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Words From Buyers Who
Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, November 28, 2006

We’ve devoted extensive space to analyzing the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. In addition to our previous list of signatories, we can also add Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
Craig Carlson, Pathmark Stores
Jim Corby, Food Lion
Greg Corrigan, Raley’s
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Bryan Gannon, Big Y Supermarkets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Don Harris, Wild Oats Markets
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Mark Hilton, Harris-Teeter
Craig Ignatz, Giant Eagle
Mike O’Brien, Schnuck Markets
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Roger Schroeder, Stater Bros.
James Spilka, Meijer, Inc.
Mark Vanderlinden, Price Chopper
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

It is an impressive list, but there are many important organizations on both the foodservice and retail side of the business that have not signed. The Pundit has been hearing from many of those who declined to sign.

Different people have different reasons but a common thread was a sense that the public nature of the initiative was counter to industry interests:

One respected industry leader put it this way:

I did not comment on Tim York’s efforts due to the fact that, although I think he and others involved in this effort are trying to help the industry, they are misguided in the process. My main concern was their process of sending the letter to the mainstream media including USA Today and other publications. What was the purpose of that except for them to look good in the eyes of the public? I think it had a divisive effect on the industry and public opinion.

Another echoed these concerns:

My concern is about the “media noise” regarding this. These types of issues need to be worked out quietly and thoughtfully. Grandstanding the original letter to the press does absolutely nothing to get to the real issues. Food safety is EVERYONE’S CONCERN, not just a group of major buyers.

One executive put it this way:

We should not suggest to the public that one side of the industry has to force the other side to do the right thing. We, the entire industry, are responsible for where we are today and should all take the responsibility to fix it. Pushing it off with public demands on one segment of the industry is not a positive approach in my opinion. It is a good place to apply pressure but within the industry, not in the public domain.

Put another way, many buyers tell us they are objecting to two things:

First, the notion that growers have to somehow be compelled to produce safe food is both not true and damaging to the industry. If government and consumers come to believe this, it will hurt — not enhance — efforts to rebuild regulatory and consumer confidence.

Second, many see the effort as misguided and, perhaps, self-serving, particularly the decision to promote the effort to the consumer media. This may allow some companies to seem to the public as being on the side of the angels, but the divisive nature of such a pronouncement complicates the ultimate resolution of the problem.

Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.

More responses from non-participating buyers in the days to come.

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