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Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers 

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 12, 2012

Our piece, PMA’s Fresh Summit Triumph And New Commitment To Educating Women, raised the interest of one of the trade’s more prominent women — in fact, the first woman to chair a national produce trade association, when in 2000 she chaired the International Fresh-cut Produce Association:

I read your coverage of PMA’s events for women leadership in the industry and thought you’d find Dan’l’ Mackey Almy’s commentary, A Progressive Industry, which I copy below of interest. Quite a few women leaders in the industry have been commenting for a few years on the hypocrisy of “honoring” women in produce or advocating for “women” leadership, then allowing the exhibition floor to look like the Las Vegas strip.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m no prude or hard-core feminist, but I think we need to walk the walk when it comes to advancing women… in ANY industry. I’d like to see an exhibitor policy developed where booth personnel (i.e., the booth babes) are required to dress professionally. After all, do these exhibitors realize how many women BUYERS are out there in the industry today? Surely they can’t be impressed with such marketing strategies.

Jan DeLyser is the new PMA ChairWOMAN… maybe she can make it happen! Go Jan! 

—Lorri Koster
Chairman/CEO
Mann Packing Co.
Salinas, California

P.S. I’m a member of the Network of Executive Women and find their events to be beneficial, but they are attended by both women and men. Hope PMA’s will shape up in the same fashion

...................................

 A Progressive Industry
By Dan’l Mackey Almy

I haven’t missed a Fresh Summit in 17 years. Hold please while I go apply some eye cream. No, but seriously, I feel so fortunate to have witnessed the evolution of our industry and the progressions we have made over that long period of time.

On The Core, we often talk about telling your stories and the importance of refreshing, improving, and positive change. And our approach to Fresh Summit each year is characterized by anticipation of experiencing new and exciting examples of all of these.

We have and will continue to talk, write and gush about shining examples of progressions such as Career Pathways and The Women’s Fresh Perspectives Event. PMA and the PMA Foundation are championing these programs, with the support of members, to improve our industry across all demographics.

For six years, Fresh Perspectives events have contributed to an atmosphere of goodwill and growth. The impact the speakers have made, along with the many relationships that have been fostered at these events, is truly dynamic. Even after Condoleezza Rice spoke at the Year-Three event and we asked “how can that be topped?” — the momentum has far from waned.

This year, I sat at breakfast with a student from Texas A&M University, Deanna Bosse, for whom I had the honor of being a Career Ambassador. That morning and throughout the weekend, I was able to share with her and answer questions about our industry and being a woman in fresh produce. And, from the 800+ participants at the PMA Foundation 5k to the concentrated Future Focused Friday day of education, the best of our industry was on display for Deanna and the other Pack Students.

However… There was a stark contrast between these positive examples and the blatant, less dressed “booth babes” and risqué messaging displayed on the show floor. Sure, I acknowledge that sex sells, but I must ask, is this the best way to communicate the value of your brand, products and services?

Do these gimmicks diminish the relevancy of value-based, clever marketing that is also abundant at Fresh Summit?

Let’s set aside the debate on the overexposed and underdressed women touting their headshots and professions (some of which happen to be unrelated to fresh produce) and instead talk about what we are selling. We are already selling the sexiest products and complimentary services on the planet. So for companies who resort to this, it begs the question “how desperate are you?”

PMA, UFPA and other organizations provide industry members with platforms for doing business, and it’s all of our responsibility to optimize these events to achieve that very goal — good business increases consumption. There’s an old produce saying that “one bad apple spoils the bunch.” And while we have many, many more good apples amongst us, it feels a bit like the progress I’ve seen over 17 years stutters and stalls at times.

If we are going to embrace the #HelloFuture mindset encouraged at this past Fresh Summit, then we must be mindful of old school ways that can and will limit us as we move forward. What do you think?

Many thanks to Dan’l for allowing us to reprint the piece she ran in her blog, titled The Core, which we have often quoted in pieces such as these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Profitable Participation

‘Fresh For Ellen’ Raises A Question: How Should We Define Success?

How Will Success Be Measured For Fresh For Ellen Social Media Campaign?

DMA’s Philanthropic Anniversary Celebration

Plea For Ellen DeGeneres To Consider Produce In Her Sugar-Free Diet

Perishable Thoughts — Hope Obama Helps Country ‘Arise’

Dan’ls team at DMA Solutions also was kind enough to work with us in the past on the New York Produce Show and Conference, and we announced that arrangement here.

We’ve been dealing with this issue a long time. We first wrote about it over 20 years ago when we had a cover story in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, titled Women in the Produce Industry, but in that same issue, there was a risqué ad from Lisenbey, Inc. We received many letters, including one from, yes, Lorri Koster (née Nucci).

We defended our decision to run the risqué ad in our response to the letters, but, years later, in a Pundit piece, titled Pundit’s Mailbag — Sexism in the Produce Industry, which was prompted by a letter regarding women in trade shows, we walked back on that approach. Basically, we started out defending free expression and moved to a position of publisher responsibility.

Over the years, we have lost money, a fair amount of money, because we rejected ads that played too overtly on sex.

We are all for professionalism but think making a set policy is difficult. If the Tahiti Produce Federation wants to have native dancers showing the heritage of the country, it is difficult to think one should limit that. If you don’t limit that, you start making very subjective judgments about what is appropriate and what is not.

We suppose there is always some limit. We seem to recall some tofu company being shut down at a show when the skimpy bikinis on its booth babes just were causing too much outrage.

Of course, the fact that a policy is hard to make doesn’t mean that companies are doing themselves any favor by pushing the limit.

One issue, as Lorri’s letter points out, is there many female buyers in the trade and it seems that many won’t like this approach.

But we would go further and say that, overall, although such an attraction may boost booth traffic for the moment, it is unlikely to make buyers — male or female — hold a vendor in higher esteem.

It may be fun for a moment, but when the buyer walks away, what is he going to really remember about the company? Maybe that its representatives had nothing to say about food safety or what they could do to help the retailer sell more effectively.

We had lunch recently with a highly accomplished and well-respected gentleman in the industry. He told us that in the very early years of his career, he used to take clients out to strip clubs. While still in his twenties, he decided that this wasn’t the way he wanted to be perceived and he stopped.

It is many millions later, and this gentleman has outperformed almost his whole peer group.

To us the initiative to stop the booth babes should come from three sources: First, within the company itself, the female employees are well capable of expressing dissatisfaction. Second, the buying community, both females and guys who feel it is disrespectful of women or an attempt to manipulate the guys to make them make decisions in a non-business manner. These folks can speak out with words or actions. Third, and most important, the executives who are pushing this approach should refocus on their long term reputational interests and not what will cause a wow at a two-day convention.

Many thanks to Lorri Koster and Dan’l Mackey Almy for helping us think through this pertinent issue.

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