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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



What Will Be The Fate
Of Fresh & Easy?

In a piece entitled, Tesco Uses Poor Economy As Excuse For Fresh & Easy Pullback, we made the case that the media had been too accepting of Tesco’s claim that it was slowing its US expansion due to the state of the economy. That assertion brought some interesting feedback. One of the trade’s marketing experts put it this way:

I wanted to add a few comments to yours regarding Fresh & Easy and the affect the slow economy may have had on their expansion plans.

At a recent panel of five chain executives held here at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas Convention earlier this month, most agreed that the economy is affecting HOW shoppers shop: e.g., less trips, larger packs, less luxury items, more private label, etc.

“Back to basics” seems to be the watchword. Having seen Fresh & Easy stores in our own back yard, it seems that while they focus on private label, their offerings are neither value-priced nor sexy enough to attract the strapped consumer. Trader Joe’s, in contrast, continues to do it right on both counts.

So we believe here that the problems with Fresh & Easy are two-pronged: Slow economy AND bad assortment. The British are retreating!

— Veronica Kraushaar
President
VIVA Marketing Strategies
Nogales, AZ

Yes, Veronica is really pointing out the muddiness of the position Fresh & Easy has staked out. It is neither Aldi — with value-priced private label — nor Trader Joe’s, with a funky, fun, foodie culture that is worth paying for. It has talked like Whole Foods, with its emphasis on green and sustainability, but claims somehow to be really cheap which implies something else all together.

The article from the Times of London that we quoted included a rather stunning line where Tim Mason, The Fresh & Easy CEO, explains that the chain is not a failure because, “We are absolutely thrilled with the customer response from those loyalists that have got it, and really loved what we do…”

It is a rather odd thing to say actually, because the translation goes like this: “among those consumers who love us, we are loved, but most consumers don’t love us at all.”

Every business has some people who appreciate what it does… the question is whether there are enough of those people to make the business viable.

In fact we wonder if Mr. Mason isn’t deluding himself. With the generous use of discount coupons and discounting on perishables, Fresh & Easy has never really tested whether the “loyalists” who “get it” are actually so enamored of the concept that they will pay a price sufficient to sustain it. Until that test is run, Mr. Mason doesn’t know, can’t know, if very many people actually “get it” at all.

One of the industry’s highly experienced retailers read the piece and sent this note along:

Your piece, Tesco Uses Poor Economy As Excuse For Fresh & Easy Pullback, was right on.

I’m mindful of both Lee Scott’s comments, which you point out, and Jack Welch’s comments at PMA: “…in these economic times, you either BUY your competition or BURY them.”

Tesco is a remarkable company with a strong financial position.

If Fresh and Easy was performing for Tesco, they would, as you said, “… push the peddle down…” to accelerate the program, ESPECIALLY in the current environment in the U.S.

NOW is the time for strong companies to take market share, and it’s interesting that Tesco backs off. Your analysis of that was right on.

It is obvious that the concept is not performing and that headquarters back in the UK has lost faith in the concept. The question is what will happen now. Six options:

  1. Close up. Cut the losses. Retreat.

  2. Muddle through. The big distribution center has been built, so keep opening stores but at a slower rate. Hope the concept catches on or that incremental change will turn things around.

  3. Radical change, such as rebannering the stores, perhaps half as Aldi clones and half as clones of Trader Joe’s, as was suggested here.

  4. Throw the stores into a joint venture with an American retailer, such as Safeway.

  5. Do a US acquisition, such as Meijer, as was suggested here, or Whole Foods, as was suggested here. The Fresh & Easy stores might do better reoriented as local minimart versions of larger stores where together they hold onto a greater share of the consumer’s business.

  6. Franchise.

Although a shut down would be embarrassing, we think the financial crisis has given sufficient cover that it might well happen. Tesco’s stock would probably rise as management could focus on the home market, where it is losing share to Wal-Mart’s ASDA division and the deep discounters; plus the specter of continuing and growing US losses would be removed as a market concern. Six months ago, we thought that the pride of Tesco executives would keep the stores open but, today, with the whole world collapsing financially, Tesco could site unanticipated circumstances and go home. Indeed, the fact that Tim Mason gave that interview to the Times of London, not the LA Times, is a good indicator that the intended recipient of that message was the City in London — perhaps softening them up for what is coming next.

Muddling through is possible; one is reminded of Wal-Mart’s glacial expansion of Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market stores. But we are not sure of the point. What does Tesco need to have 200 little superettes on the west coast? If they can’t have a thousand of these, will they want to bother?

They seem to have no stomach for any radical redesign of the concept. They seem to want to prove themselves right and a radical redesign would prove they were wrong.

The possibility of a joint venture is real. We mention Safeway both because it had been Tesco’s partner in an Internet shopping venture and because Fresh & Easy has signed a lot of leases in the Bay area and can’t support the stores without a new distribution center. Safeway could use its existing infrastructure up north, and down south the existing Vons and Fresh & Easy distribution centers could be rationalized. The problem, of course, is that if the stores don’t make money, why would Safeway want them? Unless it believes it could do a better job or that the stores — located between full-size supermarkets — could be used as consumer fill-in depots between big shops. In its "the market by Vons" concept, which we profiled here and here, Safeway does have a possible model for how it would revamp the chain if it gets control.

We suspect that an acquisition would actually be Sir Terry Leahy’s first choice. The problem is that Tesco selected a launch strategy, in part, because the City in London had warned Tesco management that a big US acquisition would not be looked on favorably. The only thing that would change that assessment would be if the City believed that Tesco was plucking up a prime asset at a bargain-basement price. Maybe this would be possible if Whole Foods burns through the capital infusion we mentioned here.

Franchising might be a possibility. Sell off the stores to independent owners, as Save-A-Lot has, and provide the supply and marketing services. Up north, they could partner with perishable food distributors to handle that supply chain. The problem: If the stores don’t make a profit, the independent owners will go broke — so it only works if the ownership itself changes the dynamic and makes the stores successful.

Clues as to what will happen are more likely to be found in London than Los Angeles. Fresh & Easy is so small in volume and now that top UK management seems to think a big win is unlikely, if things get worse in the UK, the whole US venture may be seen as a distraction.

J.P. Morgan recently downgraded Tesco to underweight — a big change for a stock that has been a wonder boy for a very long time. Fresh & Easy is not large enough to have played much of a role in J.P. Morgan’s calculations, but if its assessment is accurate about things in the UK, it may well determine the fate of Fresh & Easy:

  • The J.P. Morgan Food Retail Team spent a miserable November day on the Old Kent Road in London comparing products in Tesco and Aldi. We think that Aldi threatens to overturn many axioms of ‘best practice’ in UK grocery retailing to which Tesco is so firmly wedded.

  • Aldi, with its 3% market share, is exerting price leadership in the UK, and we believe it poses a major threat to Tesco.

  • Tesco may have miscalculated with the Discount Brands initiative. Tesco has, in our view, responded in a tactical fashion to a structural threat. We see this as a defensive move that does not tackle the heart of the problem (Tesco Value is low quality and Tesco’s own label expensive).

  • Our analysis shows that Tesco is consciously matching Aldi on price on a whole host of readily identifiable and fairly standard products (ones where price comparisons are easy). But the majority of SKUs carried by Aldi are not price-matched. Many of these items are difficult to compare on price because their weights are different or, potentially, their quality. In our opinion, the price differential on products that are difficult to compare is the most revealing aspect of this Tesco versus Aldi comparison: it is among these items that we think the biggest pricing gap between Tesco and Aldi really exists.

  • The bulls’ idea that the Discount Brands have higher gross margins than the standard own label is unfounded, we think.

  • We believe there is a danger of focusing too much on the micro-analysis of individual SKU demand curves, which is what we think Tesco has been doing with Dunnhumby. We wonder whether Tesco, through its relentless focus on customer segmentation and maximization of profit from each customer, has lost sight of the bigger picture (i.e., the cost of the trolley customers roll out the door with).

It sounds as if Tesco may have bigger things to worry about than fixing up a small chain of tiny stores.




A Dream Becomes Reality As
EU Votes To Fund School Fruit Scheme

Our piece, Pan-European School Fruit Scheme, brought substantial feedback. Professor C. Fergus Lowe sent this missive pointing out that the Food Dudes program, which we discussed both here and here, is rolling out:

I read with great interest your interview with Dr. Laurence Swan and Philippe Binard, both of whom are playing an important role in promoting school fruit and vegetable schemes in Europe. As mentioned in the interview, the Food Dudes programme has been adopted by the Irish Government, and will also be made available to other European countries that participate in the new Pan-European School Fruit and Vegetables scheme, which comes into effect next year.

You might also like to know that an initial roll-out of the Food Dudes programme begins in selected regions of England in January, 2009. This is supported by the UK Government-established School Food Trust, the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, and the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers. The scheme will be systematically evaluated by the Department of Health.

This coming year, the Food Dudes programme will also be introduced in Sicily. We are working with groups in California and Canada to establish projects there and, indeed, our University is happy to support all such projects internationally.

There is now a huge amount of evidence which shows that it is not enough merely to make fruit and vegetables available to children, but we must also ensure that they learn to like eating these great foods. That is what the Food Dudes programme does so well and where many other programmes fall down. The necessity of winning over not just children’s hearts and minds but also their taste buds is recognized in the EU scheme, which we all hope will be a great success. If implemented well, it could transform the health of European children.

Professor C Fergus Lowe
Professor of Psychology and
Director
Bangor Food and Activity Research Unit
Bangor University

When we ran the article, Lorelei DiSogra , Vice President of Nutrition and Health at the United Fresh Produce Association — who we interviewed here — gave us a heads up that has proven remarkably prescient:

I very much enjoyed the great article on “Pan European School Fruit Scheme” in Pundit on Oct 17.

If all goes well, all of us involved will be celebrating together with champagne in Brussels on December 15 at the School Fruit Scheme Conference in Brussels, scheduled for December 15-16, 2008.

Let me bring you up to date —

  1. The final vote to approve funding and underlying policies for the EU School Fruit Scheme is anticipated to take place at the EU Council of AG Ministers Meeting in Brussels on November 17-18, 2008. The vote should have taken place at the October 27-28 meeintg, but there were still policy issues to resolve.

  2. DG AGRI, most notably Lars Hoelgaard, Deputy Director General DG AGRI, and Felix Mittermayer, DG AGRI, have worked long and hard on this for the past 18 months. Their leadership and total commitment to funding an EU School Fruit Scheme has made this (almost) a reality. I work closely with Felix and also with Robert Pederson, European Agriculture and Health Consortium, in Brussels on the School Fruit Scheme.

  3. European Commission Conference, “School Fruit — A Healthy Start for our Children. Promoting School Fruit Schemes in the European Union” December 15 — 16, 2008 in Brussels. All 27 EU member countries are invited to bring public and private sector representatives to the Conference. The goal is to share scientific research and best practices to build momentum for every country to start implementing school fruit schemes in their schools by the fall of 2009. The draft agenda for this conference is attached here. I have been asked to speak on “The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program in the U.S.: Policy, Best Practices and Benefits”

What’s significant with this EU policy is that school fruit and vegetable snack programs are really taking off as global school-based strategies for increasing children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables and that fruits and vegetables are leading the way with aligning AG policy with public health policy.

On both sides of The Pond, this is a huge policy accomplishment and a Win/Win for the health of children and the produce industry.

Lorelei DiSogra, EdD, R.D.
Vice President, Nutrition and Health
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, DC

Though warning it wasn’t likely at this point in time, the trade association for the European industry held out a slender hope that the program would roll out much larger than had been expected. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott chatted with an executive at Freshfel:

Raquel Izquierdo De Santiago
Food Policy Advisor
Freshfel Europe
Brussels, Belgium

Q: Philippe Binard and Laurence Swan provided excellent background on the proposed EU School Fruit Scheme and issues such as budget still in negotiation earlier this fall. [Editors note: you can read their interviews in the Pundit here]. Could you update us on the latest developments?

A: The European Parliament Committee on Agriculture voted October 7 on the report by Niels Busk MEP (Member of the European Parliament) on the Commission proposal for a EU School Fruit Scheme (SFS). The Committee unanimously backed a higher budget pointing out that the 90 million Euros budget would only amount to every child aged 6-10 years getting one piece of fruit per week for a 30–week period.

Q: That scenario would only seem to generate a limited, short-term outcome as opposed to the wide scope and sweeping changes in children’s produce consumption Philippe Binard envisions. Under Parliament’s analysis, wouldn’t the EU budget need to be dramatically increased to create a significant impact?

A: The most shocking thing Parliament has requested is a much higher budget, and that the Commission should actually finance the whole project. It recommends the budget for the EU School Fruit Scheme should be increased to 500 million Euros, with unused funds to be transferred between Member States. The Committee further called for the EU financing to cover not only the costs of supply but also those of the accompanying measures.

Q: Did Parliament specify how the funds should be used? In the original proposal, for example, it is not clear that all produce used in the program must be fresh?

A: According to the vote of the Committee, the scheme should only cover “fresh fruit and vegetables” due to the less nutritional value of processed products. The MEPs also request that the program be expanded to include preschool children and include health and dietary advice, as well as information on organic produce. According to the MEPs, organic and local fruit and vegetables shall, if available, be given particular consideration and be used as a matter of priority.

Q: The budget increase from 90 million Euros to 500 million Euros is phenomenal. What power does the Parliament yield in getting its amendments to the original proposal into the final legislation?

A: The opinion of Parliament is only consultative. It doesn’t have legal power for the Commission, but it shows where political position stands. It also made important comments on which products should be included in the program. So far there is a lot of flexibility given to Member States on what products they use, how much fresh or processed. Parliament has requested only fresh should be included. This is just political advice; Parliament doesn’t have the power to really stop or change the proposals. It is positive in any case, but discussions are still being held at the consul level.

Q: What is your assessment of the likelihood Parliament’s budget and recommendations will be incorporated, albeit in revised form, into the final document?

A: We don’t see an increase in budget. The Commission is very strong in its views that 90 million Euros is not bad to start with, and there will be a review in three years’ time to reassess the scheme. In any case, it shows there is a political will to push the program to a higher budget to cover all expenses, and be for only fresh produce.

Until the final text, even the Commission says it’s possible; anything is still open until Member States agree on the terms, but at the same time the Commission for Agriculture is proposing the scheme. It is quite strong on the view that 90 million Euros is a good budget. It’s in discussion, but you can also tell which way it’s leaning. The final version of the report with the new amendments incorporated is not yet available. This consultation dossier is scheduled for Plenary vote November 17-20 in Strasbourg, presumably enabling a Council decision before the end of the year.

Things have transpired precisely as Lorelei DiSogra and Raquel Izquierdo De Santiago had predicted:

THE COUNCIL APPROVES THE EU SCHOOL FRUIT SCHEME

The European Agriculture and Health Consortium (EAHC) welcomes the Commission’s EU School Fruit Scheme.

Today, the council of agriculture ministers approved the proposal for an EU School Fruit Scheme. The School Fruit Scheme aims at increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children by providing free fruits and vegetables in European schools.

The scheme will provide € 90 M per year to schools to purchase fruits and vegetables.

The scheme is part of the Commission response to increase fruit and vegetable consumption as part of their obesity prevention strategy. Currently fruit and vegetable intake is stagnating, which is a problem for both the health of Europeans and the fruit and vegetable sector.

“Fruit and vegetables are an important part of healthy diet. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children can reduce energy intake and at the same time provide valuable nutrients that in the long term can reduce levels of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD). Given the alarming rate at which obesity is progressing, especially among children, bringing with it other health related problems such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, a European School Fruit Scheme is a necessary step in the right direction” says Susanne Logstrup, Director of the EHN.

“We commend the Commission and the Council of Agriculture Ministers for this action. This represents a new direction in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), specifically targeting healthier eating habits at an early age”, explains Robert Pederson EAHC manager. “We hope that this initiative is backed up by Member States and implemented by as many as possible.”

Yesterday, the EP voted unanimously adopting the report on the School Fruit Scheme. The report includes an amendment to increase the budget to € 500 M. Despite this, the Commission has remained steadfast on € 90 M for the first 3 yrs and evaluating the programme before expanding the budget. It is expected that review of scheme will come in time to feed into the post-2013 CAP, if successful, making more public health measures possible within European agriculture policy.

Mira checked back in with Raquel Izquierdo:

Q: What is your reaction to the Council vote on the EU School Fruit Scheme?

A: As you already know, a political agreement on the EU School Fruit Scheme was reached by EU Farm Ministers during the agricultural council on November 20. Although the European Parliament had called for an increase in budget allocation to 500 million euros and many Member States had called for higher budget allocations, Farm Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel remained resolute that the Community budget line would not move from the proposed 90 million euros a year. These funds are to be matched by national and private funds in the Member States, which engage in the scheme.

Q: Does the agreement resolve issues regarding the types of products that may be incorporated and any products that must be excluded?

A: A large degree of flexibility at the national level has been included in the proposal. National capitals can give “preference to products of Community origin”, while they are requested to “base their selection of eligible products on objective criteria including seasonality, availability of produce, or environmental concerns”.

Meanwhile, the list of products can be wide and varied to include fresh, processed, organic, fair trade produce etc. — on the condition that they do not contain a high percentage of fat or added sugar. For clarity purposes, Member States are asked to “establish the list of products eligible under their scheme when drawing up their strategies”.

Q: Are there any other notable requirements?

A: Following German pressure, Member States may also include a compulsory parental contribution if they so wish, although the Commission declares that it will “pay attention to the impact of a compulsory parental contribution on the effectiveness of a School Fruit Scheme, as well as its social consequences.”

Other elements include a requirement for participating Member States to set up educational and awareness-raising initiatives, and the sharing of best practice across the Community. On this point, the Commissioner sees room to co-finance some of the accompanying measures, “for example, those that fall into the category of promotion”, according to her speech after the European Parliament plenary vote on November 18.

Q: Is Freshfel satisfied with the outcome?

A: Freshfel believes that the compromise has left the Commission proposal too lax, notably on the type of products that can be part of the scheme. We will continue collaborating with the European Commission and members to make sure the program keeps its original and most important purpose. which is fighting obesity by increasing fruit and vegetable intake among the youngest.

Though there was perhaps a little disappointment in Europe that the Parliament’s more ambitious recommendations (described in the Q&A with Raquel Izquierdo of Freshfel above) were not incorporated, at least in some part, that was always a big long shot and thus the outcome was not a surprise. Essentially, the backbone of the original proposal set forth by the Commission, allotting the 90 million euros for one piece of fruit per week, is what passed.

The Dec. 15-16 conference, according to Philippe Binard, is an important next step to promote the program. Expected to attend will be 400 representatives with political backing by top officials, who will be networking with member states, sorting out details on the implementation process, supply, logistics, exchanging ideas, workshops with experts, those running programs in different sectors, etc.

Though everyone involved had hoped there would be more concrete details on issues such as what products would be included (i.e., only fresh fruits and vegetables) and excluded (i.e., nuts, processed foods, juices, etc.), but these details, among others, were not decided at this time. That is a shame as more details would make the December conference more focused and productive to move the implementation process forward more quickly.

One key European official also chatted with Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott on the condition we protect his identity:

Q: In the proposal, what are the issues that are still unresolved?

A: Officially, all the details are in the pipeline and political decision-making process. The Council’s ministers of member states have to take the final decision, based on preliminary negotiations between the European Commission and member states.

Some of the issues:

  • Whether distribution should be compulsory, free-of-charge or if there can be contributions from member states.
  • Details on implementation measures haven’t been decided.
  • How member states will participate to draw down funds and the control of member state program-reporting.

The vote was not in this degree of detail; details will come later now that the basic political decision is made.

Q: What about the budget?

A: The 90-million-euro budget has remained — at least for the start of the program.

In terms of which countries get what amount of money to the types of products, basically these issues will be left to the member states.

The vote is on the general frame work, and then specific implementation rules will follow later. We’re still in the process of general legislation.

Specific implementation rules will have to be agreed upon now that the basic principle political decision is made. There has been a discussion with the European Parliament, only a consultation role, no co-decision-making power. But more appropriate to let them have their say, as a case of respect, recommendations only.

Q: Lorelei DiSogra said she feels strongly that it is important for the legislation to delineate what products may be included to keep the focus on fresh fruits and vegetables and not let the program become diluted with unhealthy snacks. Is this being considered?

A: Member states will take over this responsibility. We’re not in a position to say specifically what the eligible products are for the 27 states. We say member states should take into account their industries, as a reflection of the diversity EU decisions take place in.

In order to avoid diverse mishaps, we want to set up certain products and exclude certain products. For example, we might say no product too high in fat or starch content. A member state then says no potato chips, nuts, or juice. We take it from a health perspective.

Q: If the budget of 90 million euros is not increased, won’t it be a challenge to provide enough funding to all the member states eligible for participation?

A: This is a voluntary program; all can participate, but not all must participate. The preconditions for participation are still to be decided in detail, although the general principles are agreed upon. Money allocated to each member state is a right. We want to encourage as many member states as possible to set up a scheme.

Q: Could you clarify what DG AGRI is?

A: DG AGRI is a department in the European Commission. It was invited by the council to come forward with a proposal. That’s all. The proposal was decided by the member states.

COMMISSION WELCOMES POLITICAL AGREEMENT ON SCHOOL FRUIT SCHEME WORTH €90 MILLION PER YEAR

The European Commission welcomed today’s political agreement in the Agriculture Council on its proposal for a European Union-wide scheme to provide fruit and vegetables to school children. European funds worth €90 million every year will pay for the purchase and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables to schools. This money will be matched by national and private funds in those Member States which chose to make use of the programme.

The School Fruit Scheme aims to encourage good eating habits in young people, which studies show tend to be carried on into later life. Besides providing fruit and vegetables to a target group of schoolchildren, the scheme will require participating Member States to set up strategies including educational and awareness-raising initiatives and the sharing of best practice. An estimated 22 million children in the EU are overweight.

More than 5 million these are obese and this figure is expected to rise by 400,000 every year. Improved nutrition can play an important part in combating this problem. The scheme will begin at the start of the 2009/2010 school year.

“I’m delighted that the Council has given its support to our plan so quickly,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “Giving kids good habits at an early age is crucial as they will carry these into later life. Too many of our children eat far too little fruit and vegetables and often don’t realise how delicious they are. You only have to walk down any high street in Europe to see the extent of the problems we face with overweight kids. Now we can do something about it.”

Experts agree that a healthy diet can play an integral role in reducing obesity rates, and cutting the risk of serious health problems — such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes2– in later life. Key to this is the consumption of sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables. The World Health Organisation recommends a minimum daily net intake of 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per person. The majority of Europeans fail to meet this target and the downward trend is particularly evident among the young.

Studies show that healthy eating habits are formed in childhood. People who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables in childhood remain good consumers. Those who eat little tend not to change their ways and also pass on their habits to their own children. Research has also shown that families with a lower level of income tend to consume less fruit and vegetables. As such, the free provision in schools of these healthy products can make a real difference, particularly in underprivileged areas.

Commission analysis of existing national policies and consultations with experts have demonstrated that the benefits of the school scheme can be enhanced if the provision of fruit is accompanied by awareness-raising and educational measures to teach children the importance of good eating habits. Encouragement will also be given to networking between different national authorities which run successful school fruit schemes. These already exist in some EU countries, and take many different forms. But there is much more that can be done and this EU scheme provides a perfect basis to get new programmes off the ground.

The Commission is putting on the table €90 million per year for the provision of fruit and vegetables in schools. Governments would have the choice of whether to participate or not. The programmes would be co-financed, either on a 50/50 basis, or 75/25 in the so-called ‘convergence regions’, where GDP/capita is lower, as well as outermost regions. Member States can if they wish require a compulsory parental contribution. This money could not be used to replace existing national financing, but would encourage additional activities, be it linked to existing programmes or creating completely new initiatives. And Member States could of course add extra money if they wanted to. National authorities would have to draw up a strategy in conjunction with public health and education authorities, also involving the industry and interest groups, tailored of course to national preferences.

You can find additional information on the School Fruit Scheme here.

Obviously the Europeans get the credit for implementing their own program, but we would be remiss if we didn’t point out how generous in praise the Europeans involved in this effort have been toward Lorelei DiSogra and United Fresh. We heard from more than one player at the very highest levels that Lorelei really played a crucial role in making this happen. The industry owes a great deal to Lorelei’s singular passion and to United’s willingness to fund and support her evangelizing ways.

Without a doubt, it is a cause for celebration. Combined with the comparable US program that Lorelei discussed with us here, it means that a great trans-Atlantic consensus has been reached that a focus on diet and on our children is essential to move society to a healthier future.

This is wonderful for the children and can only be good for the fresh produce industry. It is one of those extraordinary moments to be alive when we get to see the force of an idea whose time has come breaking through.

Yet, there are real concerns: Professor Lowe points out that it is “…not enough merely to make fruit and vegetables available to children, but we must also ensure that they learn to like eating these great foods.”

Although the judgment has been made that we have to start with what we can get, establishing new healthier habits may require more than one piece of produce a week, especially if part of the goal is to get young students to enjoy healthy vegetable items that they may not automatically gravitate to. Thus we hope when the countries implement the program they will look to create a context, such as the Food Dudes program, in which long term behavioral change is more likely. We would rather see fewer students served in a way likely to produce long term change than more students just getting a free piece of fruit that many would have eaten anyway and that does not produce long term behavioral change.

Lorelei’s concern about the devil being in the details is well taken. Much as it seems everyone wants to get bailed out now, so it won’t take long for the promotional arm of each facet of the food industry to look to get their piece of this pie. One suspects that the fresh produce industry will have to fight very hard to keep this program pure.

Yet this is all tomorrow’s problem. For today, we salute a select group of true believers in Europe and America who fight to spread good health through increased consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and have promoted specific policies to make that dream a reality. They have had a dream come true, and they have given the fruits of that dream to the industry… and the children of the world. A thank you is surely insufficient even if it is all we have to give.




Understanding GAPs

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Wegmans Responds to ‘Double Standard’ Allegation, raised the issue of the meaning and reliability of GAPs or Good Agricultural Practices. In search of a better understanding of GAPs, we turned to Trevor Suslow, who is an Extension Research Specialist at UCDavis.

We sometimes think of Dr. Suslow as the Kevin Bacon of the produce industry. Just as Kevin Bacon seems as the very epicenter of the movie industry to those who play "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" — where one finds that everyone in cinema is connected to Kevin Bacon typically in four or fewer links — so it seems that every commodity group can be connected to each other by a study conducted by Trevor Suslow. Among other things he is, along with Linda Harris, Associate Director WIFSS, UCDavis, the national GAP coordinator for California.

Trevor SuslowSo we asked Dr. Suslow three questions we had about GAP standards. He was kind enough to let us share his insights with the industry at large:

You pose some very timely and important questions. We spend a good deal of time with diverse groups trying to facilitate dialogue and contribute to science-based information transfer.

Clearly there are no simple answers, and every response requires elaborate qualifications and caveats to provide caution against over-generalization within such a diverse and dynamic industry.

However, I will strive to be uncharacteristically concise to get the gist of my understanding and impressions. Please recognize that where ‘facts’ are few or contradictory, I will be sharing opinion and perspective based on personal observation and experience.

1) Does it mean a lot to be audited to GAP standards? My understanding is that GAP varies dramatically from place to place. Every state has its own GAP, does every county?

GAP programs remain predominantly guidance documents to assist growers and handlers in satisfying expectations of prerequisite programs that are the foundation for more detailed and comprehensive food safety systems. There is a diversity of GAP programs and standards but they do have a high degree of commonality as they tend to plagiarize each other. There is an even greater diversity of emphasis and detail among GAP programs in approaching verifiable standards or specified limits.

Where science or empirical (but well–founded) industry experience fails to provide a data-based control limit or criteria, the resultant GAP guidance tends to be highly variable, worded for convenience, and lacks teeth. Equally, some GAP audit criteria seem to be developed more around what can easily be scored or checked off than what has the greatest potential for prevention and risk reduction.

Comparative reviews of GAP programs have been conducted and the ones that are judged as superior tend to have more audit criteria and more stringent standards or limits. I think it is hard to say whether they are in fact superior in actual food safety risk reduction as there is generally no attempt, requirement, or way to measure a decrease in contamination or pathogen prevalence.

2) Specifically, is it fair for a retailer to say that by requiring California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement standards out west and GAP standards for a grower in, say, Mississippi or New York, it is requiring substantially identical standards of each? Wasn’t the whole point of all your work after the spinach crisis to go beyond GAP?

In my opinion, applying the same GAP framework for growers of different scales of production and distribution in different regions would be an improvement. However, the applicability of the exact same standards may be overly conservative in one area and permissive in another. Therefore, applying the same standards may not adequately address the risks based on regional hazards and practices.

The Commodity Specific Guidance for Lettuce and Leafy Greens adopted by the CLGMA went further than any public GAP document I am aware of in taking a stand, after several versions, on what specifically constitutes acceptable microbial criteria and limits in many areas. These are not perfect and still evolving but do set the stage to collect performance data upon which some of the future modifications will be based.

The justification for a separate framework for standards and associated ‘metrics’ based on scale of production and marketing remains a highly controversial and emotional issue. Imposing full GAP programs that are predominantly derived from the experience base of major national suppliers seems potentially punitive in the absence of allowing for customization based on comprehensive, site-specific hazard analysis and, at least, baseline risk assessment.

Simply picking acceptable minimal standards that are convenient or modified to accommodate local environments, inputs, and practices without adequate risk assessment seems foolish and inequitable. This is particularly true, I believe, if retailers source from both national and local sources but are unwillingly to pay a premium for compliance with more extensive and typically expensive GAP programs. Ignoring clear risk factors that are common to producers supplying large handlers and shippers as well as direct marketers seems equally unacceptable as requiring costly GAP measures that contribute insignificant gains to public safety.

However, I do feel that a greater degree of risk-based policy and decision-making needs to be applied toward prioritizing resources in view of diverse public goals. The sustainability of local agricultural enterprise and integration of environmental protection with responsible food safety management should be carefully evaluated during the design and adoption of any set of standards.

3) What does it mean for USDA to “audit” — we didn’t realize the USDA has auditors for farms. We think of Primus, NSF Davis Fresh, etc., when we think of auditors. Is this the same?

The USDA has offered a third-party Fresh Produce Audit Verification program for several years. It covers GAPs and GHPs and is very extensive as far as GAP programs go.

In terms of ‘benchmarking’ the USDA Checklist against others that qualify for GlobalGAP recognition, I believe it would easily qualify but as far as I know they choose not to participate. The USDA offers GAP and GHP training of state Department of Ag auditors, which are generally experienced ag-quality and grade inspectors. The CLGMA signatories are required to be audited by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), certified and trained by USDA in general and specifically on the CLGMA standards. It is both a document/recordkeeping audit and on-farm evaluation, including spot-audits of labor crews. As with any audit program, the quality of the food safety protection is only as good as the criteria that are the foundation for the standards and performance expectations.

One thing I hear a lot is that the auditors, like TSA in airports, are sticklers with no visible sense of humor with regards to joking about food safety compliance.

We appreciate Trevor’s insights and take from them 10 major points:

1. GAP programs remain predominantly guidance documents to assist growers and handlers satisfy expectations of prerequisite programs that are the foundation for more detailed and comprehensive food safety systems.

We take this to be a big waving red flag that whatever the merits of growers getting involved with GAP, any buyer who specifies GAP and thinks it has secured safe food is making an error.

2. Where science or empirical (but well–founded) industry experience fails to provide a data-based control limit or criteria, the resultant GAP guidance tends to be highly variable, worded for convenience, and lacks teeth.

Unfortunately there are severe limits as to what we know about food safety so this is not a minor point. It is problem big enough to drive a truck through. In the immediate aftermath of the spinach crisis, the buyer-led food safety initiative expressed the frustration of the buying community by demanding food safety metrics that were “specific, measurable and verifiable” — because otherwise, whatever the virtues of growers undertaking to adopt a GAP program, it is useless to a buyer far away who is unable to second guess a growers self-developed food safety program.

3. …some GAP audit criteria seem to be developed more around what can easily be scored or checked off than what has the greatest potential for prevention and risk reduction.

There is a risk with all these programs. In order to seem rigorous, they like to have a lot of criteria. In many cases most of it is of little significance and a focus on it all may be absolutely distracting from what is really important.

4. …applying the same GAP framework for growers of different scales of production and distribution in different regions would be an improvement.

This cuts to the heart of our point that requiring national shippers to meet CLGMA metrics and local producers to have a GAP audit are not equivalent.

5. …the applicability of the exact same standards may be overly conservative in one area and permissive in another. Therefore, applying the same standards may not adequately address the risks based on regional hazards and practices.

Sometimes a “national” standard may be excessively rigorous, and that is a problem but a relatively minor one. It just means we are erring on the side of additional rigor where safety is concerned. The bigger danger is when a national standard does not protect against a local risk.

6. The Commodity Specific Guidance for Lettuce and Leafy Greens adopted by the CLGMA went further than any public GAP document I am aware of in taking a stand, after several versions, on what specifically constitutes acceptable microbial criteria and limits in many areas.

Which is, precisely, what makes it useful.

7. Imposing full GAP programs that are predominantly derived from the experience base of major national suppliers seems potentially punitive in the absence of allowing for customization based on comprehensive, site-specific hazard analysis…

Yes, such programs are burdensome on local growers — but, then again, isn’t doing a high quality “comprehensive, site-specific hazard analysis” also difficult? In fact is this even a real choice? If we don’t enforce objective standards, aren’t we more likely to get highly variable standards that are worded for convenience and without effective measurement and verification than any comprehensive, site-specific hazard analysis effort of quality?

8. Simply picking acceptable minimal standards that are convenient or modified to accommodate local environments, inputs, and practices without adequate risk assessment seems foolish and inequitable.

In every talk we give to local growers we get asked if they can’t be exempted or the standards modified based not on a risk analysis — but based on the burden or inconvenience of the standard to the small grower. This has it backwards, we don’t impose standards to make things tough; we impose standards to accomplish something. If a buffer zone is necessary for safety, then the fact that a farm is small can’t exempt it from that requirement.

9. I do feel that a greater degree of risk-based policy and decision-making needs to be applied toward prioritizing resources in view of diverse public goals.

Sure, let us prioritize. On Monday the food safety people say they want that area paved over, on Tuesday the environmental folks say don’t you dare. We pity the poor farmer trying to deal with a society that can’t prioritize.

10. As with any audit program, the quality of the food safety protection is only as good as the criteria that are the foundation for the standards and performance expectations.

One of the things that really makes us skeptical of the reliability of the USDA GAP Audit is that it allows for a “passing score” at 80% of each category. This makes no sense to us. If something is important enough to audit, then a miss should require a corrective action and a re-audit.

Take the audit the California Tomato Farmers have instituted — the only score that is acceptable is 100%. When it comes to food safety, our consumers have a right to expect that the industry will settle for nothing less.

Many thanks to Trevor V. Suslow, Ph.D. Extension Research Specialist, UCDavis, for being willing to help us think through such a complex and important issue.




Center For Produce Safety
Funds Industry Studies

We profiled the launch of the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis here, highlighted the hiring of its Executive Director Bonnie Fernandez here, and, of course, have spoken to the Chairman of its Advisory Board, Tim York, many times, including here, here, here and here. We even gave Tim an award here. We also reported here when Dr. Bob Whitaker, who serves as the Chairman of the Center for Produce Safety Technical Committee, was hired to be Chief Science Officer at PMA.

Now we are pleased to note that progress is being made:

CPS GRANTS FIRST RESEARCH AWARDS IN RECORD TIME

Important Step Forward in Providing Industry with the "Best Science" to Enhance Food Safety

The Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis announced today the recipients of the first research awards aimed at providing the produce industry with the best science available to enhance food safety systems from field to fork. Over $500,000 in research funds were awarded to the following recipients who will engage in critical research projects over the next year.

"A Sensitive and Specific Molecular Testing Method for Live Salmonella in Produce"
Principal Investigator: Beilei Ge, Louisiana State University

"Enhancing the effectiveness of human pathogen testing systems for the advancement of practical produce safety research and commercial management"
Principal Investigator: Carol D’lima, University of California, Davis

"Environmental effects on the growth or survival of stress-adapted Escherichia coli 015:H7 and Salmonella spp. in compost"
Principal Investigator: Xiuping Jiang, Clemson University

"Examination of the survival and internalization of E.coli on spinach under field production environments"
Principal Investigator: Steven T. Koike, University of California Cooperative Extension

Dr. Bob Whitaker, Chief Science Officer for the Produce Marketing Association, and Chairman of the CPS Technical Committee that granted the awards, noted, "These awards represent a critical first step in achieving CPS’s mission of funding new scientific studies to provide the industry with the information it needs to continually enhance food safety measures."

Tim York, Chairman, CPS Advisory Board, added, "I am immensely proud of the speed in which the dedicated industry, government, and academic volunteers that make up the Technical Committee were able to develop and award the research funds. We committed to setting a new standard in creating timely research to produce data that could be quickly translated into production practices — and the Technical Committee has helped us deliver on that commitment.”

Data from the research is expected by December 31, 2009. The Center for Produce Safety Technical Committee will work with the principal investigators to translate the project findings into useful and useable information for the industry.

All scientists that submitted proposals will receive a summary of comments about their proposal from the CPS Technical Committee. The CPS will issue three requests for additional proposals within the next 30 days, including a joint proposal with the United States-Israel Agricultural Research and Development Fund, and the California Leafy Greens Research Program.

Although the Center for Produce Safety is headquartered at UC Davis, that doesn’t mean UC Davis picked up an enormous amount of research funding. Researchers at UC Davis have to compete just like everyone else to get funded by the Center.

Also there isn’t quite as much money available as simple addition of the public pronouncements implies. PMA was, for example, very generous in pledging two mllion dollars to support the Center, but the decision that has been made is basically to use the PMA money to cover the administrative costs of operating the center. The hope is that others can be enticed to donate to support research if they know that 100% of their donation will in fact fund research, not overhead. It is a smart strategy and is already starting to pay off.

For example, we ran a piece earlier this year that focused on a Unique US/Israel Conference co-sponsored by the United States — Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD) and now, as the press release mentions, the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis will soon announce a joint funding proposal with BARD.

The Center for Produce Safety just came out with a request for food safety proposals jointly with the California Leafy Greens Research Board:

The Center for Produce Safety and the California Leafy Greens Research Board are proud to announce a joint call for food safety proposals. The research areas are directed to answer critical research questions that fill the gaps in the basic understanding in specific areas of food safety practices for leafy greens production. The objective is to provide the leafy greens produce industry with practical, translatable research data that can be used at all levels throughout the supply chain.

Funding Available: $300,000

Research Areas:

  1. Environmental effects on growth and survival of human pathogens in soil amendments and composted fertilizers.

  2. Cultivation practices and growth or survival of human pathogens in soils.

  3. Seasonality and other correlating factors

  4. Human pathogen reservoirs and vectors.

  5. Transference of human pathogens to leafy greens during harvest.

Proposal Submission:

The complete proposal is to be uploaded to the CPS Grant Site, https://ucanr.org/cpsgrants , no later than 5:00 pm (Pacific Time) December 22, 2008.

We will see what projects get proposed as a result of this most recent call for proposals. In the meantime, we can certainly say that these first four projects are intriguing ones and remind us of some of the projects that came about as a result of the Fresh Express initiative spearheaded by Jim Lugg, Food Safety Director for Fresh Express and Michael T. Osterholm, Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, University of Minnesota.

It is interesting to note that there was actually additional funding available, but the right project wasn’t submitted. Now one suspects that this problem will dissipate over time as researchers come to better understand what kinds of work the Center is looking to support.

We wonder, though, if it wouldn’t be wise to look at splitting the available funds with, say, a third going to fund the results of open calls for research proposals and the other 2/3rds going to fund teams and research priorities that the Center has predetermined.

The center could decide on a priority and then identify key experts that the Center would like to entice to research in this area, possibly in collaboration, certainly in a transparent relationship with, other researchers who have been identified as both world-class and having something important to contribute to this work.

The Center for Produce Safety is expecting to have results no later than December 31, 2009, so this effort, as with the Fresh Express effort before it, is looking for some quick, actionable research.

The appeal of this to donors and an industry rocked by food safety outbreaks is obvious, yet we suspect that the real need is something else entirely. As we listened to the research presentations at the Fresh Express Fresh Produce Safety Research Conference, virtually every project led to dozens of important questions and, in almost every case, the researchers had the same answer: “We would desperately want to carry the research forward and explore these issues — if only funding was available.”

Funding is always scarce, but we think that sustained long term support is especially scarce. We noted during the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon it was mentioned that MDA gives research grants for one, two and three year terms. In interviews with researchers, it seemed that some had been working with MDA for decades.

We would like to see multi-disciplinary teams working over a series of seasons to identify why we seem to have so many fewer food safety issues out of Yuma than out of Salinas. Is it fewer cows in the vicinity? Less overhead irrigation? Or is it just winter? Maybe something else? In any case the sustained support of research that is focused on industry goals and that uses secure funding to entice world-class researchers to make multi-year commitments seems a reasonable use for at least some percentage of the Center’s research budget.

For now the Board seems to have decided that the Center needs some quick successes to entice additional support and contributions. Perhaps they are right. We certainly hope that the four initial grants shall deliver just what the Center… and the industry… need.

Many thanks to Bonnie Fernandez and to all the members of the Advisory Board for their diligent efforts on behalf of the industry:

Rob Atwill Rob Atwill
Interim Director
Western Institute for Food Safety & Security
University of California, Davis
Western Institute for Food Safety & Security
Glenn Austin Glenn Austin
Global Stewardship Lead
Monsanto Company
Richard Breitmeyer Richard Breitmeyer
California State Veterinarian
Animal Health & Food Safety
California Dept of Food & Agriculture
Rene Cardinal Rene Cardinal
Acting National Manager
Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Edo Chalutz Edo Chalutz
Executive Director
BARD
US/Israel Binational Agricultural R&D Fund
Caroline Smith DeWaal Caroline Smith DeWaal
Director for Food Safety
The Center for Science in the Public Interest
Mike Doyle Mike Doyle
Regents Professor and Director
Center Food Safety
University of Georgia
Center for Food Safety
Sam Duda Sammy Duda
Vice President
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.
Jeff Farrar Jeff Farrar
Chief, Food & Drug Branch
California Department of Public Health
Kay Filice Kay Filice
Owner
Filice Farms, L.P.
Paul Fleming Paul Fleming
Marketing & Business Development
Martori Farms
Bud Floyd Bud Floyd
VP Produce Marketing
C.H. Robinson
Hank Giclas Hank Giclas
VP, Science & Technology
Western Growers Association
David Gombas David Gombas
Senior VP
Food Safety & Technology
United Fresh Produce Association
Jim Gorny Jim Gorny
Executive Director
Postharvest Technology Research
and Information Center
University of California, Davis
Postharvest Technology R&I Center
Linda Harris Linda Harris
Extension Specialist in Microbial Food Safety
Dept. of Food Science & Technology
University of California, Davis
Western Institute for Food Safety and Security
Alec Leach Alec Leach
President
Taylor Farms
Jim Lugg Jim Lugg
Executive Vice President Quality, R&D
Fresh Express, Inc.
Bennie Osburn Bennie Osburn
Dean
University of California, Davis
School of Veterinary Medicine
Steve Patricio Steve Patricio
President
Westside Produce
William Pool William Pool
Manager of Agriculture Research
and Food Safety for Produce
Wegmans Food Markets
Tim Riley Tim Riley
VP Administration
Giumarra Companies
Martha Roberts Martha Roberts
Special Assistant to the Dean of Research
(retired as Deputy Commissioner of Ag for Florida)
University of Florida
Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences
Msark Roh Mark Roh
Deputy Regional Food and Drug
Director for the Pacific Region
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Bryan silbermann Bryan Silbermann
President
Produce Marketing Association
Mike Spinazzola Mike Spinazzola
President
Diversified Restaurant Systems (DRS)
Michael Stuart Michael Stuart
President
Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association
Trevor Suslow Trevor Suslow
Dept Horticulture Sciences
University of California, Davis
Department of Plant Sciences
Neal Van Alfen Neal Van Alfen
Dean
University of California, Davis
College of Agriculture & Environmental Sciences
Robert Whitaker Robert Whitaker, PhD
Chief Science Officer
Produce Marketing Association
Tim York Tim York
President
Markon Cooperative, Inc.




Short Course On Produce Marketing Offered At UC Davis

Great universities are always looking to innovate, and UC Davis is no different. At a moment of great economic uncertainty, when many in the industry are wondering if there will be a market for their products, Dr. Roberta Cook, Cooperative Extension Marketing Economist at UC Davis, has coordinated the development of a Short Course focused on fresh produce marketing:

Fresh Produce Marketing Strategies
Short Course Premieres at UC Davis

The UC Davis Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center today announced a new addition to its portfolio of produce industry educational course offerings: Fresh Produce Marketing Strategies. The three-day short course scheduled for March 24-26, 2009 takes place on the UC Davis Campus in the newly dedicated Robert Mondavi Institute Sensory Theater and is now open for registration, including online registration right here.

The program developed by Dr. Roberta Cook and other leading produce marketing professionals is designed specifically to meet the needs of fresh produce industry managers and executives who are interested in improving their ability to develop and execute innovative fresh produce marketing strategies. “This short course is simply a must-attend event for any produce executive grappling with buyer and supplier consolidation, channel blurring, and rapidly evolving consumer preferences and profiles” said Roberta Cook, the short course faculty director. “Enhancing your ability to assess emerging marketplace complexities and adapt your firm’s marketing tactics and strategies to current market realities is what this short course will deliver to participants.”

The topics to be covered in the short course are all designed to raise one’s “Marketing IQ” as you see below:

Fresh Produce Value Chain Management

• Industry trends

• Supply, demand and elasticities

• Market structure

• Bargaining power

• Relative competitiveness

• Strategic implications

Strategic Marketing

• 5 P’s — product, price, place, promotion and positioning

• Branding

• Generic promotion

• Trade research

• Public and media relations

• Marketing plans

Consumer Research

• The challenge of understanding consumer attitudes and behavior

• Pros and cons of alternative research methods

• National Hartman study on consumer attitudes about sustainability Category Development

• Retail scanner data analysis

• Merging scanner data with consumer data

• Benchmarking as a means to impact retail product merchandising

• Identifying best practices

• Developing effective retail partnerships

Crafting Effective Strategies

• Aligning production, sales and marketing

• Differentiation and positioning to improve relative competitiveness

The faculty includes many talented people:

Roberta Cook, Ph.D., Dept. of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Davis, Course Director
Leslie Butler, Ph.D., Dept. of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Davis
Jan DeLyser, Vice President Marketing, California Avocado Commission
Don Goodwin, President, Golden Sun Marketing
Shermain Hardesty, Ph.D., Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics, UC Davis
Steve Lutz, Executive Vice President, Perishables Group
Jim Prevor, Founder and Editor, PerishablePundit.com
Richard Sexton, Ph.D., Dept. of Agricultural & Resource Economics, UC Davis
Kerry Tucker, Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, Inc.
Alison Worthington, Managing Director, The Hartman Group

Yes, you caught the Pundit’s name on the list. We were honored to be asked to contribute and are looking forward to visiting UC Davis.

We have been a faculty member since its founding at the United Fresh Produce Executive Development Program at Cornell University, developed by the über Professor, Dr. Ed McLaughlin, Robert G. Tobin Professor of Marketing, Director, Undergraduate Business Program.

The Cornell Program is, as they say: “…designed for mid- to senior-level produce executives, including Presidents, CEOs, Sr. Vice Presidents, Vice Presidents, Directors and others with management experience. More important than job title, however, are job responsibilities. If you are in a leadership position, under consideration for a leadership position, or involved in your company’s strategic planning and execution, this course is for you.”

The strategic and senior nature of the program is buttressed by its five-night commitment and location on an Ivy League campus distant from the large production centers of the industry. The time investment and location are perfect for the senior executive to commit and focus on the strategic positioning of his or her organization. It is a unique program, and there is nothing else remotely like it in the industry.

We will be writing more about this United Fresh/Cornell University program in the coming days, but in the meantime we certainly recommend that senior executives consider attendance. You can find a brochure here and registration information here.

Yet this new UC Davis program, focused solely on marketing, geared toward a more junior executive, requiring only two nights and with a location where many industry members can drive to get there and even day-trip the course seems to fill a needed gap.

We would love to see the UC Davis Marketing Short Course become a right of passage for young marketing executives in the industry much as the United Fresh/Cornell program has been moving toward a place where all serious aspirants for senior positions dealing with strategic business thinking in the produce trade know they need to complete the Cornell program.

Many thanks to Dr. Roberta Cook and the team at UC Davis for putting it all together. You can download a brochure here, find out more about the course here and register right here.




UC Davis Produce Curriculum
Is Open To The Industry

Jim Gorny is no stranger to these pages. Back when he was with United Fresh Produce, we gave him the Perishable Pundit Unsung Hero Award for doing yeoman’s work — along with Hank Giclas and David Gombas — in formulating the metrics that ultimately developed into those used by the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement . As the industry tumbled into crisis with Salmonella Saintpaul, Jim Gorny wrote what was perhaps the most prescient piece of the time, saying it would be epidemiology, not traceability, that would be the problem. You can read that piece right here.

Now Dr. Gorny has taken a moment to update us on what is going on at UC Davis:

Thanks for assisting Roberta Cook and I by participating in the upcoming Fresh Produce Marketing Strategies short course. I know that you will provide valuable insight to course participants.

I also wanted to give you a round up on other activities we are currently planning at the UC Davis Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center with numerous collaborators. Nature abhors a vacuum, and it seems like there is a tremendous void in produce industry when it comes to available training. That’s why we are working hard to fill that void with the following offerings — a full listing of our 2009 training events is below.

We’ve also recently launched the following programs:

Fresh Produce Executive Forum Webinar Series: Working in collaboration with the Center for Produce Safety, our first webinar was on November 20, 2008 — Fresh Produce Microbial Pathogen Testing: Program Components & Considerations — was at capacity with 125 registrants from all sectors of the industry. We had a great response and I am very grateful for the assistance provided by FMI (Larry Kohl), NRA (Donna Garren), United Fresh (Dave Gombas) and PMA (Bob Whitaker) in helping us get the word out to their members regarding this upcoming educational outreach webinar. We plan on continuing the webinar series focused on produce industry hot topics as related to produce quality and safety issues. Our next webinar is tentatively scheduled for Monday January 12, 2009, Produce Irradiation: Food Safety Solution? (see details below)

Fresh-cut Fundamentals: A new collaboration among the UC Davis, University of Arizona and University of Georgia in the heart of the winter fresh-cut produce production region. (See details below and attached)

Thanks for your interest and support of our produce programs at UC Davis and hopefully this provides you with a brief overview of what we have planned in the next year or so.

— Jim Gorny
Executive Director
Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center
University of California, Davis

Jim included updates on several UC Davis projects:

The Fresh Produce Executive Forum Webinar Series
Co-sponsored by the UC Davis Center for Produce Safety, United Fresh and the Produce Marketing Association

WEBINAR #2:
Produce Irradiation: Food Safety Solution?

Date/Time: Monday January 12, 2009 10am PT / 1pm ET

Irradiation Pathogen Reduction Efficacy on Produce
Robert Buchanan, Ph.D., University of Maryland, Center for Food Systems Safety & Security (Tentative)

Irradiation Effects on Produce Quality
Adel Kader, Ph.D. — UC Davis

Irradiation Systems for Produce
Harlan Clemmons, Sadex Corporation (Tentative)

Consumer Perceptions of Produce Irradiation
Christine M. Bruhn, Ph.D., UC Davis

Legal & Regulatory Issues Regarding Produce Irradiation for Control of Human Pathogens
Leslie T. Krasny, Keller and Heckman LLP

You can enroll in this webinar here.

This will be followed by a series of additional webinars:

Managing Microbial Water Quality on the Farm Managing Water Quality in a Produce Packinghouse (Date, Time and Cost — TBA)

Assessing the Microbial Risk of Adjacent Lands (Date, Time and Cost — TBA)

Managing the Microbial Safety of Soil Amendments (Date, Time and Cost — TBA)

Developing, Implementing & Managing Effective Worker Health & Hygiene Programs (Date, Time and Cost — TBA)

******

UC Davis Fresh-cut Fundamentals Workshop Set for March 5th in Yuma

The UC Davis Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center today announced a new addition to its portfolio of produce industry educational course offerings: Fresh-cut Fundamentals. The intensive one-day workshop scheduled for Thursday March 5, 2009 in Yuma, Arizona, is now open for registration, including online registration here.

The workshop curriculum provides information regarding underlying principles that govern fresh-cut produce quality while providing practical tools for application in the processing plant. Operations, quality assurance, manufacturing and maintenance managers, as well as anyone interested in assuring the quality of fresh-cut produce would benefit from this workshop. The training is geared to all levels of fresh-cut produce industry professionals — from small, local and regional produce processors to large businesses with nationwide distribution. The workshop will be highly interactive and hands-on, with attendees sharing information and working in small groups throughout the day.

The program was designed and will be delivered by produce technical experts from three nationally recognized universities:

Marita Cantwell, Ph.D., UC Davis, Department of Plant Sciences
Jorge Fonseca, Ph.D., MBA, University of Arizona-Yuma Agricultural Center
Jim Gorny, Ph.D., UC Davis, Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center
Bill Hurst, Ph.D., University of Georgia, Food Science & Technology Department
Jim Thompson, P.E., UC Davis, Biological & Agricultural Engineering

“This workshop offers an opportunity for anyone working in the fresh-cut produce industry to arm themselves with tools they can use to monitor and control fresh-cut produce finished product quality and ultimately reduce operating costs” said Jim Gorny, workshop faculty director. “With rising production costs and downward price pressures from buyers, finding operational efficiencies while maintaining product quality is imperative for any fresh-cut produce enterprise.”

UCD Postharvest Center Announces 2009 Produce Educational Program Schedule

Registration, including convenient and easy on line registration, is now open for produce industry educational programs being offered in 2009 by the U.C. Davis Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center. Early registration is suggested for these popular workshops that are being offered on the U.C. Davis campus as follows:

March 5, 2009. Fresh-cut Fundamentals Yuma, AZ (New)

March 24-26, 2009. Fresh Produce Marketing Strategies Short Course (New)

April 28-29, 2009. Fruit Ripening & Ethylene Management Workshop (15th Annual).

June 15-26, 2009. Postharvest Technology Short Course & Industry Tour (31st Annual).

September 22-24, 2009. Fresh-cut Workshop (14th Annual)

We are constantly striving to provide produce practitioners with useful, user-friendly and up-to-date technical resources to assist them in reducing costly postharvest losses and helping them to assure the quality, safety and marketability of fresh produce for consumers said U.C. Davis Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center Faculty Director Jim Thompson. Our hope is that industry representatives will turn knowledge into actions to enhance consumer satisfaction with produce purchases and thus increase consumption of these healthful, wholesome and nutritious food items said Thompson.

All these, and other, educational outreach events can be registered for via the Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center website, which you can access here.

We thank Jim Gorny of UC Davis for sending along such an extensive update on happenings at UC Davis. What a terrific opportunity to learn and grow. We hope that many in the industry will take advantage of these resources and of resources offered by other universities.




Bringing University Resources To Light

At the same time we were writing about Trevor Suslow’s work at UC Davis, and the new research funded by the Center for Produce Safety, which is hosted by UC Davis, we received a note from Jim Gorny, Executive Director of the Postharvest Technology Research and Information Center at UC Davis, and we accepted an invitation to serve on the faculty of a Marketing Short Course extended by Roberta Cook, UC Cooperative Extension Specialist and lecturer at UC Davis.

It all made us think about what an incredible resource UC Davis is for the industry and then we realized that UC Davis is not alone. Cornell University, Michigan State, Cal Poly, University of Florida… there are so many great universities offering so many great programs, the resources are astounding.

In fact because most of the programs are geared toward one state or another and because they often have little money for marketing and lack the sponsorship of a national trade association, many astounding programs sort of live in the shadows.

That is a shame, but, fortunately, we here at the Pundit can actually do something about this. So consider the four articles above to be the initiation of an occasional series on the great universities that work with the industry. Our goal is to highlight some of the intellectual firepower available to be accessed, some of the programs that are upcoming and can be participated in, and some of the important work being done behind the scenes at each institution.

For this first “University Resource Highlight” column on UC Davis, we included four separate pieces:

Understanding GAPs in which Trevor Suslow, Extension Research Specialist at UC Davis, helps us better understand the problems and potential inherent in GAP.

Center For Produce Safety Funds Industry Studies in which we discuss the exciting news that research funding is now flowing out of the Center for Produce Safety at UC Davis and suggest a vision for future research investments.

UC Davis Produce CurriculumIs Open To The Industry; reveals, via a note from Jim Gorny, some of the easy-to-access programs UC Davis offers the industry.

Short Course On Produce Marketing Offered At UC Davis in which we discuss the UC Davis Marketing Short Course headed by Roberta Cook, one of the true academic superstars in the industry and a program in which the Pundit will be participating.

With the economy slowing, now may be the perfect time for individuals in the trade to enhance their skills. Our great universities — an irreplaceable national resource — stand ready to help.

With stock markets crashing, real estate being foreclosed upon, commodities and bonds dropping… it feels as if everything may be lost.

Let me share with you a prototypical Jewish attitude, one shaped by millennia of often being exiled and losing everything:

You can lose your job, lose your house, have belongings repossessed, your investments can become worthless, your gold and diamonds ripped from your body. However, no matter what the world takes from you, the one thing the world can never take from you is the intellectual capital you carry in your head.

That is why enhancing one’s knowledge and understanding is the very best investment one can possibly make.

In depressing times, undertaking education is also a profoundly optimistic and life-affirming act. It says that better days will come and I will be ready.

We hope this Pundit can serve a small role in making it so.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Give Obama A Chance

Our piece, Great Expectations For President Obama, brought a number of responses, including these:

YET again another excellent point of view from your part…

I, for one, am glad the election is behind us and I can put aside being a Republican and return to being an AMERICAN. After all is said and done, this is exactly what I am, an AMERICAN and very proud of it!

Although President-elect Obama did not get my vote, majority has spoken and he is now MY President.

I love this country with all my heart and I would not have it any other way.

Onwards and Upwards!

— Ana M. Ramos
The Perishable Specialist Inc.
Doral, FL


Well-written, concise analysis of the groundswell that brought Mr. Obama to the White House.

It’s an amazing world sometimes.

— Chris Puentes
President
Interfresh, Inc.This series of political comments does finally send me to the edge!


Kindly remember the record of the last eight years, before you seek to establish a loyal opposition to those things you do not yet know to oppose.

Your view of the industry, experience, and access is beyond reproach.

Your other views can be withheld until we seek unity of all to a common end of change.

You had your eight years and you failed miserably — two wars, near depression-like economy, the world opinion of us a shambles… it is time to move on. A significant majority said we want to do so.

Try to stick to what we respect you for without driving at least some of us to the point of finding your comments an insult.

John McCain, over boos — none of which you heard in Chicago when his name was mentioned — asked to support his President, and his country. Let’s let the man get started before setting out how you disagree.

Please, and thank you.

— Bill Jorgenson
Managing Principal
SJH and Co.
Boston, MA

We thank both Ana Ramos and Chris Puentes for their kind words and appreciate both Bill Jorgensen’s most generous assessment of our industry analysis and his willingness to lay his cards on the table.

Emotions often run high after elections and so we would just point out a few things:

First, Mr. Jorgensen makes the point that… “You had your eight years and you failed miserably,” which makes us want to remind Mr. Jorgensen that the Pundit has not been President the past eight years and has written tens of thousands of words disagreeing with the Bush administration’s approach to the financial crisis. We are not sure who Mr. Jorgensen means by “You,” but it certainly isn’t the Pundit.

Second, though we are flattered that Mr. Jorgensen thinks our influence is so vast, we were not present at John McCain’s concession speech in Arizona and had no control over the booing people; we have not supported their actions and, in fact, if we stand for anything, it is civility.

Third, we hope Mr. Jorgenson will re-read our reference to the British concept of “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition,” because its implication is clearly to point out that there is a right way and a wrong way to disagree. We were pointing out that those Americans who disagree with the policies President-elect Obama espouse still ought to wish him well, do what they can to help him succeed and accept the legitimacy of the election and the vox populi.

We did not urge anyone to oppose any specific policy for the logical reason that Barack Obama is not President yet, and therefore nobody really knows what he will attempt to implement and what will be put on the backburner or was simply campaign rhetoric.

We do believe that elections matter. We will certainly get different policies from a President Obama than we would have from a President McCain. This was going to be a tough year for any Republican, and Mr. Jorgensen gives us the reasons: “…two wars, near depression-like economy, the world opinion of us a shambles…” so the fact that John McCain still received 46% of the vote indicates this is a closely divided country and there will in fact be plenty of opposition to the policies President-elect Obama will follow.

The Pundit readership almost certainly went for Senator McCain because it skews more Republican than the general population. So by laying out the model of a “loyal opposition,” we were doing both Barack Obama and the country a favor by encouraging opponents of his candidacy to channel their energies into being a British-style “Loyal Opposition.”

Besides, as the saying goes, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This means that every President and every party needs an opposition to keep the system honest.

Fourth and finally, obviously the pursuit of “change” made a bully slogan for Candidate Obama. We submit that the slogan is almost useless as a governing principle. Some change is for the best and some decidedly negative, so to merely endorse change is meaningless in policy terms. We all would like to see positive change on the economy, but many think it is an incredible policy and execution achievement that we have avoided another terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11 — that is one status quo most Americans want to keep.

We hope our explanation has helped pull Mr. Jorgensen back “from the edge.” We doubt we all will ever… or should ever… unite for a “common end of change”; instead we prefer the rough and tumble of our politics and think that the challenge is to know both how to compete vigorously and to cooperate vigorously when the race has been run. We think a thoughtful critique is often more valuable to a decision-maker than a bunch of yes men agreeing with whatever the boss has to say.

Our role here at the Pundit is simple: To analyze without fear or favor. To Ana Ramos, Chris Puentes, Bill Jorgensen and all who deign to read these pages, we pledge fidelity to that singular principle.




Perishable Thoughts —
Politics And Cynicism

We have had the opportunity to run several pieces that included letters from Tom O’Brien of C&D Fruit and Vegetables. You can see some of those pieces below:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Flavor Consistency

Pundit’s Mailbag — Temperature Monitoring

Pundit’s Mailbag — Green Acres Is The Place To Be?!?

Pundit’s Mailbag — Kudos To Wegmans And An Industry Willing To Work Together

So we were pleased when our piece, Great Expectations For President Obama, inspired Tom to send us another note, this one with a quote included:

The men and women in agriculture spend every year hoping for a better new year and changing some of the attitudes of government and customers, but we never lose track of the fact that without hard work and innovative thinking hope and change will never become a reality.

I will support our new President and will work harder to make my employees and customers successful, which will be the reason my company will be successful.

But it is scary when we must deal with Washington, which is filled with people making laws that have never had a real job, never ran an honest company, never met a budget, never worried about health care, or retirement … the many things that most Americans do every day.

My fear is we have become a nation of professional politicians with a “me” mentality.

— Tom O’Brien
President
C&D Fruit and Vegetable
Bradenton, Florida

P.S. In relation to the above I submit the following “Perishable Thought” for your consideration:

As Oscar Wilde said — “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”

Me thinks Oscar spent most of his time in Washington D.C. and Hollywood and never got to meet the hard-working people in between.

It is quite a cynical quote. We thought we would be cynical and question whether Oscar Wilde actually said any such thing. We asked Pundit Aide-de-camp James Elmer to find out more:

Researching this quote turned up many variations of it, attributed to several prominent individuals, although none in any scholarly work or context. In this book, recommended to me by none other than trusty Carnegie research librarian Leigh Anne on my last visit, The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When, by Ralph Keyes, 2006, we find this interesting paragraph which begins with one of the quote variations I found:

“AMERICA is the only nation in history which, miraculously, has gone directly from barbarism to degeneration without the usual interval of civilization.”

In a 1945 magazine article, (“Merry Christmas, America!”, The Saturday Review of Literature, December 1, 1945, Pg. 9) Danish writer Hans Bendix said his aunt told him French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) made this observation about America.

Bendix’s article seems to be the only source for that attribution, which now appears in many a quotation collection. (This saying has also been attributed to Oscar Wilde, Henry James, H.L. Mencken and John O’Hara.)

Judging from France’s often stormy alliance with America during and after World War I, Clemenceau might well have reached such a conclusion. It “sounds like” the irascible French politician. However, as a young man, Clemenceau spent several years in the United States. He married a local woman, and considered America his “second country.”

Whoever was the first to say this owed an intellectual debt to Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1688-1744), who concluded that societies progressed in cyclical stages from barbarism to civilization, then back again.

Verdict: Author unknown; possibly Georges Clemenceau.

Hmmm, what does Wikipedia have to say about Giambattista Vico? We found out:

Giambattista Vico: relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione, or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages — common to every nation — constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history.

James Elmer did some more snooping around for us and came up with this:

An even earlier version of this quote appears in “Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography” from 1943. However, it is hard to make the case that Frank Lloyd Wright inspired, or actually was the source for the spoken quote, referred to by Bendix in the 1945 article as having been heard by his aunt from Clemenceau. Though, of course, a case could be made that Clemenceau was a witty Frenchman.

This is what Wright said in his book:

“A witty Frenchman has said of us: ‘The United States of America is the only nation to plunge from barbarism to degeneracy with no culture in between’.”

This quote can be viewed here:

Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography (Google Books)
By Frank Lloyd Wright
Published by Pomegranate, 2005
561 Pages, Pg 395

This quote can be purchased here:

Frank Lloyd Wright: An Autobiography
By Frank Lloyd Wright
Published by Pomegranate, 2005
561 Pages

For ourselves the quote reeks of arrogance. Yes there are degenerate people, but we do not think the country is degenerate.

Ronald Reagan was so successful as a conservative politician because he subscribed to an unusually optimistic brand of conservatism. He always saw the Golden Age not as a historical artifact to be located in ancient Athens or Rome but, rather, as an idea located in the future.

President Reagan was fond of quoting Thomas Paine: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” He even used it in his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican Convention in Detroit.

The statement is actually not true. It is certainly not a very conservative thought. But it is, in essence, a very American attitude.

Barack Obama, in highlighting a slogan such as, “Yes, we can,” tied into the American weltanschauung, a can-do attitude that has made American ingenuity famous around the world.

That Americans do not choose people like themselves to represent them is actually not surprising. Alexander Hamilton predicted as much in the Federalist Papers, particularly Number 35:

The idea of an actual representation of all classes of the people, by persons of each class, is altogether visionary. Unless it were expressly provided in the Constitution, that each different occupation should send one or more members, the thing would never take place in practice. Mechanics and manufacturers will always be inclined, with few exceptions, to give their votes to merchants, in preference to persons of their own professions or trades.

Those discerning citizens are well aware that the mechanic and manufacturing arts furnish the materials of mercantile enterprise and industry. Many of them, indeed, are immediately connected with the operations of commerce. They know that the merchant is their natural patron and friend; and they are aware that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their own good sense, their interests can be more effectually promoted by the merchant than by themselves.

They are sensible that their habits in life have not been such as to give them those acquired endowments, without which, in a deliberative assembly, the greatest natural abilities are for the most part useless; and that the influence and weight, and superior acquirements of the merchants render them more equal to a contest with any spirit which might happen to infuse itself into the public councils, unfriendly to the manufacturing and trading interests.

These considerations, and many others that might be mentioned prove, and experience confirms it, that artisans and manufacturers will commonly be disposed to bestow their votes upon merchants and those whom they recommend. We must therefore consider merchants as the natural representatives of all these classes of the community.

Well Alexander Hamilton was slightly off; instead of merchants we typically choose lawyers to represent us in government. But the point was correct.

The people who serve are chosen because their specialized skills make them effective advocates for the interests of the people. The people thus have a continuing obligation to make their interests and opinions known to their representatives.

This process is often messy, but the effort itself is an expression of hope, and we choose an optimistic American stance over the cynicism expressed , even if just allegedly, by Oscar Wilde.

Many thanks to Tom O’Brien and C & D Fruit and Vegetable for sending us this thought-provoking quote.

****

Perishable Thoughts is a regular section of the Perishable Pundit. If you have a favorite quote that you would like to share with the industry, please send it on. You can do so right here.

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