As the last farewell party for Bruce Peterson, — who has left Wal-Mart after being the visionary who built its produce operation — wound to its close, we published Wal-Mart Continues To Change Its Buying Practices.
Today we had a nice conversation with Ron McCormick, vice president of produce. Ron came to Wal-Mart from Food Lion, though he worked with Bruce when both were at Meijer, and for many years, Ron has run produce as Bruce went on to a broader perishables responsibility. Ron called today to elaborate on our article and, more generally, Wal-Mart’s buying structure and changes it is undergoing.
Ron wanted to correct a misperception that was drawn from a Wal-Mart representative’s presentation at the Southeast Produce Council regarding “Opportunity Buys.”
Opportunity Buyers handle what used to be called “Special Buys” — these are purchases made in addition to Wal-Mart’s planned and contracted purchases from its vendor base.
There are now four Opportunity Buyers working regionally out of offices in Texas, Utah, Illinois and Florida. Each Opportunity Buyer handles certain commodities on a national basis. So Tom Holbert, who spoke at the Southeast Produce Council that kicked off this discussion, is the senior buyer in the Winter Haven, Florida office. He handles Opportunity Buys nationally for tomatoes, citrus, grapes and tropical items.
Tom is both well liked and well respected. What he forgot to mention was the importance of having a Wal-Mart vendor number. Although Opportunity Buyers are there to, well, seize opportunities, they are somewhat restricted in who they can deal with.
At very least, Wal-Mart has its accounting rules, and the bottom line is nobody can get paid without a vendor number. And getting a vendor number can take time. There is paperwork, license review, food safety issues and other matters to resolve. So, generally speaking, if a supplier has never done business with Wal-Mart and doesn’t have a vendor number, the supplier can call Tom or the other Opportunity Buyers and even if there is a great deal to offer, the most likely response is going to be: “That is a great deal. Let us start working on getting you a vendor number so that we can do business next time around.”
There is one way around the system, though, if the offer is compelling and Wal-Mart really wants or needs the product, a vendor might be directed to one of Wal-Mart’s major vendors, who might buy the product and then resell it to Wal-Mart.
Of course, Wal-Mart Opportunity Buyers are generally restrained by the fact that Wal-Mart has vendor relationships and obligations to buy product, so a low price is not an opportunity if it will overload the system. Also, Wal-Mart is big, so a great deal on half a trailer of something probably isn’t significant enough to get involved with.
Theoretically, though, Opportunity Buys could allow Wal-Mart to help growers by taking surplus product off the market and getting it in to the hands of consumers. Assigning specialized Opportunity Buyers segmented by commodity should allow them to gain expertise and to be held accountable by Wal-Mart’s core procurement staff if the Opportunity Buys start to disturb the overall program.
The bigger event, though, is that Wal-Mart is not only switching from Distribution Center assignments to dollar volume assignments. It is also reclassifying its vendor relationships to better reflect reality.
When Wal-Mart was much smaller in produce — remember that when Bruce Peterson started there fifteen years ago it only had six supercenters — Wal-Mart adopted the policy of treating every vendor alike. So the largest and the smallest got access to the same information.
In truth it has been some years since Wal-Mart could actually treat every vendor alike. There are too many and they have wildly different capabilities and interests.
So the decision has been made to recognize the de facto reality by reorganizing the vendor base. Now some vendors have been classified as Strategic Suppliers and others have been deemed Tactical Suppliers.
In many ways it is just an acknowledgement of the obvious. Wal-Mart has been sharing strategic information on its growth plans with its major, multi-commodity, vendors such as C.H. Robinson and Del Monte Fresh (which acquired its place as a result of its acquisition of Standard Fruit and Vegetable Company) and not with every small vendor who had one DC assignment on one commodity.
Although being relegated to the role of Tactical Supplier may be bruising to the ego, it may have no influence on sales. As long as companies meet the metrics and do what they are supposed to, Tactical Suppliers can expect to keep selling Wal-Mart year after year.
And there are some advantages to being a Tactical Supplier. A long time problem for Wal-Mart is that vendors have moved to plan for what they think Wal-Mart will need. They build facilities, buy acreage, etc. Then if Wal-Mart changes its plans or reorganizes distribution systems, those facilities and acreage wind up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes two vendors with a nearby DC assignment would build similar facilities 50 miles from each other, both to service Wal-Mart business, when it would have been more efficient to have one facility near the DC and another 500 miles away. Now Wal-Mart is specifically urging Tactical Suppliers to not invest in anticipation of what Wal-Mart will want — without first getting a written commitment from Wal-Mart as to what it actually wants.
In addition, many vendors have been forced over the years to get involved in running reports and studying customers and other things which they are not particularly competent in doing. A select few companies wound up thriving on it, they became much better, more sophisticated companies and were better able to sell and service not only Wal-Mart but other customers as well.
For many, however, it placed Wal-Mart business in the “unobtainable” category or sharply limited how much Wal-Mart business they could handle. Now, with the introduction of the Tactical Supplier category, many quality shippers can, for the first time, compete for Wal-Mart business without worrying about their abilities to decipher the mysteries of Retail Link.
Wal-Mart expects that between a third and 40% of its produce purchases will be through Strategic Suppliers, which leads the bulk of its business available for Tactical Suppliers.
Strategic Suppliers will have far greater influence than ever before. They will be shown more information than they had been shown previously and will work with Wal-Mart under a 5 year strategic plan.
Much of this reorganization has been made possible as Wal-Mart’s vaunted IT capabilities came to focus on produce. In the early years produce was working off of Wal-Mart’s general merchandise system and was dependent on vendors to produce a lot of information very helpful in running a produce department. For years the Monthly Executive Summary that each vendor was required to produce, was like the Bible in the way it ruled what could happen and what couldn’t. Now Wal-Mart can produce, internally, much of that data with the push of a button.
Ron was philosophical about Global Procurement. He acknowledged that for corporate reasons, as we elaborated on in our original piece, this was a vitally important initiative to Wal-Mart.
Yet he felt very optimistic about companies such as Pandol Bros. Co., whose investments and contacts outside the U.S. add real value. Many Wal-Mart vendors that had never been importers, became importers over the last decade as they attempted to provide 52 week sourcing on their items. The importance of that competency to Wal-Mart is fading as its Global Procurement operation picks up steam. Still, Ron spoke as one who has seen the “latest best thing” come and go a few times in his career and he seemed to expect that, one way or another, Wal-Mart would wind up buying quite a bit of imported produce from U.S. firms for a long time to come.
The move away from DC assignments requires, as Ron acknowledged, for them to work smart and to work cooperatively with vendors. If a Florida tomato grower gets assigned to deliver his business to California, it means someone messed up and it has to be rectified. Besides, it violates Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiative with its emphasis on food miles.
Still, one of the great appeals for a shipper of receiving DC assignments — steady 52 week-a-year business — is less likely to transpire.
Global Procurement is part of it, Opportunity Buys another part of it, and locally grown initiatives are still another issue. The Celery Vendor from California has to know that when Michigan Celery is shipping, stores in that region will carry it. When New Jersey celery is shipping, stores in that region will carry it as well. When Delaware potatoes ship, the Colorado product will be displaced in that region.
There is certainly inconvenience in this, but Ron believes that the answer is better planning and closer coordination so that whatever happens, nobody is surprised.
In fact, Wal-Mart utilizes a Management by Objective system, and this year one of the major objectives is to get everyone — Wal-Mart executives and vendor executives alike — to put things in writing. To clarify expectations, to avoid taking actions based on what individuals think or assume the other parties’ plans or needs might be.
Nobody in the world faces a produce job on the scale of running the Wal-Mart produce operation. One can disagree with Ron, have doubts, and long time vendors certainly can be uncomfortable with change. Yet nobody can deny he has it all thought out.
A word about Ron: He has long been underestimated in the trade. While Bruce built a great edifice that touched the sky, Ron has kept the electricity and water flowing to every floor Bruce built.
Ron’s burden has been that no man looks tall standing next to a giant and Bruce is a giant. Now that Bruce is on to new things, Ron seems strangely taller than before.
Many thanks to Ron for taking the time to help the industry understand better what lies ahead for the produce trade in dealing with Wal-Mart.
In dealing with the PR fallout of the video of rats running around its New York City restaurant, which we dealt with in The Rats Of New York Teach The Produce Industry Some Lessons On Food Safety, Yum Brands seems unaware of the need to show concordance between what a company says and how it says it.
Finally, after a few days of insisting it was strictly a local problem and hiding a one-paragraph statement on the back page of the KFC and Taco Bell web sites, Yum Brands decided to post a video on the same web sites, still on a back page that consumers have to search for. The video is placed on a page that cannot be directly linked to, and it still is not on the main Yum Brands web site.
Yum Brands selected out the paragraph below from the video of Emil Brolick, President, U.S. Yum Brands and presented it as follows:
YUM! BRANDS UPDATE FOR NEW YORK CITY CUSTOMERS
“We are absolutely committed to our customers and have worked with ADF (a franchisee of KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut), to close their uninspected restaurants in New York until they are fully inspected by the health department and given a clean bill of health. We will not compromise on our food and restaurant quality,” said Emil Brolick, President U.S. Brands, Yum! Brands, Inc.
This statement of repentance really shows the arrogance of Yum Brands:
First, note it is an update for NYC customers as if they are the only ones who need be concerned. Yet, of course, the main issue is how are the systems of Yum Brands so weak that this can happen at all? And if it can happen in New York, is there any reason to think it couldn’t happen elsewhere?
Second, the video is not presented by the CEO of Yum Brands but by an underling. This clearly tells consumers that Yum Brands doesn’t think this is a very big deal.
Third, note the standard for reopening the restaurants: the health department has to give a clean bill of health. In other words, if it is good enough for the health department, it is good enough for Yum Brands. Yet we know the restaurant was inspected and kept open by that same health department the day before the rat video was shot. The customers of Yum Brands want to know that Yum Brands certifies it is clean, but Yum wishes to evade that responsibility. Yet that is the reason for going to a national chain, uniform standards.
Fourth, note that there is no note of betrayal in the discussion of its franchisee. No sense that Yum Brands is outraged that one of its franchisees could allow such a thing. And note, there is no termination of the franchise agreement, which would actually send a powerful message to other franchisees to clean up their act.
If you click on “View video remarks from Yum! Brands’ President Emil Brolick,” you can watch the brief video here.
By the way, as the industry looks at government regulation we better make sure the auditors stay private. New York still hasn’t fired the inspector who kept the restaurant open in New York, and nobody has been fired in Los Angeles either as a result of failing to do their job at the 7th Street Market, — a story we dealt with in Rats in Los Angeles: The Produce Industry’s Shame.
If you can’t fire on grounds of incompetence, you are bound to get a lot of incompetence. This seems unlikely to enhance food safety or regulatory and consumer confidence in fresh produce.
It May be Fresh, But it Won’t be Easy is the name of a new Credit Suisse report on Tesco’s American venture that we’ve been studying lately. We started out with Tesco’s Success Course Far From Easy, and then ran a piece entitled, Tesco In America: . We looked at Tesco vs. Costco, and then at Tesco vs. Target.
One of the key issues the report deals with is real estate and it puts up several examples of sites the Credit Suisse people believe are possible Tesco locations. Take a look at these pictures:
Possible Phoenix store site
Possible Phoenix store site
Possible Phoenix store site
If Credit Suisse is correct, we are obviously not talking about an upscale concept. And frankly, it is hard to perceive anything in these locations as the giant killer Tesco is reputed to be.
Yet, in the end, these types of locations have one great advantage: they are available. You couldn’t duplicate the store structure of Safeway or Kroger for any amount of money because there just aren’t enough prime locations available. These sites are available.
That matters a lot. When Marks & Spencer bought Kings in New Jersey, there were all kinds of grandiloquent plans to expand. But they never could get the locations and if they got the locations, they couldn’t get the staff. So this concept seems better thought out than that expansion plan.
However, this advantage of being doable can swiftly turn into a vulnerability if other retailers choose to respond with competitive formats. It means they can roll out quickly too. One doubts that Kroger (Ralph’s) and Safeway (Von’s) are going to just allow their market shares to shrink without fighting back if this concept takes off.
The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is pretty riled up over the attitude of the California Department of Food and Agriculture toward many Mexican produce items:
California Ag Agency Causing Trade Disruptions
NOGALES, Ariz., February 23, 2007 — Members of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA) say the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) continues to cause major trade disruptions due to inspection errors and inconsistencies at border stations located along the California/Arizona border. In addition to ongoing misidentifications of alleged live scale on Mexican mango shipments entering California from Arizona, the CDFA most recently has been rejecting Mexican avocados and Mexican bell peppers at inspection points along the border without proper pest identification or consistent inspection policies.
Trouble with CDFA inspectors started to escalate over the past few Mexican mango seasons. CDFA inspectors had been identifying scale that was supposedly alive, despite the fact most of the shipments were arriving from areas of Mexico that must hot-water treat the mangos to prevent the spread of fruit flies. The mango loads were rejected and prohibited entry, causing damage to wholesalers and retailers not able to fulfill customer demands in spite of the fact that in most incidents the scale was later determined to be dead or non-viable due to the hot-water treatment.
In recent incidents, CDFA rejected several shipments of Mexican avocados supposedly due to the presence of non-native scale, only to reverse the findings after a second inspection showed the scale on 10 of 11 shipments to be without a doubt native to California. Additionally, members of the trade are now reporting that CDFA inspectors are rejecting green and colored bell pepper shipments. However, some drivers are reporting that they had shipments carrying bell peppers prohibited from entering California without receiving the proper inspection documentation from CDFA to verify the presence of live insects.
Lee Frankel, FPAA president, says, “It is unacceptable and irresponsible for CDFA to have a 90 percent error rate in identifying pests on Mexican avocados. Additionally, to hear reports that some loads of bell peppers are being denied entry into California without any written inspection report further highlights CDFA’s inconsistent inspection and review practices.”
Before Mexican avocados were permitted to enter all U.S. states, there were multiple Pest Risk Assessments conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS). CDFA had ample opportunity to participate in these risk assessments leading up to the February 1, 2007 deadline to allow Mexican avocados into California. The FPAA and its members believe that by waiting until now to point out possible pest risks, the CDFA is damaging trade with one of its most significant trading partners, Mexico.
Adds Frankel, “If Mexican agriculture officials exhibited the same behavior that we are seeing from CDFA, California would consider it egregious and unwarranted, especially given the fact that Mexico is the 1st or 2nd largest export market for many California products. The FPAA specifically requested that CDFA identify pests of concern to California before that state’s market opened to Mexican avocados, but they didn’t show an interest in participating in the process until now.”
Following the rejection of several loads of Mexican avocados due to misidentified scale, CDFA officials are in Michoacan, Mexico meeting with officials from USDA-APHIS and the Mexican Department of Agriculture concerning avocados. The meetings will hopefully result in better coordination between CDFA, APHIS and Mexican officials. FPAA’s Frankel, however, is not convinced this will solve many of the ongoing problems.
Says Frankel, “It’s unfortunate that we are seeing the ongoing problems associated with mangos now spreading to other commodities. These serious issues need to be addressed by CDFA and the federal agriculture authorities or trade relations between California and Mexico will continue to deteriorate.”
What is really going on? Is this protectionism or is this bureaucratic ineptitude? We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to learn more:
Q: As an advocate for Mexican produce importers and distributors, you claim the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is causing major unnecessary trade disruptions? What is going on?
A: The positive spin is bureaucratic communication breakdown and lack of coordination between CDFA and USDA-APHIS, or the more sinister explanation is that people are purposely instigating unwarranted delays and egregiously rejecting Mexican produce shipments to stave off competition. Either way, it’s a significant problem.
Q: How long has this been a problem, and why is it coming to a head now?
A: This issue has been going on for several years, but in this past month we’ve had two high profile examples of the breakdown of the system that unfairly penalizes commercial shippers trying to enter California or transship the product to northwest markets.
The issue from the distributor point of view is simply trying to get good product into California. Everyone realizes the need to protect the system from harmful species. We understand any country or region has the right to implement product sector protection. Our concern is that the CDFA measures are more restrictive than those adopted by USDA-APHIS. Not only do they exceed USDA federal requirements, but they also go beyond a reasonable execution of the inspection and exclusion efforts based on the current science available. I speculate that the root cause is CDFA does not have good cooperative relations with USDA-APHIS. Basically, California ends up re-inspecting everything. In the case of bell peppers for sure, and likely with avocados, disrupting trade for several weeks at a time.
Q: What actually happens? There are border checkpoints between Arizona and California and trucks have to pull in and wait to be inspected by CDFA? Does this involve every truck or only those flagged? Are the stations manned day and night?
A: As long as the California legislature and CDFA are funding the border stations adequately, every truck needs to report at these agricultural inspection stations and based on the truck manifest the CDFA makes a decision to what type and level of inspection it is going to conduct.
Q: Does CDFA have more restrictive standards than APHIS? Is it allowed to legally, or is CDFA only permitted to re-inspect for conformance to APHIS standards?
A: States are allowed to have additional standards where scientifically justified. APHIS did submit a proposed rule that would make any jurisdiction or state within the U.S. have clear scientific basis for its actions. At the present time it’s a patchwork system with different states using different levels of science.
Q: Is it California policy to re-inspect everything? And what is everything? Every van, every pallet, every box, every pepper?
A: Based upon what the previous findings have been, the operations will vary based on the product, where product is coming from, and ultimately whether they look at a few pallets on the back of the truck or require full off load of the truck to have access to all the boxes. Department of Homeland Security will physically do the inspection at the US border. If they find any insects they pass that creature of concern to a USDA Aphis pest identifier.
Q: Precisely why does re-inspection disrupt trade? Is it that the inspection takes so long because CDFA is understaffed? Is it that vans are held two weeks trying to identify insects? If the latter, why do so many vans have insects?
A: The biggest problem is the time it takes for California to identify what the test is, and whether California has the right to exclude that product. That is the critical issue disrupting trade. The produce industry is built on having fresh products, so you’re likely to find a bug or two over the course of millions of pounds a day.
Q: If there are a million pounds a day going through quickly and then two vans each day have a bug and get held, that is a very different problem from every van being held up. Could you help define the scope of the problem better?
A: Not every van is being held up, but ultimately, California has no right to hold up good product and stop those shipments. Every shipment gets reviewed, and it’s the random problems that undermine confidence in the market for people that need product delivered. They’ll hold up a significant percentage of trucks of a particular crop at particular time frames.
It’s not every single product, but it’s enough if you’re a pepper shipper, it’s your business and your contract on the line. If it’s your $10 million being lost, then it’s a big deal to you. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fraction of a percentage of total sales into California. Just because it’s not a bigger disruption doesn’t mean it’s not improper and illegal.
Q: Are you saying that when the occasional pest in a particular shipment is discovered, there is no valid reason for that shipment to be stopped?
A: The bottom line is that at the end of the day, CDFA learns the bug was not harmful and there was no need to reject those shipments. The product is being impounded when there is no scientific basis to do so. They’ll see a bug every once and a while, and when they do they look more closely at all those products of that commodity coming in. In general, the rule is that once they’ve identified a bug, they reject the shipment.
In general, pest prevalence in bell peppers is extremely low. In the most recent example, pest prevalence in a shipment of bell peppers was low enough that it took roughly two weeks to find a specimen to identify down to the species. If CDFA had a working relationship with APHIS, it could theoretically have called someone to ask what the pests were. Federal authorities are testing 10 to 20 times more product, so in theory they should already have new pests identified. When I say new, I’m not referring to a new species. An old pest could always become prevalent one year or another based on weather changes or different pest management practices being implemented. The real impact for Mexican suppliers has come from CDFA taking so long to properly identify pests.
Regions free of particular insects and bugs have the right to protect those regions. But is the system set up to do that without causing unnecessary disruption to trade and commerce? Clearly the answer is no.
Q: So to clarify, it’s not that there are mass hold ups, but that random shipment delays and rejections create undue concern and trigger a lack of confidence with customers ?
A: California customers cancelled three long term contracts with bell pepper companies because of uncertainties created by the CDFA.
Q: Are any actions being taken to address the problem?
A: The next step is that the USDA Secretary Mike Johanns and the Mexican Secretary of Agriculture Alberto Cardenas will meet next week on a range of topics that will include this issue of how California is executing and enforcing sanitary restrictions beyond those agreed to between the two governments.
Q: What other topics will be examined?
A: Internal military points are a critical area of concern. Basically, the U.S. government forces Mexico to take certification steps in the battle against drugs and smuggling. The Mexican response is internal check points, but unfortunately these check points, at the worst times of operation, double the trip from the farm to the border.
Basically, the U.S. sends lots of money for training and infrastructure but it winds up in places not useful for trade at the end of the day. Overall, the framework for increasing security in the region is problematic. These check points are a factor in reducing integration of the North American market and at the end of the day create more risk in the supply chain for smugglers because the system disrupts any transportation schedule. The shipper doesn’t know if the product has been tampered with or the truck is in line so long because of the checkpoints.
Because these check points are there and so inefficient at the moment, it makes it difficult to know why the truck was delayed, whether it is a legitimate reason waiting for inspection or potential tampering with the product. Check points within the interior of Mexico were ultimately set up at the request of the United States. At the end of the day nobody is taking responsibility for the long-term operation and it has resulted in dilapidated inspection points that end up creating as many problems as they are solving.
Q: What’s the solution?
A: The idea is to take the billions of dollars the U.S. spends and put it into modernizing those check points, translating similar technology currently in place at ports and airports, and already used in both Mexican and U.S. customs operations. The solution is putting in gamma ray machines at entry points to screen product much faster and in a less invasive way. It’s an easier and safer approach that minimizes potential impact.
It doesn’t take a lot for trade to be disrupted. One only has to throw the wrench of unpredictability in and it is easy to stop the wheels of commerce from turning.
A few things have to happen:
If CDFA has a different standard than USDA-APHIS it needs to be published on the Internet so everyone can see it, conform to it or dispute it.
There needs to be a public procedure for disputing CDFA standards that differ from USDA-APHIS standards.
CDFA Officers need to be trained to identify all defined risks or need to have instantaneous access to experts who are so trained.
There needs to be sufficient staffing at CDFA inspection stations to keep product moving on an expeditious basis.
Appeal inspections need to be quickly available.
At the same time, as with food safety, the Mexican growers have to move toward a zero tolerance policy for deviation from standards. It is not acceptable that even one shipment be found with non-native scale.
Maybe the solution is to provide USDA-APHIS inspectors with the special California standards and deputize them to inspect, at the border, for CDFA compliance. If so the vans would be put under a special seal allowing shipment in or through California.
This way the inspectors would have no bias, but the standards they inspect to could still be high.
Mexico is not just a supplier to the U.S. It is a substantial buyer, and we are playing with fire if we allow our treaty obligations to Mexico to be undermined.
We received a nice letter complimenting the pundit on digging in to our pocket to offer $1,000 honorarium to the person who most helps us to improve the draft GAP standards.
Just wanted to applaud you on your approach in incentive based feedback on a universal problem that may open doors not previously opened though limitation of this kind of material to small technical advisory committees. Even though this threat affects the entire industry, there are still “turf” wars in ownership of intellectual property and contributing for the cause of the “whole” rather than the “part.”
— Fred Reimers
Creative FoodSafe Solutions
These GAP standards are important.
This season is pretty much set, so the draft standards, with whatever augmentation the processors each add, seems to be the de facto standard for this Salinas season. But the final version, the one that, presumably, WGA, United, PMA will sign off on and that the FDA will at least tacitly endorse, is still being developed.
We ran a piece entitled WGA’s Secret Science Panel urging WGA to answer five simple questions about the panel of scientists supposedly drawing up the GAP standards:
Who is on this committee and how were they selected?
Do they have any conflicts of interest?
Have they each endorsed the draft GAP document?
Have they been asked to draw up dissenting reports on areas where they would like to see different standards?
What was the charge given the scientists?
In testimony before a joint committee meeting of the California Assembly and Senate, we heard no mention of a panel of scientists that drew up the standards. Instead we heard about six scientists who are vetting the GAP metrics.
You don’t get credibility by repeating the word scientist. You gain credibility by showing that the scientists you’ve got are credible.
We need good ideas. That is why we dug into our pocket to post a grand to help the industry .
But we also need good scientists to vouch for the plan, publicly, with their recommendations for improvements.
This is the prerequisite to build regulatory and consumer confidence in industry food safety efforts.
What is the big secret anyway?
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 World in 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.
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.
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 Industry in 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 Farming explores 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 Award to 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 Holiday and 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 Costs in 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 Ambiguities in 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.
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 Mailbag — Taco 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.
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.