It was just over a year ago that we ran a piece titled, Tesco Uses Poor Economy As Excuse For Fresh & Easy Pullback. This was followed up with a piece titled, What Will Be The Fate of Fresh & Easy, which included some validation in the form of a note from one the trade’s highly experienced retailers:
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.
Not everyone agreed though. We have been holding onto a note sent us following those two pieces:
Now wait a minute. You’re a businessman, Jim, would YOU seriously expand ANY business in this economic climate? Europe is in a recession, and we are too, although the government is failing to admit it. Consumers know and are behaving accordingly…
— Bill Gerlach
Research and Development Director
Melissa’s/World Variety Poduce, Inc.
Los Angeles, California
We never disagreed with Bill that the economy was in a recession. This was all post-Lehman Bros. collapse, and we had written extensively regarding the meaning and significance of the financial crisis.
The disagreement was concerning the response to a recession by financially strong organizations. We didn’t accept Tesco’s explanations that it was slowing its rollout of Fresh & Easy in America due to the economy. Tesco is very solid financially and we stated that if Tesco were convinced the concept was working, the company would have used the recession as a time to accelerate expansion, claim market share and decimate competitors.
We’ve dealt quite a bit with the recession here on the Pundit and conducted a nice talk on the subject with industry consultant Kevin O’Connor and Steve Lutz, Executive Vice President of the Perishables Group, at PMA’s Produce Solutions conference. Some of the ideas we expressed there we summarized in a column in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, titled Good Decisions In Bad Times.
Still the point Bill Gerlach makes is true: The Pundit is an editor, an analyst, a writer, a lecturer and… a businessman. So as this year comes to an end, we thought it appropriate to use this issue to share precisely how the Pundit elected to conduct business this recession year. After all, the real world experience of trading produce and of building a business is no small part of what has added value to our commentary.
Now we are not Tesco. We don’t have its asset base or its access to equity and credit markets so we must be more cautious. Still, when Bill Gerlach asked, way back a year ago — “Jim, would YOU seriously expand ANY business in this economic climate?” — our answer was not only yes, but, enthusiastically yes.
Part of this was a matter of practicality: Recessions free up assets — great employees, prime locations, etc. It is very hard to expand during boom times because the raw materials are not available.
More completely though, whatever we may think of the policies of particular politicians, we have an abiding faith in the long-term prospects for the United States of America. We are reminded of a story J.P. Morgan used to tell:
“My father told me,” Mr. Morgan was quoted as saying, “to follow my own bent in business, but whatever that business, to work hard. One thing he said I shall always remember. . . not to discount the future of America. ‘Remember, my son,’ he said, ‘that any man who is a bear on the future of this country will go broke. There may be times when things are dark and cloudy in America, when uncertainty will cause some to distrust and others to think there is too much production, too much building of railroads, and too much development in other enterprises. In such times, and at all times, remember that the great growth of that vast country will take care of all.’”
So we’ve used the recession as an opportunity both to reinvest in our traditional businesses and to launch some new ones while also trying to make our industry and our country a better place. Today’s Pundit will include several pieces that tell you what we did with this recession.
Despite all the bad press that capitalism gets — no less a personage than President Barack Obama was just out attacking “fat-cat bankers” — we think that fundamentally, capitalism is about giving. One creates or produces something of value and offers it to the world, and the world reciprocates. The pieces below detail what we are giving. The years to come will tell us if the gifts were of sufficient merit to be worthy of reciprocation. That is what capitalism is all about.
Even as Bill Gerlach was writing, we were in the midst of a transformational project: The launch of a new magazine named Cheese Connoisseur.
Known as “The Magazine of Tasteful Living,” Cheese Connoisseur is a “hybrid” magazine, having both a business-to-business circulation and a consumer circulation much along the lines of a publication such as Wine Spectator.
It grew out of our experience with DELI BUSINESS magazine as we saw the market for specialty cheese zoom and consumers focusing on specialty cheese much as Americans once began to focus on fine wines.
Of course, don’t think that we are neglecting our friends in the produce industry. We know an opportunity to both help the industry and delight consumers when we see it. As such, we frequently include “pairing” pieces demonstrating to consumers how fresh fruits and vegetables can be paired with specialty cheese to create a taste sensation. These include pieces such as:
Pears: The Perfect Pairing
Strawberry Fields Forever
An Apple a Day…
Blue Heaven — A Divine Match for Salads & More
And yes, yours truly writes a regular column in Cheese Connoisseur. Recently we wrote one interesting little piece on the recession and the nature of luxury. The piece is titled, “Indulgence in Small Bites”.
Although a deep recession might not seem like the ideal time to launch an upscale consumer lifestyle publication, we viewed the challenge much like that of training to play basketball while wearing ankle weights. Yes the recession holds us back but launching in this environment will make us all the more prepared when things turn around and we operate without the hindrance of a down economy.
As it happens, the hindrance has been slight. We started with small tests in high-end supermarkets selling the magazine at cheese counters in select units. Now, on the strength of the sales of the magazine, those same chains rolled it out to hundreds of stores, new chains picked it up and, before we knew it the magazine was being sold alongside national consumer magazines at venues such as Barnes & Noble and Borders Books.
It is a beautiful magazine, chock full with stories of travel and epicurean delight. It is really perfect for any foodies or aficionados of “tasteful living” who may be on your gift list.
With each gift subscription, we send out a lovely gift card announcing your gift and, of course, the four quarterly issues mean your generosity will be remembered all year long. You can send out a gift subscription by using this web form here.
The launch of Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit back in 2006 created an industry sensation with readership quickly spreading deep within the trade and across the whole planet. Beyond the trade, government officials, journalists, academics and others with direct impact on the industry all joined in the great discussion of industry issues that is conducted in the Pundit. A quick glance at the interviews we’ve done and letters we’ve received shows a degree of engagement with the trade that is simply unparalleled.
Yet the very success of the “Pundit” created a new problem: Everyone wanted to be included and the idea-centric nature of the “Pundit” simply meant it was impossible to include everyone who might want to be included in the “Pundit.”
So we created something absolutely terrific. It is called PerishableNews.com and it is in an open beta test mode right now.
We created eight separate “channels” — a general one for Retail & Foodservice, featuring pieces that will appeal to a VP of Perishables and those with similar interests, and seven specific channels:
Meat & Poultry
Once we turn the “on” switch and move out of beta, the editorial assortment will be simply incredible, with the content consisting of four separate categories. Each category has an icon and the appropriate icon is featured on each story:
Much of the content is generated within the industry in the form of corporate announcements and press releases. You can recognize the content that came to us in this way because it is published with this icon:
In addition, our team of editors selects articles that run in the general press but are useful for the perishables trade and will intersperse those in the article stream. You can identify these pieces because they carry this icon:
Jim Prevor also serves as Editor-in-Chief for PerishableNews.com, and you will sometimes see pieces from our sister publications, such as PRODUCE BUSINESS, DELI BUSINESS, AMERICAN FOOD AND AG EXPORTER and CHEESE CONNOISSEUR in the article flow. These are identified with this icon:
In addition, from time to time, our staff of editors will submit their own articles, which will be identified by this icon:
There is also extensive opportunities for industry members to contribute with blogs, columns and more.
In addition to the extensive content, the delivery mechanism is unique. No more waiting around for a publication to deliver the news on its schedule. You can sign up to receive the news “As it happens” via e-mail or RSS feed, or you can get a daily or weekly summary. You can do this for one channel, such as produce, for two, such as produce plus the general retail & foodservice channel, or for any number up to and including all eight channels.
And it is all absolutely free.
Feel free to check out the site. There are four easy ways to get involved:
I) You can sign-up today for your free subscription by clicking here.
II) If you are ever reading (or listening or watching — we incorporate audio and video elements as well) or if you are creating something and you want to suggest it for use, you can send it to us including uploading photos right here.
III) If you send out press releases and announcements, please add the appropriate channels to your PR lists:
Retail & Foodservice
Submit Retail & Foodservice PR to RetailPR@PerishableNews.com
Submit Bakery PR to BakeryPR@PerishableNews.com
Submit Dairy PR to DairyPR@PerishableNews.com
Submit Deli PR to DeliPR@PerishableNews.com
Submit Floral PR to FloralPR@PerishableNews.com
Meat & Poultry
Submit Meat & Poultry PR to MeatPR@PerishableNews.com
Submit Produce PR to ProducePR@PerishableNews.com
Submit Seafood PR to SeafoodPR@PerishableNews.com
IV) If you are interested in helping support the site and build your own visibility with advertising or wish to discuss an editorial contribution, please contact Ken Whitacre here.
The site, like Boeing’s new 787 Dreamliner, is a technical tour d’force so forgive us as we are in beta mode and we work out a few kinks. Your feedback is always appreciated.
We think this site offers the industry such a fantastic opportunity for cross fertilization of ideas and an instantaneous connection around the world for news and ideas. We hope you will want to be part of it.
Once again, you can sign up for free right here.
We are, of course, appreciative for the great national shows that serve the produce industry. We’ve been honored to speak many times at both the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit event and the annual United Fresh Produce Association convention.
We’ve also had an opportunity to write generously of these fine events:
Recessionary Reactions / Cutting Through Consumer Biases
Observations From Las Vegas: United Fresh Builds Momentum
As these national shows have thrived, we have also seen a plethora of interest in regional events.
The Fresh Produce & Floral Council out west started the trend, then the New England Produce Council began a successful Boston-based event and the Southeast Produce Council also has a wonderful event.
We’ve spoken at many of these and seen the value. In the produce industry, where people actually work hard trading produce, not everyone can pick up and travel to an event. They don’t have the time, the budget is limited, etc. This creates an opportunity for these regional events to thrive.
If events can be said to have parents, then one of the “fathers” of the New England event is Paul Kneeland, who worked hard, along with many others, to launch the event when he was Produce Director at Roche Bros. Well now that Paul is VP Produce/Floral at Kings Super Markets in New Jersey, it is only logical that he would associate himself with the Eastern Produce Council and look to bring his experience in New England down to the Middle Atlantic states.
This Pundit’s roots run deep in the region and so we are just thrilled to announce that the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine have joined forces to present a new, world-class event for the region.
Here is the official announcement:
New York, NY — The Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine announced today their collaboration to launch The New York Produce Show And Conference.
The first annual iteration of The New York Produce Show And Conference will be held in The City of New York, November 9 — 11, 2010, and will co-locate with a Perishable Pundit “Thought Leaders Panel” and The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Media Day. The event will also include networking events, workshops and tours of the regional industry, including the Hunts Point Market, the new Philadelphia Market and local retailers, restaurants and wholesale facilities.
“New York City is the epicenter of the region that buys more fresh produce than any location in the country,” explains Dean Holmquist, director of produce and floral for Foodtown, Inc., and president of the Eastern Produce Council. “The extraordinary diversity of the population in this region assures a dynamic market for mainstream, ethnic and specialty produce,” points out John McAleavey, executive director of the Eastern Produce Council.
Paul Kneeland, vice president of produce/floral at Kings Super Markets and vice president of the Eastern Produce Council, indicated that “the sophisticated clientele of the northeast region combines with a plethora of quality retailers, restaurants, foodservice distributors and wholesalers to introduce product from local growers, growers across North America and growers from around the world.”
Jim Prevor, founder and editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine and the online PerishablePundit.com, celebrated the establishment of such a high caliber event in a region long lacking its own trade show and conference: “My great grandfather, Jacob Prevor, emigrated to America and established a wholesale facility in the old Wallabout Produce Market in Brooklyn. My grandfather was a wholesaler and auction buyer in the old Washington Street Produce Market in Manhattan. My father, Michael Prevor, was an original tenant when The Hunts Point Market opened in the Bronx. Over the decades we operated farms and had supermarkets in the region and worked hard to make the ports and airports of the region major hubs for the import and export of fresh produce.
“It is an incredibly exciting moment that we should have the opportunity to join together with our friends at the Eastern Produce Council, the preeminent organization in the region, to bring a world-class event to the region, and it is an honor that we can bring the industry together in a city known both as the ‘Capital of the World’ and the ‘Big Apple’.”
“Jim Prevor has built a reputation for industry thought-leadership that is recognized around the world, and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine was launched on the Hunts Point Market,” said Robert Goldstein, owner/president of Genpro Inc., and secretary of the Eastern Produce Council, “so the board of directors of the Eastern Produce Council voted unanimously to join hands with Jim and his team at PRODUCE BUSINESS and the online Perishable Pundit to better serve this region with a high-end trade show and conference.”
“The Eastern Produce Council represents the most important players in the region,” said Ken Whitacre, vice president of publishing at PRODUCE BUSINESS and PerishablePundit.com. “Their engagement with the event ensures that exhibitors will encounter a cross section of the movers and shakers that make the industry a vibrant and robust contributor to the national and international industry. We are honored to work together with such an important association and with such an instrumental membership.”
Both PRODUCE BUSINESS and the Eastern Produce Council are committed to enhancing the industry by providing the region with a world-class venue for marketing, education and media exposure. That venue is The New York Produce Show And Conference.
Back decades ago, the national produce associations often met in New York… in fact the Pundit Grandma used to run a contest in which the “ladies” — all spouses back then — prepared large hats laden with fresh produce which they then modeled by walking through the closing banquet!
We probably won’t bring back that tradition! But we are very proud to be affiliated with the Eastern Produce Council, which is filled with people really focused on doing a great job for the industry and then doing good through charitable work.
The show and conference is short and sweet — but of the highest caliber. We start with a welcoming reception on November 9th, hold a general session breakfast and conference program along with a trade show on the 10th, enjoy New York City that evening and then have tours on the 11th.
The Saturday night before the show, on November 6, 2010, the Eastern Produce Council has its 43rd Annual Dinner Dance in a swanky country club in West Paterson, New Jersey, so the Pundit will be coming in early and making a week of it in the Big Apple. If you call or e-mail regarding registrations, we can hook you in for the dinner/dance as well.
We are also going to take advantage of the Manhattan locale to bring the media in big time with a special outreach program.
This event is going to add a little shine to the Big Apple, and we are very proud to work with our friends at the Eastern Produce Council to make this contribution to the region.
If you want to be added to the information list, just click on one of the following:
I am interested in attending The New York Produce Show And Conference
I am interested in Exhibiting at or Sponsoring an item or event at The New York Produce Show And Conference.
In these troubled times, there are few causes more important than encouraging the education of our citizenry. So the Pundit was thrilled when he was contacted by The American Committees on Foreign Relations (ACFR) and asked to consider lecturing on food policy.
These committees are the lineal descendents of the old committees affiliated with the Council on Foreign Relations and are extraordinary in that they are made of citizens in different cities who get together to learn and discuss so they can be informed on matters related to foreign relations.
One of America’s leading intellectuals explained it this way:
“ACFR represents the best of what Tocqueville saw as the core of American democracy: civic-minded citizens making an active effort to inform themselves, debate, and participate in important international issues facing our country. It’s an old ideal, which fortunately hasn’t disappeared.”
— Francis Fukuyama
The roster of speakers who have gone before is exceedingly impressive — a whole bunch of professors, military officers, ambassadors and names, such as James Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, James Fallows with The Atlantic Monthly, Gen. Ronald Fogleman (Ret.), U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, John Danforth, former Senator from Missouri and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Jim Leach, Second District Congressman from Iowa and Lincoln Chafee, former Senator from Rhode Island.
We just came back from doing a speaking engagement in St. Louis and were so impressed by the people on the local committee — thoughtful, knowledgeable and engaged. Our country would be stronger if more people understood the issues at hand on the level that members of these committees do.
It is a big time commitment to be a speaker for the ACFR and one doesn’t get paid for these things, but it strikes us that although we do many speeches, talks and lectures within the industry, part of our job is helping to make the general public more literate on issues such as food policy, so when confronted with policy choices, they understand the complexities of the food industry better than they would have had we not taken the time to speak with them.
If you are interested in joining a local committee, look here.
If you are interested in starting a committee in your hometown, click here
If you would like to donate to support this group that supports non-partisan, non-advocacy discussion, dialog and education about “American Foreign Relations,” please click here.
During normal times we see no particular virtue in working in the public policy arena. We suspect that those who work in the private sector — creating jobs and building companies — do at least as much for the public welfare as those who work in government.
Yet, exceptional times create exceptional responsibilities, so we’ve tried to weigh in effectively on the health care debate.
At National Review Online, we wrote a piece titled, The Common Carrier Reform, which tried to layout a specific policy program that could help the country:
As a small-business owner, I’ve been selecting group health-insurance plans for a quarter century and living, day to day, with the actual impact such choices have had on my company and employees. In observing this process, I’ve come to the conclusion that two simple changes would both significantly increase access to health insurance and make it more affordable: Require insurance companies to offer their group plans to all companies, and require health-care providers to charge all patients the same rates.
You can read the whole piece here.
Then we wrote a more philosophic piece that ran as part of a cover story in The Weekly Standard. They called the piece, Standing up for Liberty:
The issue that has moral weight is access to health care, not access to insurance. Many people elect not to buy collision insurance for their cars because they are financially capable of absorbing the loss. If Bill Gates wants to go without health insurance and would rather pay as he goes, would virtue be served by forcing him to buy insurance?
The articles were generally well received. Jennifer Rubin at Commentary, for example, wrote a thoughtful piece:
Republicans have been tossing out alternatives to government-centric ObamaCare for some time. They have suggested, among other ideas, that we change the tax treatment of individually purchased insurance plans, reform the tort system, and allow interstate insurance sales. But now Jim Prevor raises an interesting and compelling question: if people want to go without insurance and instead self-insure, why is it the government’s job to stop them?
John Stossel, who recently left ABC for Fox, also picked up on the piece:
This weekend I was cheered to read about two entrepreneurs who made good points about Washington managing health care:
Jim Prevor, CEO of Phoenix Media Network wonders why, because it’s health insurance, not collision insurance for your car, or theft insurance for your comic book collection, government must step in.
The push to insure everyone is… a decision to endorse a risk-averse society. There is little question that if every uninsured family in America were offered a cashier’s check in the amount it will cost to provide that family with health insurance — checks that could easily be in excess of $15,000 each year — and simultaneously offered the chance to sign the checks over to purchase health insurance, many, many families would elect to take their chances and do something else with the money…
Perhaps these families would use the money to start a small business, send a child to college, go to night school, or save a child from a horrible inner-city public school system. Is there any basis for thinking that paying for health insurance is morally superior to helping a family in any of these ways?
Many in Congress believe that. If Americans did, we’d all have health insurance that we’ve already purchased with our own money. Democrats call their national health care insurance plan a moral imperative. But Prevor writes:
Obamacare ought to be defeated because it raises government above the family in deciding how resources are allocated and endorses a vision where the national priority is to protect against risk rather than to grow and explore.
The moral imperative is not making everyone buy insurance. The moral imperative is freedom.
Obviously many people have different opinions on the matter, and this complicated and controversial area is one in which people of good will can reasonably disagree on the various policy options.
We think, though, that in this recessionary environment it is important that businesspeople not retreat into a shell. The policy makers in Washington need debate and input so they can understand how their proposals would really work in the world.
We are reminded of the famous lines in the Mishna by Hillel:
Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
— Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14