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Got Produce? PBH’s Hope to Be An Honest Broker Of Industry Dialog Is Tainted By Its Desire To Advocate

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 2, 2009

Our analysis of the proposal for a National Fruit & Vegetable Research and Promotion Order, also known as a generic marketing campaign for produce, has often noted that many in the industry feel frustration that the advocates of the program have seized control of the supposed “dialog” and take it as their right to spend industry money solely to present their side of the debate. More and more we are hearing from industry members about the problematic nature of this arrangement.

A concerned industry member who said he is “already paying into more than one generic mandatory marketing program” sent this note:

I am following closely, like many others, your continuing discussion about the F&V Promotion Board proposal. I completely agree with all of the points covered to date and am still having a difficult time even trying to see the positive points of this proposal except the fact that ‘ah yes, wouldn’t it be nice if there were that magical program that would indeed rise all ships’, but then reality sets in.

I am having a very hard time dealing with the process in place to facilitate discussion/feedback and decision steps along the way. When I asked the advocates of the program about that and expressed my concern, what I received back was rather astonishing. Here is what I was told:

1) They are going to spend industry money to do surveys in both June and, again, later this year. Probably around PMA.

2)They have asked national and regional trade associations to give lists of industry participants to the surveying firm.

3)They have no idea how or if the Executive Committee of PBH will share the survey information with the industry, but the decision is up to the Executive Committee of PBH.

What am I missing? Why would the Executive Committee of the PBH even for a moment want to carry this burden for our entire industry? And what kind of response is “…we have no idea how or if the Executive Committee of PBH will share the survey information with the industry…the decision is up to the Executive committee of PBH…” Are you kidding me?

We’ve written before about the issue of funding and how PBH is just wrong to take funds that were raised with the intent of funding programs and use them, instead, to fund a lobbying effort.

Even if PBH were able to get donors to specifically fund its efforts, it still would be assuming an untenable position.

Why? Because PBH can either be an advocate of the generic promotion program OR it can be an honest broker managing the process for the industry — it cannot be both.

This is the core of the problem: PBH has taken on a dual role and the two roles are incompatible.

PBH can spend all the money it wants on surveys — but the legitimacy of those surveys has been tainted by its advocacy role, and whatever is presented in favor of the proposal will be rejected by many key players in the industry who don’t trust the process. Who wrote the surveys? Selected the questions? Who vetted them to make sure they are even-handed? Who selected the research company? How do we know what has been whispered in the ear of the researchers or how the list has been biased?

And the sneaky suspicion is that the industry will get to hear only paraphrases and summaries that support the proposal.

This lack of credibility is what grows out of deciding to be both the advocate of the program and the manager of the dialog.

Besides, why are we spending industry money on a survey at this point anyway? Yes, of course, if we knew that all the big companies supported this, we might want to survey the smaller guys. After all, we don’t want to do a plan without broad-based support.

But if we don’t have support from the big guys, it can’t happen, so why even bother spending the money on the survey?

All that is required is to call up 100 top players in the industry and ask, simply, if they wish to endorse and fund this program. You go industry-by-industry and identify the top few players. So in bananas, it is Chiquita, Dole, Del Monte and you go on and on through apples, citrus, vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, etc.

If those hundred players overwhelmingly endorse the program, then we have cause to survey how smaller players think. But if the big guys aren’t interested — and so far we haven’t received one single press release from anyone saying they wish to endorse the program — what is the point of wasting industry funds on surveys?

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