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Perishable Pundit
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Wal-Mart’s Efforts To Go Back To Days Of Sam Walton May Only Position The Company In Between Deeper Discounters And More Upscale Venues

The Wall Street Journal ran a piece by Miguel Bustillo titled, Wal-Mart Tries to Recapture Mr. Sam’s Winning Formula:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is in the midst of its worst U.S. sales slump ever.

When it reports earnings on Tuesday, the retailer is widely expected to post its second straight year of declining domestic same-store sales.

Wal-Mart’s struggles are the result of a misstep: To jump-start lethargic growth and counter the rise of competitors such as cheap-chic rival Target Corp., executives veered away from the winning formula of late founder Sam Walton to provide “every day low prices” to the American working class. Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer by sales, instead raised prices on some items while promoting deals on others.

Company executives acknowledge having miscalculated and are adjusting their strategy again. The big question is how quickly the mammoth chain can turn itself around.

Wal-Mart’s shift from its traditional core customer manifested itself in numerous ways. A foray into organic foods didn’t catch on with discount shoppers. A push to sell trendy fashions like skinny jeans bombed. And an attempt to cut clutter in stores to attract higher-income customers wound up undermining Wal-Mart’s appeal to its traditional audience.

We’ve written a great deal about Wal-Mart, and this article strikes us as not fully persuasive.

To start with we are not actually sure that the move to go “upscale” was really about capturing more customers. If you study transactions at Wal-Mart, you find that there are a lot of affluent customers who shop Wal-Mart selectively. They are happy to buy Clorox or dog food, but would not buy clothing or jewelry there. Whether they would buy fresh foods is an interesting question.

The whole push on fashion was not so much to woo the upscale shopper who would never deign to step foot in a Wal-Mart to suddenly consider Wal-Mart a good alternative. Rather, the push on fashion was to get Wal-Mart’s existing more affluent customer base that was already in the store buying branded goods for cheaper prices to consider Wal-Mart an option when buying clothes, accessories and other items.

This is a tough category for Wal-Mart and tough in a way that shows why Wal-Mart could go from nothing to preeminence in food but flounder in upscale clothing. Those upscale consumers who come to Wal-Mart to buy toys or Ritz Crackers are just people who, wealthy or not, don’t want to overpay. They are smart enough to recognize that these are the exact same items available elsewhere for more money and prefer to buy at Wal-Mart and not waste money.

Wal-Mart could offer a similar value proposition in food from Day 1. A box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes is a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. Wal-Mart could easily prove to consumers it offered the best deal. This is why Sam Walton liked to sell national brands.

It is also why Bruce Peterson, when he was starting up Wal-Mart’s produce operation, realizing that Wal-Mart had no brand equity in fresh produce, wanted to emphasize branded product as much as possible.

In food this was possible because most vendors would sell to Wal-Mart. That is not true in clothing. Chiquita gladly took the order, but Hermes would not.

So fighting in this area, Wal-Mart lost its best weapon — the ability to sell the exact same item at a lower price. Wal-Mart had to persuade consumers that its private label brands were equivalent to national brands. Not an easy thing to do.

Another problem Wal-Mart confronted is that Clorox or Campbell’s Soup is almost always purchased for personal use, and nobody ever asks where you purchased these items.

In contrast, fashion items are frequently purchased as gifts and, even when being worn, people often ask “Where did you get that?”

How much market research is required to understand that a gentleman preparing to buy his girlfriend an engagement ring is not only considering where the best value is, but also what his girlfriend’s thoughts will be when she asks “Where did you get it?” and he responds, “Wal-Mart.”

The Wall Street Journal article also did not really wrestle with the issues that senior executives were wrestling with when they made various decisions. For example, the push for organics was not really a marketing decision in which it is fair to say Wal-Mart just misjudged the market. Although surely Wal-Mart would have loved to sell lots of organics and make money doing so, the decision to push organics was at least as much a political decision as a marketing judgment.

Wal-Mart was being vilified by its opponents. Laws were being passed against its stores, politicians were attacking, and it needed initiatives that put it on the side of the angels: Organics, sustainability, etc., all were driven by this political imperative.

That is why we doubt that the gist of this article — that Wal-Mart lost the way that had been established by “Mr. Sam” and needs to get back to his ethos — is really sensible.

We have great admiration for Sam Walton, and we think that when Wal-Mart brought in new management, it made the mistake of telling them that Wal-Mart was “broken” and needed to be fixed. But Sam ran a much smaller company, in a very different environment. For most of his life, he was focused on bringing small town Americans better variety, better quality and better prices. Now Wal-Mart is a geo-political entity spanning the globe, bound to be blamed by activists and politicians for any number of sins of omission and commission.

Sam Walton had everyone live in Arkansas and fly out to see the stores, he eschewed involvement with Washington, DC and could “stick to his knitting” on operating as the buying agent for the consumer.

That world is gone forever.

Nostalgia is unlikely to replace it. Wal-Mart has a specific problem. Its greatest asset was a confidence by consumers that Wal-Mart would always have the “right” price. That has partly been messed up by Wal-Mart executives who abandoned the Every Day Low Price (EDLP) formula that Wal-Mart was built on.

However, the bigger challenge for Wal-Mart is that a range of deep discounters, such as Aldi, have discovered a formula that enables them to profitably undercut Wal-Mart’s pricing.

In time, this reality will degrade Wal-Mart’s reputation and leave Wal-Mart stuck in the middle between deep discounters and more upscale venues. As retired executives at A & P and Sears could tell Wal-Mart executives, the middle is a very bad place for retailers to be. It is a new situation for Wal-Mart and will likely require innovative thinking if Wal-Mart is to triumph. Mr. Sam was pretty good at innovative thinking and we somehow doubt, if he were still around, that his suggestion would be to go back to doing what he had been doing in 1978.

Perhaps the only thing more destructive to a business than excessive willingness to discard its heritage is an excessive nostalgia for the way things used to be.

Though Stacked With Talent, Can A Consolidated Delhaize With Diverse Banners Meet Its Overall Strategic Goals?

Our piece — Delhaize Advises Vendors Of Plan To Consolidate Procurement: Is This A Win Or A Loss For Delhaize…And For The Broader Industry? — brought many comments. Dave Diver, who had been Vice President of Produce at Hannaford and in more recent times is a Contributing Editor to Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, has a lot of faith in the team at Delhaize:

The Delhaize transition should be a challenging and exciting time for the company associates and produce industry. The culture at Hannaford has always been one of staying on the cutting edge after thorough investigation, which from what I have heard during the last year is the process followed in this instance. The organization is blessed with hard working smart people who get better every year.

Change brings uncertainty, but we have seen it in all parts of the produce industry for as long as I can remember. The biggest challenge for those outside is having to cope with changes not of their own making.

May everyone move forward to a more productive result.

— David Diver
Formerly Vice President of Produce
Hannaford Brothers

Another former retailer also has faith in the team at Delhaize, but his experience indicates that, in the long run, these things tend to develop a momentum of their own:

I just finished reading your article on Delhaize and its plan regarding the Consolidation of Procurement. As always you are right on mark, and thank you for the honorable mention. I agree with you that Delhaize has some very talented produce people and will be lead by the talented and well respected Jim Corby. I know Steve Williams and Will Wedge, and they are also high quality produce people. Jim Corby and the Delhaize executive team have the ability to look at how the big guys have executed their buying consolidation and hopefully will not make any of the same mistakes.

No doubt there will be pain for the people and at least in the short term, the consumer may suffer a bit. You hit on all of the points that contradict the Senior Management’s motivations to centralize as the cost-saving and ability to buy better and cheaper that they project may not be realized. When most all of the big chains centralized, sooner or later they stripped the operating divisions of any buying responsibility. I have always believed that you can do a hybrid centralization with at least one buyer left in the divisions. This one buyer can buy those items that are a pain for a centralized buying operation; this buyer could handle the shorts, the local deals, etc.

All of the centralized chains say that they have people in the operating divisions to be the eyes and ears of headquarters both as to the quality of produce arriving and in terms of staying close to the consumer. They say that they have a big voice back at corporate and what they want they will get. This may be true at the beginning, but as time goes by and new people take over those merchandising positions, they will have little interest or the skill sets necessary to be the “gate keepers” for quality and the information flow to corporate. Simply, they will have their hands full trying to do their jobs of selling whatever the centralized buyers buy. Don’t get me wrong, these buyers usually do a good job but they almost never get to see the product or what the division is competing against locally.

— Dick Spezzano
Formerly Vice President of Produce
Spezzano Consulting Service, Inc.
Monrovia, California

We appreciate that both Dave and Dick took the time to share their perceptions with the trade. It seems to us that in the short term the impact of consolidation is substantially muted by the seeding throughout the new organization of people who worked at Hannaford.

Long term, though — and Dick Spezzano alludes to this in his letter — the make-up of the organization creates its own imperatives. If one was a new junior buyer who joins the organization after this consolidation is complete, it is unlikely that you would see the path to a maximally successful career as being the protector of Hannaford’s or Bloom’s particular niche in the market.

The very talented management team at Delhaize may make it all work. But there is, to us, a kind of logical flaw in the new organization.

The problem is not consolidation, per se. If Delhaize owned, say, Hannaford and Wegmans, both chains that try to buy the best stuff, consolidation might pose few problems.

The issue is consolidating Hannaford and Food Lion, which buy different product. Obviously some things can be bought well on a consolidated basis and, in fact, Delhaize probably did buy things such as bananas on a company-wide basis before this initiative. But that is because there is only really one product and less than a half dozen companies to speak with.

The issue here, for Dehaize, is whether the company is giving its own people the tools they need to succeed.

Will Wedge, for example, has been given a new title and new job — Hannaford/Bloom Banner Merchandising — Fresh. This is clever and appropriate. It indicates a recognition that Hannaford and Bloom are significantly different than many of the other Delhaize operations.

The issue, of course, is this: If you know that these divisions are different and are going to market them as different, shouldn’t you back up that “difference” and that “marketing” with differential procurement? In other words, logically, shouldn’t Will have a buying team to execute the promise that is going to be made to the consumer?

Dick Spezzano’s letter suggests a divisional buyer to handle shorts and local buying. Not a bad idea. But we would stand with the idea that no matter where the buyer is located, the crucial thing is that the buyer be fully vested in the banner and the consumer it serves.

Hannaford buyers, of course, care about price but, by and large, they really try to get the best product in the stores. Food Lion has other priorities. How do you mesh this and make consolidated buying work?

Right now, Hannaford is very open to buying both direct and from the terminal markets in Boston. It is highly likely that even if a wholesaler has a superior product available, the consolidated buying team will be more interested in setting up its own programs direct with shippers.

When one thinks about Delhaize, the bigger issue is whether this plan actually is sufficient to meet the need or achieve the goals.

If one were a fly on the wall in Belgium, one of the concerns has to be that a chain such as Hannaford has been relatively isolated from much competition from Wal-Mart. Delhaize has an obligation to its shareholders to think about how it can thrive if Wal-Mart, as it eventually will, opens more stores that compete with Hannaford.

The history of consolidation in supermarkets over the past 20 years is, to no small extent, a history of retailers thinking about how to compete with Wal-Mart and deciding that the key was to reduce procurement costs.

In our last piece, we dealt with a lot of reasons why such a reduction in procurement costs might not occur, but even if it does, isn’t that too little, too late to deal with Wal-Mart?

How much could additional consolidation of procurement actually save a chain such as Hannaford? Two percent seems like a very high number if one is not going to sacrifice quality. But even if it was 5% — how is saving 5% on produce procurement going to position Hannaford to defeat Wal-Mart in its market if the Bentonville behemoth starts rolling out supercenters in Hannaford’s market area? The answer is that it is not.

In fact, the opposite is true. The best approach would be for Hannaford to accentuate its local roots, to seek to buy brands and from growers that are too small for Wal-Mart, to monopolize the local produce suppliers, to handle better stuff in bigger variety than Wal-Mart, to let the local wholesale markets know that if they have something exceptional or an exceptional value, they have a customer.

So the issue is whether this consolidation really serves the strategic goals, properly understood, of Delhaize. This is a very different question from whether the particular individuals employed right now can successfully execute the plan.

We thank both Dave Diver and Dick Spezzano for helping us elucidate these matters.

‘Fraudulent Farmer’s Market’ Article Brings Critique From The Netherlands And Opens Debate On Small Scale Farming

Our recent series on farmer’s markets, which included pieces here and here, brought many letters including this one:

I write regarding your recent forum article(s) — Fraudulent Farmer’s Markets ‘Detrimental To Legitimate Farms, Retailers And To Consumers’:

Undoubtedly there are some individual farmers market traders that pursue profit without honesty or integrity, but not all should be tarred with the same brush, nor the markets as an entity rubbished as a result. The same could certainly be said of all sectors of the business world and in this context some of the largest retailers… Perhaps you can agree that it is only the level of sophistication and the level of profit gained that separates them?

It is clear that farmers markets are not, taken on their own, a sustainable solution to feeding cities every day. But they are a very necessary and real solution to halting the demise of the smaller scale farmer/producer and the rural communities within which they are located. These markets form an important part of (and are critical to) the future survival of such communities. The prolific rise of farmers markets in the US in recent years has been brought about by various factors—including public demand which is allied to a recognition of the decline in quality and competition resulting from the buying practices of the multiples.

Consumers are not stupid, nor are they easily dictated to, and the success of these local markets is their response to a recognition of the dangers associated with having the food supply chain dominated and controlled by an increasingly small number of ever larger and more powerful players. They are a response to the human need (dare I say right?) to live in a community with a healthy, prosperous and honest food supply chain that is supportive of all.

These articles you publish paint a bleak but certainly exaggerated picture of the current situation. But what they do achieve is to highlight the need for the professional management of markets.

Many progressive municipalities and farmers/operators trade organisations (in Europe, for instance) understand this basic fact and, as a consequence, their successful markets all have one thing in common: they employ a professional management either within the municipality or via a private management in partnership with the local authority. It is undoubtedly in both the public and food industry’s interest that various levels of government retain involvement in the food supply chain, not leaving it to the mercy of pure(?!) ‘market forces’.

But then, is the Perishable Pundit and its readership open to such a discussion/viewpoint? This forum appears to be mainly supportive of the larger (“legitimate” I believe is the term you used?!) retailers and food companies. One of the core goals of these large retailers and food companies is to ensure the continuation of their current monopoly of the food supply chain for the sole purpose of maximising and increasing profits and power. But at what cost?

One of the main processes they employ is to remove other players in the sector wherever possible, and to do so regardless of the detriment to communities, consumers, small scale and local producers, and micro/small– medium-sized business in the process. There should always be room for choice in life and, thankfully, farmers markets currently help to achieve this in terms of how we source our food. I will not start here a discussion on the many other problems these large retailers cause: lack of diversity and city centre deserts being just two of them.

I can only wonder who instigated this “investigation” into the farmers markets there, and with what motive? The articles are certainly very long on (negative) opinion and supposition, and very short on presented fact. But then for those awake while reading, you have made the real beneficiaries of this campaign fairly clear in your article…

— Maria Cavit
Secretary General
World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM)
The Hague, Netherlands

The World Union of Wholesale Markets is not well known in the United States. First its name is a misnomer as it actually promotes both wholesale and retail markets. Though it calls itself the “World Union,” in the US, only the Maryland Food Center Authority and the San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market are members.

We are, of course, honored that Secretary General Cavit would take the time to write and share her concerns with the industry, but we confess that we do not really understand her point:

  1. She acknowledges that there are “some individual farmers market traders that pursue profit without honesty or integrity, but not all should be tarred with the same brush”—but, of course, we did no such thing. In fact, we specifically mentioned that there were legitimate vendors such as Underwood Farms.
  2. The Secretary General makes a vague insinuation that some of largest retailers lack honesty and integrity. But she names no names nor tells us what she is talking about. We’ve written plenty about Wal-Mart, Tesco and recently wrote an analysis of the plan of Delhaize to consolidate procurement. We have offered many critiques of these giants but there is a difference not in degree but in kind between our disagreeing with a policy choice and alleging that they are defrauding consumers and landlords.
  3. There is a big point made that farmer’s markets “…are a very necessary and real solution to halting the demise of the smaller scale farmer/producer and the rural communities within which they are located. These markets form an important part of (and are critical to) the future survival of such communities.” Of course, our pieces were specifically focused on the issue of vendors at farmer’s markets fraudulently selling produce from large produce growers. In other words, vendors who were subverting the very goals that the Secretary General proclaims as essential.
  4. The issue of why farmer’s markets have boomed in recent years is an intriguing one. Although it is possible that this is a function, as the Secretary General writes of “public demand,” that sort of begs the question. If small growers get public subsidies in the form of reduced rent or taxes, for example, there may be strong demand for their products. Whether this has anything to do with a “healthy, prosperous and honest food supply chain that is supportive of all” is difficult to say. We are actually a little perplexed at what the Secretary General is implying. Is she saying that somehow product sold direct to consumers at farmer’s markets is somehow superior to the produce sold to retailers and restaurants at markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane that she represents? We doubt that the folks at Jessup or San Francisco are too hot on this claim. Do they pay Secretary General Cavit to demean their product?
  5. The letter applauds “professional management” and who could disagree? But the markets we were speaking of are all professionally managed. The problem is not a lack of professionalism; it is a matter of incentives. The management of these markets wants them to be successful. To make them successful, the management is willing to not rigorously explore the derivation of the produce. In fact, it is reasonable to assume that the farmer’s markets that feature a wider diversity of product will be more appealing to most consumers, so the incentive leads management to turn a blind eye to suspicious vendors and not ask too many questions.
  6. Some parts of the letter seem almost beside the point: “It is undoubtedly in both the public and food industry’s interest that various levels of government retain involvement in the food supply chain, not leaving it to the mercy of pure(?!) ‘market forces’.” We were writing about the state and municipal regulation of farmer’s markets, so it seems quite a leap from this question to government — the Food and Drug Administration, the United States Department of Agriculture, etc. — withdrawing from “involvement in the food supply chain.” As an academic matter, we will say that the point is pure assertion. We actually have no idea what would happen in an advanced industrialized country if the government were to withdraw from involvement even with one aspect of the food supply chain. If the government, for example, simply announced that it was no longer going to be involved in food safety, it is not obvious that people will start dropping left and right from foodborne illness. Maybe people would be willing to only buy brands they trust so branding would increase. Maybe, just as Orthodox Jews won’t buy food without certification by a rabbinical authority they trust, maybe consumers wouldn’t buy food if it hadn’t won a seal of approval from a food safety organization they trust.

    One can’t just assert things expecting everyone in the world to share one’s biases and preconceptions.
  7. We never used the word “legitimate” at all. David Sasuga, owner at Fresh Origins, used the word to refer to farmers and supermarkets who follow the law, don’t defraud people, pay their taxes, etc. — as opposed to a faux farmer who takes a booth at a farmer’s market but buys the produce at a wholesaler and lies about his sales so he doesn’t pay much in rent or tax.
  8. The Secretary General takes a dig at the Pundit itself: “...is the Perishable Pundit and its readership open to such a discussion/viewpoint? This forum appears to be mainly supportive of the larger (“legitimate” I believe is the term you used?!) retailers and food companies.” This is unfair. We are publishing the Secretary General’s unedited letter, and we never duck from a robust debate. But empty assertions don’t leave much for discussion. After all, if you start out with statements such as “It is undoubtedly…” there really is not much to discuss. The whole point is that one has to state a case that would persuade people who disagree with you.

  9. The Secretary General seems unfamiliar with the food industry in the United States. She says that “One of the core goals of these large retailers and food companies is to ensure the continuation of their current monopoly of the food supply chain” — yet the competition in fresh produce outlets is getting tougher all the time. This weekend, the Pundit family bought some produce — some really beautiful bananas at Starbucks. But we could have bought them at Walgreens, at a conventional Target store, at a Wal-Mart Supercenter, a Target Supercenter, at Costco, at Sam’s Club, at two conventional supermarket chains, two health-oriented supermarket chains, a gourmet chain, a kosher food market, an independent retailer, a gas station mini-mart, via an Internet delivery service and, if all this was unsatisfactory, we could select from hundreds of restaurants of all types and price ranges. These folks are the worst monopolists we’ve ever seen!
  10. The letter goes on to wax poetic over the virtues of small scale. It is not necessary to argue that the Secretary General is wrong in seeing these virtues. We only argue that people have to make choices in life. So, one can elect to go to a small hardware store, accept the limited hours, the restricted selection and pay higher prices. Some people do this. That is their right. They feel that Joe, the hardware store owner, supports local causes, keeps a watchful eye out for errant children, any number of virtues. Others see the blessing of lower prices, more convenient hours and better selection and prefer to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s. The issue here, the very specific issue, is whether we want to restrict people’s choices by making public facilities available only to politically approved vendors. If Baltimore wants to have a public market in a park, it is not obvious to us that the citizens are being served by banning the wholesalers at Jessup, Maryland, from buying booths and selling their wares. For that matter, how are they helping small farmers by banning them from having a wholesaler market their product at the public market if the farmer happens to want to spend his time farming rather than marketing?
  11. The Secretary General finds something nefarious in the fact that NBC did an investigation at all. We don’t know what motivated the investigation, but we also don’t really care. Even if a supermarket executive whispered into a reporter’s ear to go follow the story, the story has to stand or fall on its own merits, not the motivations of the tipster. The bottom line is that consumers were being defrauded. We would think that an organization that claims to promote wholesale and retail markets worldwide would be outraged.


Although we critique this letter, we appreciate it none the less and assure Secretary General Cavit that our pages are open to vigorous debate for the benefit of the industry.

Part of the issue is the use of a “farmer selling his own product” as a proxy for some other value.

Back when we were critiquing the locally grown procurement initiative at UC Davis, which we did here, here, here, here and here, a big part of that critique was that Davis ought to define and declare its values. If it wanted tastier produce or produce that caused less carbon emissions or used less water, it ought to make those points explicit specifications, not assume that local is a proxy for these things.

Equally, if the value is that a farmer’s market should only sell produce grown on farms of X acres or less, that should be the criteria. Not whether the person sitting in the slot is employed by the farm.

That people like farmer’s markets is clear; that they would be horribly upset if the rules were changed to allow a farmer to sell his produce to a wholesaler who could then sell it at the market is much less clear to us.

A second issue and, we suspect, the core issue here is what is the best way for the people to express their will?

It has been said that democracy tells us what people want; whereas capitalism tells us what people want most.

Secretary General Cavit’s letter is really a statement of preferences for small scale, local farmers and businesses. But, of course, we wouldn’t need policies to promote this if the benefits were so obvious that consumers supported small scale on their own.

Food for thought.

Many thanks to Secretary General Maria Cavit and the World Union of Wholesale Markets for weighing in on this important industry issue.

Remembering Chandler Copps —
A Mentor, A Leader, A Great Example,
A Friend

“The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.”

— John Maynard Keynes

The famed British economist was referring to captains of industry, though the sentiment applies equally well to politicians and others. The quote also speaks to the fact that very often the people we honor for achievement would not have scored those achievements had they not fallen under the influence of another.

The death of Chandler Copps earlier this year brings this to mind, for history should show that Chandler Copps was among the most influential people in the produce industry in the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st. His influence will survive him for decades to come.

Yet history may cheat Chandler Copps of his rightful place. Yes, he was a scion of a well known retailing family and yes, he had the top volunteer position at what was then known as the Produce Packaging Association, which partially through Chandler’s efforts, evolved into the Produce Packaging and Marketing Association and, ultimately the Produce Marketing Association. Each change was a nudge closer to Chandler’s steadfast belief that the consumer should be at the heart of all produce industry efforts.

Famously, Chandler, at the request of the old Supermarket Institute, predecessor to the Food Marketing Institute, partnered with Leon Miller of A. Duda & Sons to make an unusual presentation in which Miller became the “retailer” while Copps became the “grower-shipper.” The presentation kicked off a ”produce buyers school” that was presented at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, and was informed by a two-week trip in which Chandler taught Leon retailing, while Leon taught Chandler the production side of agriculture. Chandler always saw that trip as mind-opening and, for Chandler, it established that communication up and down the supply chain was absolutely crucial to industry success.

Yet, for all the importance of his family and association work, Chandler’s greatest influence was from his establishing and conducting share groups around the industry, especially retail share groups.

Chandler was knowledgeable, but the groups were not about him teaching. The groups were about learning from one another. So his great contribution to the trade was made through others; it was not his accomplishments in retailing, nor his ideas of how things should be done in produce that ultimately mattered. What mattered was that he knew how to create an environment where people felt safe and valued and so would contribute.

Chandler Copps on a boat going to Victoria Island in Vancouver.

Chandler and his wife Elaine in Calgary - Lake Louise.

It was an exceptional talent, and many individuals have benefited from his work; and these individuals have changed their companies and the industry.

We could speak of Chandler Copps for a long time. But, instead, let us listen to some of the individuals Chandler touched:

I was the new member in a group of peers that had spent many years meeting, learning and fostering a lasting friendship with Chandler.

My impressions of Chandler Copps: He was unassuming, humble, open-minded, willing to share and rather than simply offering answers and solutions, he would steer us in the direction of self-discovery in our questions and efforts toward our common goals.

— Randy Bohaty
Production Director
B&R Food Stores
Lincoln, Nebraska


Chandler was a master at understanding each one of us, he new our strengths and our weaknesses. He was a great mentor to all and each one of us is a better professional and, more important, a better person for knowing him. He touched us all and he will be missed.

— Greg Calistro
Director Of Produce & Floral
Save Mart
Modesto, California


As facilitator of the RPMN Produce Share Group, Chandler was instrumental in providing a comprehensive and objective view of the produce industry and was instrumental in my development as a produce director.

Chandler provided focus for the group and was proficient in the manner in which he welcomed opposing views and welcomed input from a diverse group of individuals and retail companies. He was a professional in everything he did, and his warmth and friendship in interacting with share group members will always be remembered and cherished.

— Steve Duello
Produce Director
Dierbergs Markets
Chesterfield, Missouri


It has been a great honor and privilege to have been a member of Chandler’s RPMN share group, with the most elite group of retailers from around the country. I have been a member of the produce share group since 2000, and at my first meeting, Chandler made me feel like I had always been a part of the group.

Since Chandler had a big connection to Michigan, having attended Michigan State, and I being a member from Michigan, we always had great conversations, often talking about events in Michigan, whether good or bad.

The thing I found out about Chandler was that he made everyone feel important, and he was a great listener.

I have been in the produce industry all my life, and Chandler was the most knowledgeable person I have ever met in this business. He drove all of his produce share group members to be passionate about the industry, and drove us all to be better retailers.

I will truly miss him not only as a mentor, inspirational leader, but a friend.

— Bob Harding
Produce Director/Terminal Market Buyer
Westborn Market
Berkley, Michigan


Our retail share group was run by Chandler Copps. He was one of the best facilitators that I have ever met. His insightfulness got us to think about what affects our business beyond our own bubbles. He prodded us when we needed it and listened intently when the conversation took life. Everyone’s opinions and ideas are as valuable as the next member – no matter what size your organization. As equals, we share in full and trust in each other.

Chandler fostered a friendship between us that goes beyond our meetings. That is what this business is about at the core – relationships. Relationships that help you in business – help you in life. Chandler organized us and gave us insight into new worlds. It helped to round us all. The experience was and is invaluable. He will be deeply missed, and his legacy will last a lifetime through all he mentored.

— Paul Kneeland
Vice President of Produce/Floral
Kings Super Markets Inc.
Balducci’s Food Lover’s Market
Parsippany, New Jersey


Although I never really knew Chandler Copps on an everyday personal level, I had an immense amount of respect for the professionalism and work ethic he displayed time and time again. Through his leadership and forward thinking during our Retail Produce Marketing Share Group Meetings, Chandler demonstrated what I felt to be the epitome of leadership.

His style made it easy to learn and because of this, I believe he helped me to become more of an asset to my company and to better myself professionally. Brainstorming ideas which surfaced through his meetings kept me motivated and hungry to improve on my ideas, which I believe is what Chandler strived for.

He was someone who knew how to work hard, but then also found the balance to play hard. Through this approach, he created a unique bond between his members, which only helped in the effectiveness and outcome of his meetings. He was a true gentleman and was respected whole heartedly by all those who knew him.

— Brian Lewis
Produce Operations Director
Calgary Co-op
Calgary, Alberta, Canada


Chandler’s Share Groups were a networking opportunity that could be found nowhere else. I was envious of the Produce Group as I would always ask that Floral be included in their meetings, but it seemed that few of the Produce Guys knew enough about their floral programs to make it beneficial.

When Paul Kneeland was still with Roche Bros. he and I spoke with Chandler about incorporating Floral into the Produce group. I’m pleased to say we were able to persuade him. In 2003, I was fortunate to host the first joint Share Group Meeting of Produce and Floral in Boston. Chandler didn’t attend this first Floral meeting, but he heard all about it when he arrived in Boston for the Produce sessions.

Chan being Chan, the idea that he wasn’t that familiar with the floral side of the supermarket business piqued his interest. In subsequent years, he would sit and listen to the floral presentations, concerns, and similarity in operational issues that the members would bring to the group. Although his knowledge of the floral business was limited, he would present wonderful personal experiences of sending flowers. He found antidotes within other areas in the business that mirrored the floral operations and extended great insight into how they had dealt with similar situations.

Floral operations within the supermarket business had always felt like a secluded island to me before I joined Chandler’s share group. There was no bar to measure your success or failures. This group was an invaluable source in measuring your business with others. In addition to being an excellent resource for new ideas, Chan’s groups are highly motivational and inspire us to look well past our competition. Choosing to lead the race, not join it, Chandler was inspirational in making me the operator I am today. I will miss his great smile, offbeat humor, and unparalleled guidance.

— Debbie Loche
Floral Buyer/Merchandiser
Roche Bros. Supermarket
Boston, Massachusetts


Chandler Copps was the most knowledgeable Produce Man that I’ve ever known. I was pretty young and was just promoted to Produce Director when I first met Chan in 1991. He was operating Retail Produce Merchandising Network (RPMN). I feel being in Chandlers’ RPMN Group became instrumental in my successes as a Produce Director.

Over the years, I have come to know that there are not too many people in this industry that are as passionate and as genuine as he was. He had a youthful smile, a great sense of humor and was genuinely concerned about all the people he came in contact with. He knew all aspects of the business from the grower end all the way to the customer buying the product off the shelf.

To me, Chan was an inspirational leader, a great coach and mentor and a friend. He really understood his role as a facilitator and could guide any group in a positive direction. He knew how to create a fun and learning atmosphere!

He was well-traveled and always excitable with new possibilities; a true student of life. Even in his health-challenged days, he continued to exude passion and loved talking about all aspects of the food business.

Chandler was a kind and true gentleman and will be missed by all.

— Lou Malaponti
Director of Produce and Floral Operations
Balls Food Stores
Kansas City, Missouri


Chandler was one of us, and he understood what we did. We did not meet to commiserate but to improve. Chandler led the charge through times where, quite honestly, we could have found it easier to compromise standards rather than do those difficult things necessary to compete.

He will be missed.

— Dick McKellogg
Produce/Floral Director
Lowes Food Stores
Winston-Salem, North Carolina


I recall the day I received a call from Chandler over 20 years ago in reference to starting a Retail Produce Merchandising Network with non-competing, well respected retailers from across the country. At the time, I thought, what more could I learn from a group of retailers that I haven’t already experienced or done. Chandler convinced me to give it a try and I’m glad I did.

Chandler’s life-long experiences in the grocery and especially the produce industry were invaluable to all of us. I was honored to be a part of his first and I believe his favorite share group. Chandler always kept us on track and up to date with new ideas and formats.

Chan was a dynamic leader and facilitator of the group. He had a keen, yet sometimes quirky sense of humor—always looking at our business from a very unique perspective. This opened our eyes to new ideas, helping to keep our business fresh and current.

However, Chandler’s best attribute was one of a mentor and, more importantly, a friend. His life-long lessons and passion for our business that Chan instilled in us will continue long into the future. We have truly lost a great gentleman. He will be missed by all who knew him.

— Tom Murray
Vice President of Produce-Floral Operations
Roche Brothers Supermarkets
Boston, Massachusetts


I’ve known Chandler for only 12 years, but what an honor it has been and what great memories I’ll always have. Even though I’m sure many of the things we all say about him will sound a bit repetitious, it’s only because Chandler was such a standup guy.

He was like a father to me… unfortunately, mine died 25 years ago… Chandler and I could talk about anything. He welcomed me into the group from day one and that’s when the education started. He’s one of these guys where the old statement is so true; “he’s forgotten more about produce than I’ll ever know”, and I’ve been doing this for 35 years.

What a great human being he was—a mentor, a leader, a great example, a friend. I’m a better person, thanks to Chandler, and so are many, many other people. I can only hope that the many lessons he’s taught me will lead me to make the right decisions as I move forward.

This is a very sad time. I’ll miss him dearly, but I’m very grateful to have known him. To Elaine and the kids, hopefully your many found memories will bring a smile to your face from time to time, and will guide you as you move forward. Thanks for sharing him with each of us. We’re forever grateful.

— Tim Peterson
Retail Advisor
H. Brooks & Company
New Brighton, Minnesota


Chandler’s death is truly a sad event for me and the industry. Chandler was a corner stone in the foundation of true competition through excellence! His passion for the independent retailer and his efforts to bring us together in the spirit of sharing common successes has made a huge difference in the market place!!!

I know that his contribution to us all will live on through each and everyone of us, well into the future... Chandler Copps will be missed by us all... but his legacy will live on in our hearts.

— Joe Pulicicchio
Produce Specialist
Town & Country Markets Inc.
Shoreline, Washington


I had the privilege of knowing and working with Chan as part of the Retail Produce Merchandising Group for 12 years when I was on the retail side of the industry with Randalls Food Markets and Marsh Supermarkets.

Chan was a positive leader to this dynamic share group of regional chains committed to his vision of excellence. He was a great moderator and facilitated our meetings with grace, humility, and a sense of humor that helped each of us get back so much more than we contributed as individuals.

Chan had a passion for people and produce that allowed him to place innovation at the forefront of his contributions to member companies and the industry. He was diligent, professional, and understood relationships were the key to building a team with common goals and values. Chan touched and enhanced many lives, and he will be missed by everyone who had a chance to get to know him.

— Jim Richter
Executive Vice President
Sales and Marketing
Wilcox Fresh
Rexburg, Idaho


Chandler Copps had a passion to help people succeed and be successful. Chandler and I became friends in 2002 as I was in my first year of Director of Produce, with a lot to learn.

Chandler was instrumental in helping me grow and make connections and establish relationships with others that I could learn from and communicate with. No matter when or what an issue was about, whenever you called him about something, he always went above and beyond in helping you. I owe much of my success to the benefits of crossing paths with Chandler, and will greatly miss him.

— Mike Tipton
Director of Produce/Floral Operations
K-VAT Food Stores Inc.
Abington, Virginia

The industry will be poorer for Chandler’s absence. We extend our condolences to Chandler’s wife, Elaine; his sons, Chandler, Richard and John; his daughters, Janet Copps and Margaret Fischer; his four stepchildren, Laura Buckingham, Sarah Dempsey, Craig Hausman and Karen Hausman, and his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Shiitake Rash

Wonder how many vendors — at all levels of the supply chain — actually know the full power of all we sell?

The New York Times Magazine runs a regular feature called “Diagnosis,” in which each article identifies a medical mystery and solves it. The pieces are written by Dr. Lisa Sanders, who authored a book titled, Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis.

This particular piece is titled A Red Scare — not referring to the fear of communists but to a horrible red rash. After thinking it might be Poison Oak and considering other possibilities, the doctors, led by a Dr. Walter Larsen from Portland, Oregon, came up with a surprising diagnosis:

“O.K. — it’s time to call in reinforcements.” Larsen asked if he could bring in a couple of colleagues and then disappeared from the room, returning a few minutes later with two of his younger partners. After a long moment, one of the partners, Dr. Michael Adler, broke the silence. He asked the patient whether she had eaten any shiitake mushrooms recently. The question surprised her. “How did you know?” she asked. On Friday, three days before the rash appeared, she was offered a sample of shiitakes cooked in oil and garlic at her local grocery store. They tasted fine, maybe a little chewier than usual, but she enjoyed them.

The young doctor thanked her, and then the three walked out of the room without telling her anything more. Finally Larsen returned. “We think this is a classic reaction to raw or undercooked shiitake mushrooms,” Larsen told her. Shiitake dermatitis, as it’s known in medical jargon, was first described in 1977. Since then, it has been frequently reported in Asia, though rarely, if ever, in the U.S. The rash is thought to be a toxic reaction to a starchlike component of the shiitake mushroom. This component, known as lentinan, breaks down with heat, and so this reaction is seen only when the mushrooms are eaten raw or partly cooked.

“So am I allergic to these mushrooms?” the patient asked. Well, it’s not a true allergy, Larsen explained. When someone is exposed to a substance and has a bad response, it’s considered allergic only when the immune system causes the reaction. Then you’ll get hives or swelling or occasionally anaphylaxis. But when people who get this rash are tested, there’s no sign of an immune response, so it’s considered a toxic, not allergic, reaction. The current thinking is that something in the lentinan triggers blood vessels to dilate and leak small amounts of inflammatory compounds just beneath the skin.

Not everyone has this kind of violent reaction to raw shiitakes. In one study, just over 500 patients were exposed to an intravenous version of lentinan. Nine developed this streaky rash. The other patients had no response. Perhaps that’s lucky for them, because this same component is thought to have important health benefits. Studies suggest that lentinan may be helpful in preventing diseases ranging from cavities to colon cancer. Why it creates these whiplike streaks in some is not well understood. A rash with a similar pattern has been linked to bleomycin, a chemotherapeutic medication.

Larsen ordered a biopsy of the rash to make sure they weren’t missing anything, and he instructed the patient to continue to use the steroid cream at home. The cream helped, but it took weeks for the rash to fade completely.

Larsen recommended she avoid uncooked shiitakes. “I’m never going to touch another shiitake,” the patient told him. “I don’t care if they are good for you. One of these rashes was enough.”

So, what is the lesson? Thinking of doing a demo? Make sure your insurance is sufficient, and if the item is Shitake mushrooms, well-cooked is imperative. And note that not knowing the power of what we sell can lose a customer for life.

New Competition For Produce?

Some professors in the Netherlands claim that produce may be in for some competition:

At the London restaurant Archipelago, diners can order the $11 Baby Bee Brulee: a creamy custard topped with a crunchy little bee. In New York, the Mexican restaurant Toloache offers $11 chapulines tacos: two tacos stuffed with Oaxacan-style dried grasshoppers. …

Not long ago, foods like kiwis and sushi weren’t widely known or available. It is quite likely that in 2020, we will look back in surprise at the era when our menus didn’t include locusts, beetle larvae, dragonfly larvae, crickets and other insect delights.

Read the whole thing here.

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