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Pundit’s Mailbag — A Kroger Exec Urges Pundit to “Get Real” In Analyzing Costco Decision To Decline Government Funds For Electric Charging Stations

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 22, 2011

Our piece, A Hat Tip To Costco… Lack of Usage Prompts Costco To Forgo Electric Car Chargers And It Helps Taxpayers By Resisting The Lure Of Free Government Money, got the goat of a very important person in the world of specialty cheese:

Prevor, get real would you?

If you had any real concern about “the Lure of Free Government Money,” then you would have a serious investigation about subsidies to our agriculture industry and large food processors, as opposed to this cheap shot at the EV cars. This is a non-story. Period. As it was clearly stated in your article, the charging stations were out of date and not used due to the EV cars being pulled off the market by GM. (If you would really like to learn about this you should see the film “Who Killed the Electric Car?”).Your overly condescending tone to the green movement reveals your short-sightedness. Twenty years ago, organically grown produce was considered a joke by the big supermarket chains; now it is everywhere. As I said before, get real.

If a “pundit” is a “learned person,” it is not showing from this kind of writing.  

—Tim Smith
Category Manager Specialty Cheese
The Kroger Company
Cincinnati, Ohio

Tim is a highly respected authority in the world of cheese, the Treasurer of The American Cheese Society and an intriguing personality. So we appreciate Tim taking the time to write, though we confess that we think ourselves unfairly maligned.

First, we have been quite consistent regarding agricultural subsidies. For example, back when the farm bill was being considered, we pointed out that it was distasteful for the produce industry to be endorsing a giant farm bill because the industry had managed to get some small sums of money for industry initiatives in the bill. You can read that piece here. More recently in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, we pointed out that we could all be winners if the lobbyists lost a bit. You can read that piece here. For the record, we would not give one penny in “subsidies to our agriculture industry and large food processors.”

Second, we are opposed neither to electric cars nor to charging stations. We did question whether chargers weren’t more sensibly deployed in employee slots as employees are at the store long enough to really benefit, and the predictable availability of such charging stations for employees might actually motivate purchases of electric vehicles. We will say that we wouldn’t give subsidies to electric cars because it is not a useful function for the government to pick and choose the technologies that will “win” in the future.

Third, the hat tip to Costco was because, having decided that it had no need for charging stations — utilizing its own judgment, not that of the Pundit — it elected not to install them even when taxpayer money was made available. One may disagree with Costco’s lack of enthusiasm for charging stations, but not taking taxpayer money to do something that Costco executives think would be wasteful is laudible.

We also point out that the saga of the electric car has been going on since before Henry Ford, yet electric vehicles have never been a mainstream success. We would also note that Chris Paine, the director of the film Tim mentions, just unveiled at the Tribeca Film Festival his latest documentary, Revenge of the Electric Car, which chronicles its comeback. You can see the trailer for this new movie at the end of this article.

We have no objections to organically grown produce and, in fact, believe that if consumers want it, it should be made available to them. Though whether organic produce is “green” or not strikes us a legitimate question to explore. After all, if organic generally produces lower yields, then more land will have to be devoted to agriculture to produce the same amount of food. If this thirst for land leads to, say, deforesting the Amazon, it is not obvious to us that this is beneficial for the environment.

Of course, on the substance of this matter — whether consumers will value charging stations at retail stores — there is no need for Tim and the Pundit to disagree. This is a commercial choice and the surest way to get Costco to install charging stations is for there to be evidence that consumers are selecting to shop at say, Kroger, because it has charging stations.

Obviously, however, Tim’s enthusiasm being noted, Kroger executives are a little hesitant about the draw here as well.

Smith’s Food and Drugs, a Kroger division, has opened one single charger in a gas station unit. You can read about it here.

Kroger’s Fred Meyer Division will be installing chargers in six Portland, Oregon, and six Seattle, Washington area stores. You can read about it here. This project was made possible by a $114.8 million stimulus grant.

The Kroger Company, though, is a pretty substantial organization. If its executives thought that electric charging stations would bring in lots of customers, they would be sprouting up like weeds in every Kroger parking lot. That they are not makes us think that top executives at Kroger are thinking in line with top executives at Costco in saying this is not likely to be a significant consumer draw for a long time to come.

Many thanks to Tim Smith for sharing his thoughts on this issue.

 

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