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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Shopping Experience Reveals Weakness In Branded Deli And Food Safety Protocols

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, October 2, 2009

We’ve lately been running a small series related to the supermarket deli. We started with a piece we titled DIETZ & WATSON TAKES ON BOAR’S HEAD Is Exclusivity Anti-Consumer? Is It Even Good For Retailers? This article dealt with a public relations battle that Dietz & Watson was waging against Boar’s Head and, more broadly, with issues of branding at retail and retail exclusivity.

The next piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Deli Private Labels Also Benefit From Boar’s Head Banner, was built around a letter from Mary Shelman, Director of the Agribusiness Program of Harvard’s Business School. It dealt principally with the effect carrying an upscale brand could have on the profitability of a private label program.

Most recently we ran a piece titled, Pundit’s Mailbag — Other Deli Suppliers Look Closely At Boar’s Head Debate, which was built around a letter from Frank Pocino, Chief Executive Officer of Pocino Foods Co. Although he saw all the talk of Boar’s Head and Dietz & Watson as free publicity for those companies, we argued that companies that do not offer a full line have a particular reason to pay careful attention to the debate over the appropriateness of branding deli departments with the names of suppliers, such as Boar’s Head.

The other day we had an experience that put a little spin on the branding issue..

At a local Publix near Pundit headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida, we were at the deli late one evening and noted that Publix was promoting a sub sandwich as a kind of special of the day at a bargain price. On this particular day, it was a roast beef sub that would be served with some kind of garlic spread, blue cheese crumbles, lettuce, tomato and onion.

Though the deli is clearly identified as a Boar’s Head deli, the roast beef on this sandwich was going to be the Publix private label — presumably to get the price point down. The blue cheese crumbles, though, were clearly identified on the sign as being Boar’s Head — presumably so Boar’s Head would pay for the signage.

Yet when the clerk made the sandwich she did not use the Boar’s Head Blue Cheese Crumbles. Although they were sold in the department, she took out a container of Stella product and used that instead.

Then, in the midst of making the sub sandwich the clerk realized she was out of shredded lettuce, so she went in the back and came out with a case of Fresh Express shredded lettuce. She then grabbed the same knife she had just used to slice open our bread –and which she would use in a minute to slice open the next person’s bread, a fact we confirmed by staying and watching — to cut through the cardboard of the Fresh Express box. Then she removed a plastic bag filled with shredded lettuce from the box, used the same knife to cut the bag dead center running the knife right through the lettuce. She then, using her bare hand, removed some of the lettuce to place it in the lettuce holding tray.

The sale of Stella product instead of Boar’s Head shows the frustration of trying to get full value from these kinds of retail promotions. If the product being served is inferior, it could do actual harm to a brand as consumers will assume they are getting what they paid for.

The knife being used in a way that violates food safety protocol points to a whole different set of risks manufacturers take on when they allow their brand to be used so prominently. If there was ever a death or illness at that deli, and a reporter said it happened at “The Boar’s Head Deli inside Publix” — she would just be reading the signs.

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