Pundit Interviews

Pundit Letters





Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Tesco’s Fresh & Easy Has a Recall;Sanctimonious Claims to Merit Consumer Trust Called Into Question

We have extensively covered Tesco’s Fresh & Easy since before its journey to America even started. We’ve mentioned that the company managed to alienate a big part of the supply base, by, for example, contemptuously refusing to join the produce trade associations such as PMA, United Fresh and the Fresh Produce and Floral Council despite it being the American custom to do so.

We also referenced industry members who saw the original Tesco/Fresh & Easy team as incredibly arrogant:

I think one reason everyone is so interested in Tesco’s adventures is because of the way they treated the potential US suppliers and the market place.

When suppliers were interviewed, there was a level of arrogance and bullying that most of us hadn’t seen since we were on the playground in grammar school.

Most people don’t want to see that type of treatment rewarded with success.

Tesco is going to spend a lot of money to find out the fresh industry may not be the most sophisticated bunch, but we do know a little bit about how our industry works.

Many retailers have told us they found the whole manner of presentation incredibly tendentious. For example, from the beginning Tesco and Fresh & Easy have tried to imply that its products are superior to those offered by American retailers. Here is a quote from a Fresh & Easy executive before the first store even opened:

Wednesday, May 23, 2007
great food you can trust

…Our aim is to make fresh, high quality food affordable and accessible to everyone, because that’s what people told us they wanted. Said quickly, it sounds simple, but as ever, it’s all in the doing.

For a start, we’re being very thoughtful about the way we source, develop and distribute our own brand products. For example, we have a team of technical managers working with our suppliers to ensure that all our own brand products have no added transfats, no artificial colors or flavors, and only use artificial preservatives where they’re absolutely essential or traditionally part of the product. And we’re designing a supply chain to ensure that as little time as possible is used up in the distribution of fresh products, leaving the product much fresher instore…

Now to an attentive reader this always sounded like blowing smoke. Only use preservatives when “absolutely essential” or “traditionally part of the product” — now when might preservatives be absolutely essential? When you want to preserve something perhaps? It has been this kind of obfuscating double-talk that has alienated the company from competitive retailers as well.

Fresh & Easy executives continued speaking in this vein:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007
strawberry jamming at fresh& easy


Today at fresh&easy was one of those great days that will stay with me for a long, long time. We saw our very first fresh&easy product, packed and ready to eat.

Why a picture of strawberries?

It was a strawberry jam.

Not just any strawberry jam, but one made using only fresh strawberries from California, and we’ll be offering it at a great price.

Apologies for being a little excited, but great food you can trust at prices everyone can afford just became a giant step closer to reality.

Look at the arrogance of this statement: “Food you can trust at prices everyone can afford just became a giant step closer to reality.” Clearly the Tesco/Fresh & Easy executives were saying that most American retailers — those that sold food “you can afford” — were selling food that Americans could not trust. As if we poor benighted Americans needed a British supermarket chain to come here and show us how to do it right.

And this tone has not diminished even as it has become perfectly clear that Fresh & Easy is a colossal failure. In its recent newsletter, Tesco’s Fresh & Easy headlines its newsletter:

Budget prices. Quality you can trust. Why compromise?

Once again, Tesco highlights this idea that you can “trust” Tesco’s Fresh & Easy as opposed, one supposes, to American retailers whose product cannot be trusted.

Yet, as we suspected from the beginning, it is all hyperbole, smoke and mirrors. The latest case in point is seen in this recall notice:

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Voluntarily Recalls Fresh & Easy Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters, Chewy Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, and Chewy Sweet & Salty Granola Bars Because of Possible Health Risk

Product may be returned to Fresh & Easy for full refund; no illnesses have been reported

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — February 26, 2009 — EL SEGUNDO, CA — In response to the investigations of Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) and its Texas facility, which has now been linked to the Salmonella recall, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Inc., is voluntarily recalling all date codes of fresh&easy™ Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters, Sweet & Salty Granola Bars, Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Salmonella is an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Healthy persons infected with Salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea (which may be bloody), nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. In rare circumstances, infection with Salmonella can result in the organism getting into the bloodstream and producing more severe illnesses such as arterial infections (i.e., infected aneurysms), endocarditis and arthritis.

As a precaution, Fresh & Easy originally removed these products from sale in January. These are the only Fresh & Easy products affected and they have not been directly linked to the salmonella outbreak, and there have been no illnesses reported.

Product Description

Barcode

Dates Affected

fresh&easy™ Milk Chocolate Peanut Clusters 8oz container

5051379001292

All Date Codes

fresh&easy™ Chewy Sweet & Salty Granola Bars 6count/7.4oz carton

5051379001407

All Date Codes

fresh&easy™ Chewy Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip Granola Bars 6count/7.4oz carton

5051379001384

All Date Codes


The recalled products were sold in Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores located in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Customers may return the product to Fresh & Easy for a full refund. Consumers who have questions or concerns about this recall should contact the Fresh & Easy 24-hour toll free number 1 (800) 648-8622.

Now we don’t particularly fault Fresh & Easy for getting caught up in this Peanut Corporation of America recall; most US retailers did. We fault them for being sanctimonious.

The mighty Tesco didn’t send its crack food safety squad down to vet the plant or if it did, they found no more than anyone else.

As we pointed out in our piece entitled Lessons From The Peanut Salmonella Outbreak: Audit System Broken the auditor that Peanut Corporation of America used offered a Gold Standard Certification Program that the company did not have. Which means that for all its talk, Tesco did not even require its ingredient suppliers to have the top third-party audit for whatever auditor it used.

None of this is shocking, not even surprising… in fact it is, dare we say it — just like the Americans. No more worthy of “trust” than anyone else.

There are two things about this release that make us ask if it is not possible that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy has actually been putting its own commercial interests ahead of the health and safety of its consumers.

First, note that the release is dated February 26, 2009. Yet it states clearly that “…fresh & easy originally removed these products from sale in January.” If there was enough possibility that these products could have led consumers to get infected with Salmonella, a condition from which people can die, wouldn’t a decent concern for the well being of one’s customers demand an immediate notification and recall? After all, people could have them in their homes and be snacking away. On what basis would Tesco’s Fresh & Easy feel morally justified in not telling these people of a possible risk?

Second, although the product was removed from the shelves in January and a recall issued February 26, 2009, a review of the front page of the Fresh & Easy website at 12:21 AM on March 12, 2009 shows not a mention of this problem. Now if one is looking for the information, then if one clicks on Newsroom, then Press Releases and then February 2009, one can find a link that says Fresh & Easy Voluntarily Recalls Three Products dated February 26, 2009. Yet, quite conveniently, a horrible “mistake” was made. When one clicks on the link, one sees this: A press release on Fresh & Easy’s UV sanitation machine diverting product from a landfill!

Was that an error? Maybe, although all the other press releases seem correct. In any case, this company, so focused on trust, is certainly not going out of its way to make sure consumers know to not eat that product, not even thinking it worthy of a front page mention on its web site.

Does this make them uniquely malicious? No, in fact we reported similar issues with Yum! Brands during one of its food safety challenges.

But the bottom line is Tesco put its Fresh & Easy brand on product with no more attention to ingredient quality than many American companies. That is not uniquely evil but it is quite unexceptional. A reputation for something beyond American quality will not be earned with just clever PR.




Continuous Tracking Study
Of Consumer Attitudes Shows Eroding Confidence In Food Safety

Over in Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Star Tribunemaintains one of the most thoughtful editorial pages and commentary sections in the country, and thanks to the Internet and RSS feeds, its selections have come to be read widely across the country and around the world.

So we were tickled pink when, in the course of an editorial on food safety drawing on a new study of consumer attitudes toward the safety of the food supply, the editors elected to quote us because we discussed the relationship between this decline of public confidence and the inability of the industry to quickly trace-forward all the affected products:

“This showed a tremendous problem with the industry’s trace-forward capabilities. Once we knew it was that plant and that company, it was still hard to identify all the users of that product.”

Jim Prevor, also known as the Perishable Pundit, is a well-respected authority on food safety and writes one of the best-known blogs on the topic: www.perishablepundit.com.

Of course, as pleased as we were to be mentioned, we were also intrigued by this new study, particularly the fact that it is a continuous study of consumer attitudes, whereas most studies are only episodic. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:

Jean Kinsey
Co-Director Food Industry Center
Professor in Applied Economics
University of Minnesota
and Principle Investigator
on Continuous Consumer Food Safety/
Defense Tracking Study (CFST)

Q: How did the Continuous Consumer Food Safety/Defense Tracking Study originate?

A: CFST is patterned after the Consumer Sentiment Index issued monthly by University of Michigan. That index talks about consumers’ beliefs in the economy and their own financial status. There is also the U.S. Consumer Confidence Index issued monthly by the Conference Board, and both are utilized in the media.

CFST has been designed as an ongoing survey, conducted every week. The benefit comes by measuring the index over time as opposed to occasional snapshots. Consumer confidence rises and falls, but falls noticeably after large media exposures to stories about foodborne illnesses. With this continuous tracking, we hope to find out how rapidly confidence recovers. We want to see if the accumulation of outbreaks produces long-term erosion in confidence.

Q: How long have you been tracking consumer confidence in food safety? Have you formed a good base line to accurately assess trends?

A: Since we started weekly tracking in May of 2008, we’ve been seeing confidence very low, even in the best of times. We’re now at a new low level. This confidence does tend to rebound after some time, but it plunged with the peanut butter outbreak, and it’s too early to understand the long-term ramifications. It not only hurts the peanut butter industry but the whole food industry. The company implicated handled only 2.5 percent of peanuts in the country, but everyone is painted with the same brush.

There could be many reasons. The outbreak has gone on for so long with massive media coverage, eight people died and hundreds were sickened, and peanut butter affects kids. It comes on the heels of the Salmonella Saintpaul crisis, which also dragged on and resulted in a steep drop in consumer confidence.

Q: Do you have a copy of the full report we could share with our readers? Have you produced a chart that graphs the highs and lows in consumer confidence correlating to different food outbreaks and food safety issues?

A: This is fairly new and we haven’t written up a report yet. We’ll have a paper out by the first of May, but plan to release the first true index by the end of March. We do have a chart that follows changes in consumer confidence from May of 2008 through February 2009 based on our survey findings.

Q: Could you send along the questions asked in the survey?

A: We want to wait until we’ve finalized our consumer confidence index, which will be a composite of probably six questions that will talk about how much confidence consumers have in the safety and security of our food supply.

What came out of this was a trend line. Consumers were asked, do you think food is safer than a year ago. After media events which correspond to food safety incidents, this trend line plunges down, and in the peanut butter recall, consumer confidence went down to the lowest we’ve seen it since we started the study in May 2008.

Once we have the index finalized, we plan to put out a report every month to show how it’s changing. This is unique. As far as I know, nobody has done a continuous tracking. The whole point is to try and understand better how food outbreaks and media coverage impacts consumer confidence in the safety and security of our food system.

Kudos to the researchers at The Food Industry Center at the University of Minnesota and the Louisiana State University AgCenter as well as the National Center for Food Protection and Defense for funding this tracking study.

Many years ago, Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS launched a continuous tracking study of consumer attitudes toward the produce industry. We tried valiantly but after a few years had to mothball the project because doing it properly cost several hundred thousand dollars a year and we couldn’t get sufficient support.

This new tracking study, though not produce-specific, is exactly correct in format. To study the effect of events on consumer concerns, one has to be in the field as the news happens and this tracking study does this.

It is not surprising that it comes to us out of Minnesota. There is something unique about that state. Its state laboratories and health department are involved in identifying the source of a wildly disproportionate share of those food safety outbreaks that are identified. Indeed all the focus on possibly establishing a single food safety agency at the Federal level really ignores that the disjunction is often on the state level. Few steps could better advance our food safety infrastructure than bringing all the state labs and health authorities up to the level at which Minnesota routinely operates. Of course, it will be difficult to clone an indispensible national resource such as Mike Osterholm.

One of the intriguing questions not addressed by the study, but which, perhaps, the food industry could cooperate with the researchers to ascertain, is what the effect of rises and falls of consumer confidence is upon actual purchasing.

Data is sketchy but there are some intriguing indications that with even halfway decent trackback and trace-forward, the effect on purchases can be minimized, although dynamics in the food industry seem to imply it is often not minimized to the extent it could be.

AC Nielsen just came out with its numbers for peanut butter sales. Now retail peanut butter was not affected by this Salmonella episode — the Peanut Corporation of America, believed to be the source of the problem, sold peanut paste for industrial purposes, used in cookies, crackers, etc. So Skippy and Jiff consumers have nothing to worry about — at least in terms of this outbreak. Even so retail sales of peanut butter have suffered:

Americans bought 41.8 million pounds of jarred peanut butter in the four-week period ending Feb. 21 — 13.3 percent less than in the same period the previous year, research firm Nielsen reported Tuesday.

Now a 13.3% decline in purchases is not insignificant. In fact, because of the dynamics of supply and demand, one would expect a 13.3% decline in demand to cause a price collapse and basically destroy the season for peanut farmers.

Still 13.3% is not as steep a drop as one might expect in an outbreak such as this in which eight people have died and which has been in the news for weeks with constant recalls.

And in fact there are indications in the data that the drop speaks less to consumer concern than to retail hesitation to raise the issue of food safety. Nielsen also reported this:

The total retail value of jarred peanut butter sales in the period fell 2.3 percent to $87.2 million, from nearly $89.3 million in the same period last year.

Note the discrepancy: Sales in pounds are down 13.3% though sales in dollars are down only 2.3%. What would account for this discrepancy? Easy, the instant the crisis broke, retailers pulled back on promotions, pulled the product from ads and just charged regular retail price. Of course, when they did this they also shrunk display sizes, didn’t do weekend end caps, etc.

Now, it is also possible that the big manufacturers of Skippy and Jiff also pulled back, thinking their promotional funds are better saved for a time when consumers wouldn’t be getting mixed messages. We don’t know.

The whole situation, though, is reminiscent of what happened after 60 Minutes ran its famous report on Alar and apples. Apple sales collapsed but careful study of the data indicated that the sales decline was best explained by the decision of retailers to pull back on advertising, promotion and shelf-space, not, at least directly, by consumer attitudes.

Now it is, of course, possible that retailers know their customers and correctly predict what they would buy and preemptively adjust marketing and merchandising to conform to this demand. Though possible, this is unproven. It is at least as logical to say that retailers — more concerned with having happy consumers not thinking about foodborne illness as they walk the aisles — work to minimize any association with unpleasant thoughts by avoiding sales, minimizing displays and charging full mark-up.

Clearly this interplay between trade actions and consumer attitudes is a subject worthy of more study. This new tracking report will help clarify the consumer attitude part of the puzzle and thus will be an important step on the road toward a more complete understanding of the dynamics between consumer attitudes, trade actions and sales.

Many thanks to Jean Kinsey for helping us think through such an interesting topic.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Big Question For Organic Certification: Will USDA Step In To Clarify Certifier’s Responsibilities?

David Sasuga kicked off our coverage of the issue of the use of non-organic fertilizer on land certified as organic. The series that grew out of his initial note is substantial:

‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Raises Consumer Doubts About Organic Definition

Pundit’s Mailbag — Organic Industry’s ‘Situational’ Standard

Pundit’s Mailbag — As ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer Investigation Widen, Potential Grows For Weaker Consumer Confidence In All Fresh Produce

Pundit’s Mailbag — CCOF Speaks Out On ‘Spiked’ Organic Fertilizer

Pundit’s Mailbag — Legality of CCOF’s ‘Spiked’ Fertilizer Actions Questioned

Now David rejoins the conversation with a letter written in response to the rationale presented by Jane Baker, Director of Sales and Marketing for California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF):

Thank you for continuing to cover this important story. I would like to comment on the recent letter from Jane Baker of California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).

CCOF has recently met with USDA National Organic Program (NOP) officials (Feb 11) and also testified before California’s Senate Food and Ag Committee (Feb 3) to encourage the new legislation for increased enforcement and fines in the production and sale of organic fertilizer.

CCOF previously assumed no organic fertilizer manufacturer would bend the rules by using synthetic to boost their formulas. They now take the position that all organic fertilizer manufacturers must be verified and tested.

On January 30th, CCOF announced its fertilizer sampling initiative. It consists of their 2009 Liquid Fertilizer Approval Policy. In it, CCOF’s stated goal: to ensure the highest level of verification and implementation of the National Organic Program.Toward this goal the policy has several requirements, including:

  • By August 15, 2009, manufacturers of liquid fertilizers selected by CCOF MUST undergo third-party on-site inspections.
  • Manufacturers of liquid fertilizers must provide documentation verifying no synthetic nitrogen equipment, tanks, or supplies are within 100 yards of a facility producing organic fertilizer at any time of the year.

As stated in the Pundit’s response to Ms. Baker, “We doubt that the liquid-fertilizer producers are uniquely malicious, so we suspect there are many other input problems all across the country.”

How does CCOFensure the highest level of verification and implementation of the NOP (its stated goal) with only one organic input being checked? Why is there no third-party verification policy to safeguard any other organic inputs? What about the seed, pesticides, fungicides and other things used by organic growers? Will the CCOF be shocked to learn that a seed supplier might sell a bag of conventional seed as organic?

What about third-party verification at the grower level? Shouldn’t there be verification to show no non-organic or synthetic inputs etc., are kept and stored within 100 yards of an organic farm at any time of the year? Will the CCOF be shocked to learn that an organic farmer has used a bag of conventional seed or other input in violation of NOP rules, when no one is watching? What is its justification for not requiring this kind of verification now?

Would they also have a reason for not supporting verification of a 100-yard buffer between organic and conventional production fields? How about a 100-yard buffer between organic and conventional processing, packing and storage of harvested produce? If this is important for fertilizer manufacturers, shouldn’t it be important for growers?

While CCOF’s Fertilizer Sampling Initiative seeks to do testing of a variety of liquid fertilizers on the market, why doesn’t CCOF launch a pesticide residue sampling initiative to test a variety of organic produce in the marketplace? What could be more reassuring to consumers than that? Most consumers would be shocked to learn that current organic certification relies on reviews of paperwork.

The CCOF has a prestigious and probably well deserved reputation among the organic community. No doubt the board and staff members have worked tirelessly to promote their beliefs. At the same time, this preeminent accredited certifying organic agency has decided not to vigorously uphold the principles that they claim to hold dear. They are not alone in taking this position. The Organic Trade Association is also more interested in tougher rules for fertilizer manufacturers while showing no interest in making sure that the existing NOP regulations regarding contamination of farmlands are followed.

It seems we may expect new laws for increased fines and enforcement for one segment of organic agriculture (fertilizer manufacturers), while the folks that are entrusted to carry out the existing regulations regarding prohibited substances choose not to enforce them.

Ms. Baker talks about the organic way. Is the organic way to betray the trust of the overall community of organic consumers by looking the other way when it comes to complying with the NOP rules?

This brings up the question of the accreditation of CCOF. Under USDA rules, as an accredited certifying agent, CCOF must “Demonstrate its ability to comply with a State’s organic program to certify organic production or handling operations within the State.”

Under the National Organic Program, accredited certifying agents are required to comply with and carry out the requirements of the Act and its regulations. If they fail to do so, they are responsible for their actions or failures to act.

As stated in the NOP Section: § 205.202 Land requirements:

Any field or farm parcel from which harvested crops are intended to be sold, labeled, or represented as “organic,” must:

(a) Have been managed in accordance with the provisions of §205.203 through 205.206;

(b) Have had no prohibited substances, as listed in §205.105, applied to it for a period of 3 years immediately preceding harvest of the crop

The rules are clear and unambiguous. As such, CCOF is failing to comply with its obligations as an accredited certifying agent.

Ms. Baker mentions me in her letter. We clearly disagree on what is the “right thing” in responding to the fact that synthetic fertilizer has been applied to certified organic land.

Ms. Baker states in her letter, “A reduction in the land in organic production would have led to a decreased supply and increased prices, neither of which is in the consumer interest. We believe that if you ask the organic consumer if they would want organic farmers, who had been the victims of fraud, to be put out of business, many would answer no.”

Is CCOF interested in quality or quantity? It is doubtful that organic consumers would prefer lowering the organic standards in favor of having more volume produced. Ms. Baker also seems to be saying organic farmers would go out of business if they are required to follow the NOP rules. Does that mean these rules are not sustainable for an ongoing business to follow? Actually, a large number of growers would agree that many aspects of organic farming may not be truly sustainable.

Her question for consumers regarding this issue illustrates a lack of understanding of organic consumers and a failure to take responsibility as a certifying agency. A more appropriate question to ask the organic consumer:

Would you still buy organic fruits and vegetables if you found out they are being grown on land that is contaminated with synthetic fertilizer? The resounding answer would be no.

Interestingly, the CCOF considers the organic farmers to be victims of fraud despite the fact that they used the spiked fertilizer to increase their production yields. What about organic consumers who are continuing to be defrauded by CCOF’s decision not to follow the rules?

There is no problem with working toward better checks and balances for organic input suppliers. But when this is done while ignoring a responsibility to carry out NOP rules, it looks like some kind of political gamesmanship.

CCOF’s swift and decisive action to deflect attention away from the contaminated land issue by blaming the USDA and fertilizer suppliers while ignoring a fiduciary duty to enforce organic rules seems a disingenuous attempt to protect its own interests rather than those of consumers.

The organic way should be about honesty. That is the best way to support the noble ideals of the organic movement.

— David Sasuga
Founder
Fresh Origins
San Marcos, California

David makes many reasonable points about the certification of inputs and the possible need for buffer zones to maintain organic integrity.

Increasingly, though, it is becoming obvious that this issue will hinge on what USDA does. The law as written seems pretty straightforward: CCOF or any organic certifier has NO DISCRETION. If it finds that prohibited substances have been applied to the land within three years, it cannot be classified as organic. There are no exceptions, no exclusions, intent is not relevant, mens rea isn’t mentioned.

So the question really is if USDA will enforce the law or not. Our guess is that it will not.

The problem is that CCOF has only one weapon to deal with these transgressions and that is an atomic bomb. The reclassification of land as transitional seems to be required as a matter of law; it is the correct path as a matter of consumer protection, but the USDA is a funny organization. Although charged with enforcing these rules, it is also obligated to promote agriculture — including organic agriculture.

To require the reclassification of thousands of acres as transitional would be a blow costing hundreds of millions of dollars. In the absence of widespread consumer outrage or a court order, it seems unlikely that USDA will look to impose that cost on organic growers.

Will consumers come to express outrage? Could a consumer gain standing in court to compel the USDA to enforce the law? Could a consumer sue individual organic vendors for fraud? We may find out.

In the background of all this is another issue, which is whether the organic growers who used the fertilizer were truly victims.

Yes, clearly, they ordered organic fertilizers but surely some of them must have been cognizant of unusually robust growth caused by the “spiked” fertilizer. Was every single grower duped? Or did, at least some choose to turn a blind eye, knowing that the organic audit would look at the paper trail and the farmer would not be doing any product testing.

Many thanks to David Sasuga for assisting us in analyzing this most complex issue.




Perishable Thoughts –
Be Whatever You Resolve To Be

In an earlier piece we gave our March travel schedule, and it involves teaching either undergraduates, graduate students or executive development courses at Cornell, Michigan State and UC Davis. We always decline any compensation for teaching at colleges and universities, thinking it our way of giving back to the industry and helping it grow in the years ahead

Of course, we teach a specific subject each time — perhaps marketing or food safety, sustainability or the strategic implications of the financial crisis. Some of these topics can be dour but we strive to identify a hopeful angle.

We just returned from Cornell where we taught at the United Fresh Produce Executive Development Program (obviously it’s too late for this year, but e-mail Victoria Backer here to be put on the mailing list for next year), and we are always so impressed with the executives who attend. Ed McLaughlin and his team work everyone hard and scarcely a one of the attendees doesn’t go back to the room to do e-mail, voice mail and catch up on work. They all deserve a lot of credit.

Next week, we’ll head off to Michigan State and deal with a younger generation. We always enjoy dealing with undergraduate and graduate classes. The students are so earnest… they may not always know what they believe or they may believe wrongly, but they believe intently, and in the purity of that passion is a font of much of the progress that society makes. Immersion in their passion is a fountain of youth for us all.

The following week we’ll be at UC Davis teaching in a new marketing program and we look forward to working with the industry attendees and the other faculty members to establish traditions and habits that will secure a sound place for this program in the panoply of industry education. This one you can still get into, so take a look at registering right here. We don’t know everyone who will be attending but we have no doubt we will leave inspired by the commitment to self improvement exhibited by all who attend.

While thinking about students, it seems appropriate to send a hat tip to Rob Mumma, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Belair Produce in Baltimore, Maryland. Rob was kind to send over today’s most apropos Perishable Thought:

“You may be whatever you resolve to be”
Lectures to Young Men, on the Formation
of Character & c.
By Reverend Joel Hawkes D.D.
1828

This phrase is popularly attributed to General “Stonewall” Jackson and this one is inscribed on an arch at the Virginia Military Institute. Here is VMI’s explanation of how it got there:

“What are some famous Jackson quotations? Which phrase is inscribed on the VMI Barracks?”

“You may be whatever you resolve to be”

These words are inscribed over the Jackson Arch entrance to the present-day VMI Barracks. During his years as West Point cadet, Jackson began keeping a notebook in which he jotted down inspirational phrases that he believed would aid him in the development of his character and intellect. He continued to add to this book throughout the 1850’s. Jackson was not (and never claimed to be) the author of most of these maxims; rather, he collected ideas and phrases from the books he read. This particular principle is attributed to the Reverend Joel Hawes and first appeared in an 1851 work, Lectures to Young Men, on the Formation of Character & c. Jackson’s original notebook is located in the George and Catherine Davis Collection at Tulane University.

In fact, the quotation is culled from a larger section:

“My friends, you may be whatever you resolve to be. Resolution is omnipotent. Determine that you will be something in the world, and you shall be something. Aim at excellence and excellence will be attained. This is the great secret of effort and eminence. I cannot do it, never accomplished anything; I will try has wrought wonders.”

The quote can be viewed here:

Lectures to Young Men, on the Formation of Character, &c: Originally Addressed to the Young Men of Hartford and New-Haven, and Published at Their United Request (Google Books, download entire volume here)
By Joel Hawes, Edition: 6
Published by Cooke, 1832
172 pages, Pg. 101

The Book of Military Quotations (Google Books)
By Peter G. Tsouras
Published by Zenith Imprint, 2005
512 pages, Pg. 69

The quote can be purchased here:

The Book of Military Quotations (Barnes & Noble)
By Peter G. Tsouras
MBI Publishing Company, September, 2005
512 pages

The Reverend Joel Hawkes does not seem to have been born with a resolve for the life of a Reverend; it seems to have come to him. This paragraph from the Norfolk County MA Archives Biographies explains:

Joel Hawes: was born Dec. 22, 1789. (Died 1867) The ancestors of Dr. Joel Hawes were among the early settlers of New England. They came from Lincolnshire, England, and settled in that part of Dedham which in 1673 became Wrentham, Mass.

At the age of fourteen, his father returned to Brookfield. Here Joel had still fewer advantages for improvement, living three and a half miles from church and two from any school. He went in a few years to visit two uncles and seek his fortune in Vermont. He there learned the cloth dressing trade. He says he was here brought into bad company and spent much time in dissipation and card playing. He was, however, ambitious to earn money, and chopped wood by moonlight to increase his little store.

He attended church for the first time in two years. The thought that he had desecrated the Sabbath awakened by that Sunday service, “pierced him like an arrow of the Almighty that drinketh up the spirit.”

Among his associates in Medway was Cyrus Kingsbury, who was learning the cabinet maker’s trade of Maj. Luther Metcalf. Young Kingsbury, while mowing on the Fairbanks lot, started a rabbit and rushing to catch him came in contact with his scythe and cut a main artery in one leg so that he came near bleeding to death. Hawes watched with him, and his pious resignation and conversation is supposed to have confirmed him in his purpose of a new life.

He entered Brown University in 1809, and in 1810 taught school in Medway, at eighteen dollars per month.

He graduated in 1813 from Brown University, Rhode Island, studied theology in Andover, was duly licensed, supplied the pulpits in Newburyport, was afterwards called and ordained, March 4, 1818, pastor of the First Church in Hartford, Conn.

He married, June 17, 1818, Miss Louisa Fisher, daughter of William C. and Lois (Mason) Fisher, of Wrentham, who, upon her mother’s side, was a descendant in direct line from John Mason, who came in the May Flower in 1620, from England.

Dr. Hawes’ pastorate continued forty-four years from 1818 to 1862. The number of his printed publications were fifty-one. The other Congregational churches in Hartford were largely composed of colonists from his own.

Quite a lot of Joel Hawes’ works are available through Google Books here.

An 1881 book, “The Life of Reverend Joel Hawes, D.D,” is available for view, and download, through Google Books here.

This Perishable Thought is enormously empowering and truly inspirational. What could fire up a human soul more certainly than the belief that “You may be whatever you resolve to be”?

Yet, the question lingers, inspirational it may be, empowering it may be, but is it, in fact, true?

One can imagine thousands of professors in all the newly designated centers and departments that have been built up in the last half century — the African studies centers, the women’s studies centers, the gay/lesbian and transgendered study centers, etc., and these professors would say no, that much of humanity, through much of history has been restricted in what they can become, limited and imprisoned by laws or social mores and conventions.

As a matter of fact, this is all quite true… to say otherwise would be to imply that the reason a black slave never became President was because not one ever resolved to be President.

Yet, the literal truth of this critique, that all of us are constrained by where and when and into what circumstances we were born, may obscure a deeper truth that this quote embodies.

We prefer the larger section that contains the quote:

“My friends, you may be whatever you resolve to be. Resolution is omnipotent. Determine that you will be something in the world, and you shall be something. Aim at excellence and excellence will be attained. This is the great secret of effort and eminence. I cannot do it, never accomplished anything; I will try has wrought wonders.”

For here it is obvious that the good reverend is not saying something as trite as one can have any specific thing one wants by trying hard. It is a rather more general and, in a sense, a more profound statement on the human condition. That wherever and whenever we might be, we can opt for excellence; we can try and if there is, perhaps, a bit of hyperbole in saying that all can obtain excellence by simply trying to do so, it is certainly true that one is likely to be more excellent by striving for excellence than if one aims for mediocrity.

It also seems likely that the notion that resolution is omnipotent is the most profoundly liberating doctrine to preach to people of all colors, sexes and types, for while the oppressed may not have access to money, weapons or education, even the most humble have their own resolution to embrace.

During these times that are not so easy, there is something worth noting in this idea. For one may not control the environment but one controls ones’ own resolution — the way one elects to deal with the hand one is dealt.

The students we teach, of all ages and levels of experience, are electing to strive for a kind of excellence; it is an example all of us can draw strength from.

Once against, thanks to Rob Mumma of Belair Produce for contributing today’s Perishable Thought.

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Perishable Thoughts is a regular section of the Perishable Pundit. If you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the industry, please send it on. You can do so right here.

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