic strategy of Americans. Yet regardless of the romance of the notion, the practical obstacles to moving an ongoing business are tough enough to frighten anyone from the concept. But once you get past the problems of moving, a decision to move is an important one that can change the life of a person and the future of a business.

January, 1989

Inspected For Quality

An "IQ" logo, standing for "Inspected for Quality," is the heart of a special effort by the PMA and United to address consumer concerns over pesticides and to reassure the public of produce safety and quality. The following is the edited text of a letter sent to Robert Carey, secretary of the Produce Marketing Association and Roger J. Stroh, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.

December, 1988

Hanging Together Or Separately

At the PMA convention in Nashville, I participated in a closed meeting of something called the Coalition for Food Safety. Basically this was a group put together by United and PMA to plan an industry response to consumer concern over pesticide and other chemical residues. This pesticide and food safety issue has clearly become an area of great concern. But I have severe doubts about the way this concern has been directed.

November, 1988

Finding The Pesticide Solution

Obviously, most people would find it difficult to decide whether levels of pesticide residues were significant or insignificant, so the government stepped in. The authorities define which pesticides are acceptable, what commodities they may be used on, and to what extent the pesticides may be used. This is meant to assure the public that all produce sold is safe to eat and free of "significant" pesticide residues. But the system has problems.

October, 1988

Conference Calls

Several of the top names in the trade have settled charges of falsifying shipping documents by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Federal Maritime Commission. Shipping lines usually have different rates for different commodities. In this case, companies that were shipping to Hong Kong were shipping items that carried higher rates, such as grapes, and listing them as items that carried lower rates, such as oranges. Why did these people falsify the shipping documents?

September, 1988

Selling The Family Business

The sale of a family business is almost always a bittersweet experience for the family involved. No matter what kind of deal you make for the sale, no matter what the reasons for the sale, no matter how fine the people who bought the company, you cannot help but feel a bit wistful when you remember that you built this business with your own hands.

August, 1988

Truckers And Coercion

In this issue, David Drum's article, "The Lumper's Controversy," wrestles with the issue of the treatment that some suppliers apply to truckers. There is absolutely no question that truckers are often put under heavy pressure - and indeed illegal pressure - to handle the unloading of the trucks in a manner satisfactory to receivers and the receivers' employees. However, to say this is not to deal with the complete question, which is: What types of restrictions are reasonable for receivers to impose at unloading?

July, 1988

At The Auction

In times of surplus, auctions tend to depress prices. In times of shortage, auctions tend to drive prices higher. The reason is simple: Auctions remove the element of personal relationship from the transaction of a sale. At an auction, however, cloaks of civility fall aside. The most loyal buyer will ram a knife in the heart of his best supplier and still point out that he paid a nickel more than anyone else.

June, 1988

Proprietary Produce

This issue features an important interview with Jim Rinella, president of Sun World International. The interview is important because it focuses on Sun World's efforts to develop "proprietary produce," produce with some unique feature nobody else can offer. The idea behind this type of program is interesting because it may be the key to understanding how the produce industry can build a profitable future.

May, 1988

La Cosecha

Although I worked in many divisions of my family's business, I really learned about produce working in a small chain of produce stores my family had opened in Puerto Rico. The name of the stores was La Cosecha, Spanish for "The Harvest," and I think about my experience in those stores whenever I receive a request, which I often do, to write an article attacking retailers for making excessive markups.

April, 1988

Here Come The Judge

A phone call came on a very gray New York day offering me the honor of serving as a judge in the contest to select the new Watermelon Queen. I had never been to a Watermelon Convention and I certainly had never judged any kind of beauty contest. But I said I would do it and thanked the association for the honor. All right, I admit it - the jokes started flying in the office 30 seconds after I agreed to serve as a judge. But beyond the jokes, at the contest itself, I found something quite extraordinary going on.

March, 1988

Boosting Fresh

Given the rapid growth of foodservice as a percentage of the nation's food consumption, one key factor that could boost sales of fresh produce is to convince restaurateurs that carrying fresh rather than canned or frozen produce will pay off in increased sales and profits. The problem is that most consumers have no way of knowing if a restaurant uses fresh produce until they are sitting down eating.

February, 1988

24 Hours A Day

On Christmas Day you could see the people passing the shuttered doors of many supermarkets to pick up fresh produce from the Korean-owned produce stand.

January, 1988