Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Remembering Jack Pandol

Growing up in the produce industry, we had the opportunity to meet many giants, and Jack Pandol was one of the most important and memorable. The Prevor and Pandol families overlapped in many ways. In Chile we shared a shipper… us handling the east coast and Pandol the west. In Europe, Robert Zwartkruis, for many years a PRODUCE BUSINESS columnist, was an important customer and friend to both the Prevors and Pandols.

We did business together and so there were also occasional disputes, a legal case — Pandol Bros., Inc. v. Prevor Marketing International, Inc., 49 Agric. Dec. 1193 (1990) — remains among the most cited cases in the produce industry, defining the proper calculation for damages in many produce disputes.

Jack was responsible for more than most realize. As soon as he passed, letters started rolling in and this one pointed out the impact of his efforts to increase export sales:

In the Boycott years of the late 60’s and early 70s, Jack almost single-handedly ‘saved’ the Central Valley grape growers by developing the Asian markets for the then mainstays of Ribiers, Emperors, Calmerias, and all of the ‘old’ varieties that the industry had, when domestic retailers would not handle California grapes out of fear of boycotts at store levels. This is a piece of history I experienced in my youth.

I remember meeting with Jack and a couple of early Chilean growers in the Carrera Hotel (not air conditioned at the time) in Santiago, overlooking the Plaza de Armas, 1976, which still showed damage from the Pinochet led coup that deposed Alliende. We both saw the potential of Chile, but had NO IDEA that the industry would reach the global stature Chile has today.

Jack had a unique vocabulary and method of expression that sometimes might confuse. What was not confusing was his enthusiasm and his character — a deal was a deal, and handshakes were good enough for him.

Jack was a great mentor to a number of my friends, and I was privileged to deal with him as a friendly competitor for most of my career. Every now and then there are a few people who really do make a difference, and Jack was one of those.

— Richard A. “Rick” Eastes
Supplier Manager
Market 52
Visalia, California

Bruce Obbink, who was President of the California Table Grape Commission from 1971 to 1998, also sent some thoughts:

I have known Jack Pandol since 1962. It is hard to believe that we have known each other that long. I first met Jack during my 6-year term with the Council of California Growers. But I really became acquainted with Jack when I arrived at the California Table Grape Commission in 1968. The Pandol Brothers were not newcomers to the industry. They were front runners in the table grape business.

Jack was truly a leader. He was a leader in the industry and a leader within his own peer group in the Southern part of the San Joaquin Valley of California.

Jack began to step forward in the export market and pretty much led the charge in the orient to get his grapes on every shelf in every possible country.

When the industry became embroiled in the grape boycott of the mid 1960’s Jack Pandol stepped to the forefront, working tirelessly to ward off violence and destruction. Jack knew the grower/shipper community and knew where they needed to be in the conflict and was always looking forward to be certain he understood the industry’s needs.

Many times I would meet Jack somewhere in the vineyard and we would compare notes as to the direction the industry was headed and he would talk with me as if I were a member of the family. I trusted Jack Pandol’s thoughts.

As the world market began to expand, much of which was his doing, he began to eye grape production in Chile. Some were concerned about that expansion, but Jack was keen on world marketing and truly believed his marketing philosophy was beneficial to the industry.

Jack Pandol was truly a leader in the California table grape industry.

Bryan Silbermann, President and CEO of the Produce Marketing Association, had once told us a story that we thought perfectly captured the almost evangelical force with which Jack fought for the industry, so we asked Bryan to repeat the story:

It was midwinter 1984, the roads were icy. I met Jack at the port of Camden, New Jersey, where his company was importing fruit from Chile and we drove down to PMA’s offices in Delaware. Jack was the first-ever chairman of PMA’s new Import-Export Committee, and I’d been hired 9 months earlier to staff that group.

We went to lunch at a fine restaurant and Jack asked the waitress if they served fresh fruit for dessert. “Oh no sir,” she replied, “you can’t get fresh fruit at this time of the winter.” I cringed inside and wondered what Jack would do; Jack always saw “no” as an opportunity to reach his audience in a different way.

Pulling out his wallet, Jack took out a $20 bill and gave it to her with the instruction that she take it to the chef and have him buy some wonderful Chilean fruit now available on the market. She came back a few minutes lately and sheepishly handed him the $20 bill back, saying that “the chef isn’t able to accept this but thanks anyway.”

Later that day I drove Jack back to the port at Camden. All the way back he kept saying that we had to educate people about the bounty of fruit available from Chile. Arriving at the port he jumped out of the car, asked me to wait, and went to the office. He emerged with an employee carrying 2 boxes each of grapes and tree fruit “one each for PMA staff and the chef at the restaurant.”

And with that he bade me farewell and sent me back to Delaware with my first ever consignment of fresh fruit bound for a restaurant. I delivered it, much to the surprise of the chef/owner, who required a detailed explanation of just who this man with the strong European accent was and why he insisted that great fruit really was available in the middle of winter.

And that’s just one way Jack Pandol changed the way people view the world’s bounty of fruit — one person at a time.

The company put out an official announcement:

Jack V. Pandol
June 20, 1923 — Aug 4, 2010

It is with great sadness that we announce that passing of Jack V. Pandol who died in his sleep, August 4, 2010 at age 87, after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Jack died at home surrounded by many family members. Jack is survived by his wife of 62 years, Winifred Pandol, his sons Stephen, Jack J, and Jim Pandol, his daughter Maria Zebrowski, and grandchildren Jenny, Andrew, Jack J. Jr, and Cici Pandol and Matt Zebrowski.

Jack was a fixture in agricultural and produce marketing industry groups worldwide, Central California politics, and local charities. He was known as a world traveler and ‘the guy who ran the kitchen’ for countless social, political, industry and charitable events.

Jack was born June 20, 1923, in Orange Cove, California, a son of Steve and Margaret Pandol, immigrants from the island of Hvar, Croatia, then part of Hapsburg Austria. He attended Reedley High School and began to work with his father after he finished school. Jack served in the US Army 25th Infantry Division during WWII from 1944-1946, seeing combat in the Philippines and serving in the occupational force in Japan after the war. He achieved the rank of Tech Sergeant and received several commendations. Jack did not receive his Purple Heart during the war, but it was presented to him in a ceremony on his 70th birthday.

Jack returned to Delano and joined his father and younger brothers on the farm in Delano in 1946. In 1948 Jack married Winifred Zaninovich of Porterville and settled in rural Delano, having four children over the next 11 years. During the 1950’s, Jack began to work in selling grapes for the farm as well as selling wine from the local growers’ cooperative.

Jack was part of waves of innovation of the produce industry. In the 1950s, he began with direct FOB sales, a radical departure of the terminal market auctions of the era. In the 1960s, Jack loaded the first refrigerated trucks cross country, bypassing railroads. By the 1970s, Jack established a foothold in export markets, utilizing cargo jets, traditional refrigerated ships and the innovative ocean containers for both import and export.

In the 1980s, Jack put together partnerships and alliances in Asia and Latin America, committing product, money and expertise to develop international produce trade. So unique was his contribution that the Produce Marketing Association kept him on the board for an unprecedented 4 years while he developed the international division of PMA.

In the 1990s, Jack embraced the new selling environment whereby Pandol Brothers Inc was actually managing customers’ inventories and utilizing the then new internet-based tools to manage customer accounts, although he himself did not use computers.

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Jack Pandol was a fixture in central California politics. Jack hosted, cooked for, or sold tickets to countless campaign events, and was on a first-name basis with a generation of politicians. He was appointed to a variety of state boards, committees and commissions by Governors Ronald Reagan, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson as well as several federal appointments.

Jack was well known as a globetrotter and spent as much as 4 months of the year abroad. Jack embraced what is today called Public Diplomacy. The items collected on the walls and shelves of his office were as much testament to his travel as the stamped passports and piles of foreign coins in his desk. Pictures of Jack with several foreign heads of state adorn the walls. It seemed Jack liked being out in the world more than being stateside.

Two events in the US Jack didn’t attend because it conflicted with international travel: a 400-person reception Gov. Deukmejian held for Queen Elizabeth II and Ronald Reagan’s presidential inaugural.

Foreign governments acknowledged Jack’s contribution. In October of 2009, Jack was bestowed Chile’s highest honor, the Bernardo O’Higgins Presidential Order of Merit from the Chilean government. The Order of O’Higgins is awarded by Chile to foreign citizens that have displayed extraordinary contribution to the arts, sciences, education, industry, business, or humanitarian and social cooperation. The order has five ranks of honor, and Jack was awarded the highest rank, the rank of Grand Cruz (Grand Cross) putting him in the company of heads of state, high ranking diplomats, Nobel laureates and other distinguished persons.

Pots and pans were his hobby. Jack loved to cook for a crowd, the bigger the better. For decades Jack was part of groups such as the Delano Agribusiness luncheons and the Superb BBQ Committee, where a dozen or so volunteers cooked for hundreds. A few salesmen in the office on Saturday was an excuse to fire up the stove. Campaign fundraisers, the chamber of commerce events, picnic gatherings of the central California Slavs, the Delano High wrestling team boosters, St. Mary’s Catholic Church and countless other charities benefitted from Jack’s willingness to put on an apron for a cause.

If there is one charity that stands out in Jack’s life, it would have to be the Boy Scouts. Jack cooked for the annual BSA Southern Sierra Council dinner for decades and donated to Scouting in lieu of flowers for many funerals. In May, 1998 the Boy Scouts of America awarded Jack the Great American Award, Scouting’s highest honor.

Yet, after knowing Jack for decades, we came to really appreciate the majesty of this man when right after 9/11, Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS, sought out veterans in the industry to discuss their service to the nation. Mira Slott, now Investigator and Special Projects Editor for the Pundit, spoke to Jack Pandol for a piece we titled The Produce Industry’s Voices of War:

Straight out of high school Jack Pandol was driving a tractor, wiping dust and dirt from his eyes as he tilled crops in the Central California Valley. Produce was the only thing he and his father ever knew. “We were packing and shipping grapes to sell for $2.50 a box at auction in Chicago when my world changed,” remembers Pandol, a partner at Pandol Brothers in Delano, CA. That hot summer day in 1944 Pandol got the news he was drafted.

He said goodbye to family suppers and local dances, never imagining what was to come. Pandol, now 78, pauses, choked up as he reopens the memories inside the war-torn letter his parents had tucked away:

August 10th, 1945 11:00 pm

My dear folks,

I just don’t know how to express my feelings tonight. This night is truly one of the happiest of my life. Forty-five minutes ago, as I was nearly asleep, the yelling and whistles started to blow. We didn’t know what was going on, and then it came. The war is over.

My heart began to beat and a funny feeling began to crawl over me. My first action was to say a prayer for the help God had given me in battle and for the souls of the departed ones. We are the ones who know the meaning of bullets, blood and shells, and also what it means to go home and live a happy peaceful life.

Just now everyone is up. The ones that have any whisky are passing it around. One person, if caught sleeping, is dumped out. The bugle is blowing, not taps but to get up. We have a very rigid inspection in the morning, but no one seems to care now.

My first thought was of you, my brothers and of my old place at the table. Mom, I remember that sweet voice that called me, and not the rough method we use here. I recall the days of hard work that I put in, and the sweat that rolled down my back. That is the sweat I want to see again.

There are a lot that won’t come home. Many will come crippled. Many that came over with me never got to see this glorious night. Those are the boys we must remember and honor. For because of them, this night is a happy and joyous one.

Today and everyday, we are told about tactics and problems, “This is a dry run but the next one will be for keeps.” That wet run is one of the most feared runs a combat soldier can fear.

Well dear folks, it won’t be long now. Before many months, I’ll be there to say, “This is my chair, get your own,” or “Pop, how about $10 to go to the dance?” It won’t be long now. You better get my suit cleaned and pressed and my ties clean because your son is coming home.

Please keep this letter, as I want to remember it as long as I live.

Lots of love and God Bless You.

Your loving son, Jack

Pandol’s faith was tested only days after being thrown into combat. From his foxhole, he watched as his platoon sergeant got killed. “I had to hold the line with hand grenades and rifle shots,” he remembers. “Four of our men were hit on the side of a ridge and I just kept walking and shooting,” says Pandol.

Among his keepsake letters and war medals, including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, Pandol finds the enemy flag of a Japanese soldier. The symbol of courage now represents a sign of hope for Pandol that America will again find the courage to protect what it holds dear.

As an adult, we became friends with one of Jack’s sons, Jim Pandol, now President of Pandol Associates Marketing, and one of Jack Pandol’s nephews, John Pandol, now Vice President, Special Projects at Pandol Bros. We met Jack’s wife, Winnie. We were invited to various events hosted by Pandol Bros. and remember several boat rides when conventions were in San Diego. We remember Jack insisting that the event should include the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.

To us, that was Jack — this deeply patriotic man, winner of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, who saw past the hatred of war to a world made both more prosperous and more peaceful by trade.

Our deepest condolences to Jack’s wife of 62 years, Winifred Pandol, his sons Stephen, Jack J, and Jim Pandol, his daughter Maria Zebrowski; grandchildren Jenny, Andrew, Jack J Jr, and Cici Pandol and Matt Zebrowski; and to his extended family.

The family provided the following viewing and donation information:

Service Schedule
Viewing Visitation
Delano Mortuary, Tuesday, August 10th from 4pm to 8pm
707 Browning Road
Delano, CA 93215

Funeral Mass
St. Francis Church, Bakersfield, Wednesday, August 11th at 10am
900 H Street
Bakersfield, CA 93304
*Internment (Graveside service at a future date-Private/family only)

Reception
Stockdale Country Club, immediately following the Funeral Mass
7001 Stockdale Hwy
Bakersfield, CA 93309

Donations/Flowers
*Flower arrangements can be sent to Delano Mortuary or St. Francis Church

*Donations may be made to charity of your choice or:

South Sierra Council of Boy Scouts of America
2417 “M” Street, Bakersfield, CA 93301

All Slavonic-American Association
c/o Bronzan, 112 Green Oaks, Visalia, CA

Hoffman Hospice
8501 Brimhall Road, Building 100, Bakersfield, CA 93312

In all cases write name of person to be remembered in “memo line”

Accomodations
Those in need of accommodations during their visit, can call to make reservations and ask for the Pandol Corporate rate ($89/night):

The Bakersfield Marriott at the Convention Center
801 Truxtun Avenue
Bakersfield, CA 93301
661-323-1900




Is PMA’s Foodservice-Conference Success A Sign Of The Economy Turning Around Or A Sign Of Shippers Looking For Alternatives From Their Primary Channels?

PMA sent out information highlighting a true triumph at its largest-ever PMA Foodservice Conference:

Foodservice conference features many firsts, notables

Newark, Del. — Produce Marketing Association’s (PMA) 2010 Foodservice Conference & Exposition held July 30-Aug. 1 in Monterey, California, USA, featured many notable milestones, including:

Record attendance: This year’s conference in Monterey, California, USA, attracted 1,745 attendees, an all-time record for this 29-year-old event. Contributing to this record were foodservice distributors who brought large groups of buyer customers to this year’s event.

First meeting of PMA’s Foodservice 2020 Initiative Steering Committee: Tasked with guiding the Foodservice 2020 Initiative’s efforts to increase fresh produce use in foodservice, this group is the first PMA volunteer leadership committee to include representatives of other organizations. Chaired by Sysco’s Vice President of Produce Rich Dachman, the steering committee includes volunteer leaders of the National Restaurant Association and International Foodservice Distributors Association, which are partnering with PMA on the initiative. The committee’s members who hail from across the produce foodservice supply chain. The 15-member group met July 29 to begin planning the initiative’s next steps.

Best expo in produce: This year’s sold-out exposition, dubbed “the best five hours in foodservice”, featured 153 exhibitors showcasing the produce industry’s best companies, products and services. The expo’s “Best of Show” awards went to first-place winner EarthFresh, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, while Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Wellington, Florida, USA, took second-place honors.

Unprecedented volunteer leadership: This year’s event was supported by PMA’s new Foodservice Conference Committee, chaired by Pro*Act Director of Marketing Mary Wright-Rana and Sysco Senior Director Mike Hansen. These two competitors partnered to lead the volunteer group’s work, whose efforts included attracting record attendance.

In other leadership news, Sysco’s Dachman, who was recently nominated chairman-elect of PMA’s Board of Directors, received The Packer newspaper’s Foodservice Achievement Award at the convention.

Women’s networking, and philanthropy: PMA Foundation for Industry Talent’s (FIT) Fresh Perspective: Women’s Networking Event held was attended by more than 100 women leaders in produce and their supporters. Attendees donated 550 pairs of shoes to Soles4Souls, a charity that distributes shoes free of charge to people in need all over the world.

Future talent attraction: FIT’s Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation sponsored attendance of 10 culinary students, to expose them to career opportunities in produce. The students hailed from Johnson & Wales University, and Culinary Institute of America.

Industry support: Golfers raised more than $36,000 to support FIT’s work to attract, develop, and retain produce industry talent. The first-place foursome was led by Santa Sweets’ Micheal Lacey, and included L&M Companies’ Juan Torres and Peter Kimcczak, and Top Soil USA’s Ernie Baltierra.

One hundred fifty runners and walkers participated in FIT’s first “Live FIT” 5K at the foodservice conference; proceeds will support FIT’s activities.

“We are all so pleased with the success of this year’s event, from the top-notch educational programming to the networking events to the expo,” said Pro*Act’s Wright-Rana. “It’s clear from the record attendance that this event is meeting the needs of the produce and foodservice industries alike, to help grow our businesses together.”

“Seeing the record participation and hearing from many of the attendees my takeaway is that the foodservice industry realizes that reaching our goal of doubling fresh produce consumption by 2020 will require the collective efforts of the entire supply chain,” said Sysco’s Hansen. “The roundtable sessions provided provocative and insightful viewpoints of strategies to make it happen. The bar continues to be raised!”

PMA’s 2011 Foodservice Conference & Exposition will be held July 29-31, in Monterey.

Of course, kudos to PMA for putting on such an attractive event. We wonder, though, what to make of such high registration numbers.

After all, with the economy as it is, there was concern that attendance might slump this year. So does the record turnout speak to previously unrecognized buoyancy in the economy or in the produce industry?

Perhaps. We wonder whether it is just the opposite.

Most shippers prefer to sell to retail, as they see a chance to develop their brands and because foodservice operators as an industry have a reputation for focusing on price since consumers typically see the product after it has been cooked or cut up. Maybe when times are tough, producers can’t move what they want through their primary channels and so try to hustle business in channels they normally deem secondary?




More On PMA Foodservice…Everyone Is In Favor Of Better Flavor But Is ‘Local’ A Solution Or An Ideology?

The program highlight of this year’s PMA Foodservice Conference was the first two sessions, in which a discussion of the Foodservice 2020 Initiative with its goal to double the use of fresh produce in foodservice by 2020 neatly flowed into a second session focused on local.

The 2020 session, moderated by PMA President and CEO, Bryan Silbermann, drew on the “think tank” held the day before and included an all-star roster of panelists:

Bryan Silbermann, President & CEO,
Produce Marketing Association

Mark Borman,
Taylor Farms, Inc.

Tina Fitzgerald, Independent Purchasing Co-Op/
Subway

David Krause,
Paramount Citrus, Inc

David Parsley, Centralized Supply Chain Services, LLC/
Applebees

Maurice Totty,
Foodbuy, LLC.

Tim York,
Markon Cooperative, Inc.

The gist of the discussion was that the industry must focus on flavor. Much of what was said was highly sensible, and we particularly found value in Tina Fitzgerald’s remarks. Tina is the director of produce and social accountability at Independent Purchasing Co-Op, which supplies the Subway franchisees.

What we thought important about Tina’s remarks was that she emphasized, over and over again, that the flavor and quality of produce is heavily impacted by its treatment all along the supply chain, so everyone can and — if this initiative for flavor is to be taken seriously — everyone along the supply chain must make sure they are doing all they can.

This is a salient point and far more practically useful than the typical narrative used to discuss flavor. The way the discussion usually goes is to declare that at some point in the past produce tasted good, then the industry began to breed for appearance and shelf-life, and the taste of produce suffered. This being the case, growers or seed producers or someone else needs to act to solve the problem.

Though this narrative has the very desirable impact of making those who recount it blameless for the problem and helpless in finding a solution, it really is not a reasonable recounting of the truth.

Tina’s point that tomatoes can be perfect all through the chain and then see their quality or flavor damaged in the backroom at a restaurant or, we would add, on the floor of a retail store as we’ve been discussing here and here is both true and holds everyone responsible.

The whole focus on flavor struck us as an attempt by the industry to deal with the local movement. After all, if you are a national shipper, you can’t really deliver all “Local” produce, but you can look at consumers and ask what they hope to get by buying local and try to deliver that.

Certainly one of the motivations for consumers to buy local is the notion that the produce can be picked riper and thus be more flavorful. Certainly for chefs, who after all, look to create delicious dishes… if those chefs could be persuaded that nationally shipped produce was more flavorful than other options, the zeitgeist might begin to shift to favor such product. We have campaigned for more flavorful produce for years. This column won a national award for raising the issue.

Still, we found the focus on flavor to have a straw-man quality to it. After all, who, precisely, is opposed to more flavorful produce?

Surely the reality of the matter is that in breeding, trade-offs have to be made, and although consumers value flavor, they also value appearance, shelf-life, low prices that come from high yields, availability when they want the product, etc.

Some perfect tomato, available only in, say, New Jersey, and only for a few weeks each year, may be a white-table-cloth chef’s nirvana but really doesn’t address the issues that Subway has to deal with.

The conversation, in fact, moved away from flavor because, besides an admonition that this was important and Tina’s point that the whole food chain has to conspire to make flavor happen, there really was not much to say. Everyone was in favor and sort of hoped seed producers would come up with some flavorful produce.

The truth is that beyond some fruits where flavor corresponds to brix level, it is not even clear that there is a consensus on flavor. Years ago, in the same column we referenced above as focusing on flavor we also called on Wal-Mart to develop a spec for flavor for each item. Bruce Peterson summoned us to Bentonville, where we met and discussed the issue but pretty much threw up our hands. We couldn’t do it.

What the conversation moved toward was “local,” because “local” holds within it a whole group of consumer desires, which may or may not actually be in the product. We’ve done plenty of focus groups on this subject and consumers like the idea of local because, to them, it should be less expensive, because it saves on transport costs; it should be more flavorful, because it can stay rooted longer since there is only a short transit time; it is “Crisper” and “Fresher,” and it is deemed to support open space and nearby farmers.

The most humorous line of the conference was spoken by Tim York, President of Markon. When a somewhat exasperated woman spoke up from the back explaining that she had driven to the conference specifically to get the definition of local and was wondering if the panelists would please give it to her. The quick-witted York, after confirming that the woman had driven to the conference to get this definition, urged her to “keep on driving!”

Of course, there is no legal definition. For most suppliers, the definition is whatever their customers want. Sometimes that is in-state, other times it is a set mileage. Sometimes it varies with product so, citrus, for example, might be a national issue, while zucchini might be in-county.

To help wrestle with the issue of local, the conference moved into a workshop led by Shermain Hardesty, extension economist and lecturer in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Davis, and Gail Feenstra, a food systems coordinator with University of California, Davis’ Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program or “SAREP.”

The workshop was built around a study done of various types of food systems and the panel consisted of four people who had been involved with various aspects of the study:

Linda Adams, the Director, Sustainability & Nutrition
Sodexo/University Dining Services — at UC Davis

Claire Appel, Specialty Buyer, Fresh Point

Bob Corshen, Director, Local Food Systems Program, CAFF

Ben Ratto, Owner, Growers Collaborative Bay Area

The discussion was enlightening, but perhaps not in the way the participants would have preferred.

Part of the problem was geography. Although all the local things they do in California are certainly interesting, it is not clear if it is that helpful to a school foodservice director in say, Portland, Maine. It would seem desirable when discussing an issue like this before a national conference to make sure regions across the country are on the panel.

The bigger problem, though, is that with the possible exception of the Freshpoint representative who seemed more of a facilitator of her client’s wishes, everyone else on the panel was an advocate for local — and so the hard questions were never really asked.

One agitated fellow from the back of the room pleaded with the panel for an answer to the question that was obviously prerequisite to the whole thing: Why?

He asked what the panelists were looking to achieve by going local, and the panel seemed to have so drunk the Kool-aid that they were unable to offer any explanation.

In fact, the one explanation that the panel offered — that a survey had been done showing that consumers really value local — was shocking. Was that it? After all this complicated academic study of local food systems, did it all just boil down to a marketing gimmick?

Item after item was asserted as if it was somehow self-evident why one would think the way the panelists thought. Linda Adams, for example, laid out a complicated five-tier program of preferences, whereby UC Davis preferred to buy within a radius of 50 miles, then 100 miles, then 250 miles, then California, then USA — without ever pausing to explain by what criteria it had been established that it was a good idea to lay off poor Mexican field workers in Baja so we could truck produce across the continent.

Both Dr. Hardesty and Dr. Feenstra are highly intelligent and very knowledgeable people, but they seem to suffer from excessive politeness. When panelists went off on wild tangents to proclaim idiosyncratic versions of macroeconomics as if they are accepted gospel, they stood silent. For example, when one panelist started to wax poetic about the importance of not shipping money to Chile and praising the importance of keeping money cycling in a local community, one would have thought a trained economist like Dr. Hardesty would have raised her hand to speak up for the principle of comparative advantage. Yet she stood silent.

It was also a little odd to hear Dr. Hardesty who, after all, does hold a Cooperative Extension appointment in California — urging on the development of local crops elsewhere in the country for the specific purpose of usurping market share from national California shippers.

Linda Adams kept talking about how hard they were working to educate the students at UC Davis, but there was every indication that the students were being propagandized, not educated. There was not one word raised of alternative viewpoints or of conflicting values. If you look at the relevant page on the UC Davis site, you see they pronounce a set of values that are not obviously correct, may not be the most moral and are certainly subject to great debate:

To support the livelihood of growers, producers and processors of our regional community, University Dining Services will increase sourcing of locally grown and locally processed foods. Dining Services will continue to support the local community and economy by increase purchases from regional growers and producers to 30% by fall of 2010.

Let us stop and think for a minute. Why food? And only food? Bet there would be a lot of outrage if someone pronounced:

To support the livelihood of academics of our regional community, UC Davis will increase sourcing of professors from the local community. UC Davis will continue to support the local community and economy by increasing hiring from the regional community to 30% by fall of 2010.

Why would they be upset? Because whatever your criteria might be for a good professor, there is no guarantee that the regional community is the best source.

Equally with produce.

If you are looking for flavor, you want produce at peak season, but that might well mean importing from Chile.

If your Number One priority is reducing the carbon footprint, we need careful lifecycle analyses, not some crude food miles calculation.

There are other issues as well. UC Davis is a state-supported institution. We doubt that taxpaying farmers down in the Coachella Valley see any reason why they should be discriminated against in looking to sell to this state supported institution.

Obviously nobody is opposed to UC Davis sourcing locally; if the least expensive source for produce that meets all UC Davis criteria happens to be local, of course the school should buy it. But on what basis can the school either raise the meal plan cost, tuition or get more money from taxpayers so it can buy more product within 50 miles rather than less expensive product 100 miles away? This is completely unclear.

And what is the point? The UC Davis website says the point is “To support the livelihood of growers, producers and processors of our regional community.” But this is just another version of Beggar thy neighbor policies. So UC Davis will support its local community, and UC San Diego will support its local community and Cornell will support its local community and Michigan State its local community — and when we are all said and done, we will be much poorer because instead of producing things where it is efficient to do so, we will buy things where it is politically correct to do so — and that will impoverish us all.

There are real issues. In London, for example, they import a lot of produce from Africa. Nothing we heard at this workshop would indicate that anyone on the panel had the slightest hesitation about firing hundreds of thousands of impoverished Africans so that, well, so that students at Oxford can get the benefit of green beans grown “locally.”

There also wasn’t any recognition that it has been trade that has enriched us all. In 1988, the Council of Economic Advisors declared that the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act was “probably one of the most damaging pieces of legislation ever signed in the United States.” Partly this is because it hiked US tariffs dramatically, thus blocking trade, but also because more than 60 countries retaliated against the US.

The ethos of the locally grown movement, well-represented in this panel discussion, leads inevitably to less international trade, to a fragmentation of the great domestic market of the United States, to a ghetto-ization of each procuring entity. That voice from the back of the room who asked the question “Why?” had a slight foreign accent. Perhaps, like so many foreigners, he sees the many great things about this country and he doesn’t understand how native-born Americans can so quickly be prepared to toss it all away.




Time To Think About Tip Murphy, Golf And Tiger Woods

This is golf tournament time in the industry. There is still time to sign up for the Tip Murphy Memorial Golf Tournament here.

So it might also make sense to think a bit about Tiger Woods.

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece titled, The Unsettling Sight of a Tiger Tamed, that it subtitled: Woods’s Career-Worst Score Furthers a Kind of Harsh Correction on a Career That Had Been All Irrational Exuberance.

Which raises the question of what creates and allows for exceptional accomplishment?

Fortunately, Charles Murray, one of America’s most insightful thinkers, wrote a book called Human Accomplishment and has applied his learning to Tiger Woods and produced an intriguing piece for The American, titled Why Tiger Won’t Catch Jack, which explains why, in theory at least, Tiger Woods will not manage to exceed the Jack Nicklaus record for winning major tournaments. Tiger Woods must win four more majors to equal the Nicklaus record and five to beat Nicklaus. In a nutshell, here is his argument:

Murray points out that the component skills one uses in golf form an almost perfect bell curve:

The component skills form almost perfect normal distributions — bell curves, if you prefer. Here, for example, is the distribution of putts per round among pro golfers:

But victories in major tournaments do not form a bell curve:

And so when it comes to the number of major victories, there is no bell curve. Instead, the graph looks like this even when the sample is limited to golfers who won at least one major — a severe constraint indeed. The figure comes from Human Accomplishment. It is based on golfers who had completed their careers by 2001, so it omits Woods.

Charles Murray, who is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, concludes this way:

The combination of qualities that enabled Nicklaus to win 18 majors and has enabled Woods to win 14 is freakish. To take just one example, Woods has an astonishing record of sinking difficult putts at critical moments, including on the final hole with victory at stake. That’s not just a matter of reading the greens accurately and having a good putting stroke. It’s a product of a mental state that the rest of us can barely imagine, the product of a Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths — including, one sometimes suspects, telekinesis.

The role of those psychological strengths is why so much of the commentary about Woods’s play since he returned is beside the point. The commentators focus on whether his component skills are returning to their pre-scandal levels. He can return to precisely the same place on the bell curves of the component skills that he occupied before the meltdown in his personal life, but the package will not be the same. Tiger Woods has experienced a sort of concussion to that Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths, and there must be some residual damage that won’t ever go away.

The long-term effects can be quite small. When we are talking about the extremes of human accomplishment, there is no wiggle room. The package changed at all is no longer at the one-in-many-millions extreme that is required. Woods will still be a sensational golfer, winning a lot of tournaments and probably a few more majors. But to predict that Woods can win five majors between now and the end of his career — something that only 17 other golfers have done in their entire careers — assumes that nothing in the last year has significantly degraded the freakish combination required for extreme accomplishment. I find that assumption untenable.

We think this line of thought is intriguing and not just for those who follow golf.

As business people, most of us are responsible for employees and rare is the executive or business owner who hasn’t gritted his or her teeth because somehow an employee’s problem — financial, emotional, physical, etc. — are suddenly our own.

Yet if human achievement is as Murray contends, “a Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths,” then maybe paying attention to these problems is more useful than sending someone to a training session.

After all, if Tiger could be thrown off from extraordinary accomplishment by a very small effect, could one of your employees become extraordinarily effective with just a minor change in circumstances? Could any of us become exponentially more effective with just a minor push into some unidentified zone of accomplishment?




Retail 'Thought Leaders' Panel Announced For The New York Produce Show And Conference

When we announced the establishment of collaboration between the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine to establish a new industry event, The New York Produce Show and Conference, we believed it would meet an important industry need:

“New York City is the epicenter of the region that buys more fresh produce than any location in the country,” explains Dean Holmquist, director of produce and floral for Foodtown, Inc., and president of the Eastern Produce Council. “The extraordinary diversity of the population in this region assures a dynamic market for mainstream, ethnic and specialty produce,” points out John McAleavey, executive director of the Eastern Produce Council.

Paul Kneeland, vice president of produce/floral at Kings Super Markets and vice president of the Eastern Produce Council, indicated that “the sophisticated clientele of the northeast region combines with a plethora of quality retailers, restaurants, foodservice distributors and wholesalers to introduce product from local growers, growers across North America and growers from around the world.”

Jim Prevor, founder and editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine and the online PerishablePundit.com, celebrated the establishment of such a high caliber event in a region long lacking its own trade show and conference: “My great grandfather, Jacob Prevor, emigrated to America and established a wholesale facility in the old Wallabout Produce Market in Brooklyn. My grandfather was a wholesaler and auction buyer in the old Washington Street Produce Market in Manhattan. My father, Michael Prevor, was an original tenant when The Hunts Point Market opened in the Bronx. Over the decades we operated farms and had supermarkets in the region and worked hard to make the ports and airports of the region major hubs for the import and export of fresh produce.

“It is an incredibly exciting moment that we should have the opportunity to join together with our friends at the Eastern Produce Council, the preeminent organization in the region, to bring a world-class event to the region, and it is an honor that we can bring the industry together in a city known both as the ‘Capital of the World’ and the ‘Big Apple’.”

“Jim Prevor has built a reputation for industry thought-leadership that is recognized around the world, and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine was launched on the Hunts Point Market,” said Robert Goldstein, owner/president of Genpro Inc., and secretary of the Eastern Produce Council, “so the board of directors of the Eastern Produce Council voted unanimously to join hands with Jim and his team at PRODUCE BUSINESS and the online Perishable Pundit to better serve this region with a high-end trade show and conference.”

“The Eastern Produce Council represents the most important players in the region,” said Ken Whitacre, vice president of publishing at PRODUCE BUSINESS and PerishablePundit.com. “Their engagement with the event ensures that exhibitors will encounter a cross section of the movers and shakers that make the industry a vibrant and robust contributor to the national and international industry. We are honored to work together with such an important association and with such an instrumental membership.”

Both PRODUCE BUSINESS and the Eastern Produce Council are committed to enhancing the industry by providing the region with a world-class venue for marketing, education and media exposure. That venue is The New York Produce Show And Conference.

Back decades ago, the national produce associations often met in New York… in fact the Pundit Grandma used to run a contest in which the “ladies” — all spouses back then — prepared large hats laden with fresh produce, which they then modeled by walking through the closing banquet!

We probably won’t bring back that tradition! But we are very proud to be affiliated with the Eastern Produce Council, which is filled with people really focused on doing a great job for the industry and then doing good through charitable work.

The show and conference is short-and-sweet — but of the highest caliber. We start with a welcoming reception on November 9th, hold a general session breakfast and conference program along with a trade show on the 10th, enjoy New York City that evening and then have tours on the 11th.

The Saturday night before the show, on November 6, 2010, the Eastern Produce Council has its 43rd Annual Dinner Dance in a swanky country club in West Paterson, New Jersey, so the Pundit will be coming in early and making a week of it in the Big Apple. If you call or e-mail regarding registrations, we can hook you in for the dinner/dance as well.

We are also going to take advantage of the Manhattan locale to bring the media in big time with a special outreach program.

This event is going to add a little shine to the Big Apple, and we are very proud to work with our friends at the Eastern Produce Council to make this contribution to the region.

We’ve been very busy. We now have a sold out trade show of 212 exhibitors and a host of exciting things to unveil in the weeks and months ahead.

One amazing thing is how the produce community of New York and the broader mid-Atlantic region has joined in support of this epochal event.

Attendees will see this support clearly on Wednesday morning, when we present the keynote breakfast which highlights a selection of retail thought-leaders from across the region. Yours truly will engage these retail thought-leaders in an invigorating discussion on the state of the industry and how we can work together to enhance our mutual success.

The following leaders of the retail produce trade in the region are scheduled to participate in the Retail “Thought Leaders” Panel, the marquis presentation at the general session breakfast on the morning of November 10, 2010:

JIM BISOGNO
Director of Produce, Floral, and Bakery
Pathmark Supermarkets

Jim began his career as a part time employee in Waldbaums in 1970. Then he became a full time employee in 1975. He was promoted to produce manager in 1976 and became a produce supervisor in 1991.

Jim was then promoted to director of fresh foods for Pathmark in 2008, and is currently the director of produce, floral, and bakery for Pathmark.

RICH CONGER
Director of Produce
King Kullen Supermarkets

Rich has 30 years of experience in various positions in the produce industry. He is now responsible for the produce departments of 46 stores — 42 in Long Island and 4 in Staten Island.

Rich recently helped develop an extensive locally grown program that includes Long Island growers and New York State apple growers.

STEVE COOMES
Manager Division Operations-Produce
Safeway Eastern Division

Steve Coomes has been with Safeway Stores since 1970 and has risen the corporate ladder from his earliest days as grocery night stocker and produce clerk. After a 16-year reign as a produce manager from 1972 to 1988, Steve has been involved in most aspects of produce management at the division level and has been the Eastern Division Manager of Produce since 2002.

He assisted in the creation of a produce pricing manual for all Safeway perishable pricing managers and trained various division pricing managers on produce pricing best practices. He has also participated in many locally grown farm summits in Maryland and Delaware and works with Lancaster County farmers to help drive locally grown business direct to Genuardi’s stores.

Steve recently orchestrated the opening of a new Safeway Eastern Division store with the highest single week produce sales in the company, and he is the recipient of Safeway’s Productivity Award and Safeway’s President’s Award.

Steve has served our country as a member of the National Guard. He is married to Carolyn Lee Coomes and they have two sons and seven grandchildren.

DAVE CORSI
Wegmans Food Markets
Vice President of Produce and Floral

Dave joined the Wegmans family 25 years ago, where his early experience was as a Store Manager in the Southern Tier region of New York for 5 years. After his Store Operations experience, in 1993 he relocated to Rochester, New York, to work as a Produce Category Manager.

In 2000, Dave took over Produce Operations and is the Vice President of Produce and Floral, responsible for procurement, pricing, merchandising and promotion.

In 2003, industry members nominated Dave and Wegmans as “Retailer of the Year” by Produce Merchandising magazine. Then, in 2005, Dave was selected as Vance Publishing’s “Marketer of the Year,” where he was honored for merchandising excellence, setting high standards for others to emulate, and his leadership role in the produce industry.

Dave served on the USDA Fruits and Vegetable Advisory Committee for 4 years. Today, Dave serves as the Past Chair for the Produce Marketing Association.

DEAN HOLMQUIST
Director of Produce & Floral
Foodtown Supermarkets

As Director of Produce & Floral, Dean has demonstrated more than 25 years of progressive produce experience in the retail food industry. His current responsibilities at Foodtown are to direct sales, merchandising and operational activities for 65 member stores in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Dean is currently President of the Eastern Produce Council, a position held since April, 2009. Before that, Dean held the position of Vice President of the Eastern Produce Council from 2007-2008. Dean has been an EPC Board member since 2001.

Dean was recently awarded the Scholarship for Leadership Excellence from PRODUCE BUSINESS to attend the PMA FIT’s Leadership Symposium in Dallas, Texas, in January 2010.

DERRICK JENKINS
Vice President of Produce/Floral
Wakefern Food Corporation

Starting his career at Wakefern in 1982, Derrick got his first taste of what the world of produce was all about when he worked as a junior accountant reporting to the produce division. From that position, he rose up the ranks to his current position of Vice President of Produce and Floral.

Derrick credits his mentors, Herman Fadem and Al Ferri: “They worked with me at the early stages of my career and helped me lay a foundation upon which I could build a successful personal and professional career.”

Derrick is a member of the Eastern Produce Council and serves on the Board of PMA. He is married and has four children.

PAUL KNEELAND
Vice President of Produce & Floral
Kings Super Markets

An industry veteran for more than 29 years and previously the Director of Produce and Floral for Roche Bros. Supermarkets in Boston, Massachusetts, Paul has been in his position at Kings since June 2007. In addition to overseeing produce and floral for 24 Kings Super Markets in New Jersey and one store in Long Island, Paul also oversees produce and floral for 6 Balducci’s Food Lover’s Markets with stores in Connecticut, New York, Maryland, and Virginia.

Paul is the past First Vice President of the New England Produce Council and was chairman of its annual expo for the first seven years. Currently, he is Vice President of the Eastern Produce Council and chair of its first annual New York Produce Show and Conference committee.

Paul holds degrees in Business Management from Boston College as well as Northeastern University in Boston. He was the recipient of the PRODUCE BUSINESS/New England Produce Council’s Retailer of the Year award in 2005.

DOMINICK PELOSI
Senior Merchant Produce & Floral
Food Emporium

Starting his career in 1979 as produce department manager, Dominick later became a Produce Merchandiser and an Assistant Buyer until his present position as Senior Merchant Produce & Floral.

Dominick also led many store openings and was responsible for designing the produce departments of Food Emporium stores throughout Westchester County and Manhattan. Throughout the years he has taken a number of education initiatives including, but not limited to, the Cornell University Complete Manager Certification, the Dale Carnegie Leadership training, the GRID Managerial Training Program and the Master Trainer Workshop.

Dominick has attended many food trade shows over the years, included PMA, Expo West organic, Milano Italy Food Show Cibo, Morocco Siam Show, and the New York Fancy Food Show, among others. While traveling to different shows, Dominick was able to visit many growers including stone fruit, grape and strawberry growers, to name a few.

JOHN VASAPOLI
Director of Produce Merchandising
D’Agostino Supermarkets

John is responsible for all sales-related decisions for the produce department, such as item selection, quality control, presentation standards, and pricing.

In 1972, John started his career at D’Agostino as a part-time stock clerk. A year later, he was promoted to assistant store manager. In 1978, he was promoted to the position of store manager. During this period, John successfully ran a number of stores throughout Manhattan.

In 1985, John was promoted to the position of produce director. Since that time John has also had stints as director of deli/bakery and meat/seafood, where he gained valuable knowledge in the workings of these perishable departments.

Most recently, John has also taken on the responsibility as manager of food safety and emergency planning.

***

All of us at the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS are deeply appreciative that these retail executives, whose time is always in such demand, have made The New York Produce Show and Conference a priority.

We hope you will as well.

If you would like some additional information, here is a small brochure we prepared.

Buy side attendees can register with this form.

Other attendees can use this form

There is a spouse/companion program you can register for with this form.

Journalists can fill this form out here.

Here is a hotel registration form

And if you are traveling to the show, we negotiated some discounts, you can find them here.

Finally, though the exhibition hall is sold out, we will soon be announcing our list of valued sponsors, without whom the event would not be possible. We still have some wonderful opportunities for sponsors to step in and become Charter Sponsors. If you would like to receive more information on how your organization can be part of this great new industry institution, please let us know here.




The Professor And The Entrepreneur: Alan S. Blinder vs Jim Prevor On The Nature Of Job Creation

Alan S. Blinder is a professor at Princeton and a former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. His opinion influences many, and he is a highly intelligent man, but he lacks any real understanding of what moves entrepreneurs and what promotes entrepreneurialism. So when he wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal, we couldn’t let his financial analysis stand unanswered. We wrote a piece titled Professor Blinder Shows a Blindness to the Entrepreneurial Spirit, for The Weekly Standard. Here are some excerpts:

The big source of investment capital for America’s small businesses is “friends and family” money and the willingness of entrepreneurs to defer gratification and borrow personally. This money does not come from the impoverished masses that, Professor Blinder says, rush out to spend their unemployment checks — it comes from people capable of that horrid bugaboo Professor Blinder so fears: People who can save and invest.

Like St. Augustine yearning for chastity — but not yet — Professor Blinder calls for “more stimulus in the short run with more budgetary restraint for the long run,” seemingly not realizing that the confidence of business will never be earned by making lots of promises that future leaders must keep.

A government, drunk on deficits and spending, promising to be prudent tomorrow, will be viewed with the same credibility as an alcoholic announcing a plan to go on one last bender this weekend and then be sober. Skepticism is the order of the day…

At one point toward the end of his article, Professor Blinder downplays conservative concerns over the disincentive to work that unemployment insurance creates: “As the unemployment rate rises, the disincentives that worry conservatives become less important because there are fewer jobs to find…” In this line, we see a true conflict of visions about the way the world works. Professor Blinder sees some fixed number of jobs out there and too many people fighting for them.

He thinks that businesses don’t hire more because there is not enough demand for their products. Yet this is an impoverished view of the motivations of entrepreneurs. In my own small business, not one of our products was launched with any known demand, but we believed in our products, and ourselves, and thought we would create the demand. This is not atypical.

When Sam Walton created his first supercenter, nobody in America was clamoring for this, and then it became the most successful retail format in the country. How many years of losses did Amazon.com absorb before demand caught up to the idea? There are no neighborhoods gathering petitions because they lack a pizza place or a great diner or a Chinese take-out — yet they open every day, mostly on the belief of entrepreneurs in themselves and the willingness of friends and family to back a worthy entrepreneur.

You can read the whole piece here.




Did LeBron James Offer A Lesson To Michelle Obama On How We Should Approach Food Deserts?

We wrote an article about LeBron James. No Sports Illustrated didn’t want it — but it was written for The Weekly Standard, a national political magazine based in Washington, DC. It was also picked up for the Beltway Confidential column of The Washington Examiner. Our thesis was that LeBron James brought to the fore the way tax policy influences behavior. We then pointed out that politicians typically obscure this cost by cutting special breaks for high profile cases — but politicians don’t know how to do such a thing for an individual.

We went on to question whether the First lady’s current focus on food deserts, which involves subsidizing individual retailers, didn’t obscure the need for society to deal with public policy issues, such as security in inner cities. Here is an excerpt:

Any time there is a big issue, the politicians avoid letting the voters see the cost of public policy decisions by exempting the high profile cases from the law that applies to everyone else — that is what tax abatements are about. They are not chump change either. One of the hot industries of the moment is the battery industry. The Feds appropriated $2.4 billion for this industry, but the states are also wooing the plants. Michigan has offered $800 million in tax credits; Ohio offered $100 million in incentives to get just one plant.

It is not just a tax issue either. Here’s another example of where the LeBron James debate might actually further a substantive policy difference: First Lady Michelle Obama proudly announced a $400 million initiative to help the 23.5 million people she claims live in “food deserts” — defined as anyone who lives more than a mile from a supermarket.

The first lady’s proposal, announced in the heart of the Philadelphia, among other things, aims to help inner city residents gain access to large grocery stores with lots of fresh foods (rather than the local mom and pop shops or more distant supermarkets, they currently frequent to purchase groceries). But, no matter Michelle Obama’s intentions, her proposal misses the root problem. Why directly subsidize individual stores to open in these areas closer to these 23.5 million people? Why not address the public policy problems that cause retailers to stay away?

The retail sector is highly competitive and, generally, many players compete vigorously for the opportunity to open retail food stores. Why, then, should it be necessary to give grants or loan guarantees to get retailers to open in underserved areas? In the inner city the issues involve things such as the inability of the local police to assure safety for patrons and staff plus keep shop lifting to national averages. Those retailers — such as Pathmark — that have made commitments and opened large supermarkets in inner cities have often felt the need to hire uniformed police officers to man the store 24/7. Between vacations, training, holidays and sick days, it can take five or more full time police offers to guard the store. In a unionized police force, take New York City for instance, salary and benefits to man that force can cost over half a million dollars a year.

How helpful it would have been for Michelle Obama to address the security problem directly, acknowledging that one benefit of solving that public policy problem, would be that, freed of the need to spend a half million a year on security, lots more retailers would open in underserved areas. Instead of facing up to the public policy problem, though, she is looking to spend money directly to de facto compensate individual retailers for these high costs of doing business — and doing nothing to resolve the root problem.

The piece is titled, LeBron James Brings the High Cost of Bad Policy to the Fore, and you can read the whole thing here.




Pundit Mailbag — Getting A Handle On Direct-to-Consumer Programs

Our piece, Kings Super Markets Announces Innovative CSA Program, brought this thoughtful comment:

Congratulations and welcome back to Kings! It will be great to see their return to innovation and leadership in produce (and grocery) marketing.

Congratulations also to New Jersey farmer Alex Tonetta! He has been developing this idea of a ‘wholesale CSA’ operation for some time now and it looks like he has found a great partner to run with it.

While I applaud Alex and Kings for this innovative approach and wish them all the success in the world, I find it interesting to see a retail chain adopting a CSA model.

Working in ag extension since the 80s with an emphasis on direct and alternative marketing options for growers, we watched with amazement as grocers adopted bulk bins and open displays with a ‘farm market’ decor and appeal to attract those shoppers looking for connections with the local farmers.

Farm marketers have been innovators in direct mail (your suggestion of off-season, exotic CSA boxes has ‘fruit-of-the-month club’ written all over it), home-delivery enterprises, in-store bakeries and restaurants, which chains have adopted, as well. Some chains have even hosted a community tailgate market in their front parking lot to pull in customers looking for the freshest produce available, with the convenience of running into the store for the rest of the shopping list.

What I find most intriguing in this continued evolution in the produce industry is that farm-to-consumer direct marketing has never really been a threat to retail chains’ business. Optimistic estimates of direct marketing of farm products put the value somewhere between 3% and 5% of the retail produce industry. One USDA report, U.S. Fresh Produce Markets: Marketing Channels, Trade Practices, and Retail Pricing/AER-825 (see Today’s Produce Industry Figure 1.), shows figures between 1.5% and 1.7% in the late 80s/early 90s.

While I’ve never really seen it as a significant threat to any chains, it has been a significant and lucrative business model for small and beginning farmers. I guess it was only a matter of time, and of getting the right chain with the right farmers together, to bring the CSA to the chain level.

Richard W. VanVranken
Agricultural Agent
County Extension Department Head
Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County
Mays Landing, New Jersey

PS. This particular edition of the Perishable Pundit gave so much great commentary that I wanted to react to most of the articles — which you might not appreciate!

I did want to say, though, that your thorough analysis in the ‘Flawed Yale Study ...’ article was both refreshing and a great reminder of how easily the consuming public is now fooled by agenda-driven organizations (including the media) who only report headlines and sound bites. Your review of the study was probably more rigorous than was done by the scientific peers, and should be used in both journalism and science curricula to illustrate proper analysis.

We appreciate Rick’s letter. We would note that we suspect that direct-to-consumer operations have grown in significance, and substantially so, since the late 80’s.

The USDA didn’t even begin publishing a count of Farmer’s Markets until 1994. Since that time look at the graph:

Note that the number of operating Farmer’s Markets has more than tripled since 1994. There is no easy way to know how these Farmer’s Markets are selling or how the market share has changed vis-à-vis conventional retail. Still if we presume that market share has tripled in line with the growth of Farmer’s Markets, then direct marketing would be around 5% of the industry today.

We would guess, though, that the number is higher than this. Farmer’s Markets have been around a long time, but the CSA movement has grown from scratch. The first CSA in America was opened just in 1984 — now there are over 12,000 in the US and they are opening quickly. Also the Internet expanded direct-to-consumer sales substantially. The Harry & David model depends on having brand and catalog, etc. But it is much easier today to promote a U-Pick or a mail order program through the Internet.

Today also there is a lot of business being done that is not, precisely, direct-to-consumer, but still avoids the traditional retail channel. Take an operation such as Annie’s Organics Buying Club in Miami, where the company delivers produce to a neighbor’s house or similar neighborhood spot that consumers have contracted for in advance. The organizers are not the farmers, so it is not direct-to-consumer, but it does avoid retail channels.

We wouldn’t be shocked if the real number wasn’t closer to 10% today.

But, and here is the dirty little secret of all this direct-to-consumer — we are not sure how much of this product is actually consumed. We’ve seen these CSA boxes and you have to be very motivated to really utilize all this product.

A family that has never bought a fresh turnip in their lives all the sudden gets several pounds each week for six weeks in a row. A family where nobody has baked in 20 years suddenly gets a 2-and-a-half-pound bunch of rhubarb, week after week. Some people start getting motivated and churn out pies, but Americans have gotten used to a diverse diet. Even if one likes rhubarb pie, they may want a banana crème the next day, not more rhubarb.

Obviously poor people may have to work with what they get if the CSA is a gift from their church or something like that, but we would love to see a study of how produce consumption changes when a family signs up for a CSA. The Pundit Poppa used to be fond of the saying, “Tis many a slip ‘tween the cup and the lip” … we suspect we might learn that there is a big gap between purchase and consumption, especially something like CSAs, where there is social pressure to join and one has to accept a grab bag of miscellaneous product.

Rick has been kind to contribute his expertise related to several stories, including these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Letters Pour In On CSPI’s Highly Deceptive Riskiest Foods List

Troublesome Traceability Letters From PMA Veiled As Being Sent From Buyers

We are particularly appreciative he took the time to write this letter as he has been a little busy. Of course, working at Rutgers and the Cooperative Extension is a big job, but he has also been busy working with his highly talented daughter:

photo courtesy of Press of Atlantic City

Annalise VanVranken is ranked 6th in the US for equestrian vaulting. She is spending her summer training for a spot in both the team and individual competitions at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, which will be held Sept. 25-Oct. 10 in Lexington, Kentucky. We wish Annalise and her parents, Rick and Sheila, every good fortune.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Are Public Sector Food Safety Inspectors More Apt To Cut Corners Than Private Inspectors?

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — The Ethics of Employees in Private Enterprise Versus Public Institutions, brought this note:

1. While FDA and FSIS have no official authority to inspect foreign establishments, some of the import regulations require that a foreign manufacturer’s safety system be substantially equivalent to those in the US. And foreign countries will allow US inspectors into their facilities to verify such claims.

2. Your assumption that “….we would suppose that the incidence of crookedness among government employees is pretty similar to the incidence of crookedness among private sector employees…” may be true but the consequences of being discovered can vary. A private employee might just suffer loss of a job, while the federal employee could be subject to prosecution. It’s been my observation, having worked in both sectors, that the former might be a little more apt to “cut corners” than the latter.

Walter A. Hill, Ph.D., FAAM
Dean
College of Agricultural, Environmental and Natural Sciences
Director
George Washington Carver Agricultural Experiment Station
Tuskegee University
Tuskegee, Alabama

We deeply appreciate Dean Hill taking time out from what must surely be a most hectic schedule to share his insights with the industry.

Dean Hill is, of course, correct that even without legal authority to go inspecting around the world, many countries have found it in their interest to allow US inspectors onto their soil.

Often these are government-to-government affairs where the US regulators gain confidence that, say, the Swiss regulatory system is as good — or better — than ours.

In places where the FDA is not satisfied that the foreign standards are equivalent to the US, the approach is problematic.

First, the whole practice of getting permission and authorization makes the kind of surprise inspections one wants to see almost impossible.

Second, the cost is tremendous. USDA inspectors are in meat plants every single day. Even assuming we could get authorization to do this, creating a corps of expatriate USDA (and FDA and FSIS) inspectors would cost a fortune when adequate housing, schooling for their children, trips home to visit family, etc., are taken into account.

Third, the cost itself may be an illegal trade barrier if we try to pass it on to the exporter.

Fourth, we have no basis to assume that isolated government inspectors will be immune to corruption anymore than we should assume that private sector inspectors are immune to corruption.

Fifth, the whole program depends on one knowing far in advance that one wants to export to the US, and so US government clearance is important. The advantage of private global standards is that anyone can decide — “I’m willing to accept product certified to BRC Standards.” If the Spanish broccoli crop is wiped out, one can buy EuroGap certified broccoli from California, if we needed broccoli precleared by a particular government, we wouldn’t be able to respond to a crop failure. The same goes for US attempts to purchase overseas.

Sixth, any requirement that foreign product be certified by US government inspectors would be seen as a trade barrier and reciprocated.

So, while government inspectors can be useful in verifying government inspection standards in other countries and even useful on dealing with specific food safety issues — as when they flew down to Honduras to try to deal with the melon situation — they are unlikely to be useful as the day-to-day international inspection standard. So, to the point of our article, private companies and organizations are going to be used, and the government’s role is its traditional police power of protecting against fraud.

To Dean Hill’s second point — the relative likelihood of private sector vs. public sector employees being corrupt — the Professor makes a good point in saying that government employees may face stiffer penalties if corruption is discovered.

Countering this is that lower salaries in government may create both need and resentment. Plus private organizations are more likely to suffer serious consequences from corrupt employees than government agencies and so have serious incentives to act to prevent corruption. If a local “Weights and Measures” inspector is corrupt, weights and measures will still be here tomorrow. A private audit company could close credibility in the marketplace and have to close.

One important issue is opportunity. We worked in retail and found a fairly high level of corruption among local government inspectors. First, in these massive stores there is typically some violation if you want to find one. Second, the cost of the violation — either directly such as fines or indirectly through business closings and reputational damage — is often paid by the shop owner who is on premises.

So, if the cost of keeping the inspector happy is that you let him walk out with a case of frozen chicken, many storeowners aren’t going to put up a fight. If he demands more, many will feel obliged to pay it.

All of this strikes us an important distinction between private and public corruption. If a buyer demands a payoff and a vendor doesn’t want to get involved, the vendor walks away. He may lose some upside in dealing with that company, but, as the saying goes, there are other fish in the sea.

In contrast, if a government inspector is corrupt, one is compelled to deal with him. Accusations of corruption are tough to make and hard to win. To a still-unappreciated extent, the whole Forbidden Fruit investigation was every bit as much of an extortion story as a bribery story.

In any case, our contention was that food safety advocates and others involved in public policy often assume that private actors will act in their own best interests while they assume that public employees will always act in the public interest.

Regardless of which sector of employees is more likely to be corrupt, it is not debatable that, sometimes, public employees are mistaken, negligent and, yes, corrupt. Therefore any estimate as to the efficacy of a public policy that depends on public employee intervention needs to incorporate such expectations in anticipating the efficacy of the measure.

Our point was that, instead, advocates looked at real world failures of the private sector and contrasted them with idealized performance records for the public sector. An equalization of approaches would be more accurate and would lead to different policy outcomes.

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