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Pundit’s Mailbag —
Why Bother With Ellen DeGeneres?

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, April 19, 2010

We’ve thought carefully about the “Fresh for Ellen” campaign spearheaded by Dan’l Mackay Almy, Managing Partner of DMA Solutions, mentioning it in several pieces, including the following:

Plea For Ellen DeGeneres To Consider Produce In Her Sugar-Free Diet

How Will Success Be Measured For Fresh for Ellen Social Media Campaign?

‘Fresh For Ellen’ Shows Passion And Potential To Help The Industry

‘Fresh For Ellen’ Raises A Question: How Should We Define Success?

Will Our World Be Dominated By Junk Science And Sloppy Thinking?

Now a retail reader of the Pundit asks why we bother:

Why would your publication, or anyone for that matter, care what Ellen DeGeneres thinks is “good” for the rest of us?

And why perpetuate the “conversation’ regarding her personal preferences — simply because she is famous?

She is of course free, because of our beautifully free country, to pursue any eating choices (and any other healthy or destructive lifestyles) she chooses and the media is free to broadcast them to people who will watch.

But why the Pundit?

— Daniel Barth
General Manager
Super King Markets
Los Angeles, California

In fairness to Ellen DeGeneres, although she invited people to join her on her “sugar-free journey,” she never claimed it was something others should do and frankly was vague about any health benefits one might gain, focusing more on her subjective feeling of wellness. Here is how she put it:

Well, that’s it. I’ve given up sugar. I know it’s not going to be easy, but I’m going to try. I already gave up meat and dairy. And when I did, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. So now, with two jobs, I thought I’d better find a way to amp up my energy in a natural way. And I never liked the crashes that sugar caused anyway, so I’m excited to end my dependency.

If it’s something that you think you’d like to try, I’d love for you to do it along with me. Don’t be scared by all of those side effects I read on the show today; they’ll only be temporary. And we’re working toward a long-term, healthy goal.

In part, this is the problem we have identified with Ellen’s effort — it is exceedingly subjective. If she had actually gone out and researched matters and came up with a clear health benefit, urging people to follow that advice, nobody would object. Say she urged people to check with their doctors and, if possible, become physically active.

The problem is that it is not clear what the “healthy goal” actually is or how consuming “natural sugar” will contribute to this goal.

As far as the Pundit’s coverage of the matter, had Ellen simply given her rant about going sugar-free, we probably wouldn’t have covered it at all; it was too vaguely connected to the fresh produce or fresh foods industry. In fact, as we mentioned before, we listened to Ellen’s declaration and thought she was giving up produce much as she was giving up wine. We thought the declaration was incoherent, and we are still not sure why she felt she needed to give up wine and vodka.

However, once Dan’l decided to spearhead an initiative that specifically attempted a tie-in between Ellen’s sugar-free journey and fresh produce, it very much became an industry issue.

Should PMA, United and PBH join in with the “Fresh for Ellen” effort? Many companies were going to be asked to donate fresh produce, so how closely should they align with the effort?

If an opportunity arose for the industry to get some face time on Ellen’s show — what should we do with the opportunity?

We appreciate Dan’s concern about following someone just because he or she is famous. It is a societal problem where people who have achieved fame in some area attempt to translate it into another. You see it all the time when Nobel Prize Laureates will sign a petition or letter urging some public policy. Very often the policy is in some area completely unrelated to the work for which the signatories won their prizes.

It is also legion among performers who attempt to leverage their fame into influence on public policy. We confess to not attending concerts we might otherwise enjoy, because we just don’t want to sit through the lectures that some of these entertainers think they should deliver to a paying audience.

Yet the truth is that talk show hosts such as Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey have enormous audiences and enormous influence. It is not unlikely that had Oprah Winfrey decided to reject Barack Obama and endorse John McCain, we would have a different President today.

It is also true that if Ellen DeGeneres wanted to evangelize for fresh produce, it would help sales and change habits. So, even if she isn’t a nutrition expert, the industry cannot be, and should not be, dismissive of her activities and statements.

Dan’l deserves nothing but praise for trying to make something happen for the industry out of Ellen’s sugar-free effort. If Ellen had been more focused, it might have really been a success for the trade. Maybe it still will be.

The problem of working with stars is that they are not on your payroll so they are difficult to keep on message. Despite promising to keep a record with a flip video diary of her sugar-free journey, the video diary hasn’t been updated in over two months:

I’ll keep you updated as often as I can. I’ll also be shooting flip videos of my progress. I’d love to hear how you’re doing, too. Just click on the “Sweet But Sugar-Free” button on our site.

The whole known journey only lasted 16 days! It is not even clear Ellen is still on her sugar-free journey.

In one of her letters to the Pundit Dan’l made this point:

“…we need to be discussing ways to collectively connect with the Food Network, Jamie Oliver, Biggest Loser, food bloggers, doctors, moms, etc… we have a lot of work to do!!”

We think Dan’l is absolutely correct. There are new ways of reaching out to the world and we would be foolish, as an industry, to neglect the possibilities that are offered by a world of influencers and new communication techniques.

So we pay attention to everyone and everything we can, but we can also be selective in how and with whom we actually engage. Here at the Pundit, we try to assist with that process..

Many thanks to Daniel Barth of Super King Markets for helping us discuss this important issue.

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