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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Univeg Intends To Buy Ready Pac

Univeg, the Belgium-based group that has grown from its founding in 1983 as a mushroom farm started by Hein Deprez, the present CEO of the group, to a multi-national giant with business units in 14 countries, dropped a surprise on the attendees at Fruit Logistica in Berlin:

2/5/2007 — UNIVEG SIGNED A LETTER OF INTENT TO ENTER INTO A TRANSACTION WITH READY PAC

Today, Univeg signed a Letter of Intent to enter into a transaction with READY PAC.

Ready Pac is a California-based company with subsidiaries in Texas and at the East Coast in Florence, Swedesboro and Jackson. Ready Pac comprises 7 factories with activities in value-added fruit and vegetables. Year sales are more than $700 mlllion.

The transaction will include a large capital investment into Ready Pac’s working capital. This new capital and the operational resource to be provided by Univeg, will allow Ready Pac to continue to aggressively grow their business platform.

Univeg is a very aggressive company that has grown very quickly. Most recently, in 2006, it merged with the Verona, Italy-based Bocchi group, which doubled the size of the company. It is best known in the U.S. for its involvement with Seald Sweet, with which it partnered in 1998 and later increased its ownership to 80%.

The deal between Ready Pac and Univeg has been struggling to be born for some time. Indeed there has been at least one prior deal that fell apart around the time of the Taco Bell situation.

It is probably a good deal for both parties. Ready Pac will benefit from additional investment and Univeg will acquire the ability to serve its European customers who have operations in the U.S.

Univeg is headquartered in Belgium, as is Delhaize. In America, the U.S. operating brands for Delhaize include Food Lion, Bloom, Bottom Dollar Food, Harvey’s, Hannaford, Kash n’ Karry, Sweetbay — over 1,500 stores in 16 states.

The European practice is to have a few trading companies serving as the portals to the key retailers. They bring in produce from dozens of countries and control market access due to their strong relationships with retailers.

Much attention has been paid to global sourcing efforts. Univeg is both progressive and smart; the company undoubtedly sees an opportunity to service its European customers, such as Delhaize, all around the globe… including America.

Seald Sweet was an experiment on a new continent; Ready Pac is the rollout of an idea.

And it is an idea that will challenge many settled American attitudes in business. As vendors start losing business because they can’t support a global supply pattern, they will realize that the world is changing, fast. Univeg is getting out in front of the future.




Sunkist And Pure Gold

We dealt recently with the impact of the freeze on the Western U.S. citrus industry in a piece entitled A Paradigm Shift For Citrus. Now Sunkist has announced its intention to pack all post-freeze fancy grade navels in “Pure Gold” brand and the choice fruit will be packed in its usual labels.

It is not 100% clear what Sunkist is doing here. One supposes that it is trying to protect the brand. Executives at Sunkist must feel that the quality of the post-freeze fruit isn’t good enough to merit the Sunkist label.

Obviously, it is a smart idea to not ruin consumer perception of a brand by selling sub-par product.

Yet the decision to use the Pure Gold brand is odd. Pure Gold was the label of Mutual Orange Distributors, which started in Redlands, California in 1906. It was the forerunner of Pure Gold, Inc., another co-operative with a focus similar to Sunkist. In 1989, Pure Gold ceased to be used in the industry, as the Arlington Heights Citrus Company, the last vestige of Pure Gold, decided to affiliate with Sunkist.

This is interesting history but there can’t be more than a fraction of a percent of consumers who recall the brand.

And what are retailers to do? Sell the citrus that Sunkist doesn’t think is good enough to label Sunkist without warning customers? Or put up a sign saying that “Nothing meets our usual standards for citrus but you can buy this if you want.”

We asked Sunkist for some merchandising guidance but they didn’t provide any.

The strategy of protecting the brand may be the best one available but it reveals a weakness. Sunkist doesn’t run the kind of national consumer advertising it ran in the early 1900s when it regularly advertised in the great mass media of the day, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

As such it depends on people seeing the Sunkist logo on fruit as the key to maintaining brand equity. But if the consumer is not going to see Sunkist, that equity will shrink fast.

One answer would be to have the Sunkist logo on other products, but Sunkist just dropped its strawberry deal which means a loss of from 12 to 15 million consumer impressions each year.

Another answer would be to have citrus being packed under the Sunkist label in other northern hemisphere countries such as Spain and China. This would both capture markets in places, such as Europe, where Sunkist isn’t a big player and create a source for Sunkist fruit that won’t be impacted by California freezes. Then, if a freeze happens, Sunkist would have alternative supplies available.

You know Pure Gold was another co-operative, like Blue Anchor, that became defunct because it didn’t change with the times. For Sunkist executives and board members: forewarned is forearmed.

We dealt recently with the impact of the freeze on the Western U.S. citrus industry in a piece entitled A Paradigm Shift For Citrus. Now Sunkist has announced its intention to pack all post-freeze fancy grade navels in “Pure Gold” brand and the choice fruit will be packed in its usual labels.

It is not 100% clear what Sunkist is doing here. One supposes that it is trying to protect the brand. Executives at Sunkist must feel that the quality of the post-freeze fruit isn’t good enough to merit the Sunkist label.

Obviously, it is a smart idea to not ruin consumer perception of a brand by selling sub-par product.

Yet the decision to use the Pure Gold brand is odd. Pure Gold was the label of Mutual Orange Distributors, which started in Redlands, California in 1906. It was the forerunner of Pure Gold, Inc., another co-operative with a focus similar to Sunkist. In 1989, Pure Gold ceased to be used in the industry, as the Arlington Heights Citrus Company, the last vestige of Pure Gold, decided to affiliate with Sunkist.

This is interesting history but there can’t be more than a fraction of a percent of consumers who recall the brand.

And what are retailers to do? Sell the citrus that Sunkist doesn’t think is good enough to label Sunkist without warning customers? Or put up a sign saying that “Nothing meets our usual standards for citrus but you can buy this if you want.”

We asked Sunkist for some merchandising guidance but they didn’t provide any.

The strategy of protecting the brand may be the best one available but it reveals a weakness. Sunkist doesn’t run the kind of national consumer advertising it ran in the early 1900s when it regularly advertised in the great mass media of the day, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

As such it depends on people seeing the Sunkist logo on fruit as the key to maintaining brand equity. But if the consumer is not going to see Sunkist, that equity will shrink fast.

One answer would be to have the Sunkist logo on other products, but Sunkist just dropped its strawberry dea which means a loss of from 12 to 15 million consumer impressions each year.

Another answer would be to have citrus being packed under the Sunkist label in other northern hemisphere countries such as Spain and China. This would both capture markets in places, such as Europe, where Sunkist isn’t a big player and create a source for Sunkist fruit that won’t be impacted by California freezes. Then, if a freeze happens, Sunkist would have alternative supplies available.

You know Pure Gold was another co-operative, like Blue Anchor, that became defunct because it didn’t change with the times. For Sunkist executives and board members: forewarned is forearmed.




Dole Introduces Unique
Vending Machine Concept

Many times we assume that to increase consumption of fresh produce and other healthy foods, the key is marketing. Far be it from us to underestimate the power of marketing, but substantive improvements in a product also can help build demand.

In the produce industry, people often don’t think this way because they perceive “new products” as “new varieties” and out of their control, but the product that the consumer buys is surrounded by services, and an improvement in those services can be as important and as substantive an improvement in the consumer offer as a new fruit or vegetable.

So we were excited when Dole sent us a release announcing a plan to make healthy food more accessible to children with a unique vending machine concept:

DOLE FOOD COMPANY, INC. LAUNCHES INITIATIVE TO PROVIDE HEALTHY FOODS FOR SCHOOL CHILDREN

Dole Food Company, Inc. today announced that it is partnering with national organizations to launch a pilot program that will introduce innovative new vending machines to schools featuring healthy food products. The new vending machines will supply DOLE brand healthy foods such as fresh fruits and Fruit Bowls®, in conjunction with cafeteria-prepared salads, sandwich wraps and milk, giving school children greater access to healthy and nutritious foods. These machines utilize School Link Technology software.

To launch the first phase of this program, vending machines will be placed in 15 schools across four states in February. The schools are located in Mesa, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Shawnee Mission, Kansas; Corpus Christi, Texas and Conroe, Texas.

“The healthy school vending machine program is a natural extension of our company-wide commitment to promoting healthy food choices for overall well-being," said Richard Dahl, president and chief operating officer of Dole Food Company, Inc. “Statistics show that children do not eat enough balanced, nutritious meals. It is especially hard for kids in schools, where meal and snack options are usually limited. We are excited to be working with School Link Technologies to provide these vending machines to students.”

Studies show that while many Americans want healthier snacks, they often find such options are less available. Dahl spoke of the importance in providing healthier options to consumers, especially children, stating, “Dole’s duty as a responsible corporate citizen is to help educate children about the importance of a balanced diet, and make sure they have access to the healthy foods that are good for them,” said Dahl.

All of the snacks and meals chosen for the vending machines are USDA approved and reimbursable under its guidelines. The machines will allow students to skip long lunch lines, while also making breakfast and snack occasions available, all reimbursable by USDA National School Lunch and National School Breakfast Programs.

At present, healthy vending presents an opportunity to meet Dole’s long term goals: marketing meal and snack solutions that meet Child Nutrition Authorization Act requirements (and the subsequent changes in nutrition requirements in schools) and the Competitive Food Guidelines of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation; and assisting in the development of universal solutions to school health and wellness programs.

Dole is partnering with the National Dairy Board, Wurlitzer, in-Team consulting services and School Link Technologies to launch this program. The team expects to expand the program to additional schools later this year.

To learn more about the program, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott spoke with several key players….

Marty Ordman
Vice President Marketing
and Communications
Dole Food Company
Westlake Village, California
Chip Goodman
Chief Executive Officer
School Link Technologies
(SL-Tech)
Santa Monica, California

Tami Cline, Registered Dietitian and Consultant for School Link Technologies, President, Cline Consulting, Alexandria, Virginia.

Q: How did the healthy school vending machine pilot come about?

A: Goodman: Several partners were involved in bringing this program to where it is today. Wurlitzer, manufacturer of a unique vending machine with very sophisticated on board electronics, worked with us two years to develop firmware/software protocols to drive the special functions necessary to deliver quality fresh fruit and other healthy perishable items. It’s the only machine on the market to carry soft delivery as opposed to typical spiral machines engineered with delivery systems at the bottom of the machine. The technology provides an opportunity to serve a broader menu, displacing less healthy choices.

We put a coalition together that goes back about three years. National Dairy Board was an early and important partner. It has a long presence in the schools and a pool of experience. It was interested in broadening product offerings to include more than just milk, so they helped plan initial menus encouraging dairy products like yogurts and salads and wraps with cheese for protein, built around the nutritional requirements of the federal program.


We brought Dole in because we were interested to vend fruits and vegetables, which presented real challenges. The first issue we tackled with Dole in June last year was how to vend a banana. Dole engineered a special cellophane sleeve to alleviate the problem of the skin sticking to the surfaces and creating friction.

A: Ordman: Many distinctive features of the program spurred our interest. The machine is ideally suited for fresh fruit. As opposed to a typical vending operation, it has an elevator that goes up to the item nestled in a bucket, spins it out but doesn’t drop it to the bottom. In this way the product doesn’t get bruised.

In terms of maintaining product quality, the machine can handle different product requirements. Temperature control can vary by the shelf level. The bananas don’t need to be refrigerated, and neither do the Dole Fruit Bowls, but they taste better when chilled. Part of the vending machine can be ambient and another part cool, allowing for flexibility in the selection of fresh produce offerings.

Q: How does the pilot link up to government health and nutrition programs? Are the machines built with devices that can accommodate requirements?

A: Ordman: The machine is designed with identification technology. Because of this, the program can work with the federally funded USDA national school lunch and breakfast programs. And it provides a way to keep track of product movement and have a daily record of who is using the machine and what they are choosing. For kids, this is advantageous because they don’t have to insert money to get their snack.

Q: Does the machine take money? What is the mechanism for use by kids who do not qualify for the various programs, or who want a snack beyond the limits of the programs? Is everyone in the school given a card that is like a pre-paid debit card?

A: Goodman: There are guidelines for free and reduced meals, but the federal government wants every student getting better nutrition. There is a public interest in kids eating and growing properly so there is federal money to help schools operate this program. One student puts his or her ID in and the machine doesn’t ask for any money, while another student might put his or her ID in and owes $1.50. That money could be inserted manually or debited from the card.

A: Cline: The ID program disguises which kids are eligible for the free lunches, eliminating any stigma. John is eligible for the free lunch program so he puts his card in and receives a free meal. The government regulated program is set up so that the school district gets federally reimbursement back on that meal. Sara, who isn’t eligible for that program, puts her card in and there are two scenarios; she could be asked to pay $1.50 or she may have deposited $50 in her account, so the machine’s software calculates the balance remaining.

Q: Who are you targeting for the pilot and why?

A: Cline: The program is starting with high school kids, who are hardest to capture in the school lunch program; it is often hard to keep the kids in the school building long enough to eat with today’s open campuses. We encourage schools to put the vending machine in the hallways because some kids don’t think it’s cool to step into the cafeteria. Eating habits are engrained at this age, so it presents a greater challenge. These machines can be operating 24 hours a day, accommodating snacks in between classes and after school programs.

Q: Won’t these vending machines be competing with other machines filled with sugary sodas and junk food for kids’ attentions?

A: Ordman: In many instances, the kids will have access to other machines, but they still need the change to use those. The healthy vending machines offer a unique incentive and motivation because the children get to choose snacks as part of an allowance through the federally-funded lunch program. All the snacks and meals chosen for the machines are USDA approved and reimbursable under its guidelines. We were drawn to it. We think it’s a wonderful medium to get healthy food products to kids in school, where meal and snack choices are usually limited. It’s always a challenge to find healthy food in vending machines. Also kids are often in a hurry. If they don’t want to go through the long lunch line, they have the option of getting a healthy snack choice quickly.

Q: What items will the machines carry?

A: Ordman: Dole initially is concentrating on bananas, single serve in cellophane wrappers, and the shelf-stable Dole Fruit Bowls. Our long term hope is to expand to single serve salads, oranges, apples, grapes and many other items. We’d have to develop a particular packaging for other produce items that would work in there. Right now, we are evaluating how the program works in the 15 schools being piloted, filling the machines and monitoring how that goes. A fair amount of learning will take place. Since it’s just a pilot, we’re using our bread and butter, which are bananas and fruit bowls. We hope to have the Dole name and nutrition messaging prominently placed.

Currently, healthy prepared salads and wraps are being done locally at the school cafeteria level and put in the machines.

Q: How are menus decided?

A: Cline: We’re trying to come up with menus where the majority of items will work in all school districts, with a strong push on fruits and vegetables. All menus are analyzed so they meet USDA guidelines, desired calories and fat content. Early on, we received input from an advisory group of students to find out their likes and dislikes as we work out the kinks.

Q: Who is responsible for loading the machines — a route jobber or local cafeteria staff?

A: Cline: The School Link software is set up so that it triggers messages back to cafeteria managers’ computers. It lets cafeteria employees know that the machine is running low on certain items and needs to be replenished. Product reloading is handled at the local school level.

Q: How does procurement work on these items? Many school boards put their purchases out for competitive bid — the local food distributor might not carry Dole bananas or not the SKU of these wrapped singles — how does it work?

A: Cline: In the pilot stages, every school district will be different depending on what distributor it is doing business with. They won’t be violating any of their purchasing contracts, but the school districts are very appreciative of the partners that helped develop this program. While we encourage schools to use certain items, at this stage it is not a requirement, but this is only a short-term issue. We are branding the machines as Deli Zone, which gives us more flexibility.

A: Goodman: We are looking further out than the pilots to a big, long-term plan, analogous to a franchise arrangement in the schools. The interested school district would commit to an RFP (Request for Proposal) procurement package that would address a variety of requirements including the vending machines, software, food and packaging components, and training, all in a single vendor contract.

Turnkey is not only about vending machines and software but how food is made, packaged, merchandised and promoted. We’re integrating all these components with a multi-faceted solution. This involves teaching schools about the program and training the foodservice employees through our subsidiary In-Team of expert consultants in foodservice operations. Earth Smart, a packaging consulting company is helping with food handling packaging solutions.

The goal is to take the fresh fruit that goes through retail channels and find a cost effective supply chain into the schools. The key is developing the ability to bulk handle whole fruit and repackage it in the schools for vending. The trick is to go to the mainstream distribution channels, but slice and package the products in the school kitchens. We’re developing those capabilities. If we try to put retail specialty items like value-added sliced apples into schools, it can be prohibitively expensive. The big difference in the models is leveraging the infrastructure of school cafeterias, and the strong labor force that is already there.

Q: Have you calculated the costs of the program? And are you finding any resistance because of the financial investments?

A: Cline: We are piloting in five districts: Mesa, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Shawnee Mission, Kansas; Conroe, Texas; and Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus Christi was the first last summer, with three more added in the past month, and the last one just getting underway. Vending machines aren’t inexpensive, but our best estimate is that within a year the school could recap the expense of the machine that is part of the pilot.

A: Goodman: The partners are each contributing financially to the program with varying investment levels. We’re working on turnkey solutions that involve branding. For example, the machine could technically vend milk cartons, but we have made it a requirement the schools use the Dairy Council’s New Look of Milk branding with the cool plastic bottles. We have a clear and distinct value-added product vision, specifying certain foods representing quality brands.

Q: What challenges do you face in building the program to more schools?

A: Ordman: This is a pilot program in its infancy. Throughout the school year, the challenge is to make it economically feasible for all involved. It will have to be gradually rolled out. The pilot gives us an opportunity to work out any bugs that arise. The machines are expensive, but if the schools are receptive and kids respond well to it, there will be a future.

This is a great example of using technology to expand access to fresh produce and healthy food. From a multi-temperature machine to a release mechanism that doesn’t damage produce to a payment system that allows many students to get free or reduced-cost healthy snacks but without being ostracized as “welfare kids,” a little pilot like this can be a major source of future business tomorrow.

Kudos to Dole and all involved for working to substantively solve real problems holding back access to healthy food.




The Sky Is Falling — Really!

If you thought the most important thing to worry about is foodborne illness, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! The real thing to be concerned about is… asteroids hitting earth. Read about it here.




Pundit’s Mailbag —
More Questions About Leafy Greens Board

Our article, Marketing Make-up Causes Concern, brought a diverse response. The piece followed up on our article, California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement Board, which detailed the appointees to the board:

SALINAS-WATSONVILLE-SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY-
KERN COUNTY DISTRICT
John D’Arrigo — D’Arrigo Brothers
Eric Schwartz — Dole Food Company
Jamie Strachan — Growers Express
Dave Eldredge — NewStar Fresh Foods
Tom Nunes — Nunes Company
Joe Pezzini — Ocean Mist Farms
Alec Leach — Taylor Farms

OXNARD-SANTA MARIA DISTRICT
Mitch Ardantz — Bonita Packing Company
Chris Deardorff — Deardorff Family Farms
Ryan Talley — Talley Farms

BLYTHE-IMPERIAL VALLEY DISTRICT
Joe Colace — Five Crowns Marketing
Eric Wexler — Tanimura and Antle
Jack Vessey — Vessey and Company

10 alternates have been named, as well. They are:

SALINAS-WATSONVILLE-SAN JOAQUIN VALLEY-
KERN COUNTY DISTRICT
Bardin Bengard — Bengard Ranches
Steve Church — Church Bros.
Phil Adrian — Coastline
Charles Sweat — Earthbound Farms
Andrew Cummings — Metz Fresh
Tom Russell — Pacific International Marketing
Ron Ratto — Ratto Brothers

OXNARD-SANTA MARIA DISTRICT
George Boskovich — Boskovich Farms
Victor Tognazzini — Gold Coast Farms, Inc.
Glenn Teixeira — Teixeira Farms

We passed on a concern that the individuals were mostly management, marketing and financial people, rather than growers.

Now we have heard from a number of growers all expressing concerns that the composition of the board is too heavily skewed toward processors. Here is an example:

Looks like the California Leafy Greens Board’s nest has been feathered by a majority of processor tied individuals and very few growers. Eric Schwartz of Dole, a processor. Jamie Strachan of Growers Express, which has partners involved with both Natural Selection Foods and Taylor Farms, both processors. Dave Eldredge of NewStar, a processor. Alec Leach of Taylor Farms, a processor. Tom Nunes of Nunes, a processor. Eric Wexler of T&A, which has ties to both Natural Selection Foods and Ready Pac, both processors, and Jack Vessey, who has ties to River Ranch Fresh Foods, a processor.

I don’t know about the others, but 7 out of 13 has to make the packaged salad industry elated. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house. Hasn’t the majority of E coli-related outbreaks in the last ten years led back to packaged salads?

Tough letter, but we weren’t sure what the point is from a public policy point of view. If the processors control the board, one would think that they have an incentive to adopt the toughest possible Good Agricultural Practices document so that growers will deliver clean product to their plants. So the fox and hen house analogy doesn’t really apply.

To get a different perspective, we asked one of the most perceptive, and frank, processors we know to think about the above letter. We received this response:

Well, there is a point that none of the individuals listed likely has a degree in crop science. But behind all of these “processors” are hundreds and hundreds of growers. If these seven people could disseminate information to hundreds and hundreds of growers more quickly, then that could be a good thing. They also process the type of volume that would get the attention of a grower and possibly encourage them to implement the GAPs more quickly so they stay “certified” with that processor, so to speak. The organizations these men represent buy or contract the kind of volume that enables them to enforce compliance.

processors also have more audits with third party verification companies and customers themselves (Sysco’s is brutal!). Also most of these companies have pretty high standards already (though not as high as Fresh Express), so the bar will only raise higher. Why would we want a board of smaller or more marginal operators in the process of evaluating the GAPs and bringing themselves up to the level of a Taylor Farms? I’d rather have a Taylor Farms raise their level even higher. The organizations these people represent also have very competent technical services staff (for example, Bob Whitaker at NewStar), which could aid in the development and provide a “reality” check to regulators on what can and cannot be done.

Of course these outbreaks have been traced back to packaged salads because they have a date and production code on them. Bulk produce does not, so the outbreak would be smaller and harder to trace back. I think having people with the most to lose, the most at risk, sitting at the table, is a good idea. These processors will work harder and do a better job than someone who wouldn’t be largely affected by the guidelines (i.e., a grower that could decide to grow another crop instead of spinach).

However, processors multiply the risk factor by bringing many acres into a central facility and tossing them all together. So personally, I think the GAPs are a start but without a true kill step in our processing plants, we can make no guarantees.

Of course, it is easy after the fact to complain about the composition of the board. The always sensible Eric Schwartz at Dole Fresh Vegetables cut to the chase with this succinct e-mail:

I can’t answer what criteria the Secretary of Ag used to select the initial board. I think to be fair to him and to the process, we need to find out how many growers put their names forward to be on the board.

— Eric Schwartz
Dole Fresh Vegetables
Monterey, California

Eric is absolutely correct. True growers often have neither the inclination nor the time to serve on these types of boards. We actually ran a piece, The Nominations Are In, which detailed who submitted their name for the board as of that time. The following people submitted names but were not appointed either to the board or as alternates:

SALINAS
Mike Costa — Costa Farms
John Tamagni — Tamagni Farms
Nikolas Montori — Salyer American

SAN JOAQUIN
Gerald Davis — Grimmway
Don DeVine — Double D Farms

OXNARD
Jaime Monteil — Ventura Veg

SANTA MARIA
John Jackson — Beachside Produce
Craig Reade — Betteravia Farms
John Schaefer — Gold Coast Packing

EL CENTRO/BLYTHE
Larry Cox — Larry Cox Farms
Ralph Strahm — Strahm Farming Company
Bart Fisher — Fisher Ranches

PUBLIC MEMBER
Ed McGrew

In addition, two names not on the original list have been nominated as alternates for the board:

Charles Sweat — Earthbound Farms
George Boskovich — Boskovich Farms

We don’t know every single person on all these lists, but one name that jumps out at us is Mike Costa of Costa Farms. He is a real grower who grows over 5,000 acres of leafy greens for Nunes, Mann Packing and many others. A perspective such as his probably would be useful on a board such as this.

Here at the Pundit, our basic concern about the board is from a public relations perspective. We would have liked the board to have independent food safety experts on it who could add credibility to the industry effort. We also would have liked to see some women, particularly mothers, such as Margaret D’Arrigo Martin or Lorri Koster on the board.

We’re not big believers in the idea that there are male and female opinions on the migration rate of E. coli 0157:H7, but we do know that if this board ever has to defend its work, it would behoove us to have a board member that the mothers of America will identify with.




Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative
Recap XLVII

There is an ad hoc group that started it all. The National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute held a conference. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.

As new developments occur, we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.

On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:

“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”

Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, which pointed out:

“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”

The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort, but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:

“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”

As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Effort on November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:

“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”

On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:

“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.

In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”

We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Group and pointed out:

“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”

Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:

I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.

Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.

Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray, which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:

“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.

It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”

On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”

On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”

On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:

  • Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
  • James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
  • Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
  • Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
  • Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
  • Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
  • Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
  • Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”

On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.

We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:

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

On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.

On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation. We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”

On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action, in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.

As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”

Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.

On December 5, 2006, we continued our discussion with buyers who refused to sign the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by noting that some of them weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association proposal either. Our Piece Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?dealt with the problems created for the industry when one region is declared “safer” than another and with the difficulty of utilizing a marketing order to legislate world class food safety practices.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems.

Additionally on December 6, 2006, we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing Worldin which Tim explained: “Given my experience with government inspection and regulation, I place much more value on a supply chain-led initiative to deliver meaningful long term results.”

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis.

On December 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costs, in which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company clued us in to the specific cost implications of food safety initiatives.

On December 12, 2006, we ran Taco Bell Makes Ready Pac Its Scapegoat, which explained that the attitude of shared responsibility for food safety that is essential for success can’t be sustained if a buyer dumps an innocent vendor at the first sign of trouble.

Also on December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed.

Additionally on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem.

On December 13, 2006, we published Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit.

On January 3, 2007, we resumed our discussion of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative by publishing Publix and C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which brought the list of signatories to twenty-two:

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

We were particularly intrigued by the possibility that C.H. Robinson’s participation, as a major vendor to Wal-Mart, might mean that Wal-Mart saw some usefulness in being somewhat related to the initiative.

On January 4, 2007, we ran Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, that included the Buyer Group’s latest call for action.




Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary LVXV

We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.

We initiated our coverage on October 2, 2006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.

On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.

In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.

On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada, that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.

October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.

On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.

October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.




Pundit Rewind LXVXV

The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.

Spinach Crisis Summary

With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:

The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.

On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.

September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.

On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.

On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.

The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.

Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industryin which a panel of retail pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.

The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.

On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.

September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.

On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.

October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.

The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidence that both discussed the industry plan and proposed an alternative plan. Read about it here. Also on October 2, 2006, we did a piece called Collateral Damage vs. Assumption of the Risk, which analyzed some of the liability issues surrounding the outbreak. You can find the piece here. Additionally, on October 2, 2006, we published the second in our series of Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry. This one including insight from Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart, regarding reaction at retail as spinach outside California became available. Read it here.

On October 4, 2006, the Pundit ran a piece entitled In Defense of Salinas, in which, based on a discussion with a Salinas farmer, we outlined five points you need to understand about the relationship between the Salinas Valley and this outbreak. You can find it here. Also on October 4, 2006, we published Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You, which discussed the new food safety plan revealed by Natural Selection Foods and discussed the necessity of product testing. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here.

We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.

Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.

October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.

On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.

Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.

October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends. You can find the piece here.

On October 19, 2006, the piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farmingexplores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. Read it here.

On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.

October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.

On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment.You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.

On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can read it right here.

November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiative, which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. Read it here.

November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Growerthat focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can read it here.

On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.

November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.

On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.

November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.

On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.

November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.

On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Awardto Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holidayand you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find it here.

November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006, we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors, which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.

On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.

On December 1, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers elected not to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative with Spinach And The Consequence Of Buyers’ Actions, a piece that looked at how food safety might impact prices and public health. Read it here.

Also on December 1, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, which explored how smaller foodservice operators were looking at food safety. Catch it right here.

Additionally on December 1, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma, which pointed out what the broader produce industry can learn from the food safety woes of the sprout industry. You can find the piece here.

On December 5, 2006, we asked Is WGA’s Food Safety Proposal Up To The Job?This piece discussed both the difficulties of setting different food safety standards in different regions and the difficulty of establishing food safety standards through a marketing order. Read it here.

On December 6, 2006, we ran Nine Days To B-Day (The Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Deadline), which dealt with what will happen if the trade associations do not meet the deadline set by the buyers. Read the piece here. Also on December 6, 2006, we continued our series on foodservice and food safety by running Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Michael Spinazzola Of Diversified Restaurant Systems, and you can find this article here.

Additionally on December 6, 2006 we ran a letter from Tim O’Conner, President & CEO of the United States Potato Board in our Pundit’s Mailbag — Buying Safe Food In A Changing World, catch this piece right here.

On December 7, 2006, we ran FMI Meeting On Food Safety: More Questions To Be Answered, which looked, from a retailer’s point of view, at the contribution of FMI’s effort to play a role in preventing a future leafy green crisis. Read it right here.

December 8, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Trapping Stations And Food Safety Costsin which a letter from Jack Vessey of Vessey & Company detailed some costs being incurred as a result of buyers’ demands for various food safety efforts. Read it right here.

On December 12, 2006, we published New Meaning Of A Value Meal: Cultural Change Needed To Factor In Food Safety, which dealt with the way a cultural imperative to low prices could lead food safety to be sacrificed. Please read it here.

Also on December 12, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Aligned Supply Chains And Statistical Quirks, which analyzed the way the tyranny of large numbers can impact our perception of the food safety problem. You can catch this right here.

On December 13, 2006, we ran Wholesalers, Independents May Get Windfall From Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out that a buyer-led initiative would likely leave lots of growers looking for homes for their product and that wholesalers and independents could benefit. Read it here.

Also on December 13, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Eliminating E. coli 0157:H7, which argued that we should look for legislation to prevent cattle from polluting with E. coli 0157:H7 and look to eliminate E. coli 0157:H7 from the food chain. Catch the piece here.

On December 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Ground, which dealt with the food safety implications of the presumption that the spinach implicated in the spinach/E. coli outbreak was grown with organic methods on ground being transitioned to organic. Read the piece right here.

On December 15, 2006, we published the Pundit Special Science Report: Part 1 — Food Safety Vulnerabilities in Yuma And Salinas; Part 2 — The Science Of Waterborne Bacteria; Part 3 — Product Testing At Natural Selection Foods & McEntire Produce. The whole report can be found here.

On December 19, 2006 we published Irradiation Will Prevent Future Outbreaks which dealt with the need for a “kill step” in produce. You can read it here. Also on December 19, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Organics And Manure which dealt with the issue of the use of manure in modern agriculture. You can find the piece right here.

On December 20, 2006, we published The Cultural Contradictions of Food Safety, which analyzed how growers are placed in a financial and ethical dilemma by issues of food safety. Read the piece here. Also on December 20, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — WGA’s Ambiguitiesin which Bob Martin of Rio Farms discussed the WGA’s proposal along with the challenges buyer’s demands place on growers. You can find the piece here.

On December 21, 2006, we ran Fighting E. Eoli At The Source, which detailed industry efforts to play offense, not defense, on the food safety front. Read it here. Also on December 21, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Foodbuy’s Maurice Totty, which analyzed how a large organization, the Compass Group, worked to secure food safety. The piece is here.

Additionally on December 21, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Transitional Answers, which focused on the implications of the spinach/E. coli crisis. You can find the article here.

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On December 22, 2006, we published Many States Are Weak At Reporting Foodborne Illness, in which we detailed how many foodborne illness outbreaks are not being identified as such due to the condition of many state labs. As they are improved, more foodborne illness will be identified even as the food supply gets safer. You can read the piece right here.

On January 3, 2007, we ran Publix And C.H. Robinson Join Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which pointed out the growing buying power behind the initiative. You can read it here.

On January 4, 2007, we published Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Maturing In More Ways Than One, which detailed the latest letter written by the group. Read it here.

Also on January 4, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry — Ruby Tuesday’s Rick Johnson, in which we heard frank talk about where food safety responsibility lies. Catch it here.

On January 5, 2007, we ran FDA’s Money Problem, which pointed out that funds for research are essential if we are ever to really resolve the trade’s food safety issues. Read the piece here. Also on January 5, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — More on Manure, in which we explained why manure needs to be banned from spinach cultivation. Catch it right here.

On January 9, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Farmers Are Not The Cause Of Food Safety Problems, which contained an important letter pointing out that farmers are expected to deliver “dirty” product to processors. You can read it here.

On January 10, 2007, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Oversights In Food Safety, which featured an important letter from Tom Russell of Dynasty Farms/Pacific International Marketing calling for a ban on the use of cow manure in agriculture and a “Right to Irradiate” bill. You can read the piece here.

On January 11, 2007, we ran E-coli 0157:H7 Vaccine Approved For Use In Canada, which related to efforts to stop E. coli 0157:H7 before it can hit the produce fields. Read it here.

Also on January 11, 2007, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Arguing For Irradiation, which included a letter from Mark Beeler of Watsonville Produce pointing out that we need a “kill step” if the goal is to stop outbreaks. You can find it here.

IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.

Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.

On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.

On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.

On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.

On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.

Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.

September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.

On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.

October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.

In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.

On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.

October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.

Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.

On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.

Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.

In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.

On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.

October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.

October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece right here.

On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach. You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it here.

November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.

Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. Find the piece right here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it right here.

November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece here.

On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.

November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.

On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. Read it here.

November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.

On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here.

Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.

On December 1, 2006, we ran Speaking Of Produce Washes, which revealed a study that found that washes and water are all about the same. Read it here.

On January 3, 2007, we published Crisis Management, which suggests that simply having a spokesperson is not sufficient, you need people who actually know to speak for you in a crisis. Read it here.

Also on January 3, 2007, we ran Pundit’s MailbagTaco Bell & FDA’s Rush To Judgment, in which Cary Rubin of Rubin Brothers Produce Corp. objected to businesses and government when they speak out based on supposition. Catch it right here.

On January 5, 2007, we published From a Victim’s Perspective, and pointed out how continued consumer concern over produce may impact sales. Read the article here. Also on January 5, 2007, we ran Food Safety Culture, which provided a link to a food safety video that included a terrific presentation by Frank Yiannas, Director of Safety & Health for Walt Disney World. The presentation focused on building a food safety culture. You can find the piece right here.

RESOURCES
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.

The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.

Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.

Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.

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