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Pundit’s Mailbag — Hope For Tesco Vendor Community ‘Is Gone’

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, May 29, 2009

This letter, written before the Ballantine collapse, manages to speak about modern subjects such as Tesco and tree fruit while reminding us of a letter written long ago:

Thank you for your many articles on Tesco and, especially, your piece Tesco’s US Losses ‘Unnerving’ .

At the present, here in Fresno there are 2 stores out of 6 proposed that have been built. Just built mind you, they sit empty. One of the stores is situated as such that you have to really look for it or know exactly where it is just to find it! It lies buried behind the Rite Aid Store.

I had the pleasure of working for Scattaglia Growers & Shippers last summer. At that time, SGS was a major supplier of fresh summer items exclusively to Tesco.

It appears that the hope that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy concept might support a vigorous, growing and profitable vendor community is gone.

Tesco’s timing and format do not stand much of a chance as you have pointed out!

Thanks for being the bearer of truth over the years!

Many years ago, 21 to be exact, I wrote to you about retail chains having no problems asking their suppliers to help defray the costs for, shall we say, modernizing their operations. At that time, in the article you said you could not reuse or print my words as I did not provide you with my name. Now you have it.

We here at PR Farms have thrown in the towel of growing fresh California tree fruit. The economies of providing it to our customers no longer make it a viable venture!

— Steve Spears
P-R Farms, Inc./Bella Frutta
Clovis, California

We take no pleasure in pointing out the difficulties of any business. Indeed we are sustained in doing what we do because over the years we have learned that thoughtful critique is really a great gift.

We are fortunate to have a number of close friends who are executives on the buying end of the business. Although we like to think it is the Pundit’s pleasing personality and rapier wit that has built these friendships, when we really get close we always wind up being told some variant of the same story: Buyers suffer because all their schemes are deemed brilliant, and they reached out to us because we were the only one they could talk to about their plans who didn’t laugh at their jokes!

The moral of this story is not that everyone should befriend the Pundit; it is that they should really work hard to create an environment in which vendors feel free to speak their minds and in which those same contributions are respected and acted upon.

The shame of the Tesco situation is that it didn’t have to turn out this way; but they were never secure enough to listen. We hoped they would have listened to us a little bit, but, mostly, they needed to listen to their vendor community.

We harped many times on their unwillingness to join PMA, United Fresh and the Fresh Produce and Floral Council. Sometimes we were even asked, “Do you really think joining the trade associations is so important?” We did, and the reason is not because of any miraculous insight that joining would produce; it is because Tesco intentionally didn’t join because they felt they had nothing to learn. They figured they would let their produce supplier join.

We were certain that almost any experienced Americans they had working for them would recommend joining, so a decision to join would mean trusting the Americans who worked there and being open to the idea that Tesco could learn from interactions with others. So it was, in a sense, not the joining, but the willingness to join, that would have been the big win for Tesco.

We thank Steve for his kind words and remember his letter of so long ago. We often publish pieces anonymously, but the Pundit, personally, has to know who sent the letter. This is to ensure that the letter is properly positioned. For example, indicating if it comes from a competitor.

Still it is nice to be a survivor, and the fact that 21 years after writing a letter one feels free to speak openly and doesn’t worry about the consequences indicates that our correspondent has acquired wealth of a special sort over the past couple of decades.

We thank Steve Spears and P-R Farms/Bella Frutta for the letter, and wish all our readers that kind of prosperity.

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