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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Woeful Costco Experience

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 21, 2006

In response to our Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, which was a continuation of our Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, we received this insightful note:

Interesting comments from the big hitters in the retail produce arena. What about at the store level where produce department managers are talking to the customer?

My wife was in Costco today and asked where the spinach was. The produce clerk said, “We don’t carry spinach anymore. Didn’t you hear about the spinach crisis? All the growers had to burn their fields so there is no spinach because of E. coli.”

Hopefully, the Mike O’Briens and Bruce Petersons of the world start trickling down the right info to their frontline people.

— Al Zuckerman
Executive Director
ProMark Group, Inc.

Al’s point is very well taken. We’ve gotten a lot of anecdotal input saying that a lot of misinformation is going on out there.

The Pundit and his wife, along with another industry couple, were at a restaurant, long after the advisory was lifted and the waitress started out her presentation by assuring us that “In every dish with spinach on the menu, the spinach has been replaced with another green. We won’t put spinach back on the menu till we know it is safe.” Two or three questions to the waitress proved she was clueless.

Al’s wife’s experience was similar and, in fact, in our Pundit’s Pulse on Westborn Markets, we interviewed a store level manager and found signage a month out of date.

To those who are open to learning, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from the spinach crisis. One lesson is that industry trace-back systems are inadequate. Another is that our “information forward” systems are also inadequate.

How does an organization such as Costco make sure its staff doesn’t give out wrong information? More ambitious: how does it make sure they do give out accurate information?

Ideas are welcome.

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