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


email:
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



THE CANTALOUPE CRISIS
The Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name:
The Priority Can Be Safe or The Priority Can Be Local, But It Cannot Be Both

It is, of course, horribly sad that 18 people have died in the Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado. The government is searching hard for a cause, and food safety experts are speculating as to what the issue might be. Water, soil, animals and people are all being looked at as possible sources of contamination.

Yet, we would say it is not shocking. We also would say that whatever the specific cause of this outbreak, the more general cause is the local food movement. More specifically, the willingness of large buyers to waive food safety standards so they can buy regionally.

The New York Times ran a story on this situation titled, Costco Urges Stricter Safety Measures on Cantaloupes:

 “I don’t think the cantaloupe industry can continue on doing the very same thing and expecting a different result,” said Craig Wilson, the head of food safety for Costco, the Issaquah-based warehouse retailer, which is regarded as a leader in requiring food safety measures from its suppliers.

“It’s time for companies to get more aggressive. If they know this is going to happen, let’s step up and not let it happen.”

He said that Costco would consider setting standards for how melons are grown and how they are cleaned and handled after they are picked. He said the company would most likely require that suppliers test melons for pathogens before shipping them to Costco.

He called on the industry to finance research into the best way to wash or clean cantaloupes to remove contaminants.

Craig Wilson is a very smart and knowledgeable guy and thus surely knows that the California cantaloupe industry has spent a lot of money doing research on how to produce a safe cantaloupe. What the California cantaloupe industry found was that one should not wash a cantaloupe. That moisture itself is the enemy of safety. California packers, who were proud of their wash systems, shut them off.

Costco may well require testing, but it is unlikely to require enough testing to be statistically significant. We discussed issues with finished product testing here, here and here, and the bottom line is that without a statistically significant testing program, this is more about marketing than safety.

But Craig is 100% correct in thinking that retailers can have a big impact here. The trick is that retailers have to put safety first.

A few years ago, Costco had some issues with carrots and food safety up in Canada. When it came out that Costco was buying carrots not from Grimmway or Bolthouse but from a small Mexican producer via a Los Angeles company, we asked why Costco was doing that in a piece titled, Costco Recalls Mexican Grown, U.S. Packed Baby carrots From Canadian Stores:

With all the talk about problems in food safety, one wonders if food safety is really the top priority in procurement. If you go to the Grimmway Farms web site, it says this about food safety:

Grimmway Farms knows that it’s important for you and your family to be confident in the safety of the produce you consume. Our safety standards are among the highest in the industry. Awarded Shield #002 for participation and acceptance in the USDA Qualified Through Verification (QTV) program.

Third party auditors include USDA, AIB, Siliker Labs, Scientific Certification Systems, Davis Fresh Technologies and many of our customers have excellent in-house audit programs as well.

Food Safety Standards and Guidelines: Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables — October 1998. Food and Drug Administration 21 CFR Part 110.

Good Agricultural Practices include monthly self-audits, quarterly third party program audits, and an annual intensive 3 day third party audit. Each field is audited prior to harvest. All new contracted growers must complete a self-audit as part of the contract. Audit reports may be reviewed by an additional third party.

Mock recalls are completed and documented often, with one of five most probable scenarios.

A new isolated Pathogen Laboratory for environmental testing provides us with results in 24 to 48 hours.

Perhaps the Mexican grower of these carrots had all these certifications. Perhaps not. Now anyone could have a problem and, in fact, we have no information that anyone has done anything wrong.

Still, it is hard to believe that Costco, which is the company pushing everyone in Salinas to test everything day and night, selected this roundabout pattern of having Mexican carrots, packed in Los Angeles and then distributed in Canada because it made the determination this was the route most likely to enhance food safety.

That piece was written in 2007, so the standards and audits have mostly changed but the point — that the Costco buyer had not selected a supplier based on the optimal food safety standard — is just as true today, maybe more so.

Although this has been portrayed as a national outbreak — and it is true that things move around in the industry due to lateral trading and the use of wholesalers and distributors — the Case Count Map clearly points to a regional product:

Although there are scattered cases of one, two or three people infected around the country, every single state with five or more cases is contiguous to Colorado or, in the case Texas, is separated from Colorado only by a thin strip of Oklahoma.

An awful lot of these cantaloupes wound up in Wal-Mart, but this is peculiar. It was in February of 2008 that Wal-Mart issued a press release, titled, Wal-Mart Becomes first Nationwide  U.S grocer To adopt Global Food Safety Initiative Standards:

Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. has become the first nationwide U.S. grocery chain to require suppliers of its private label and other food products such as produce, meat, fish, poultry and ready-to-eat foods to have their factories certified against one of the internationally recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards.

A group of major international retailers committed to strengthening consumer confidence in the food they purchase, the GFSI now lists Wal-Mart among the companies who have agreed to improve food safety through a higher and consistent auditing standard.

Selected by CIES, the Food Business Forum, to safeguard and ensure high quality in the international food supply chain, GFSI standards provide real time details on where suppliers fall short in food safety on a plant-by-plant basis, and go beyond the current FDA or USDA required audit process. Under the GFSI program, producers of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club private label and other foods sold in the U.S. must be audited by independently trained, approved and licensed auditors who are experts in their industry.

“The requirement for suppliers to complete these certifications demonstrates our leadership in food safety and our commitment to global safety standards,” said J.P. Suarez, Wal-Mart’s senior vice president and chief compliance officer, and a board member of the Global Food Safety Initiative. “Food safety has always been a top priority at Wal-Mart. We are taking this additional step to ensure the integrity of our products throughout the entire food supply chain. We encourage other U.S. retailers to follow our lead and to also endorse these standards.”

The GFSI requires food suppliers to achieve factory audit certification against one of its recognized standards, which include Safe Quality Food (SQF), British Retail Consortium (BRC), International Food Standard (IFS), or an equivalent such as Global-GAP. Wal-Mart has published a schedule to suppliers requiring completion of initial certification between July and December of 2008, with full certification required by July 2009. Audits will be completed by approved third party auditing companies.

So what was Wal-Mart doing buying Jensen Farms cantaloupe?

In our 2007 question to Costco, the implication was that produce buyers, though required to buy only from vendors that met certain minimum standards, saw their job as getting cheap prices once past that minimum. So, in our example, they would not gladly pay more just because Grimmway had extra certifications beyond the required minimum.

In this example of 2011, Wal-Mart buyers  have many conflicting interests. It is important to understand that when a chain announces a specific goal of buying more local, it is exactly the same thing as saying that other goals will now take on secondary importance.

In cantaloupes, the science is pretty clear. The safest cantaloupes are what are called high dessert cantaloupes.  Jensen Farms washed all its cantaloupes. Since the science says don't get them wet, this washing is not a food safety matter. It is a marketing matter.

Now there are many trade-offs in life.  It seems pretty clear that, intrinsically, cantaloupes are slightly more likely to harbor pathogens than smooth-skinned melons. So consumers who are highly risk-averse should eat honeydew or watermelon or other smooth-skinned melons and avoid cantaloupes.

We have defended the Honduran cantaloupe grower and most recently Del Monte Fresh here, here and here. Yet we should note that every cantaloupe expert in the world will tell you that it is inherently more risky to raise cantaloupes in the tropics than in the high dessert. This doesn’t mean people are wrong to eat them or retailers wrong to sell them. It means that there are tradeoffs in life.

If Wal-Mart really put food safety first, it would have never bought cantaloupes from this small producer, which produced in a six-week season what California ships in a day. Because of the Colorado soil conditions and because of its scale, this company was unlikely to have ever been judged by Wal-Mart as the safest place for them to buy cantaloupes. Wal-Mart bought for other reasons... maybe it was marketing, maybe satisfying consumer demand, maybe price. We don’t know.

What we do know, though, is that the food media and food industry has been complicit in deceiving consumers into thinking they can have it all. The Wal-Mart buyer, or any commercial buyer, can make a priority of safe or he can make a priority of local. It is a deception to think he can make both his top priority.

 




What’s In A Name? Professor Brad Rickard Of Cornell Produces New Research That Indicates Shakespeare May Have Been In Error… On Apples At Least

From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

JULIET:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Maybe Juliet was wrong. Perhaps a rose by any other name would, not, in fact, smell as sweet.

Shakespeare had to rely on intuition; we have research. Professor Rickard of Cornell University will be presenting at The New York Produce Show and Conference the results of recent research that indicates names matter. A lot.

Some years ago, David Marguleas, now Senior VP Sourcing, Licensing and R&D at Sun World, and the Pundit were asked to do some pro-bono work for the apple-breeding program at a major land grant institution. The issue was clear. With Federal law having changed as a result of the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 giving universities the intellectual property rights for things such as university-developed varieties of apples and tree fruit, there was a substantial possibility to make money for the university. Yet, there was also a sense that as a land-grant institution, there was a significant responsibility to help all the farmers in the state.

Not surprisingly, we would say that money is winning out on that battle.

Yet the apple category is actually a fascinating one. It has shifted significantly to new varieties that combine higher margins with better flavor. It could be a model for much of the produce department.

But beyond the mere development of new varieties, how they are named and marketed and how production is controlled, both to keep volume in line and insure they are grown in optimal places for quality, can make a great deal of difference.

We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to see if she could get us a sneak preview of what will be presented in New York:

Brad Rickard
Assistant Professor

Charles H. Dyson School of
Applied Economics and Management
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York

Q: Your research on generic produce promotions generated much buzz at last year’s New York Produce Show. Attendees will be looking forward to hearing about your latest work. Could you provide the impetus and context for your study, “Does the Name Matter? Developing Markets for New Managed Apple Varieties”?

A: The overall goal was to think a little more carefully about the large number of managed or club apple varieties being developed and produced by plant-breeding stations and universities. Instead of selling root stock to whomever wants it, look at controlling the trees being sold, and effectively manage distribution.

Q: Who are the forces behind this effort?

A: There is a joint interest between plant-breeding programs and producers that have access to these new varieties, making a concerted effort to not over-plant and over-produce these new varieties.

Q: Is the concern supply-and-demand related, that the apple market could become saturated? Would so many varieties inundate and confuse consumers?

A: There are two drivers: the first is staving off too much production, but more important, the industry doesn’t want these new varieties grown in regions not best suited to their characteristics. Producing suboptimal fruit is dangerous. Bad fruit reflects poorly on the variety.

Q: How widespread is production of these managed varieties?

A: These new varieties are all very regional but have global implications. The breeding programs, while close to where they’re produced, are sold everywhere. The industry is not moving completely away from these public varieties.

Q: Could you clarify the different terminologies, and are some interchangeable? 

A: People refer to them as managed or club varieties. Others call them patented varieties as quite often there is a fee to get the trees and a need to pay a royalty for any fruit sold over time.

This is a very interesting time in the apple industry, where there is a lot of activity in club or managed apple varieties. Many are in the research phase, several are on line and being sold in Europe or the U.S. and there are definitely more in the works than consumers can cope with.

Some examples are the Pinata, Cameo, Jazz, Ambrosia, Pacific Beauty. A really good example of a recent introduction, SweeTango, was developed at the University of Minnesota and licensed to a new-age grower cooperative. The cooperative is based in Minnesota but with growers in different states and provinces in Canada.

SweeTango is a patented variety that hit the marketplace last year and has had a major splash with consumers. These are relatively sweet and crunchy, having less consistency with color, often tending to be bi-colored, but are most popular for their high brix content and crispness, qualities a large percentage of consumers look for in apples.

Washington State University has some apples in the works.  And Cornell University has two of these patented varieties that have just been released, NY1 and NY2. They currently don’t have a brand or name, but won’t be available commercially for a few more years, so they have time to think on that.

Q: Who actually determines the brand names for NY1 and NY2? 

A: There are 145 farmers in New York State that have purchased access to these two new varieties and a management team overseeing the marketing activity for these apples. And one of the big charges they have in their negotiations with those in the plant breeding program at Cornell is how to best market them. What grocery stores, the number of fruit, the size of fruit, and perhaps most important what brand name if they don’t go with NY1. That was the focus of our study, to help them in a general way about branding.

Q: As the marketplace brims with so many options, are the characteristics and flavor profiles between varieties that different?

A: There are several other patented varieties that are interesting and important that are European-based: Kanzi, Kiku, Junami, Red Prince, and more like this in the works, and there is only so much shelf space for apples that are nice tasting and look nice with properties consumers enjoy.

Q: What is the retailer’s take on this?

A: The sentiment among retailers is welcoming for some of these varieties on the shelf. These will sell for a premium. If traditional varieties sell from $1.30 to $1.60 per pound, club varieties usually bring in $2.00 to $3.50 per pound.

Q: Does that premium remain constant or fade over time?  Wouldn’t the initial excitement of the new variety plateau over time, or a fresh introduction cloak a shadow over it? 

A: Another arm of this research is thinking of new cycles of fruit. A breeding program can’t have just one apple with the hope royalties will flow in, rather the optimal path of varieties that come on line in three or four years time, and there will be a continuous flow. And if you’re one of 145 members of this coop, you’ll have access to these new varieties. A reason for being part of one of these coops from the beginning is to have access to new varieties.

Q: How does your study approach these issues?

A: With that backdrop, we were curious to understand the market for these managed varieties as it relates to the space limitations on retail shelves and the competitive dynamic with other products, what consumers think, and surrounding this is the branding question. If you’re planting now, you won’t have fruit until 2014, but you have to invest money to become part of this coop and assess what retailers will buy, at what price points, and ways to get consumers to try the fruit for the first time.

Q: Branding has never been as prominent in the produce department, particularly in commodities. Isn’t this due to the perishable nature of the business, where quality, freshness and other attributes often trump brands in purchasing decisions, albeit there are notable exceptions?

A: In the produce department, there is not that much branding relative to the rest of the store, although you’ll see it in items like packaged salads. With apples, consumers expect variety and ways to differentiate.  Generally, they might seek red apples or green ones, while more educated consumers will recognize, seek out and be influenced by varietal names. So thinking about branding, we thought the name could be an important part of sales.

Q: Have you considered other variables that could influence the choice? For example, reasons for the willingness to pay premiums could be based on income level, a flavor profile to fill a recipe, or wanting to get a smaller size for their children’s school lunches? Perhaps, they only buy organic or want to support the local farmer, etc.

A: For the most part, this study took steps to account for these variables. To make things manageable, we kept all other possible variables constant. Instead of talking local, organic or price point, we just changed the brand names. We were very focused on answering the question, ‘Does the name of the product matter?’

We had our consumer study participants come to our apple experiment store. The only thing differentiated was the name of managed varieties that we had access to but were not available in a commercial setting for a few years. I do think our results reveal insight with regard to price and local preferences, but we didn’t test for these issues exclusively. We tried to control as many things as possible to look into branding specifically.

Q: How did the experiment work exactly?

A: We brought people into our simulated apple display, where we introduced five varieties: NY1, Empire, Honeycrisp, Fuji, and Piñata. The idea was to introduce them to Empire, which is a traditional apple; Fuji, which is newer but well known; Honeycrisp, which is exciting but still known by most of the people in the room; and Pinata, which was an example of another managed variety that wasn’t known by most consumers unless they were apple aficionados; and then NY1, which consumers didn’t know. 

We provided information, fairly technical about the brix or sweetness, whether 20 or 15 brix as a measurement of sugar, and taught them about pressure. They had a pressure device to test firmness. We explained to people lab measures of firmer or crunchier apples and then told them suggested uses for baking, cooking or fresh eating, and how varieties might fit in more than one category. And we tried to replicate what apples look like in a display in the grocery store. We explicitly told them all were conventionally grown so they wouldn’t consider organic in their evaluation.

Different people came in on different days, and the only thing we changed was the name we gave NY1, and we didn’t say it was a new managed variety.  On separate days, we gave three different fictitious names to secretly find out if the name influenced their valuation of that apple and others.

Generally with a suite of apples in the grocery store, consumer studies show most shoppers buy one variety, and a small percent of the time two varieties, but there are definitely choices going on when they get to the apple section.

Q: How influential is sizing in the equation?

A: That’s a really good question. Sizing can be important and for that reason we very carefully selected fruit. Although the varieties we selected did have slightly different shapes -- for example, the Pinata is more of a long apple — we tried to keep sizing consistent at 88-count fruit.  In addition to the display, we also highlighted three of these apples on a plate and described it as one pound of fruit. We made sure the fruit size was constant.

When it came off the tree, it was washed and a slight wax was put on the fruit and treated the same so everything was consistent; no bruises or stems missing or leaves, all fancy grade fruit.

Q: How does the type of consumer play into the results? Did you account for age, gender, income level, whether they were a large or small purchaser of apples and/or produce, etc.?

A: All those things do matter. Everyone told us their income level, age and ethnicity, even their weight and height and we calculated their BMI.

Q: I’m surprised people were so open to reveal such sensitive information like their income level and weight…

A: It was all done on a computer, with participants designated by number, and I made a big deal assuring them that the information would be kept anonymous. There’s a big trust factor.

Q: Were you able to get a viable, representative sample of participants to create meaningful results?

A: It was fairly representative of Tomkins County, New York, or New York State in general. A number of variables made it different than the population at large, but overall it was a good representation.

The average age was 43, and 81 percent were Caucasian, which is obviously higher than the national population demographic.  They didn’t give us actual income numbers, but individual income brackets averaged between $30,000 and $40,000, although certainly there was a wide range of income levels. Education averaged between high school and two years of college, but again there was a wide distribution. Weight and height mirrored national averages.

Thirty-six percent of participants were in households with children under 18 and 72 percent were the primary shoppers in the household. On average, participants went to a restaurant 2.1 times per week, although restaurant was loosely defined as any time they had a meal outside of the home. So this could include cafeteria lunches at work. The average consumption of fruit was 1.8 servings per day. We have a lot more summary statistics in the larger study.

We asked questions regarding selection of apples… Are there too few? Too many or an appropriate number of varieties? Seventy-five percent said appropriate, 13 percent said too much choice, and 12 percent said not enough selection.

Q: Wouldn’t these answers change depending on where the consumer shops?

A: Fancy stores tend to have more varieties, while basic grocery stores have fewer, but in general the apple selections and number of choices at conventional supermarkets are not significantly different and evolve seasonally.  

We asked participants, ‘What are some parameters running through your mind when buying apples?” and to rate them between one and five. The sweet taste or sugar content and crispness were the ones that were ranked highest. A lot of the new varieties are going after those attributes. Color and size were less important, as well as the region of production. Contrary to the attention about local, region wasn’t relatively important. It was ranked three out of five on a one-to-five scale.

Q: Could consumers be associating crispness with freshness as opposed to an overripe mealy apple?

A: Crispness could also be a storage issue as well.

Q: Does the perishable nature of produce change the brand equation, where other issues related to freshness and quality fluctuate in consistency?

A: People who study marketing have a whole branch devoted to branding of new products, cars, clothes and food as well. In the cereal row, brand is important. In milk less important. In ice cream, more so and with soda, even more important. I try to argue that in the produce area of the store, brands aren’t that important in general. People are looking for freshness, sweetness, and size.

However, I think apples are a mix. People know apple varieties and they become like a brand. The usual suspects are at play, but we find that if quality, appearance, and size are consistent, and the only thing that changes is the brand, there really is a difference in how they are perceived.

Q: Could you elaborate on how you determined this through your study?

A: We ran the same experiment with different groups on different days. There were five apple varieties everyone got exposed to, but when they got to NY1, one day we called it Williams, then another day we called it Burgundy Beauty, and on another day we called it Flavor Haven, and replicated this test three times.

Q: Were the particular names crucial to the experiment?

A: Yes. We put work into these names. In marketing literature, when people start thinking about brands for purses or jeans or cars, there is quite a lot of research done. A Stanford University study pioneered the concept that brands have personalities; that most brands can be roughly lumped into five camps, and people with certain personalities associate themselves with brands that reflects them. These five personalities are defined as competence, excitement, ruggedness, sincerity and sophistication.

Studies that have looked at this idea in food markets generally think of food personalities that include excitement, sincerity or sophistication.  Nearly any apple variety name can loosely fit into one of these personalities.

If you examine the names of apples, there is a reference to appearance, an exciting one relates to sensory properties, and a sincere one relates to honesty or name sake. Honeycrisp is an example of an exciting brand. Empire or Cortland or Fuji is really a namesake, and Ambrosia or Red Delicious are sophisticated with sensory attributes.

Pink Lady refers to color and Lady is more of a namesake. With Ginger Gold, ginger is sensory and the gold is color, so it’s a cross between personalities.

If introducing a new patented, club or managed apple variety, the question becomes, where should you position it?

The apple Piñata is on its third name, even in the middle of the season it went from Pinova to Senata to Pinata. I think SweeTango is the third name they used; it was Minnesota 14 for awhile. Now they’ve decided to go with SweeTango, and a lot of work went into that name and it was a secretive process.

Q: Based on your research of top consumer preferences, Sweet Crisp would be the ideal name…

A: The word crisp is being used a lot lately, and farmers joke about it. For our study, we went through old apple names, as well as names for pears, peaches, and nectarines. And we pilot tested real and fictitious names with graduate students that study this topic at Cornell. Flavor Haven was borrowed from peach varieties that had an association with an exciting personality. Burgundy Beauty was combined from old apple and pear varieties.

Williams clearly matched the sophistication category, and was a good example of an honest, traditional, sincere personality.

Q: How did your study participants react to the different names?

A: No one called us on these names as fictitious. Sometimes a consumer would think they had already experienced the new variety, which, of course, was not possible since it hasn’t been commercially produced yet. For example, one participant reacted at seeing Burgundy Beauty, ‘Oh, that’s my favorite,’ but they could have been confused with a pear variety of a similar name. We went through this exercise, collecting data from 200 people.

Even though we had different ages and incomes, our statistical model could remove the variation and isolate the statistical impact from the brand name that we used.

Q: What insight could you draw from your data?

A: The good news is if we put all the new variety brands together, the valuation of NY1 in general had the highest valuation of all the apples in our study, or a 25 percent premium over the other four varieties. That’s promising for this new variety, a result the breeding program at Cornell would be interested in. That approximates the premium that managed varieties are looking for in a commercial market. That’s what a farmer needs to justify production and make a go of things.  

There are additional costs for farmers to produce these apples. I’ve done rough calculations and you need to see at least a 12 percent retail premium to make sense for growers.

Q:  So participants embraced the NY1 under all three names? Could that indicate their willingness to pay a premium was based more on NY1’s characteristics and/or newness than on the names? 

A: In part because it was new and because they liked it, since even taking the name away they liked the look and taste of it. It shows that it has some of these characteristics consumers are drawn to. It had the highest brix of all the apples in the mix, and had the second highest pressure out of the mix.

Q: How did the individual NY1 brand names compare? Did consumers gravitate to one name over another?

A: Burgundy Beauty had a higher valuation than Williams, and Flavor Haven had a higher valuation than Burgundy Beauty. So the exciting personality won out. Participants paid a 10 percent premium for Williams, about a 25 percent premium when NY1 was called Burgundy Beauty, and a 40 percent to 42 percent premium for Flavor Haven. All valuations were higher than for the other apples in the study, but for statistically minded people, these numbers were significant. We had almost 70 people in each of these groups.

And the third, perhaps most interesting finding was that the name we gave didn’t change the valuation of the three conventional varieties, Fuji, Honeycrisp and Empire. But the valuation of Piñata, the other club variety, did change depending on what name you gave to NY1. If the name was Flavor Haven, then it decreased the valuation of Pinata. But if the name was Burgundy Beauty, it increased the valuation of Piñata.

Q: Why do you think that occurred?

A: What we argued was that statistics revealed consumers looked at the three conventional varieties with firm price valuations. Then Piñata and NY1 were unknown and interesting.  No matter what branding we did, it didn’t impact the conventional.

Q: Going into this study, did you have certain expectations? What surprised you?

A: I wasn’t surprised people were willing to pay a premium for NY1, but I was surprised that brands mattered that much. I was thinking Burgundy Beauty fit the personality of a premium apple like NY1 and would bring a higher premium, and that Flavor Haven would generate the least value. But looking back, the results actually made sense. This was a very red, sweet, crunchy apple, all exciting personality traits. The name might have had a different valuation for a different-tasting or looking apple.

Q:  What light can you shed on brand marketing that could help those interested in pursuing a branding strategy? How can produce executives utilize the information gleaned from your study?

A: The biggest take-home message, even if you think the apple category is different from grapes and bananas, within the apple category, there is a subcategory of managed or club varieties. When you use these branding strategies, it doesn’t impact conventional, traditional varieties, but it does impact those managed or club varieties.

My original hypothesis was that what you name the new variety would impact all varieties in the display. Yet consumers do this segmented marketing in their minds. In the real world, consumers view the apple department as two separate shopping experiences, and won’t be thinking should I buy an Empire or a Pinata, but perhaps both. 

It is a fascinating study. Who would have thought that in the age of everything local and regional, the region of production would be well down the list of attributes that consumers seek?

It is also intriguing to see the power of a name. One wonders, though, if what is really being measured isn’t something like the impact of a name on consumer propensity for trial. Once the trial happens, perhaps the name will become less important.

There is often a trade-off in naming. Some names have a kind of function embedded in them – Burger King or Pizza Hut – that immediately attracts business but that also serves as a limitation on the brand. In contrast, other names, say Kodak, mean nothing and so provide a blank canvas for marketers to create their own meaning.

This can be done with marketing, of course, but branding in produce typically flounders on the shoals of product quality. Most manufactured products, including food, have a consistent quality standard. If a batch of Coca-Cola comes out wrong, they dump it and make the right stuff.

In produce, if conditions are bad and so quality is bad, most brand marketers are unwilling to simply dump the crop or even rebrand and give up the hard-fought shelf space and warehouse slots. So they switch to a relative quality standard.

The Pundit used to export lots of Goldens to Europe — mostly Fancys. Our customers enjoyed them for years. One year, the phone started ringing. Everyone said there was something wrong with the apples.

When the whole investigation was done, the apples were fine and were in grade. The problem was that after several really good quality crop years, the market had gotten used to Fancy Goldens that were at the very top end of the Fancy grade, but that particular year, they were at the bottom.

In this way, brands are often destroyed in the industry.

Indeed one of the real questions is how fiercely those organizing these networks will refuse to allow the variety to be grown in places where it can’t grow optimally.

Long term this seems the best way to build a brand, but short term it can be hard to turn down money. Plus retailers may push for year-round availability and that may include sub-optimal growing locations.

Our focus groups over the years have shown more consumer preference for brands in the produce industry than Professor Rickard suspects. Although individual brands are mostly weak, with exceptions, the consumer still sees in brands in general a certain assurance of quality and safety. Obviously this is not enough to overwhelm a poor quality product presentation but it is a real dynamic. Of course, with the growth of local and the rise of social media, there are opportunities for people to have brands who never had them before.

The other issue is whether consumer reaction to names is all that good a predictor of success. After all, in the produce industry, new products have to get past the gatekeeper of the buyer and merchandising plan. Then, how they are marketed and merchandised in store is crucial for getting this name out.

One suspects that with thin industry marketing budgets, many great names have never even made it to the stores for consumers to see.

Perhaps the researchers should repeat the study with commercial produce buyers. Wouldn’t it be interesting if their reaction to the names was significantly different than the consumer reaction?

Professor Rickard is one of a generation of truly brilliant young scholars, along with people such as his fellow Cornell faculty member, also presenting at the show, Miguel I. Gomez. Both professors do incredible, thoughtful work by applying new research tools to traditional concerns.

We are so pleased to showcase this work at The New York Produce Show and Conference.

Come and see Professor Rickard’s full presentation, learn from the rest of the conference, walk the trade show, see the produce-specific cooking demos, meet the press and food-specific bloggers, and attend the Perishable Pundit’s “Thought Leaders” Retail Panel, network at the many receptions and meal functions, attend the Global Trade Symposium and the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum or go on a tour of retail and wholesale facilities in the Northeast, you can register right here.

Hotel rooms are available at this link.

You can see travel discounts we have negotiated right here.

We look forward to learning from Professor Rickard, the other presenters and from each other.




Looking For Clarity On Immigration Policy 

The situation regarding E-Verify has put the industry between a rock and hard place. The industry is dependent on undocumented laborers on the production end. The restaurant industry, an important customer, also depends on undocumented labor. Requiring that all employees be vetted through the E-verify system would thus leave the trade without sufficient workers to get the crop harvested and would impact sales.

Yet the industry can’t very well become an advocate of illegal activity and thus can’t very well oppose E-verify. So the official position is that mandatory E-Verify is fine, provided that a guest worker program simultaneously is put into place to provide a legal avenue for the trade’s labor needs.

This sounds good, but is somewhat non-responsive to the complaints of those pushing for mandatory E-verify. Although lawless behavior is one of their concerns, these advocates would not be satisfied with merely giving all illegal aliens a legal status. The people who want mandatory E-verify, want to see American citizens get these jobs. Other advocates decry the cultural influence and what they see as the cost of low wage foreign labor on the country. None of these problems are solved by simply having a legal guest worker program.

Besides, the enforcement of immigration laws has been so skimpy, and our legal structure is so inhibiting, that skeptics doubt much will be done if the guest workers don’t go home.

If a woman working here on a guest worker program has a baby, that baby is an American citizen. Are we going to throw Mom out and put the baby in foster care? Would anyone think that a good solution?

Right now there are loads of people who come into the US legally on a tourist or other visa. They are supposed to leave by a set date. If they don’t, nothing really happens. So skeptics don’t really believe that if a guest worker goes AWOL that anyone is going to be sending out the FBI to find him.

This all makes any kind of compromise almost impossible. If the confidence isn’t there that a compromise will be enforced, what is the point of compromising?

There also is less unanimity within the industry than one might expect on such an issue.

We have written about immigration before and heard from many industry members including some who told us that they have seen mechanization decline over the years because of low wage rates. Some also pointed out that the unskilled immigrants led to gangs and other problems in places such as Salinas. You can see one of the notes we received regarding these matters in a piece we titled, Pundit’s Mailbag — Immigration.

Just recently Robert Guenther was conducting one of United’s Produce Industry Luncheons at the new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market. When he discussed E-Verify and United’s position involving tying this to a guest-worker program, one of the attendees spoke up and demanded to know why these jobs couldn’t be given to unemployed Americans.

Robert explained that experience had shown that Americans were unwilling to take these jobs. The attendee then said that if you throw them off welfare and make them work or starve, they will take the jobs.

Robert was too polite to tell the gentleman that he may well be right, but he lives in an alternative universe and United has to work within alternatives likely to be adopted.

In truth the argument that no Americans will take these jobs has a lot of caveats that the industry doesn’t express well. People do things as a result of both carrots and sticks.

To our commentator in Philadelphia’s point, we really have absolutely no idea what kinds of jobs people might do if society was prepared to use some sticks. That is to say that if we said that there was no unemployment insurance, no food stamps, no Medicaid, no subsidized housing, no welfare of any kind – perhaps people would accept whatever jobs they could get rather than die in the streets.

This is an interesting question, but almost irrelevant to policy because nobody is actually advocating this plan on the national stage.

Nobody who believes in capitalism can accept the notion that is commonly promulgated that nobody will take certain jobs. If half of the explanation for why this phenomenon exists is that there are generous welfare benefits that provide most of the benefits of the job with less work, the flip side is that wages and working conditions have not been raised to a level that will attract the workers.

Although the industry likes to point to the relatively high hourly wage paid to migrant workers, people often seem to evaluate the annual earnings they can get at a particular job or line of work, not the hourly wage.

When my family was a large importer of fresh produce, we had an import division in which we kept a whole team of salespeople and support staff on salary all year long. These people worked like dogs during the season, sometimes 24 hours a day, but we had few imports the rest of the year so they sold a few coconuts and knocked off.

We paid these people annual salaries because we had to…. because it was the only way to attract the caliber of people we needed to be available when we needed them.

Just as we have no idea if we could get farm workers if society would eliminate welfare as a kind of stick, we also have no idea if we couldn’t get Americans to be farm laborers with a carrot. What if we offered workers $100K with year-round employment, company car, educational reimbursement, medical, dental, pension plan and generous vacation time to tend to the physical difficulties of harvesting crops?

The real argument is not that no American would ever take the job; it is that offering a wage package sufficient to entice Americans to do so would price American agriculture out of business, at least on labor-intensive items such as produce and nursery products. Put another way, the wage necessary to entice Americans to do this work would only be sustainable if the US imposed massive tariffs on imported produce.

Economists would mostly say, so what? Businesses and whole industries are lost every day as comparative advantage swirls and leads to Schumpeterian “creative destruction,” as industries rise and fall where they make the most sense.  In this point of view, if the U.S. can’t compete growing produce, it shouldn’t and should do something else.

This is a tricky wicket, though, as the U.S. can compete. We have the land, the technology, advantages in transportation costs to major markets, and we have plenty of labor in Mexico and other nearby countries anxious to come here and do this work. So it is not precisely that other nations have a comparative advantage over the U.S. in growing produce; it is more as if as a result of our dysfunctional immigration policies, we are choosing to give other countries a comparative advantage.

Of course another point is that even with high tariffs, though the domestic industry might survive, the high prices might cause people to eat less produce. This could harm public health as well as the industry.

The macro issue is what is our immigration policy actually attempting to achieve? We’ve been fortunate from time to time to have our pieces linked to by The Volokh Conspiracy, which is among the most influential legal blogs in the country. You can see some of these links here and here

Well, Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA, recently tried to rethink the intent of American immigration policy in a post he titled, Immigration and the Future of the United States:

How can the U.S. maintain its standard of living, and its position of world leadership (technological, economic, and political)? Obviously it’s getting harder, partly because we’ve been so successful at sharing our free enterprise economic model with the world (a model that we inherited from others, though we improved on it), so that countries that once couldn’t effectively compete with us economically now can compete. And though the surge in international trade benefits us as consumers — and often as producers — as well as competing with our producers, competing with lower-wage countries has naturally gotten harder as international trade has gotten freed up.

Of course, we might be able to improve our competitiveness in various ways, such as improving our educational system, removing counterproductive regulations and taxes, and so on. But again these sort of ideas can be copied by our competitors — to everyone’s aggregate benefit, but in a way that reduces our leadership position.

We do, however, have one huge advantage over many countries that is hard to compete with: We have a long-term history of political freedom, political stability, economic freedom, military security, and relative freedom from corruption. This is something that other countries can’t reliably copy, partly because it takes a long time to establish relatively certain protections along these lines.

Moreover, I think that on balance size does matter when it comes to national influence. China and India are especially important players partly (though, of course, not solely) because they’re so big, and we have long benefited from this as well. A materially larger population would obviously cause density problems, including in places like my own Los Angeles, but I suspect that it is on balance something that would help the country as a whole.

This suggests that one of the most valuable competitive advantages we have is our ability to allow immigration by people who we think are going to add to our national prosperity — whether wealthy investors, skilled knowledge workers, or industrious laborers. We’ve done it before, and it seems likely we can keep doing it for quite a while into the future, especially since political, economic, and military instability continue to be serious threats in much of the world.

Such immigration will indeed likely cause some problems for some, whether because some places get more crowded, because some occupations get more competitive, or for various other reasons. But my sense is that substantially increased immigration (albeit increased in a somewhat targeted fashion) will improve the welfare of the nation as a whole. And I’d go further and say that it is likely necessary, and not just desirable, if we want to maintain (to the extent possible) our edge over others.

One of the unfortunate things about recent illegal immigration debates, it seems to me, has been that they have distracted from the much more important debate about how we can increase — perhaps dramatically increase — legal immigration in a way to maximize net benefit for the nation. To some extent, it is inevitable that we will constantly have competitors who are close to our level of prosperity, at least so long as other countries can avoid bombing each other into rubble (which is one of the things that contributed to our huge advantage shortly after World War II) or choosing ridiculously ineffective economic policies (which helped to contribute to our huge advantage during the Cold War). But to the extent that we want to stay ahead, or even keep up, for as long as possible, it seems to me that we have to use the strongest advantage we have: being a great place for productive people to live.

This isn’t even near my core area of expertise, so perhaps I’m mistaken on this; and it’s also rather obvious in certain ways — others have said it before. But at the same time, however obvious it may be, it seems to me that political leaders are not focusing much on it. I think it’s about time they did.

We thought this piece was quite interesting and followed up with a letter to Professor Volokh in which we raised some issues:

I enjoyed your thoughtful piece on immigration. Having done a fair amount of work in this area due to the need of the produce industry for immigrant labor, I think your piece brings to the fore a number of issues.

1) What if the immigration policy that will help increase the “position of world leadership” of the US is not the same as the immigration policy that will help U.S. citizens maintain and improve their standard of living? This is quite possible. Unskilled Americans would benefit from restrictive immigration that will keep the supply of unskilled labor down and thus increase its price. Possibly this would result in higher per capita incomes in the U.S., but this policy would almost surely result in a smaller population, smaller economy and a diminution of American influence and leadership in the world.

2) There may well be a great conflict between the immigration policies that benefit the standard of living of different groups of Americans. Less affluent Americans benefit personally from policies that restrict less skilled immigrants as this tends to raise wages for manual labor. More affluent Americans personally benefit if they can get their gardeners, maids, pool cleaners, etc., at lower wages to benefit from broader immigration of less skilled workers.

3) Your argument that America has a huge advantage over other countries because of our history of “political stability, economic freedom, military security, and relative freedom from corruption” and that these are cultural traits that other nations can’t copy easily as “ it takes a long time to establish relatively certain protections along these lines” is itself an argument for limiting immigration. I don’t know the tipping point here, but these attributes reside in the people, not the bedrock, so allowing massive immigration from people who don’t share these characteristics would surely undermine them.

4) The focus on density “problems” is probably misplaced. Charming places to live such as the Netherlands have a population density more than ten times that of the U.S. Density is not even obviously a negative as it allows for the existence of specialized entities from cultural institutions to ethnic restaurants.

5) The idea of allowing immigration “by people who we think are going to add to our national prosperity” raises the question of whether we have any ability to actually know such a thing.Sure, we know who has already succeeded, but would such an evaluative scheme have let in the eastern European Jewish immigration or the Italian or Irish immigrations of the turn of the 20th century? Yet surely these have added greatly to American strength and prosperity. Who is to say that the energy and youth and ambition of the young unskilled laborer won’t, in the future, prove more valuable to our country than someone selected for his wealth or education?

6) There may be an issue as those who will contribute to economic prosperity are not necessarily the ones most likely to be committed Americans. Will those who buy citizenship feel the same sense of gratitude other immigrants did and be willing to lay down their lives to defend this country?

7) Many who object to immigration do so not because of any particular characteristic of the immigrants but because of a sense that the US has changed and the culture no longer has the self-confidence to enforce a “melting pot” in America. So though you say “we’ve done it before” in reference to allowing large scale immigration, many believe it was a different America that did it – one willing to demand English, teach civics and citizenship, etc. This is not to mention an America that wouldn’t provide very much in the way of welfare, free medical care, etc.

8) The ease of transport and proximity of major sources of immigration pose particular challenges. If the Jews came because they were fleeing a pogrom in Odessa, or the Vietnamese because they feared the Communists in Vietnam, they were not likely to go back. Other groups, such as the Italians, did go back and forth, but travel across the Atlantic before airplanes were common was a major commitment. So the immigrants mostly saw themselves as Americans, thought it crucial that their children become Americanized. They knew that their children would make it in America or not at all. It is not clear if immigrants today necessarily feel that way.

9)  Technologies such as Skype and the Internet allow immigrants to remain in their home culture even if physically in the U.S. In earlier times, even if one yearned for one’s homeland, the fact that the newspapers one read, the people one spoke to, etc., were American led to a gradual distancing from the home culture and a melding into the American milieu. The whole question of what it means to be an immigrant has to be addressed when a wealthy person who could qualify for immigration status by making a big investment can also remain very much a part of his home culture with the use of technology and quick plane rides around the world. In addition, with the U.S. increasingly cooperative on dual nationality claims, deciding to become an American does not necessarily mean one ceases to be another nationality.

10) Whatever policy might be ideal regarding immigration, it is not clear that the political constituency that is active on immigration issues is likely to support such a policy.  Ethnic groups don’t want families divided by someone’s criteria of who might add to our national prosperity. Industry groups have particular interests. For example, produce growers need workers to plant and harvest. Doubling or tripling of legal immigration won’t address the trade’s needs as these immigrants would find other work. Other than a completely open door, the industry needs some kind of guest-worker program. Either that or we have to completely reform the welfare state, so people are compelled to take difficult work for relatively modest wages. The other alternatives are to put high tariffs on imported produce or to accept that produce will be grown in low wage countries and exported to the United States.

11) Compromise has become very difficult on immigration in large measure because of an unwillingness by both political parties to enforce the existing laws. Although the issue is portrayed as one of lawless people sneaking in over the border who are unknown and unknowable, there is a very large illegal alien population that is composed of people who entered the U.S. legally and overstayed their visas. When this happens, the response is virtually nothing. Your suggestion of selected immigration may be a good one, but those active in this area who might be inclined toward such a compromise have come to think that compromise is futile because any restrictions that might be imposed on immigration will not be enforced. If an APB was put out the instant a visa-holder failed to leave the country on an expected date, and the failure to leave was treated as a serious security breach, immigration compromise would be much easier to come by.

12) The portrayal of the issue as being primarily about a policy for the 12 million illegal immigrants who are supposedly in the U.S. right now spreads more smoke than light. Since all children born in the U.S. are American citizens, regardless of their parent’s immigration status, all 12 million will either leave the country or die here leaving American children as their descendants. Very possibly we will want to do something about the status of the existing illegal immigrants, but if the borders were secure, this issue would lessen in scope with each passing day and would ultimately be fully resolved without any change in the law.

There is little question that if the issue was simply what policy would increase American GDP and power and influence in the world, a more generous immigration policy would be sure to help. For all the reasons above, though, almost nobody is focused on that concern and, for better or worse, that is not likely to change.

Professor Volokh responded with some thoughts of his own:

Very interesting points, thanks very much!

You’ve likely thought about the subject more deeply than I have, but here are my quick thoughts:

 (1)  I think that on balance America will be richer if it is a world leader than if it isn’t, simply because world leadership means more power to protect our interests.  If China becomes the dominant world power, then we’re likely to suffer quite a bit from this, even if we maintain the pure military force needed to prevent the worst abuses.  If Europe becomes dominant over us, I think we’re also likely to be worse off than if we maintain our leadership and thus our ability to protect ourselves.

(2)  I agree that each immigration policy will have different effects on different parts of the population, though a rising tide will on balance raise most boats.  But the trouble is that we aren’t even seriously debating this as to legal immigration, and considering proposals that are likely to benefit the great bulk of Americans (such as opening up more immigration by businesspeople, skilled workers, and the like).

(3)  It’s true that some kinds of immigration might indeed weaken American political and economic stability.  But again, there are others that are nearly certain not to weaken it, and past history suggests that even large waves of immigration have indeed not weakened it.  So this might well be an argument against unlimited open borders, or against certain kinds of immigration schemes, but it seems to me there are lots of options that we aren’t seriously considering that wouldn’t pose any problems on this score.

 (4)  I agree that density isn’t a huge problem as such, especially in a country the size of the U.S.  The reason I mentioned it is that sharp changes in density, especially in the large cities that do disproportionately draw immigrants, may overtax infrastructure in a way that causes substantial temporary problems (especially traffic problems).

 (5)  It is indeed hard to tell for sure which groups will most benefit us, and that might be reason to allow quite broad immigration without worrying about some of the things you mention in items 2 and 3.  But it’s not a reason to maintain the current restrictive scheme with regard to skilled workers, businesspeople, and others who are very likely to benefit the country and very unlikely to harm it.

Obviously this only touches on a small part of your very interesting analysis, but I thought I’d pass it along. 

We think that Professor Volokh touches on a key point: That the battles between different segments of American society that struggle for advantage in the reform of our immigration laws or in enforcement of existing laws may be beside the point.

In the end, all segments of society would be likely to benefit from a more powerful America, because a more powerful America is more likely to, as professor Voloch says, have “more power to protect our interests” or, phrased more softly, a more powerful America can keep the peace in the world, keep trade open and thus create an environment in which America and all those who are engaged in the “pursuit of happiness” can prosper.

The challenge though is this: America is a democracy, and so each immigrant becomes a voting partner in the future of our country. We cannot be indifferent to the character of these people because they will have a vote at the table. Demographics in Europe has led some, such as Mark Steyn in his book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It, to predict the end of traditional European cultures. If things shift in America and the values of the country are not those we believe in, well, who cares if the country is more powerful in the future.

We do think America needs more immigration. Youthful immigrants bring energy and innovation to a society. Yet even while acknowledging that today’s hodge-podge of immigration criteria and limitations makes little sense, we confess a skepticism that in 100 years, the body politic will be better off if, today, we select immigrants based on wealth or education.  Beyond utility, we fear that this mode of thinking seems to reject a heritage that once proclaimed:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

In this sense the produce industry has an opportunity to align itself with traditional American values, to proclaim itself in favor an immigration policy that rejects favoritism to those with traditional American values, to proclaim itself in favor of an immigration policy that rejects favoritism to those with credentials and money — storied pomp — and instead encourages those with ambition — yearning to breathe free — to come to America.

If we were designing an immigration policy it would emphasize most those who love this country and want to become Americans. We would ban things such as dual citizenship and set up schedules for gaining English fluency and for gaining citizenship. But we would cast our net wide joining with Eugene Volokh in believing that American power and influence in the world is important — for us, and others — and that this influence is most likely to be sustained with a growing, vibrant and youthful population and this means with immigrants.

And we would remind all who would listen that America can provide vast opportunity: that the farm laborer who rejected his lot in some foreign land and chose to come, work, live and make his home in America is exhibiting a kind of courage. We would remind those who see only poverty that the grandchild of that laborer may just cure cancer, build a great commercial enterprise, write an important book or be exactly the President we need a few generations from now.

The challenge is more to Americans than to immigrants. If we can allow immigration and allow people to improve their lot gradually, immigrants will, as they always have, be a great asset to our country. If we insist on turning these hardworking people into welfare subjects because we are aesthetically offended at having poor people in our midst though their impoverishment in a distant land doesn’t bother us, then with greater legal immigration we will bankrupt the country and break the initiative of the immigrants. 

Many thanks to Professor Volokh for helping us think through such an important question.




Department Of Sloppy Thinking:
“Save a Tree” Environmentalism Doesn’t Make Much Sense

There are a lot of problems in the country and the world. We tend to focus on the proximate cause of these problems such as dysfunction in Washington. Yet, we would say that to a surprising extent our problems are caused or exacerbated by a facile way of thinking that makes many people believe things that may not be so.

This came to mind a little while ago as we were running through McCarran Airport in Las Vegas on our way to present the Keynote for the Annual Meeting of Agribusiness and Produce Marketing Scholars.

The airport restrooms have signs announcing that the airport is going green, and part of this campaign is an effort to encourage people to use electronic hot air hand dryers as opposed to paper towels. The restrooms are filled with signs urging people to do this on the grounds that this will “save a tree” — and, after all, who could be opposed to that?

One question, of course, is whether saving a tree is actually sufficient reason to do this. We would need to measure the benefits of saving a tree versus the costs — social, economic, environmental, etc. — of producing electricity to power these hand dryers.

One also supposes there may well be a “cost” on the general populous in that the electric hand dryers may do a worse job at hand-drying. So it may take more time to dry one’s hands with hot air or there may be a wait as the hand-drying machines only do one set of hands at a time whereas many people can simultaneously dry their hands after quickly pulling a paper towel from a dispenser.

The very fact that they have to make an appeal on environmental grounds implies that people typically find paper towels more effective at hand-drying. Yet, even if we put all this aside and simply focus on the claim – that utilizing electric hand dryers rather than paper towels will save a tree — it is easy to see that, as the song says, it ain’t necessarily so.

In the literal sense, sure, paper comes from trees, so if we don’t use paper, we don’t chop down a tree. But surely the relevant question is whether there will be more or fewer trees in the world if we don’t use paper towels. And this question does not necessarily get answered in a way in line with “save a tree” sloganeering.

After all, if nobody bought apples, would there be more or fewer apple trees in the world? Since nobody would have a reason to plant or cultivate them, it is highly likely there would be fewer.

Equally, paper companies don’t send people out with axes to find some random trees. These companies plant and tend to billions of trees. As long as there is a business of planting trees, harvesting them and selling the products from the trees, they will keep planting and tending.

The day we all stop using paper products, these companies will have no business and so will stop planting and tending trees. Land that is currently used for forests will be sold for other uses that provide a better economic return.

We have seen this dynamic in other situations. For example, it is now accepted that if we want to preserve an animal population in a specific region, it is essential to make sure that the animals produce an income for the local population — this can be through tourism, controlled hunting, etc. The point is that if the population can make a living by having animals around, they will have an incentive to keep the animal population vibrant. If you just tell poor people to protect the animals, they will see them as hindrances, destroying crops and occupying land that could support the local people.

It is easy to think that what the airport puts in signage in its restrooms doesn’t really matter, but when a public entity is careless with the truth, it encourages a kind of mindset in which sloganeering replaces thinking. The outcome of that just can’t be very good.

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