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Got Produce? Unvetted Generic Promotion Research Biased From The Start

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, June 12, 2009

As we mentioned here, one of the big problems associated with the PBH Chairman and the PBH Chief Executive advocating for the proposed Generic Promotion Program for produce is that their advocacy means they lose credibility when it comes to doing research:

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?

In the research currently under way, the advocates of the plan made the terrible mistake of not getting buy-in on the validity of the proposed research from critics of the program.

Here is a comment from one of the largest “first handlers” in the industry:

Have you seen the PBH research survey? The questions are stacked: “Do you believe that marketing and advertising works?”

Give me a break. I wonder how much of our money PBH spent on this.

Our correspondent is speaking of an early question in the survey that attempts to bias the thought process people will consider in answering the questions.

It is an old salesman’s trick to get the customer in the habit of saying “yes,” hoping the habit will continue onto the substantive question of whether the customer will place an order.

Equally, this question is designed to get produce industry executives into a certain mindset.

Suppose, instead, the survey asked this question:

“Do you believe that investments in marketing and advertising the products of the overall produce industry will produce returns superior to what could be earned by investing such funds in commodity-specific generic promotion, branded promotion or other kinds of investments?”

This would switch the mindset from a public health standpoint — if it increases consumption… if it “works” — to a business mindset: Is the ROI adequate to justify the program?

Later on, the survey purports to explain the purpose of the generic promotion program and explains that its purpose is to “increase consumption” — though, of course, this is actually the crux of the dispute over the program.

The advocates care only about consumption. Yet many in the industry would say that if the goal is solely consumption, that is a public health goal, not a business goal. If we believe in increasing consumption for public health reasons, we should all go down to the Department of Health and Human Services and make our case for why HHS should invest in an effort to increase produce consumption.

After all, a plan to change the dietary habits of Americans by getting them to eat less meat and dairy products and more whole grains and produce might well pay for itself through savings in Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Health, etc., as a result of treating fewer patients with the diseases of obesity.

Yet what many in the industry have been saying is that increasing consumption is simply not a sufficient goal for a business decision. If you are going to get businesses to fund a program, you need to make a case for there being a superior return-on-investment to what alternative investments are available. And we have to look not only at apples and pears but at row crops, where supply can increase quickly.

Rather than dealing with this perspective in an authentic industry dialog, the advocates of the generic promotion program are trying to bias the process by denying there is even any issue here.

What a shame for the industry. There is not a reason in the world why this research could not have been vetted by opponents of the initiative. Not a reason in the world why we couldn’t all agree — regardless of our opinions on the generic promotion program — that a particular questionnaire or research methodology is legitimate.

Instead, because the advocates elected to proceed without this outreach to crucial industry stakeholders, we are wasting industry money on a process that lacks all credibility. What an unnecessary loss for the industry.

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