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Perishable Pundit
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At Upcoming Amsterdam Produce Show, Power Of Produce Researcher Anne-Marie Roerink Shows Ways To 'Get Produce Right' To Win In The New Disruptive Retail Environment One mega-trend that has transformed produce retailing more than any other is the move to data from intuition and experience. To make that data actionable, we need to transform it into insight, and few have helped in this effort more directly than the US-based Food Marketing Institute, or FMI. We are pleased to help gain international exposure for this important work by giving them a speaking forum in Amsterdam. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to gain more insights by speaking with FMI’s analytics partner in this study. 10/31/2017

Michiel van Zanten On Produce Procurement: Insights From Albert Heijn/Ahold Delhaize Prelude To Amsterdam Produce Show's Thought-Leader Panel We are fortunate to have such wonderful people (and companies that support them) who are willing to share their knowledge, experience and insight to make the whole industry better. The whole Thought Leader Panel is extraordinary, and in advance of the event, we wanted to explore the rich intelligence being laid out at the show. 10/17/2017

Unique In Approach, FMI Research Answers Questions For Retailers And Producers With New Disclosures At Amsterdam Produce Show And Conference The Food Marketing Institute happens to do some of the most intriguing research relevant to fresh produce on the face of the globe. What makes this research compelling? Most research is done by surveying consumers, which tell us what answers people want to give to questions when asked – not what they actually do. Some research is drawn off shopper spending data, which tells us what consumers actually do – but not why they do it. FMI, almost uniquely, does research that combines both. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to get a sneak preview of what revelations the FMI research provides for attendees at The Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference. 10/17/2017

Spinach Crisis Déjà vu: Dr. Mansour Samadpour Retained By Chipotle To Boost Food Safety Efforts: Increased Product Testing, Outsourced Processed Produce, & New In-Store Kill-Steps Are Part Of New Moves To Keep Customers Safe But Is Chipotle Over-Promising? Will Food Safety Be The Priority As Memories Fade? saw the CDC issued its “final update” on the Chipotle E. coli 026 outbreak without identifying a specific product as the source. Though finding a specific product at fault would have been satisfying, our experience is that it probably would have simply led Chipotle to change suppliers. Not finding a culprit may have helped the cause of food safety, as it has led Chipotle executives to order a comprehensive review of its operation, specifically focused on food safety.  To help drive this process, Chipotle retained a brilliant food safety expert. We asked Pundit Investigator & Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 2/3/2016

How To Capitalize On An Age Of Global Trade: Miguel Gómez Of Cornell University At The Foundational Excellence Program feels Cornell’s Miguel Gómez has a unique way of bonding with his audience — a reality we have experienced many times in both New York and London. Now he has joined the faculty at the Foundational Excellence program. Knowing that Professor Gómez will offer the global-trade perspective for the program, we asked Julie Cook Ramirez, Contributing Editor to Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more. 11/30/2015

Do Alabama's Restaurant Preferences For Local Translate To Other States, Especially The Garden State? points out the Ideation Fresh Foodservice Forum has become an important part of the New York Produce show and Conference with operators, distributors, producers all joining together to find ways to boost produce consumption and bring us closer to the USDA goal of half the plate being accounted for by fruits and vegetables. So when we heard that a new hire at Rutgers had brought with her some research tying together produce farmers and independent restaurants we signed her up quick and we asked Carol Bareuther, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out more. 11/30/2015

FMI’s Deep Dive Into The Power of Produce: Research On Consumer Behavior Before, During And After Purchase To Be Discussed At New York Produce Show reports that almost all studies that involve the produce consumer suffer from a tragic flaw: they tell us what consumers WANT to say. The Food Marketing Institute has made an enormous contribution to the industry by squaring that circle. They have combined direct consumer research with the data coming off register rings to address what consumers say and what consumers do. It is a powerful combination to which they add analytic capabilities. Presented here is Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott’s three-part Q&A for the micro session at The New York Produce Show on FMI’s consumer-centric study with Rick Stein of FMI, Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics and Sherry Frey of Nielsen Perishables Group. 11/22/2015

 

ROBERTA COOK OF UC DAVIS SPEAKS OUT: Lower Trade Barriers Create New Opportunities But Also More Competition... How Much Will The TPP Matter? shares how Dr. Roberta Cook’s data-dense presentations are consistently among the most anticipated at The New York Produce Show and Conference. When the Trans-Pacific Partnership was announced, we knew that Dr. Cook would help make it all make sense. We asked Julie Cook Ramirez, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more. 11/22/2015

In Great Turmoil Is Hidden Great Opportunity Is Now The Time To Invest In Puerto Rico’s Agricultural Sector? Gualberto Rodriguez Of Caribbean Produce Exchange Tells Us Why He’s ‘All In’ At The Global Trade Symposium shares how the Pundit has had a connection with Puerto Rico since birth. So when we saw so many news reports advising that Puerto Rico was unable to pay its debts and that people were leaving the Island, we found ourselves thinking of our many good times on the Island and thinking of friends we left behind. So in search of the opportunities today’s tumult in Puerto Rico can present for those in the produce trade — buying, selling and investing — we invited a super smart scion of an old Puerto Rican produce family, whose family are longtime friends, to lay out the situation and the opportunity at hand. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 11/12/2015

Regional Tours At The New York Produce Show And Conference — Hunts Point Stands Out! finds it would be a shame, and probably a sin, to come to New York and never go out of a hotel ballroom or a convention center, so, at The New York Produce Show and Conference, we are proud to provide a panoply of regional tours — retail, wholesale, foodservice, urban agriculture and more. Hunts Point Produce Market is always a star on the tour circuit. We asked Keith Loria, Contributing Editor at Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS to find out what is in store for this year’s tour. 11/4/2015

Pundit’s Mailbag – Rutger’s VanVranken Offers Upbeat Info On Farm-to-School And School Garden Programs, But Do These Well-Meaning Efforts Change Consumption In Adults? shares a letter from Richard VanVranken, who is an astute analyst and has contributed to the Pundit in pieces. Now he weighs in on a subject close to his base at Rutgers but with national implications. 8/25/2015

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Local Conundrum Is What We Really Have A Failure To Communicate? We Need Each Other To Boost Consumption reports that producers outside New Jersey are watching with interest what the Garden State does in defining local. Our piece, New Jersey Prepares To Define Local, But Do We Need To Penalize Retailers?, along with our follow-up piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Jersey Fresh: Local Before Local Was Local! — brought these comments from a producer, Tom O’Brien, President of C&D Fruit and Vegetable. The question comes down to this: What are consumers really aiming to achieve by buying local? 5/27/2015

Pundit’s Mailbag — Jersey Fresh: Local Before Local Was Local! Can Vic Savanello And Beth Feehan Find Common Ground? Do Consumers Actually Need An Official Definition For Everything? shares that we received a number of responses regarding our piece, New Jersey Prepares To Define Local, But Do We Need To Penalize Retailers? How The Initiative Will Hurt Jersey Farmers And Consumers Vic Savanello Speaks Out. One thoughtful writer is passionate about local: Beth Feehan, Director of the New Jersey Farm to School Network, and she wanted to share some “food for thought” with the industry. 5/25/2015

New Jersey Prepares To Define Local, But Do We Need To Penalize Retailers? How The Initiative Will Hurt Jersey Farmers And Consumers. Vic Savanello Speaks Out finds New Jersey seems intent on defining “locally grown” and then imposing fines if that definition is not adhered to. Vic Savanello, Director of Produce & Floral for Allegiance Retail Services and President of the Eastern Produce Council, sees trouble down the road if the state starts issuing fines, saying that, “This could be the demise of potentially the most powerful marketing tool we’ve ever had in our tool box.” We asked Vic to explain the situation, state his case and detail what he thinks needs to be done. 5/18/2015

The Renaissance Of The Wholesale Sector — Why Those Who Support 'Locally Grown' Should Support Investment In Market Intermediaries. Cornell University Professor Miguel Gómez Reveals Research Findings At The London Produce Show And Conference reports that this year at the 2nd edition of the London Produce Show & Conference we are expanding our cooperation with Cornell and will have two separate presentations by two well-respected faculty members. We are honored to have Professor Miguel Gómez join us in London. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out what Professor Gómez has in store for us in London. 5/13/2015

Consumers Want To Know But Do They Know What They Want? And How Much Do They Care About Lunch? Michael Wilde And Steve Savage Speak Out reports that recently we received notice about a Dutch apple grower who consumers can learn about via a new code and website scheme. Certainly many believe that consumers want to know more about the production of their food, thus Wal-Mart’s full size cut-outs of local farmers. It is very nice that people can enter a grower code on a web site and learn about a farm or a farmer. But what percentage of consumers is interested in doing this for hundreds of food items they may buy? And even if they did it, how could they evaluate meaningfully the information available? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 2/25/2015

Rooftop Greenhouse, Gotham Greens, Highlights Brooklyn Retail/Urban Ag Tour At New York Produce Show mentions how each year at The New York Produce Show and Conference, we run a series of industry tours. On this year’s Brooklyn Tour, the highlight is the cutting-edge Gotham Greens facility sitting atop the Whole Foods Store in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It is a fascinating project and we asked Pundit Contributing Editor Mark Hamstra to find out more from Viraj Puri, Cofounder and CEO of Gotham Greens. 12/1/2014

Connecticut Professor Ben Campbell Comes Back To The New York Produce Show With Seminal Work On Consumer Reaction To The Marketing Of Locally Grown Produce  highlights Ben Campbell, Assistant Professor and Extension Economist in the Dept. of Agricultural and Resource Economics of the University of Connecticut. The involvement of UCONN with The New York Produce Show and Conference is almost wholly due to Dr. Campbell’s personal willingness. His research has always been intriguing, and we have discussed his previous work here. This year Professor Campbell is pushing the research to the next level. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 12/1/2014

Before Taking Center Stage At New York Produce Show, Celebrity Chef Dave Pasternack Advises The Industry To 'Make It Simple' thanks to a grant from Earthbound Farms, The New York Produce Show and Conference will be presenting Chef Dave Pasternack, a super important culinary trendsetter. He will be cooking on the Central Park Celebrity Chef Stage, and he will be doing work that is near to his heart. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott recently met up with Chef Pasternack at his Esca restaurant in between the lunch and dinner shifts to learn more about the man, his cooking and his plans for The New York produce show and Conference. 11/18/2014

Professor Miguel Gómez Returns To The New York Produce Show And Conference To Unveil A New Study That Points Out A Path For Getting More Produce Into Hospitals  feels there is no hotter subject in America than health care, and when we heard Professor Gómez was working at the intersection of the produce system and the health care delivery system, and wanted to present on the topic at The New York Produce Show and Conference, we eagerly said yes. Then we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to give us a ”sneak preview” of what Professor Gómez will talk about in New York. 11/13/2014

Total Produce Pioneers Hi-Tech Access For Produce-Related Content While Learning What Consumers Really Love shares how we received notice that Total Produce, the Irish headquartered spinoff of the old Fyffes Banana and Fresh Produce Group, which now has an ownership interest in Oppy, was employing Near Field Communications technology to create a new tool to interact with consumers. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott to find out more from Vincent Dolan, European Marketing Manager with Total Produce. 5/18/2014

A Cornell Study On New York Wines Raises A Fresh Question: What Do We Mean When We Ask About Local? describes how each year The New York Produce Show and Conference features our University Exchange Program, where we bring in students, provide them with a special education program and expose them to the industry. Simultaneously, faculty members from the same universities provide presentations of their most cutting-edge research so they can fulfill their mission of disseminating knowledge. One of the most popular presenters is returning for the fourth consecutive year and we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Manager Mira Slott to get us a sneak preview. 11/12/2013

Pundit’s Mailbag – When Children Are At Stake: How Can Schools Prioritize Local Over Safe? our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — The End Of The Yeoman Farmer? Does Society Care Enough About PTI And FSMA To Put The Small Farmer Out Of Business? brought this note from David Sasuga, Founder of Fresh Origins, exploring the consequences of “loopholes and exemptions.” David’s letter is intriguing. Whatever the arguments for local or small-scale farming, could any parent forgive a school if a child ever died from a pathogen on produce and they learned that the school had elected to waive its requirements for all vendors to be third-party audited for food safety in order to buy from local farmers? 7/26/2013

Pundit’s Mailbag – The End Of The Yeoman Farmer? Does Society Care Enough About PTI And FSMA To Put The Small Farmer Out Of Business? shares this note from frequent Pundit contributor Bob Sanderson, who responded to our piece, With Wal-Mart’s PTI Mandate and 100% Guarantee On Produce, One Wonders If Local Is Included Or Is There More Fluff Than Real Stuff; Unions Will Be Watching. That article explained that we had real doubts about the extent to which Wal-Mart was going to enforce its self-proclaimed PTI standards on small local growers, heritage agriculture partners, etc. After acknowledging the possible difficulties this could pose for food safety, Bob is, in a sense, asking if this is bad or the way we want to develop the food system. 7/22/2013

With Wal-Mart’s PTI Mandate And 100% Guarantee On Produce, One Wonders If Local Is Included Or Is There More Fluff Than Real Stuff; Unions Will Be Watching Carefully reports how, like a one-two punch, Wal-Mart has roiled the produce industry with two separate announcements. It declared that it would begin to enforce the requirements of the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI)on vendors and that it would “recommit” to providing consumers with the freshest fruits and vegetables by rolling out a “100 percent money-back guarantee” for consumers. Significant organizational change would also be executed in order to accomplish this goal. The announcements are sufficiently vague to sound like PR fluff. To the extent they are specific, they raise as many questions as answers. 6/6/2013

The Disconnect Between Marketing Of Local And Sales Of Local And The Necessity For Promoting What We Actually Sell received this letter from Craig Padover, Account and Category Manager at Jac. Vandenberg Inc., who wrote to say that he strongly disagreed “with your lengthy discussion and conclusions during the Perishable Pundit Thought Leaders Opening Breakfast Symposium about the growing trend of “locally grown” items in the produce department. This is simply incorrect.” We may need to distinguish between procurement or sales trends and marketing trends. And, are retailers doing enough to communicate how proud they are of their non-local produce? 1/22/2013

AeroFarms, EcoSPACES and St. Phillip’s Academy Offer A Glimpse Of The Future On The New Jersey Retail Tour Of The New York Produce Show And Conference one of the highlights of The New York Produce Show and Conference is the extensive tour schedule. This year it boasts six incredible tours, and those signing up for the New Jersey retail tour also get a little treat. They will get exposed to a cutting edge urban agriculture system that does not depend on sun or soil. It was such an interesting concept we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Manager Mira Slott to go visit the operation and find out more. 12/2/2012

Industry Veteran Dawn Gray To Discuss The Concept Of “Glocal” At Global Trade Symposium mentions how we last caught up with Dawn Gray when she was living in New Zealand and was working for ENZA— Pundit Pulse of The Industry: Enza’s Dawn Gray. We heard that in Dawn’s work, she was increasingly wrestling with the question of how in an age of global trade, producers and marketers could relate to the trending interest in where one’s food comes from. We were thrilled when Dawn accepted our invitation to address The Global Trade Symposium at The New York Produce Show and Conference. We wanted a sneak preview of what Dawn would be presenting and asked Jodean Robbins Duarte one of our senior contributing editors at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, to find out more. 11/27/2012

Perceptions & Misperceptions: Consumer Attitudes On Organic & Local — University Of Connecticut Study To Be Unveiled At New York Produce Show & Conference learned that Professor Benjamin Campbell of the University of Connecticut was doing most interesting work regarding organic and local. We were thrilled to expand the New York Produce Show and Conference’s University Exchange Program to include both him and students from UConn this year. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to gain some insight as to what Professor Campbell will be presenting in New York on December 5. 10/25/2012

Ten Years, Ten Lessons Learned: A Look At The European Produce Industry Through The Eyes Of Freshfel’s Philippe Binard as the trade gathers for the PMA Fresh Summit convention in Anaheim, we thought we would look half-way across the world to Belgium, where Freshfel, sort of a PMA and United combined for Europe, is headquartered. It is a young association — just having celebrated its 10th anniversary. We reached out across the Atlantic and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to ask Philippe Binard, Secretary General of Freshfel Europe, to identify ten lessons learned during the last decade. 10/25/2012

State Financing Of Refinery Versus Food Production Is No Simple Decision excerpts an opinion piece from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, titled, “Food for all our neighbors: We should invest as much in Western Pennsylvania agriculture as we do in a ‘cracker’ plant”. The author of the piece is Joseph Bute, the president of Hollymead Capital, a Gibsonia, Pennsylvania-based company that supports the creation of sustainable enterprises in low- and moderate-income communities. He makes an interesting argument, but we don’t think the solution is as obvious to us as it is to him. 10/15/2012

Without Clear Proof, Industry Suffers From Mango Recall And Is Left To Defend Itself shares a letter from Dave Westendorf of Bay Area Produce, who writes to us with his thoughts on the Daniella Mango Recall. We appreciate Dave’s note, partly because it is heart-felt and thoughtful and partly because it gives us an opportunity to review many attitudes commonly shared in the produce industry — attitudes that although “true” may still require reexamination. Here we examine four specific points that Dave makes. 9/6/2012

Organics, Crop Yields And Feeding The World observes how media and public-policy types often get caught up in the buzz over organics, and the produce industry is mostly willing to oblige. It is, however, worthwhile to realize that organic food is really a comparably tiny industry. Steve Savage is a consultant who writes frequently on issues related to sustainability. He recently completed a deep dive into the data available on organic crops. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more. 2/15/2012

As Organic Produce Grows Beyond Local And National Borders, Will Government Step In To Set Definitions And Change Certifications? saw a piece in The New York Times titled, “Organic Agriculture May Be Outgrowing Its Ideals.” Nothing in the piece is new to industry members, but it is interesting, partly because it raises the question of what, precisely, the role of government ought to be in defining standards that presumably are supposed to help consumers make purchasing decisions. The piece focuses on the fact — shocking — that a producer can be organic and yet not meet various standards some might wish had been set for water usage, small scale, sustainable, etc. In fact, horror of horrors, some organic produce is grown utilizing “intensive irrigation.” 1/4/2012

Farmer Lee Jones To Keynote IDEATION FRESH Foodservice Forum At The New York Produce Show And Conference received a letter in response to our coverage of the cantaloupe crisis from Karl Kolb Ph.D., Chief Science Officer at The High Sierra Group, who is also food safety consultant to a small, but certainly not obscure, farm in Ohio that is known as The Chef’s Garden. The public face of this operation is Farmer Lee Jones, who speaks widely and frequently on topics related to farming, sustainability, chefs and similar topics. Now we are thrilled to announce that Farmer Lee Jones has agreed to keynote the IDEATION FRESH Foodservice Forum. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to meet with Farmer Jones and discover more in advance of his appearance. 10/27/2011

A Choice Had To Be Made: Which Was The Top Priority: Buying Cheap, Buying Regional Or Buying Safe? reports that we received more than a few irate contacts when we dared to suggest that the Wal-Mart buyer who bought this produce was focusing on local and regional, not on the highest food safety standards. Of course, everything is relative, and to some, such as Dan Cohen of Maccabee Seed Company, Jensen Farms should be seen as neither local nor small. We appreciate him giving us a chance to comment on this issue. Local has no legal definition in produce marketing. Our point was that the buyers are not in any way incentivized to make this choice based on food safety. 10/23/2011

CANTALOUPE CRISIS ANALYSIS: Key Performance Indicators and Food Safety... Shall The Twain Ever Meet? examines how despite all the talk of food safety being a priority, retailers have been unable to find a mechanism beyond establishing minimum standards to enforce food safety as a corporate priority. By using the phrase “minimum standards,” we are not implying that the standards are low. We are simply pointing out that the buying staff is not incentivized to pay more for product in order to get product that is safer. Instead the buying staff is precluded from buying product below a set standard and then is given every incentive to buy on the basis of price above that standard. 10/12/2011

THE CANTALOUPE CRISIS The Truth That Dare Not Speak Its Name: The Priority Can Be Safe or The Priority Can Be Local, But It Cannot Be Both finds that it is, of course, horribly sad that 18 people have died in the Multistate Outbreak of Listeriosis Linked to Whole Cantaloupes from Jensen Farms, Colorado. Yet, we would say it is not shocking. We also would say that whatever the specific cause of this outbreak, the more general cause is the local food movement. More specifically, the willingness of large buyers to waive food safety standards so they can buy regionally. 10/4/2011

Cornell Professors To Present At The New York Produce Show And Conference: New Ways of Thinking About Local: Can The East Coast Develop A Broccoli Industry? mentions that among the most intriguing intelligences out there is that of Miguel I. Gomez from Cornell, and he is going to introduce us and all of the attendees of this year’s New York Produce Show & Conference to his colleague, Thomas Bjorkman who is Associate Professor of Vegetable Physiology, Department of Horticultural Sciences at Cornell University. This dynamic duo is working on the development of an East Coast broccoli industry that the researchers believe might be able to account for as much as 10% of US production. We also think that Professors Gomez and Bjorkman have posed an intellectual challenge that will cause many to rethink what sustainability and local actually means. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Manager Mira Slott to find out more from Professors Miguel I. Gomez and Thomas Bjorkman of Cornell University. 9/22/2011

A Local Dilemma: What’s A Farmer To Do When Supermarkets Come Knocking? extends a hat tip to John Vena, President of John Vena Inc. and board member of the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, for sending along a piece about locally grown produce in the Philadelphia area titled: “Picking Markets: Some Local Farmers Discover Hidden Costs of Selling Wholesale.” The article describes how the “locally grown” phenomenon is attracting retailers to small producers and what may be seen by some farmers as an alluring opportunity to sell their produce to supermarkets could in actuality be a double edged sword. 9/22/2011

Pretending To Buy Local: Why Is Wal-Mart Ashamed Of Its Important Role In Bringing The Produce Of The Country And The World To Its Customers At A Reasonable Cost? explains that there is no reason not to celebrate good locally grown produce, but there is also no reason to be ashamed of a worldwide distribution network that brings peak-of-the-season produce from growers all over the country and around the world to the smallest towns in the US at a highly reasonable price. In the end Wal-Mart, and any large retailer, can’t gain from pretending to be something it is not. 8/3/2011

Remember When? New Study Shows That Memory Can Be Affected By Peer Pressure shares a really fascinating study done at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, in collaboration with University College London in the UK, has interesting — and mostly scary — implications for advertising, marketing and society at large. The question researchers were studying is whether social pressure can create false memories. The assumption, though, has been that people are willing to lie to fit in or to not make waves... that, in effect, people knowingly falsify their beliefs to conform to social demands. This study could point to reasons why consumers might report that local or organic is more flavorful, if that is the consensus, even if their experience doesn’t support it. 7/6/2011

Is Locally Grown Produce “Worth It”? our piece, Reality Check For Locally Grown Advocates: Economics Don’t Measure Up, brought many responses, including a thought-provoking letter from Adam King, Produce Manager at the Wheatsville Co-Op. We stand on the side of those consumers who wish to eat raw foods, organic foods or locally grown foods. Yet, there is always a difference between the choice of an individual and a public policy choice. We appreciate honesty in argument and so Mr. King’s assessment that locally grown foods cost more and are worth more is notable. Cost is pretty objective, and we take Mr. King at his word. When he says locally grown foods are “worth more,” we immediately ask: To whom? 4/7/2011

Pundit's Mailbag — Buying Locally Grown And The Freedom To Choose Otherwise our piece, Reality Check For Locally Grown Advocates: Economics Don’t Measure Up, brought many thoughtful letters, some of which we featured in our piece titled Is Locally Grown Produce “Worth It”. Now we thought we would focus on a powerful letter from Beth Feehan, the director of a New Jersey non-profit. We appreciate Ms. Feehan’s note as it gives us an excellent opportunity to distinguish between two very different issues. Issues that in our extensive coverage of local often get conflated. 5/2/2011

Fraudulent Farmer’s Markets ‘Detrimental To Legitimate Farms, Retailers And To Consumers’ our piece, Fraud At Farmer’s Markets, focused on the issue of fraud committed by vendors at these markets who sell produce that the vendors claim is grown on their own farm, grown locally, grown without the use of any “sprays” etc., etc., but in reality is conventional produce bought at the local wholesale market. We received a number of letters and thought this one particularly thoughtful from David Sasuga, Owner of Fresh Origins. Part of David’s point is that there is a public-policy concern here. In an age of tight municipal budgets — or for that matter in any age — it is obviously not acceptable to have people cheating on the fees due to the municipality. Of course, we would make the point stronger by asking what business any municipality has in giving any particular group of vendors control of municipal property. 2/9/2011

“Buying Direct” Is Not The Same As “Buying Local” — C.H. Robinson, Wal-Mart And The Perils Of Public Disclosure reports C.H. Robinson recently announced its 4th Quarter Results with these lines: “For the fourth quarter, our Sourcing revenues decreased 6.5 percent. Sourcing net revenues decreased 4.2 percent to $31.7 million in 2010 from $33.1 million in 2009, primarily due to decreased volumes with a large customer.” Being a public company offers enormous advantages. It also sometimes requires companies to make disclosures private companies do not. The announcement was widely misinterpreted. CHR was careful to explain that its biggest customer, Wal-Mart, had a new procurement policy, and it was electing to buy more “direct” rather than through C.H. Robinson. Editors and analysts who don’t really understand what is going on quickly assumed that buying “direct” is the same thing as buying “local” and so you started seeing headlines claiming that CHR’s produce business was dropping because Wal-Mart was buying local. In fact “local” and “direct” are not synonyms, and CHR’s drop in produce sales to Wal-Mart has very little to do with any local procurement. 2/9/2011

Fraud At Farmer’s Markets saw that the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles has been doing a series about enormous fraud going on in farmer’s markets. An investigation by NBCLA reporters found that when they went to look at the farms referenced on the permits vendors have to sell at Farmer’s Markets, the farms were abandoned or didn’t grow the cornucopia of items these vendors sold. Undercover NBCLA reporters also followed trucks headed to the Farmer’s Market, and they wound up at big wholesale warehouses in downtown Los Angeles. NBCLA also noted that all kinds of unsubstantiated and often false claims were being made about pesticides. The fact that the operators of the farmer’s markets don’t act aggressively to prevent such a problem and that so little is heard about this from the pro-local community indicates the degree to which ideology has transcended reality. 2/2/2011

Food Safety Bill Now Seems Likely To Pass With Exemption For Small Producers: FMI And NRA Refused To Join Ranks With The Produce Industry To Stop It. Final Bill Is An Attack On Wholesalers And Distributors reports that 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. 12/9/2010

Produce Associations Withdraw Support Of Food Safety Bill After Amendment Is Added To Exempt Small Farms And Local Growers reveals that a Who’s Who of produce associations has sent a letter to the powers that be in the United States Senate, announcing that due to an amendment to the food safety bill that would provide exemptions for small and local growers, they can no longer support the bill that they have been supported up to this point. Unfortunately, it may not matter. The Senate voted for cloture — to end debate — on the bill by a vote of 74 to 25, meaning the vote will take place within 60 days. Perhaps the industry can still influence the shape of the bill but we would say the math is against this effort. However, there are other issues. 11/22/2010

Hunts Point Produce Market Unveils New Marketing/PR Campaign At The New York Produce Show And Conference explains that the Hunts Point Market is probably the most misunderstood institution in our industry. Retailers often think they save money by cutting out the middleman, but there is a great deal of doubt about that point. Shippers also sometimes misunderstand the value of Hunts Point to their business. The truth is that the market and the people on it don’t get the respect they deserve. Now, this colossus of produce marketing is stirring and about to do some marketing of its own, a kickoff of which is taking place at The New York Produce Show and Conference, which includes a special tour of the market. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Joel Fierman, President of Joseph Fierman & Son. 11/8/2010

Bottom Line On Local: Geography Does Not Determine Taste our piece questioning whether sales of “local” were actually booming — titled Waiting For The Dust To Settle On Sales Of Locally Grown — led frequent contributor Eric Schwartz, President and CEO of Patterson Vegetable Company to send this note in which he mentions how a focus on taste as opposed to shelf life could drive up consumption. The theoretical advantage that local may have on providing peak-of-the-season freshness is not likely to play out in fresh in reality. In fact, whatever its theoretical advantage in taste, there is precious little evidence that local actually tastes better than nationally shipped produce. 11/5/2010

When In New York… Meet The Vegetable Butcher At Mario Batali’s Eataly explains that when we sat down to design The New York Produce Show and Conference, we knew it would be a shame to bring so many people to the Big Apple and have them spend the whole time in a convention center. Thus was born a tour program running from Philadelphia to New York. It is not unusual that the most anticipated stop on the tour should be the newest food concept — Eataly. The store has incredible things for all departments, but for produce it has something unique: America’s first vegetable butcher, Jennifer Rubell, who turns food into art. Rubell masterminded the job of Vegetable Butcher at Eataly. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out what does this mean? 11/5/2010

Waiting For The Dust To Settle On Sales Of Locally Grown saying that local is all the rage is not subject to question. However, there is a real question about the degree to which sales of “locally grown” are actually increasing and what any increase might mean. There is a lot of marketing going on around local right now. Don’t assume sales are as intense as the marketing until we see real numbers. 10/25/2010

Pundit Mailbag — Professor John Stanton’s Presentation At New York Produce Show And Conference ‘Worth The Registration Fee Alone’ our piece highlighting Professor John Stanton’s research into the local vs. organic issue, titled Research To Be Unveiled At The New York Produce Show And Conference Shows ‘Local’ Preference Versus Organic, brought this enthusiastic response from Jim Allen, President of the New York Apple Association. We appreciate Jim’s vote of confidence and, yes, the conference alone would be worth attending. Add in a trade show, cooking demos, networking events, general session and the historical nature of this event and we feel very good about how it is all coming together. 10/25/2010

Research To Be Unveiled At The New York Produce Show And Conference Shows ‘Local’ Preference Versus Organic mentions that among the things that those of us at the Eastern Produce Council and PRODUCE BUSINESS are most proud of regarding The New York Produce Show and Conference is how hard we’ve worked to draw on the intellectual activity of the region. One of the workshops will unveil important research on the theme of “Local vs. Organic,” utilizing apples as a case study. The ground-breaking research was conducted by Professor John Stanton, Associate Professor Fred Wirth, both in the Department of Food Marketing at St. Joseph’s University, and D.R. Wiley, a specialist in choice theory. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to learn more about the research John will present. 10/21/2010

Is Wal-Mart’s Local Produce Initiative A Public Relations Stunt? saw that The New York Times ran a piece titled, “Wal-Mart to Buy More Local Produce,” which detailed some new Wal-Mart goals surrounding its commitment to locally grown produce. There are a lot of goals being conflated here and for the most part it is difficult to know if it means much at all. In fact, all this sounds like a marketing gimmick. 10/21/2010

A New Hypothesis On Local: To Boost Sales, Sell It Through Supermarkets... Cornell’s Miguel Gomez Previews His Upcoming Talk At The New York Produce Show And Conference reveals that a part of undertaking the New York Produce Show & Conference has involved an outreach to local centers of learning where we have sought out brilliant young scholars who are working hard to better understand issues of concern to the trade. Within this category is Miguel I. Gomez of Cornell University. Professor Gomez will be coming to Manhattan to discuss a research project on local supply chains. We asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to see if she could give us a sneak preview as to what attendees would learn at The New York Produce Show and Conference. 10/1/2010

Are Critics Of Local Programs Devoid Of Taste Buds? reports we continue to receive letters related to our series of pieces on the UC Davis/Sodexo procurement system. Here we share another from a most interesting individual, Anaiis Salles, Grass Roots Organizer with the Menu for the Future Collaboration. Whether Ms. Salles or the Pundit prefer food from a local area isn’t important. The question is, in fact, whether there is some public policy at issue to justify overriding people’s preferences. When the students want and would pay for grapes in the winter — should that decision be made verboten? 10/1/2010

Rational Thinking On Locavore Movement A Welcome Sight highlights Virginia Postrel as among the most provocative and insightful people writing today. The Wall Street Journal just gave Ms. Postrel a bi-weekly column and she devoted her first iteration to the locavore movement: “No Free Locavore Lunch.” On her blog she captures perfectly the real appeal of the locavore movement in a piece titled, “From Exotic to Local: The Changing Nature of Produce Glamour.” In general, Ms. Postrel got it right. On a guttural level, the local movement is mostly a high-end rebellion against the ubiquity of formerly exotic and gourmet produce. The produce industry should supply local for the same reason the dress industry supplies mini-skirts one year and maxi-skirts the next — it is a matter of consumer demand. 10/1/2010

Pundit Mailbag — Where Does ‘Affordability’ Fit Into UC Davis’ Local Decision our coverage of local and sustainability — and particularly our series on the UC Davis/Sodexo procurement program — has engendered great interest and brought this letter from Stan Foster, Sales Manager with MOARK LLC. We think Mr. Foster cuts to the chase. To give ‘local’ preferred treatment in procurement has to mean buying local when one otherwise would not have purchased the product. So either the local product did not meet some specification or required more staffing to procure, or the local product was more expensive. 10/1/2010

Pundit Mailbag — Taste Trumps Over ‘Local’ our extensive discussion of the “local” phenomenon has recently included three pieces revolving around the procurement policies at Sodexo/UC Davis and a related workshop held at the PMA Foodservice Conference. These pieces have brought a number of comments, including this one from Chris Puentes, President of Interfresh, Inc. Chris’ comparison with the COOL movement is apt in many ways—and some quite scary. 10/1/2010

Dissecting The Meaning Of Local, Sustainable And Flavorful publishes a letter from two distinguished UC Davis faculty members who moderated the original panel discussion on the “local” phenomenon at PMA’s Foodservice Conference. We greatly appreciate that Dr. Hardesty and Dr. Feenstra took time to write. This is an important issue for the industry, and their expertise can doubtless enlighten us all. Yet we confess to being confused when reading the argument laid out in the way it is in this letter. 9/10/2010

Tom Reardon of Michigan State University Speaks Out: Wither Local? our piece analyzing a session at PMA’s Foodservice Conference was titled, Everyone Is In Favor of Better Flavor But Is ‘Local’ A Solution Or An Ideology? In it, we lamented that everyone on the panel seemed to be in agreement and, as such, hard questions weren’t being asked. We’ve received many letters on the piece including a piece from some of the panel participants. We thought, however, that we would start with a submission from a distinguished academic who sees local from halfway around the world: Tom Reardon, Professor in International Development and Agribusiness/Food Industry Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics Michigan State University. 8/30/2010

More On PMA Foodservice…Everyone Is In Favor Of Better Flavor But Is ‘Local’ A Solution Or An Ideology? points out that the program highlight of this year’s PMA Foodservice Conference was the first two sessions, in which a discussion of the Foodservice 2020 Initiative, with its goal to double the use of fresh produce in foodservice by 2020, neatly flowed into a second session focused on local. “Local” holds within it a whole group of consumer desires, which may or may not actually be in the product. 8/10/2010

Is Marking Some Produce “Farm To Store In 24” Good For Fresh & Easy? Is It Good For The Produce Industry? finds Fresh & Easy is running a program that promotes its ability to get product into the store in 24 hours. This whole line of promotion is a little curious. It is being trumpeted as if it is a great novelty and innovation, yet in California this is not uncommon. Even more curious is whether the produce arrives from the farm, or the packinghouse, in 24 hours. To us the bigger issue is whether, today, with the local movement so strong, this approach is good for either Fresh & Easy or the produce industry. 7/27/2010

Wal-Mart’s Heritage Agriculture Program Gets Good Press But Doesn’t Make A Dent explains that although the free market is pretty efficient in determining where things are grown, buyers seeking lower prices and better product are part of that free market, so it is very desirable for a buyer of Wal-Mart’s size to have a few people out there looking to find local procurement opportunities that are unconventional and make sense. For the most part, though, as nice as this may all be, it really is not significant. To an extent, it is no more than an extension of Wal-Mart’s old “store of the community” program — trying to be locally relevant. 6/29/2010

Kings Super Markets Announces Innovative CSA Program noticed that CSAs, or community supported agriculture, and other non-traditional mechanisms to connect consumers with the farm are blossoming all over America and posing a problem for conventional retailing: How to deal with this new competition. At least one innovative US retailer has decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. 6/29/2010

‘Buy American’ and ‘Buy Local’ Requirements Confusing School Foodservice Buyers...Chilean Fresh Fruit Association Speaks Out reports that school foodservice programs are enormous purchasers of food and have influence on the next generation of shoppers. The Chilean Fresh Fruit Association recognizes this and spoke out over the confusion surrounding the USDA’s “Buy American” School Foodservice Provision. As a practical matter, the “Buy American” provisions are unlikely to have much practical effect on fresh produce procurement at all. What is probably going to be more of an issue for the commercial produce industry is the local movement, as represented in ‘Eat Smart-Farm Fresh!’ — this initiative does encourage local purchases. The whole thing is, not surprisingly, political and horribly unfair. 2/19/2010

Wal-Mart Produce Procurement ‘Set Up For Devastating End’ explains that recently our coverage surrounding Wal-Mart has been on the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of a procurement model Wal-Mart has been testing in Washington State on apples. Now we received this letter from a knowledgeable observer who writes that its executives have effectively set Wal-Mart up for a devastating end in regards to the apple commodity. While not opposed to local growers benefiting from big business, our writer states that, absent a strategic supplier held accountable for insuring that a legitimate food safety program is in place, this has “worst case scenario” written all over it. 1/28/2010

‘Eat Seasonably’ Campaign Another Example Of Misguided Intentions heard a battle was brewing in Britain between eating seasonably advocates and the fruit and vegetable industry, and asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more from Nigel Jenney, President of the Fresh Produce Consortium. We ran focus groups on sustainability in the UK and found consumers waxing poetic about “local” and the need to limit “food miles.” It became obvious they had a peculiar definition of “local” preferring produce from Scotland 800 miles away to French produce 20 miles away. Nigel points out that whatever benefits might be found to be incurred as a result of eating locally, these benefits are likely to pale before the advantages realized through a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. A strictly “local” and “seasonable” diet, with highly restricted availability and selection is likely to lead to lower produce consumption with all the health-related issues implied. 7/23/2009

Is Produce Traceability Initiative Worth The Investment? reprints a copy of a letter that a Midwestern firm sent to David Gombas, Senior Vice President of Food Safety and Technology, United Fresh Produce Association, critiquing the Produce Traceability Initiative. In it, one of his many points is: “that ‘local’ trumps food safety.” Mr. Fritz questions the sincerity of the Initiative, pointing out that despite the trade’s supposed commitment to food safety standards, these standards are regularly waived for local growers. Surely many will never enforce these traceability standards and will simply buy from the cheapest guy, and what is United — or its association partners in this venture, PMA and CPMA — going to do about that? 1/29/2009

Tree Fruit Industry In Turmoil recounts how during a recent quick trip to California the Pundit had a delightful visit with Al and Mary Vangelos where we discussed challenges facing growers and, particularly, the California tree fruit industry. Upon our return, we received a letter from another prominent tree fruit executive explaining what is going on the industry. In it he mentioned the summertime plethora of ‘promote local’ programs that contribute to constraining market access for long periods during the season. It is quite a letter. It correctly details so many of the trade’s problems, one of which being that locally grown programs are causing many problems not fully realized. 1/13/2009

New Segment On Fox Highlights Local Eating saw that Fox & Friends has kicked off a new segment called “Keep it Local” in which Meteorologist Rick Reichmuth stars in at least these first two segments. “You can eat locally year ‘round,” says Rick, “It does such great things for the environment. It is so much healthier and it kind of makes an adventure out of eating.” Rick’s segment gives us yet another opportunity to explain our stance on “Locally Grown”. There is no evidence local is healthier, the environmental argument is ambiguous and support for the local economy depends on one’s definition of what truly is local. We wish that reporters felt obliged to explain things rather than assert them. 1/7/2009

Though Traceability Initiative Is A Big Win, Weak Links Still Exist we’ve focused much attention on traceability. What is going on now is that the Produce Traceability Final Action Plan is being shopped around the industry by senior officers of the trade associations to get endorsements By asking for endorsements but without any requirement that buyers agree to restrain their supply chain and only buy from producers who meet the standards, much less that they agree to be audited for that fact, this traceability initiative looks like another opportunity for a big double standard. Just as many buyers use supposed enthusiasm over locally grown product as an excuse to buy from less expensive sources, surely many buyers will find reason to waive any traceability requirements and buy from the cheapest source. 9/9/2008

Digging Into Wal-Mart’s ‘Locally Grown’ Numbers observed how Wal-Mart’s recent announcement that it was making a national commitment to buy locally grown produce brought on many TV, web and newspaper reports. Although, Wal-Mart seems to refer to produce grown “in state” as local, they don’t ever officially define what it means by “locally grown,” so it is difficult to ascertain the significance of the effort. Look at the nine growers Wal-Mart highlights as its “local growers” and you wonder if these mostly large growers correspond to what consumers think they are supporting when they “buy local.” 8/28/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Wegmans Responds To ‘Double Standard’ Allegation our recent piece, New York Times Article Reveals Double Standard On Food Safety, caught the interest of many. Some were large growers applauding attention being paid to this issue, and several were retailers objecting to the characterization of the situation as a “double standard,” most specifically in the form of a letter from David Corsi, VP of Produce and Floral for Wegmans Food Markets. We have often praised Wegmans for a progressive attitude on food safety, we also have praised Dave Corsi, personally, for leadership on food safety, in all fairness, we never saw this as an issue particular to Wegmans. The issue of differential treatment of local growers applies to all retailers who run real local programs. Dave’s announcement that Wegmans is moving to mandatory GAP audits for food safety purposes on locally grown product is very good news. It sets Wegmans up as a leader, and we hope others will follow this example. 8/19/2008

New York Times Article Reveals Double Standard On Food Safety excerpts a piece from The New York Times about the locally grown movement, portraying chains such as Hannaford, Wegmans and King Kullen as being big locally grown advocates. It is all pretty upbeat, yet the piece pulls back at the hard questions. The shocking thing about the story is that it didn’t confront the double standard on food safety. Usually small growers sell such a small quantity they slip through the detection systems, but we have no basis for thinking locally grown produce is safer. So most likely we will continue, regulated or not, with a two-tier system under which large growers are expected to do all kinds of things for food safety and the same requirements are ignored for small producers. 8/7/2008

President Criticizes Farm Bill observed that during a Presidential Press Conference, President Bush spoke out on a range of issues. Although he didn’t threaten a veto, he didn’t like the Farm Bill much. A bunch of advocacy groups praised President Bush for supporting the locally grown movement. But an honest reading of his comments shows he was talking about buying local in troubled regions of the world. This point is really crucial. If you take an impoverished country and dump free food, you often deprive local growers of any market. You certainly depress local prices. Instead of dumping free food around the world, we could actually create incentives for local production by providing the means to buy food. This fact, though both important and true, has virtually nothing to do with consumers buying locally grown produce here in America. 5/2/2008

Cantaloupe ‘Alert’ Reaches Guam; What’s An Island To Do? explains that when there is a food safety issue such as the recent “import alert”, it reverberates around the world. We received a note that in distant Guam, the Department of Public Health & Social Services learned that cantaloupes from Agropecuaria Montelibano had found their way there and so issued a public health warning. In order to get close to the consumer, we wanted to speak with a retailer. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott did some digging and found the largest retail chain on Guam and spoke with General Manager Mike Benito, and Produce Category Manager Tom Rhodes, for Pay-Less Supermarkets. It is interesting that even so far away, the issues are so often the same: locally grown, food safety, private label, health marketing, and even in Guam, maybe especially in Guam, a boy and girl still fall in love and the guy winds up in the family business building it for the next generation. It is a beautiful thing. 4/30/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — Duke’s A Hazard shares a letter we received with accompanying magazine cover from a major force in production-side agriculture in Salinas, who says “This publication should be more aware of what’s really going on in terms of food safety and farming.” The infuriation stems from the cover which portrays Rainbow Farms owners the Klco family pictured with their pet dog. Rainbow Farms seems to sell mostly U-Pick, from a Farmstand or from various Farmer’s Markets. Perhaps, eventually, we will get to the point where we address food safety risks from this sector of the industry. Right now, as we discussed in our piece, Food Safety And ‘Locally Grown,’ our bigger concern is commercial buyers who have completely different standard or no standards at all for locally grown produce than they do for their normal suppliers. 2/22/2008

Hannaford Honored With Award For Locally Grown Program mentions that long ago we declared locally grown to be the “new organic,” now the state of Maine, acting through the Maine agriculture commissioner, has presented an award to Hannaford for its focus on assisting Maine’s farmers: It is not easy to maintain a strong locally grown program, so Hannaford well deserves this award. At the heart of a strong locally grown program is supplier development, and those local growers smart enough to affiliate with a Hannaford, Wegmans or other strong locally grown program have an advantage as these retail leaders are the best positioned to help point local growers toward what they need to do next to upgrade their standards and the level of transparency and accountability. 2/15/2008

Pundit’s Mailbag — A Closer Look At Chefs Collaborative’s Mission Statement our piece, Chefs Collaborative Opposes Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, aroused passionate opposition from smaller growers, including a letter from Dale Coke, who runs a 200-plus acre organic farm. Our assessment of the Chefs Collaborative is based the fact that its mission statement says: “Chefs Collaborative works with chefs and the greater food community to celebrate local foods…” We would hold that it is wiser to evaluate the facts in each situation and be geographically agnostic in terms of preference for where food is grown. To say that local automatically deserves celebration is simply not credible. Our piece was not opposed any small farm; it was an expression of our hope that every farm will produce safe and wholesome food, a goal we are certain we share with Dale Coke. 12/11/2007

Is Wal-Mart’s ‘Heritage Agriculture’ An Initiative Driven By The Consumer Or By the CEO? discusses a talk given by Ron McCormick, V.P. of Produce at Wal-Mart at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas that focused on the company’s procurement priorities. In it, he emphasized the importance of Wal-Mart’s global sourcing initiative and also placed great emphasis on Wal-Mart’s locally grown initiatives. For the produce operation, this translates into something Ron calls “Heritage Agriculture,” which seems to involve a revival of often long-defunct agricultural production. Ron indicated that Wal-Mart would strongly encourage the revival of these local crops and similar crops around the nation. Perhaps the most interesting thing about Ron’s talk is that there was not one mention of consumer demand for these initiatives. 11/30/2007

Chefs Collaborative Opposes Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement reports the Chefs Collaborative has opposed efforts to take the standards of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement national, sending a letter to its membership encouraging them to oppose the Agreement, having already decided, without evidence, that locally grown foods are always better. The truth is that the Chefs Collaborative is not facing reality. It has fallen for propaganda put out by the Community Alliance with Family Farms, or CAFF. There is nothing magic about “small farms” that makes their produce safe. We can understand CAFF’s position because it represents small farmers who don’t want to have things like large buffer zones or inspectors on their property because it is very expensive. The Chefs Collaborative, though, should advocate for the restaurant patrons and demand the safest possible product from growers small or large. 11/30/2007

Misperceptions Of Food Miles Affect Countries Like Kenya Hardest mentions we have written before about “Food Miles” and the notion that air freight of fresh produce is a pernicious contributor to global warming. There are two immediately obvious problems with both food miles and the anti-airfreight movement: First, plucking out any particular link in the supply chain is meaningless. Second, even if it was established that air-freighted product resulted in higher carbon output than locally grown product, that hardly seems determinative. Developing countries depend on the export of agricultural products to sustain people. Are they simply to be dispensed with to obtain some hypothetical slowdown on global warming? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to see what we could learn from the Kenya High Commission’s Agricultural Attache Abraham Barno, and Trade Officer Michael Mandu. 11/21/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — The Meaning Of Food Miles And Other ‘Green’ Terms our piece, C.H. Robinson Launches Our World Organics Line, brought a number of questions, less about the line than about this phrase in our comments: “Although we wish C.H. Robinson would drop the ‘Food Miles’ language as that has now been clearly demonstrated to have no relationship to anything important.” One such letter writer asked: “If a product is grown locally and shipped locally (or at least grown closer rather than further away), wouldn’t that be a positive thing in regards to the environment?” The answer is a decided “maybe,” and that points to why promoting “Food Miles” is not a good idea. 9/18/2007

C.H. Robinson Launches Our World Organics Line announced that C.H. Robinson, demonstrating it is in sync with all that its customers are thinking about, has introduced a new brand, “Our World Organics”. Someone at C.H. Robinson has their pulse on the trends, including the hottest of all right now- Locally Grown. Plus, the company promises to donate a “percentage of net profits” to promote organic and sustainable farming and to “migrate packaging to bio-degradable, environmentally-friendly materials. It is a big undertaking, and we hope C.H. Robinson isn’t setting itself up for criticism when consumer advocates note that it isn’t able to always do all these things, and certainly not all at once. We are enormously impressed at the scope of C.H. Robinson’s ambition and its willingness to undertake a great deal to assist its customers. 9/14/2007

Wegmans Organic Research Farm: A Model For Homegrown And Organic comments that it always seems as if Wegmans has a knack for being on the cutting edge. In an age where the organic community is bifurcating between those who most value organic and those who most value locally grown, Wegmans has set up the Wegmans Organic Research Farm. The short-term mission of the farm has been to provide locally grown organic fruit, vegetables and honey to stores near its Canandaigua location. Its real goal, however, is to discover ways to profitably produce such products and then share that learning with other farmers. Can this little farm be its “front page” representing to the public the values the company and its people believe in? 9/14/2007

Serving Jingoism At An Omaha Hilton Restaurant noted that the Pundit family vacation ended with a few days in Omaha, where we stayed at the Omaha Hilton. The focus of its restaurant, the Liberty Tavern, was “At Liberty Tavern, it is our commitment to bring you the best and freshest artisan products from around the United States and only the United States.” We’re not sure what interest they are attempting to serve by this focus on “only the United States.” The menu clearly highlights the GRILLED HAWAIIAN FISH “OF THE MOMENT” and SEARED HAWAIIAN TUNA, so it is not a Food Miles or Carbon Footprint issue. The restaurant offers things like a NEW ENGLAND SEAFOOD POT PIE made with Maine Lobster, so it is not a local cuisine or locally grown initiative. There was no effort to systematically cover all the American regional cuisines, which would have been a theme. It just seems a form of jingoism. 8/15/2007

The Problem With Food Miles noticed a New York Times op-ed article entitled, “Food That Travels Well”, on the hot subject of “Food Miles” touting: “There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.” About the best one can say for this piece is that there seems to be movement on the subject so that defenders of the concept of “food miles” are giving up on defending the ridiculous — that the only thing that matters is how far the product is shipped, to defending the merely incorrect — that by carefully doing a “lifecycle assessment” of each food, we can determine where it is best to purchase food from. 8/10/2007

Marketing Of California Leafy Greens Seal Will Cause Consumer Confusion mentions that Scott Horsfall, CEO of the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement, raised a point about the use of the mark or insignia of the CLGMA that raised real concerns about the future of the Agreement. At this stage there is no problem; Scott explained that the insignia would be used on letterhead and invoices. Yet, he also said the expectation is that the insignia will be used in the future on consumer packaging and will be advertised to consumers. Consumer promotion of the seal or mark would be ill-advised for several reasons, one of which is that the seal can only be used on items that are 100% California product. So if Dole brings in iceberg for its new plant but has 2% locally grown product in there, Dole couldn’t use the seal. 7/19/2007

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Chilled Food Association’s Kaarin Goodburn explains we have scoured the world to learn what we can about food safety from other countries, but a primary focus has been the U.K. Now we have asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to speak with Kaarin Goodburn of the Chilled Food Association. There are some key points that Ms. Goodburn makes that do resonate, but at the same time some things in our conversation raise some troubling issues. This group operates only for suppliers to the multiples; it creates a kind of bifurcated food safety system. Shouldn’t all produce sold be grown and processed to the same standard? On the one hand, we are told of this exhaustive process to obtain food safety, then we are advised that British consumers increasingly want “Organic Boxes” of produce just pulled from the earth, locally grown without any of these standards. 7/4/2007

Sainsbury’s Drops Prince Charles’ Produce. British Chains Show Only Token ‘Localism’ reports that Sainsbury’s dropped two suppliers, on one day, without notice. This isn’t normally a big deal, but when both are organic, and one is Prince Charles, the other the head of the Soil Association, you have a PR mess. The Guardian reported: “The move has prompted the director of the organic food and farming charity, Patrick Holden, to accuse leading supermarkets of being so centralised and industrialised that they cannot deliver the local, organic food their customers want... Mr. Holden believes his vegetables were of the highest quality when harvested, but the combined effects of long-distance transport, handling to create large enough batches for the machines that wash and polish the vegetables and further storing after processing to create large enough batches for packing left the vegetables damaged and prone to rot.” Normally we would have little sympathy for Mr. Holden. What changes our thoughts on the matter is the sanctimonious rantings of executives at British multiples about setting an example for the world on local, organics and what not. 6/28/2007

Pundit’s Mail Bag — Food Safety Double Standard our piece, Food Safety And ‘Locally Grown’, brought an avalanche of responses, including: “part of what you say is true. The only problem we have is that small growers now are having financial problems… They do not have the financial resources to put together an elaborate safety program.” I must confess that this Pundit can’t recall a time when small growers were not struggling. In this case, though, it strikes us that food safety and locally grown are a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. As long as a grower is in competition with growers not meeting any standards, it will be hard to absorb the additional costs of meeting standards. The solution is for buyers to constrain their supply chain to only those who meet standards. 6/26/2007

Food Safety And ‘Locally Grown’ as we roll into summer, locally grown programs are blossoming all across the country, which means that food safety standards, so carefully developed after the spinach crisis, are, for the most part, being tossed aside without a second thought. National or regional grower/shippers get preached to by retailers about the importance of food safety, the grower/shippers spend substantial amounts of money to conform to the best standards… then they lose the business to completely unaudited, uncertified, untested local growers. How will retail produce executives feel if some locally grown product causes a death and that executive knows that the death occurred because they waived the chain’s food safety policy? 6/22/2007

Food’s Carbon Footprint Not Easy To Measure noticed The African Channel picked up an article by The Sunday Telegraph that was headlined “Locally Grown Food Has Higher Carbon Footprint Than Imported Products” which starts: “Conscientious consumers are being urged to buy locally sourced food in the battle against climate change.” Perhaps the key insight from the article is this: “What is clear is that the so-called ‘carbon footprint’ left by a product is a good deal more complicated than simply looking at the distance it has travelled.” We should temper our American enthusiasm for “Food miles” as it is just a marketing tool that British supermarkets have latched onto. They should be ashamed for deceiving their customers into thinking they are doing something useful. 6/15/2007

A Solution For Wal-Mart’s Organic Woes saw that Business Week ran an interesting article entitled: “Organics: A Poor Harvest for Wal-Mart” that told an interesting anecdote about organic apple grower Peter Ricker of Ricker Hill Orchards who had to switch back to conventional production because Wal-Mart didn’t come through with orders, this doesn’t add up. We are in the midst of a high demand period for both organics and locally grown, and the fact that Wal-Mart ever found Ricker is evidence of the lengths it has gone to in order to get organics. What if Lee Scott said that Wal-Mart was going to take the lead in helping America support farmers in their transition to organics by promoting the country’s largest transitional fruit and vegetable program? 6/14/2007

Whole Food’s London Store Gets Consumer Analysis announced that Whole Foods has opened its new store in London. The Daily Mail ran a great piece on how British consumers react when they encounter Whole Foods. In it they asked both its own food writer, Tom Parker Bowles, a true “foodie,” and Julie Critchlow, a housewife and mother who became a minor celebrity in the U.K. when she rebelled against a “healthy food” movement in the U.K. schools to visit the new Whole Foods and report their impressions. Tom Parker Bowles was a little skeptical because his ethos is focused on locally grown and small scale, but he wound up being bowled over by Whole Foods’ focus on local product and the interaction it encourages between food, staff and consumer. 6/12/2007

Richard Branson Chimes In On Food Miles reiterates that promoting “food miles” as something retailers and consumers should take into account is not merely unlikely to achieve any environmental benefit but, in fact, could cause harms of all different types. Sir Richard Branson has apparently come to the same conclusion. We are glad to have Sir Richard with us, but the truth is that commercial transportation is pretty efficient. What is really inefficient is individuals driving to pick up a few items. If consumers have been told to look to avoid “food miles” and drive 15 minutes out of the way to get some locally grown product at the farmer’s market, they probably emitted more carbon than would have been saved by not transporting things commercially from the furthest reaches of the earth. 6/5/2007

Hannaford Becomes First Organic-Certified Mainstream Retailer reports that Hannaford Bros. just became the first mainstream supermarket chain to be fully certified by Quality Assurance International, the same organization that certifies Whole Foods Market. QAI runs a retailer program that is designed to enhance consumer confidence in a retailer’s organic offering by both auditing the procurement process and looking at things such as avoiding cross-contamination at the store level. Hannaford is the customer of choice for local growers looking to sell to mainstream supermarket chains for the simple reason that Hannaford has a warehouse in Maine. To a small grower, a trip to Massachusetts or New Hampshire can make a big difference. QAI certification is a feather in its cap, but buying locally in Maine since 1883 is a slogan Whole Foods can never match. 5/16/2007

Tesco, Whole Foods And Wal-Mart Concepts Tested On Both Sides Of The Pond reports that as Whole Foods prepares for its launch in the U.K., the International Herald Tribune wrote a piece entitled, “Whole Foods Hopes Its Organic Chic Will Sprout In London.” The macro question is whether the U.K.’s more intense focus on environmental and human rights issues will play in Whole Food’s favor or not? There is also some question as to whether Whole Foods won’t represent to the “green” consumer a hostile “big organic” approach that is really counter to the trends in the U.K. that include highly local buying and ecologically diverse box schemes. The brochure they have put out for the first U.K. store under the Whole Foods name has the phrase “Supporting UK Growers & Producers,” which is an interesting twist on locally grown because parts of France are closer than parts of the U.K. It lends some credence to those who see the promotion of the locally grown movement as a form of protectionism. 5/15/2007

A Look At Whole Foods discovered Whole Foods has made available an interesting presentation from its annual meeting of shareholders. The presentation reviews the core values of the chain and provides some great photos. The presentation also plucks out the volume of “locally grown” produce Whole Foods sold in 2006 — $163 million. Although no definition is given of what qualifies as local. Still this is an advance move against the “movement” advocates who attack Whole Foods as part of “big organic” looking to work with big vendors. 5/10/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Global Warming’s Shameful Marketing Attempts our piece Carbon Footprinting Gone Wild! brought a letter from a European who is experiencing this issue on a level Americans don’t even approach: “The largest share of CO2 emissions is produced by the SUVs that the consumers drive to the supermarket to pick up their locally grown, fair trade, CO2 neutral, ethically responsible, guaranteed-no-child-labor-involved fresh produce, ideally packed in tons of non degradable plastic.” An obvious implication here is that if a consumer drives a half hour out of his way to go to a farmer’s market that sells exclusively locally grown produce, because he is “saving” highly efficient commercial transport miles and replacing them with highly inefficient consumer miles, he is as likely to do harm as good. 4/26/2007

Organics One Year Later — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods & Wild Oats recalls that a year ago the news in the food industry was consumed by word that Wal-Mart and other mass merchants were pushing their big packaged goods suppliers to supply organic versions of products. Now, a news report quotes executives at the Reuters Food Summit in Chicago this week as saying that sales of most of these products have been modest. The report goes on to explain that food industry executives are increasingly sensing that growth may come with a different focus such as natural or local: “Kenneth Harris, managing director at Cannondale Associates, said that consumers are really looking for “authenticity,” whether the product be organic or locally procured, a niche that is gaining in popularity, with stores touting that produce and dairy products come from local farms….” 3/14/2007

Getting ‘Locally Grown’ Up To Standard received a message from a smaller independent chain in the Midwest looking for ways to make sure its small local growers who only supply seasonally are doing the right thing as far as food safety goes. It is not an easy challenge because these small growers don’t have the resources to meet the highest food safety standards, such as those established by the British Retail Consortium. I turned to Bob Stovicek, who holds a PhD and is President of Primus Group, a leading third party auditor, to ask how we could help in this situation. The Pundit was bowled over at the resources Primus makes available at no charge to help these growers. There are a lot of small growers. If we simply demand all kinds of things, we will force them to consolidate. Primus is saying we can help them just as they are. 3/6/2007

Organic Buying Clubs we’ve dealt both here and here with programs in the United Kingdom in which mixed boxes of organically grown produce are sold on a subscription basis. Now The Palm Beach Post ran an article entitled: “Organic Food Fanciers Decide it’s Time to Join the Club” which explains: “There are at least 10,000 organic buying clubs, and they are growing… The demand for locally produced food, as well as organic food, is increasing.” The clubs seem to take different forms. Some are farmers selling their crops; some are true consumer buying groups. However, some of the appeal may be based on misconceptions. Although the farm-direct programs exist, a lot of these programs buy organic produce but not necessarily locally grown product. 1/25/2007

Pundit Pulse — New Jersey Dept of Ag’s Al Murray exemplifies New Jersey as one of the most proactive states for food safety initiatives. Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, found that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services announced formation of a Produce Safety Task Force “to protect New Jersey consumers and help local producers adapt to anticipated new produce-safety standards in the wake of several recent outbreaks of food-borne illness.” One central aspect is how food safety standards could be linked to use of the Jersey Fresh marketing campaign. Al Murray, NJDA Director of the Division of Marketing and Development said: “One of the things we feel is that while new standards and protocols may be coming down from the federal government, locally grown has been a huge byproduct of what happened with recent outbreak events. We see linking food safety to Jersey Fresh marketing as an opportunity for our growers. We want to help shape policy.” 1/10/2007

Pundit’s Mailbag — Fairtrade From A European Perspective received a letter in response to our piece analyzing the concept of “Fairtrade” from Marc De Naeyer suggesting we read the recent The Economist article, “Good Food”. What we didn’t deal with but The Economist does is other shibboleths of modern society - thinking of going organic to be environmentally friendly: “Surely the case for local food, produced as close as possible to the consumer in order to minimise “food miles” and, by extension, carbon emissions, is clear? Surprisingly, it is not. ….And the local-food movement’s aims, of course, contradict those of the Fairtrade movement, by discouraging rich-country consumers from buying poor-country produce. But since the local-food movement looks suspiciously like old-fashioned protectionism masquerading as concern for the environment, helping poor countries is presumably not the point.” 12/22/2006

More Organic Assumptions reports that Business Week has a cover story on organic food that rehashes many of the key issues, such as locally grown vs. nationally shipped, currently splitting the organic world. But there is an assumption in the piece without any evidence. You read a line such as: “…what we’ve come to expect from organic food: pure, pesticide-free, locally produced ingredients grown on a small family farm,” and you would think the article would reference a study or other indication that “we’ve” come to expect anything of the sort. In the absence of evidence it seems that this is just the reporter’s bias, a buy-in to the propaganda of certain sectors of the trade that they are the “true” organic vision. 10/17/2006

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry turned to Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart to give us additional feedback on how the initial reintroduction of spinach to the stores is being perceived at retail. In order to build consumer trust again, Bob points to his efforts: “We do a big Buy Fresh, Buy Local campaign. It highlights produce but goes beyond it for a range of home grown products from honey to cheese to meat to free range chickens, and we have aligned accounts so people grow for us locally. We do a great job in signage with pictures and we bring farmers in the store. Consumers learn their family stories and what they do to support agriculture. Because of this belief and effort in promoting local agriculture, consumers have very few issues with how we operate and have confidence in our practices. Our homegrown local product for three years in a row has grown 38 percent in sales” We’d all love to get the sales back, but we should be concerned with more than handling recovery of sales short-term, and building back consumer confidence in eating spinach and produce in general long-term. 10/2/2006

Traceability And “Food Miles” observes the trend is for people to want to know where their food is from and who produced it. It is part of the Slow Food movement. I expect much more consumer demand for this. We already have traceability technology back to farm level. I really think it would behoove companies like Earthbound Farm to consider growing and processing operations on the east coast, probably somewhere in the triangle of Baltimore, Boston and Chicago. This is America’s greatest population center, and I think it is clear that Earthbound’s constituency wants more locally grown or, rather, fewer Food Miles. Diversifying would help Earthbound position itself in what is likely to be the sweet spot on this issue. Then it could say: “We grow locally when seasons permit but work worldwide to keep products available 52 weeks a year.” 8/31/2006

As Organic Chasm Deepens, A Solution Is Offered argues that to the hard-core organic advocates, the word “organic” does not mean simply that a product follows the rules required in the USDA’s national organic standard or rules allowed by the National Organic Farming Act. Depending on whom you are talking to, it can mean local, small scale, truth and love and peace on earth. It is a lot of weight for a bag of salad or quart of milk to carry. In produce, advocates want fruits and vegetables to be organic and locally grown by small-scale farms. In dairy, standards such as the amount of time in pasture are required for dairy cows. On beef you will see the same pasture argument; on poultry you will see the same argument for access to the outdoors. So what’s the solution? 8/18/2006

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