Many years ago, the Pundit’s uncle, Sydney Prevor, who ran the family’s business interests in Puerto Rico, had an idea: He wanted to have a store that would sell rotisserie chicken. The Pundit’s grandfather, Harry Prevor, thought it was a great idea, except he thought it would be a good idea to sell some milk, bread and eggs in the store so that consumers could come in regularly for these staples. And as the consumers would be coming in anyway, why not also stock fruits and vegetables and paper goods, aluminum foil and some frozen foods. By the time the Pundit Grandpa was done, what was supposed to be a chicken store was a little superette with a rotisserie.
And so the Pundit’s uncle has been haunted his whole life by a question: had not his father interfered, would it have been Colonel Prevor rather than Colonel Sanders that everyone came to know?
An unanswerable question. But it did teach us early the issue of product clarity.
A few years back, we were critical of Wal-Mart’s efforts to transform itself. These were the days when Wal-Mart was advertising in Vogue magazine. Our critique really was that it was impossible to do what Wal-Mart seemed to be trying to do: To have one store concept that could appeal to everyone for everything.
We, instead, looked at HEB as an example. It had set up a completely separate concept in the form of its upscale Central Market stores. This allowed for much clearer branding.
In a sense, much of our assessment of Tesco’s Fresh & Easy operation was that the stores struck American consumers as neither notably fresh, nor notably easy, and that left consumers wondering what the store’s purpose or the promise to consumers really was.
We were thinking about these issues as we walked through the Boca Raton, Florida, iteration of the Publix Greenwise concept. It is a nice store. Happens to be right down the block from the Jr. Pundit’s school and close to the Pundit home, so we shop there frequently. The store has a nice foodservice area with a Chinese food bar, grill and pizza oven, and we have often grabbed lunch there as well.
Yet, without any access to the books, we feel comfortable saying that the concept isn’t really a winner. Publix has only three of the stores open, and it opened the first one 38 months ago. Publix is a well-financed company. If it were earning a superior return on investment, it surely would have opened many more Greenwise stores.
Greenwise is also a line of products sold in Publix, and a section in most Publix stores is built around products with words such as organic, natural, healthy and sustainable. So when it opened, Greenwise was portrayed as the answer Publix was offering to Whole Foods.
Yet as we walked around the store and tried to view it from the perspective of someone who had never heard of Greenwise, we came to realize why the stores may not be as successful as they could be. We kept thinking we wanted to check the website of the store so we could understand what the point of the store was.
That is a bad sign. A good concept should be crystal clear to the consumer just through the product assortment, the merchandising and in-store marketing.
The web site actually does make a clear promise to consumers. It explains itself this way:
More and more people today are paying close attention to what they eat. They’re looking for options that are more natural and less processed. They’re trying to avoid additives and chemicals, and seeking products raised in a way they can feel good about. To meet these growing needs, Publix has created Publix GreenWise Market.
All-Natural. Organic. Earth-Friendly.
Yet the store experience isn’t precisely that. As we walked through the store, we saw a lot of upscale epicurean product — but that product wasn’t organic and didn’t promote itself all-natural or earth-friendly. For example, right across from the grill is a big display of products from Flora Fine foods. Nice product, but the promise of the store is not just any old upscale product.
We also found a lot of branding confusion. For example, the bakery — to our eyes the bakery was indistinguishable from a typical Publix bakery and was bannered as a Publix bakery founded in 1957. This caused confusion as we were in Greenwise, not Publix, and it wasn’t clear how the Publix bakery was dealing with the Greenwise promise to consumers.
The Boar’s Head deli did have the Boar’s Head “natural” line, but also seemed to have almost all the conventional products.
Even when the store featured organic items, and it featured many in produce, something was off. It would have both organic and conventional versions of an apple variety, yet there was no effort to persuade consumers that they ought to purchase the organic line or that the organic version was worth the price premium.
To us, the problem we saw in Greenwise was three-fold and it strikes us that retailers, in general, have trouble with separate concepts for the same three reasons:
1) Specialized Retail Concepts Are More Similar to Foodservice Than To Retail
First, Publix has retailing in its DNA, yet doing a specialized market is more like foodservice. Retailers offer customers choice, chefs select out what to offer restaurant patrons. Yet on a concept such as Greenwise, success requires editing the selection to be true to the promise the store makes to consumers.
The store has a beverage department and sells nice teas and juices, specialized sodas made with cane sugar and… Coke and Pepsi. Similar examples can be found throughout the store.
Now there is nothing wrong with choice. As a retailer ourselves, there was scarcely anything truly different from what we were already selling that we wouldn’t try to see if it sold.
But in this type of concept, when consideration is being given to whether to stock Coke or not, the buyers need to go back to the loadstone: Is this “all-natural”?: Is it “organic”? Is it “earth-friendly”? And then the buyers should reject Diet Coke on the grounds that it is not in sync with this concept’s mission.
What about sales, though? Doesn’t the fact that it is on the shelves indicate that it is selling? Probably, but that may not be the way to think about a specialized concept.
Consumers who select a concept because they are “paying close attention to what they eat … looking for options that are more natural and less processed … trying to avoid additives and chemicals, and seeking products raised in a way they can feel good about” may be looking to simplify their shopping experience. They may seek a specialized concept specifically to avoid being tempted by foods that don’t meet these criteria.
After all, modern supermarkets have large numbers of organic, all-natural and earth-friendly products. Anyone willing to make the slightest effort can buy everything they need in this area in many supermarkets.
Yet those who seek specialized markets are obviously looking for a different experience. In the case of an organic, natural and sustainable concept, they probably want reassurance that everything meets these standards. Think of an alcohol rehab facility that offers an on-site bar. It may have high sales for a while but, in the end, the presence of the bar makes potential customers think the concept is less able to get them back on the wagon.
Same idea with a specialized retail concept. If one is selecting a store because one wants to be organic, all-natural and earth-friendly, why would anyone want to be tempted with an area of personal weakness, say Diet Coke.
2) Executives At Big Chains Select Specialized Concepts For Marketing Reasons. They Don’t Really Believe and Won’t Let The Store Sell Its Concept
The most fascinating thing about the store is that it never touts its vision. So in produce, for example, the store will feature a particular apple in both organic and conventional versions. The organic costs a little more. Nothing more is said.
This strikes us as pretty much the correct attitude for a general supermarket but almost the exactly wrong attitude for a specialized concept built around an organic ethos. First, we are not sure why the conventional product is there at all. It is one thing to recognize that people need a balanced diet, and so a store that prefers to sell organic may sell conventional items if organic product of adequate quality and in adequate quantity is not available. But if the organic produce is there, by shopping in this concept, customers are saying that they want it. They probably don’t want to be reminded that there is a cheaper conventional alternative.
But beyond what product is being procured, these consumers want to be sold organic product. They want to be told that it is better and why. They want their inclinations — expressed by choosing the store, reinforced by the marketing.
It seems highly likely that if Greenwise were an independent, it would make this the centerpiece of its marketing. Yet Publix must muzzle this as its executives have not drunk this particular Kool-Aid and so don’t believe it. They are also probably cautious that someone else would pick up on what Greenwise was saying and would use the phrase to attack Publix. These may be good reasons for stopping Greenwise from selling itself as “Better” than Publix, but we suspect that if they can’t market the concept effectively, it will probably fail.
3) Attempts To Leverage The Big Chain’s Procurement And Private Label Programs Make Differentiation Very Difficult.
Publix has a Boar’s Head deli, as does Greenwise. As we mentioned above the deli will feature both Boar’s Head’s “natural” line and its regular product. This raises the same question as we raised about organic and conventional in the produce department. The client has already made a choice in selecting the concept, so selling the “non-natural” product, when the natural is available, is unlikely what the customers want. Even if they buy it, they may feel bad about it when they get home.
More broadly, the ethos of the store simply doesn’t support working with one branded supplier in this manner. The customers want a dedicated Greenwise deli buyer who has selected the roast beef, the turkey breast and the ham that best meets the promise of the store. Are the cows grass-fed? Is the poultry free-range? Is there organic feed? How is the labor treated in processing plants, etc.?
What the customer of a specialized concept wants is to know that everything purchased in the store has been vetted for these values. Yet these are not the key values for Publix, so leveraging the supply relationships will be counter-productive.
The cheese program is very important in stores such as this, yet as best as we can tell, it seems like a distributor program, lacking the unique impact that a Greenwise cheese buyer who internalized the values of the store and was active with the American Cheese Society and the movement to produce and market artisan-produced American specialty cheeses would create.
Basically the issue is a disconnect between the Greenwise brand and the actual products sold in the store. When consumers hit the meat department, they may get cognitive dissonance as there are large signs explaining that if consumers select meat with the Publix Greenwise label, they can be assured the meat was raised humanely, without hormones, etc. But, by shopping in the store the consumers have already said that is what they want — why should any of the meat sold not meet this standard?
Publix is a wildly successful chain. But Greenwise is struggling. The question is likely to come down to whether Publix is willing to let Greenwise be Greenwise.
This is a question all retailers should ask before opening specialized concepts.
New York is getting ready for Christmas. The tree is up in Rockefeller Center, the Rockettes are kicking at Radio City Music Hall in the annual Christmas Spectacular. The Empire State Building is lit red and green, and the skaters are skating on Central Park. It’s a magical time in an incredible place.
Of course, the produce industry made its own magic in New York just last month as the trade gathered at The New York Produce Show and Conference, presented by The Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine.
Those who were there noted that there were a lot of people shooting photos and video. Back in the day when Lou Dobbs was dominating the news on topics like food safety and immigration, we had the opportunity to do many segments on the show, typically with CNN superstar correspondent Louise Schiavone as the reporter on the pieces.
Among her accolades, Louise, is a veteran not only of CNN, but also the ABC Radio Network and the Associated Press. She has received many awards including the Edward R. Murrow Award and is an Emmy Award Nominee.
With Dobbs off the air, Louise has been very busy doing a multitude of media projects plus helping young people by teaching at the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University. We knew Louise had a New York connection as well, as she has a masters degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. So when we started working on The New York Produce Show and Conference, we asked Louise if she would head up our video production effort.
We were very lucky she said yes.
There is a lot more video, but here is a little clip of what went on at the event:
If you like what you see and are interested in next year’s event — November 7-9, 2011 — just send us a note with one of the links below:
If you would like information on exhibiting or sponsoring at The New York Produce Show and Conference please let us know here.
If you would like information on attending The New York Produce Show and Conference, please let us know here.
We’ve been blowing a trumpet on the problem that is caused by the sale of onions that are ordinary onions yet are marketed as “sweet onions” We’ve included several pieces in this series:
Sweet Onion Fraud
Pundit’s Mailbag — Retail Specifications Needed For Sweet Onions
Pundit’s Mailbag — With Proper Science And Marketing, Onions Could Be Sold As Mild, Medium Or Hot
Now Richard Goldfarb, an attorney at Stoel Rives who does work on food safety and other issues related to the trade and who we mentioned many times, including here, here, picked up on our work on sweet onions and cleverly associated the controversey over the use of the term “sweet” in onions with the decision of Ben & Jerry’s to drop its use of the term “all natural.”
Seems Ben & Jerry’s has gotten sued over its use of the term, although it is a most questionable lawsuit. The issue, of course, is what precisely would render a food “unnatural” — cooking, for example? Or a combination with another item that also is a natural substance.
It is an interesting discussion and you can read about the lawsuit here. It reminded us much of the discussion over organic standards. Although organic has a scientific definition, the standards that allow a product to be certified organic have little to do with that definition. There are substances that are organic — say arsenic — which can’t be used in organic agriculture and there are things having nothing to do with organic — say irradiation or genetically modified seed — that are prohibited in organic production. In effect, the word “organic” is being redefined — at least in commerce — as whatever the National Organic Standards Board happens to endorse.
Richard Goldfarb is not too hot on the idea that one has a cause of action against Ben & Jerry’s for utilizing cocoa that has been processed a bit, but he thinks that the term “sweet” as used in relation to onions may be more meaningful than the term “natural” is in ice cream production:
“Sweet” … is a whole different kettle of onions… there is no government standard for which onions may be labeled “sweet.” As a Washingtonian, when I think of a sweet onion, I think of Walla Walla onions, but I was surprised to learn that besides those and the Vidalia onions of Georgia and the Maui onions of Hawaii, there are also sweet onions grown in Nevada, Florida, Texas and New Mexico. And that just covers the United States.
Our friend Jim Prevor, the Perishable Pundit, has written about the sweet onion issue under the headline “Sweet Onion Fraud.” He had updates here and here as well. He posits that the lack of any government standard for what is a “sweet” onion allows anyone to label any onion as sweet. Buyers looking for the best price will buy anything labeled sweet, and consumers will pay a premium for a false label.
Being Jim, he does not just rail at the injustice, he suggests three possible solutions:
• Government imposed standards
• A trade group setting its own standards and applying them to trademarked goods
• Grocery chains setting procurement standards
Each of these has its challenges, of course. As we noted, it took the AMS over 60 years to redo its olive oil standards; can that overworked agency really be expected to decide what is a sweet onion quickly?
While a trademarked name and industry standards can be effective (and there are marks for particular sweet onions), especially if marketing dollars are used to promote the mark, there is often a spillover effect that can be counterproductive. As the realtors will tell you, you can work a long time promoting a mark but the public’s confusion that any real estate agent is a realtor won’t go away. The public just doesn’t spend a lot of time on the distinctions, and the difference between a trademarked sweet onion and any other onion labeled “sweet” may not adequately enter the public brain. Moreover, it’s perfectly possible for a truly sweet onion to be grown and sold without the mark, just as a real estate agent who is not a realtor may follow the realtor’s code of conduct but just not have joined the organization.
Buyers of onions should certainly include specifications for sweetness in their procurement. If done with producer input, this might solve many of the problems. If imposed, it might leave some growers of demonstrably sweet onions out in the cold.
I am, however, less pessimistic that someone who buys an ordinary onion incorrectly labeled “sweet” has no recourse against its seller. Unlike “natural,” and recognizing that there may be close cases, if we take the situation where someone simply takes an ordinary onion and slaps a “sweet” label on it and charges a premium for it, I am confident the buyer can reject the onions, or revoke his acceptance of the onions and sue for damages.
The key to this is the lesser-known big brother to the warranty of merchantability, the express warranty. This is contained in Section 2-313 of the UCC. It provides:
(1)) Express warranties by the seller are created as follows:
(a) Any affirmation of fact or promise made by the seller to the buyer which relates to the goods and becomes part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the affirmation or promise.
(b) Any description of the goods which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the goods shall conform to the description.
(c) Any sample or model which is made part of the basis of the bargain creates an express warranty that the whole of the goods shall conform to the sample or model.
(2) It is not necessary to the creation of an express warranty that the seller use formal words such as “warrant” or “guarantee” or that he have a specific intention to make a warranty, but an affirmation merely of the value of the goods or a statement purporting to be merely the seller’s opinion or commendation of the goods does not create a warranty.
So if a purchase order labels the goods “sweet onions” and they’re not, the express warranty is breached. If the seller puts a “sweet” label on the goods, and they’re not, the express warranty is breached. If the seller says “these are sweet onions” and charges a premium for them, and they’re not sweet, the express warranty is breached.
It does not require a legal standard or expert testimony to determine that an ordinary onion is not sweet, any more than it requires expert testimony to prove that something that is orange is not red. There’s actually a case, Martel v. Duffy-Mott Corp., that holds exactly that in connection with the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. Again, at the margins, we can all argue over whether this or that onion is sweet, but if a sweet onion is about 6-15% sugar and a regular onion is 3-5% sugar, it shouldn’t be hard to tell the difference, or to get a jury to tell the difference.
It is an interesting question. It may point out another reason why retailers need to act — and quickly — on this matter.
Richard Goldfarb points out that there are warranties intrinsic in the sale of items and one of those is the express warranty. Basically, if a seller says the item is something — a Red Delicious apple, certified organic, California-grown garlic, a Northwest pear or, yes, sweet onions — the seller is issuing a kind of warranty.
The fact that some of these assertions may be more clear than others — what states qualify as a producer of Northwest pears, for example — does not mean that the warranty doesn’t exist. A pear grown in, say, Florida, would clearly not qualify even if Montana is a question mark. This is what juries are for.
Alas, in terms of our articles, the problem with this line of thinking is that it presumes something that is only rarely so — that the retailers are being hoodwinked by suppliers.
There are reputable suppliers of sweet onions, and most major buyers know who they are. It is also easy to order testing and to vet suppliers. Finally, the expense of a rejection is great and even without formal standards just the serious threat that inspectors are going to possibly reject based on sweetness would surely have an impact.
The problem, though, is not so much that retailers are being hoodwinked by suppliers as that various retail buyers are complicit with shippers in buying cheap onions, labeled as sweet, so they can hoodwink consumers without the retailer itself having to commit a fraud.
Now, normally, an individual consumer, defrauded in this way, is not going to do anything much about it. The damages are too small, the standard too uncertain. The consequence is — as we have mentioned before — consumers less likely to buy sweet onions.
But Richard Goldfarb, by implication, points to another possible consequence. We live in the age of the class action lawsuit. Although individuals would find the case impractical to litigate, each of those signs or ads at retail promoting “sweet onions” is an express warranty.
How long will it be before some clever lawyer notes that consumers are being defrauded and brings a class action lawsuit to get them back their money — plus a bit extra for the ruined salad or hamburger in which that onion was used.
We’ve been urging retailers to make sure they have explicit standards so that they can make sure they only provide their consumers with sweet onions that will delight the consumers.
We read Richard Goldfarb’s piece to add a new sense of urgency. Retailers better have explicit standards to make sure sweet onions are the real McCoy, so they can present these standards in court when a class action suit alleging widespread consumer fraud is brought and the retailers are called to testify.
Many thanks to Richard Goldfarb and Stoel Rives for providing insight on this important issue.
Nothing is over till it’s over but it now seems likely that the flawed food safety legislation passed by the Senate will wind up becoming law as the House included the Senate language in a continuing resolution designed to keep the government running. United issued a statement:
“United Fresh has strongly supported modernization of our food safety laws for the past four years, working with Members of Congress and the Administration, and testifying before House or Senate committees more than 10 times. There is no doubt the food safety bill passed as part of the Continuing Resolution contains a number of important provisions that we have long supported, including implementation of preventive controls for production and processing of specific fruits and vegetables when shown necessary by a risk-based, scientific analysis by FDA.
Yet, the Tester amendment inserted into the Senate bill, and now passed by the House, weakens public health protection by exempting some producers and processors based only on the size of their business, their geographic location, or to whom they sell their products. The statutory enactment of non science-based exemptions would limit FDA’s ability to assure consumers that all foods they purchase, whether at grocery stores, restaurants, farm markets, or elsewhere, have met the same food safety standards. We fear that this profound error will come back to haunt the Congress, public health agencies, consumers and even those who thought they would benefit from food safety exemptions. Food safety must be a universal commitment, shared by all who would grow, process and sell foods.
While the food safety bill will do much good, it is highly regrettable that the House leadership failed to exercise its responsibility to engage with the Senate in a conference to fix these provisions. Our industry and a large number of House members have urged repeatedly over the past week that a conference could be completed within the remaining days of this session. When it became apparent that the House would need to pass its own bill due to the constitutional problems with the Senate bill, this afforded the direct opportunity to provide due diligence to correct this mistake, and send a better bill back to the Senate, which must again pass the bill in any case.
For all of us who have worked long and hard to pass food safety reform, this is a bittersweet moment, with a job only partially done. As we look ahead, we will continue to voice our strong support for uniform, risk-based food safety standards, whether in the remaining days of this Congress, or in the new Congress convening in January.
Although we have our doubts that, even without the Tester amendment, the law would have accomplished any improvement in safety, the Tester amendment was a blatantly political attack on the principles of science-based food safety. The House was clearly remiss in its responsibility to thoughtfully debate the issue. Of course, one reason they could act so flippantly is that the allies of the produce industry dropped us like — well — a hot potato the minute the going got rough.
For example, those good friends of the produce industry, the Food Marketing Institute — which acts “in alliance with” the North American Association of Perishable Agricultural Receivers (NAPAR) — and the National Restaurant Association, with whom PMA has an initiative designed to double foodservice consumption of fresh produce — did not hesitate to unceremoniously abandon the produce trade in its hour of need when the Senate bastardized the Food Safety Bill by adopting the Tester Amendment.
As we discussed here and here, the produce industry, which had previously endorsed the food safety bill along with FMI and NRA, turned against the bill when an amendment known as the Tester Amendment — after Democratic Senator Jon Tester of Montana — was added to the bill. The amendment exempted many small producers from the food safety requirements of the bill.
The objection of the produce trade associations, which we had warned about here, was primarily that the size of the farm is not a relevant food safety characteristic. Same thing goes for the requirement that such small producers must sell more than half their production within the state they are located in or within 275 miles.
All this is true and good reason for thinking the bill not wise. After all, if you believe the bill is actually going to enhance food safety, then leaving small producers out of the loop poses enormous dangers to all producers — and the public.
Consumers won’t know if the restaurant or retailer they are eating at bought stuff from an exempt producer and, if people get sick or die from eating such “exempt” produce, it is unlikely that the FDA… or the media… will be prepared to ignore such illnesses or deaths. In all probability, we would have the same bans on nationwide sales of spinach and tomatoes that we have seen before.
The logic here is impeccable, and it would have made a real difference had FMI and NRA stood with the produce industry and said that they could no longer support the bill. Instead FMI enthusiastically endorsed the bill and NRA also weighed in for the bill. Although both issued statements, neither association even mentioned a hope that the loophole opened by the Tester Amendment would be resolved in House/Senate negotiations.
There is no upside for FMI and NRA members to have non-compliant product running around the food chain, but both are so anxious to be seen as in favor of “food safety” that they were unwilling to back up what they knew as the proper position — that if one really believes these rules will enhance safety, they have to apply to everyone.
The bill is, of course, not yet law. As we discussed here, there was a Constitutional issue with the Senate bill in that the bill included revenue-raising items that constitute taxes and such items must originate in the House. Rather than pass a new bill in the House after considering the issues surrounding the Tester Amendment, and rather than have a House/Senate conference discuss these issues, the Democratic majority, desperate to pass something quickly, dumped the Senate language, unchanged, into a continuing resolution to fund the government. With taxes taking up so much time on the Senate floor and the continuing resolution necessary to keep government running, it is very possible that the continuing resolution will pass the Senate and become law. The one hope for reconsideration would be if the Republicans find a way to reject the continuing resolution perhaps because it funds government all the way through December 30, 2011, thus depriving the new House majority the chance to cut off funding for projects the Republicans oppose.
Still, whether it is in this Congress or the next, there will ultimately be a battle for appropriations to fund the food safety bill. When that battle rolls around, there is another factor in the Tester Amendment that might induce FMI and NRA to take another look at the matter.
The Tester Amendment is basically a declaration of war against wholesalers and distributors. In order to get the exemption from the food safety requirements, it is not sufficient to just be small or to sell locally; one also must sell directly to retailers, restaurants or consumers.
Now this makes absolutely no sense. Not only is the customer irrelevant to the food safety status of the crop, major wholesalers and distributors, such as Sysco, US Foodservice and Supervalu, have extensive food safety systems of their own. There is every reason to want to encourage small growers to work with distributors.
The logic beyond this requirement is a Luddite-like belief that buying direct provides a talisman-like immunity to food safety problems.
Senator Tester likes to say things such as “Let’s face it, dangerous food-borne outbreaks don’t start with family agriculture.” Of course, there is no evidence to support such a view and a lot to dispute it. In fact, nobody knows what he is even talking about as almost the whole produce industry is “family agriculture.”
The idea seems to be that if a buyer knows where the food is coming from, risk is reduced or eliminated. But the restaurant or retailer 275 miles from the farm doesn’t necessarily know anything about his supplier. They may have never visited the farm nor spoken to the farmer. Even if they did visit once — how many small retailers and restaurants have the knowledge to evaluate a farm or processor for food safety standards?
And consumers — so a farmer sends his mother-in-law to go sit at a farmer’s market somewhere and consumers note she is a nice lady. How does this have anything to do with food safety?
In truth, if one is concerned about food safety, one would be far better off urging these restaurants and retailers to buy through a Sysco, US Foodservice or a Supervalu rather than buy direct. These large organizations — all of which are now bending over backwards to provide access for small growers — have procurement standards that the small buyer can’t imagine.
FMI and NRA have members who do business with many different models, and one would think that some of those members, given time to reflect, will urge upon the associations a position that food safety be business-model independent. So whether one buys direct or through a wholesaler or distributor, legal requirements of suppliers should be the same.
One also wonders if Representatives and Senators from urban areas won’t take offense at Senator Tester’s neglect of small distributors and wholesalers. The businesses on Hunts Point or the Boston Terminal Market and New England Produce Center markets in Boston, the new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market in Philadelphia, markets in Chicago and San Francisco, Los Angeles, many other cities plus many independent wholesalers — these are all family-owned businesses with more knowledge about produce than the typical retailer or restaurant, and because they deal in volume, they are more likely to actually know the producers in a meaningful way.
Why in the world should Representatives and Senators who have these wholesalers in their districts acquiesce in a judgment that dealing through wholesalers is a risk factor in food safety?
The Constitutional problem with the food safety bill has given the country a great gift — time to really study and understand what the bill is about.
One thing it is about is Congressional meddling into the business models that private companies use to procure produce. Specifically, the current bill makes an assertion that wholesalers and distributors are a threat to food safety.
That is not fair and not true. The produce industry should not hesitate to point out to Senators from states with terminal markets and wholesale facilities that the bill as contained in the continuing resolution will hurt urban family-business wholesalers, and companies such as Sysco, US Foodservice and Supervalu should have a chat with FMI and NRA and demand that they push Senators to reject the continuing resolution until business-model neutrality is included in any food safety component of the resolution.
Our piece, To Endure And Prevail: With Thanksgiving Approaching Let Jan Fleming Know She Does Not Stand Alone, pointed out that Jan Fleming — daughter of Bob Strube, Sr., longtime pillar of the Strube Celery and Vegetable Company and columnist of PRODUCE BUSINESS, and wife of former United Chairman Tim Fleming and an industry luminary in her own right as CEO of Strube Celery and Vegetable Company, plus a very kind person — had to battle a serious illness.
We are pleased to report that Jan is now out of the hospital. She is anxiously awaiting the chance to get back to Chicago where she will continue her treatment. Just before she went in for her operation she sent a little note:
There are no words to tell you how surprised and gratified I felt when I saw your article. I will tell you that I’ve already received an avalanche of e mails — both from good industry friends whom I’ve known for years, and also from those in the industry who don’t know me but have offered beautiful words of support, encouragement, advice, and personal testimonies.
I also must tell you how humbling it is to me that you have used your wonderful wordsmithing talents to let the industry know about what I’m going through and to link that experience in with the Thanksgiving holiday. You are wonderful.
As you said, I do know how very blessed I am — but not only because I’ve got the ability to act quickly with the best possible medical team — although that’s huge. I am blessed to have led the life I’ve led — to have been given the opportunity to get up every day and go to work in an industry that supports and promotes good nutrition. My father based his life on the fact that “work is a blessing,” and I certainly believe that (maybe not with quite as much fervor as Dad did, but I do believe it.)
However, more than just that, I’ve been blessed with family, friends, associates and so many, many people who are out there praying for me on a continual basis.
Cancer is a bummer. On the other hand, I really had no idea of how many, many people were out there for me. It really leaves me totally in awe of the beauty of this experience. I know that sounds strange — and I probably won’t feel as though recovery and chemo are too beautiful, but today, I know how good I’ve got it.
So — this has gone on a bit too long, but I just don’t know how to ever let you know how much your friendship has meant to me.
— Jan (and Tim, too, of course.)
We had no doubt that the Pundit readership would respond. We are lucky to have a most engaged and generous readership.
We knew it would help. People need to know they have a lot to live for when they battle things like this, and love from family and friends and even total strangers is often a powerful motivating force.
Of course, Jan can’t answer each person individually, but if you sent a note, we hope you will find happiness in the thought of Jan, as she recovers, scrolling down her laptop and smiling as she hears from well wishers across the industry.
E-mail is really a great thing for those struggling to become well. When the Pundit Poppa was in the hospital, many wanted to come and visit — we discouraged it. If Dad wasn’t feeling well that day, we didn’t want him to feel obligated to see visitors. The family didn’t want to feel obligated to take visitors for dinner and whatnot. Even phone calls, although sometimes nice, often seemed to arrive at the exact moment when the bandages had to be changed or blood drawn.
E-mail, though is asynchronous. One can send an e-mail when it is convenient and the recipient can read it when he or she is ready. A really wonderful communication tool in business for exactly that reason — but, maybe even more so, with a person whose health and recovery status makes it unpredictable when exactly they will be up to engaging.
Karen Caplan, President and CEO at Frieda’s, Inc., who is also a friend of Jan’s, had a nice take on this subject in a piece she titled, How Computers Help The Healing Process. Karen’s mom, the famous (and fabulous) Frieda Caplan, had also sent us a note when our piece about Jan Fleming first appeared and also praised the value of e-mail:
Thanks for letting us know about Jan’s situation … and for providing an immediate way to contact her. You are a technological genius. I hope my note let her know how much she is cared for by all who know her and the Strube family.
If you would like to send Jan a note wishing her the best in her recovery from her operation and giving her strength in her ongoing treatment, you can do so here.