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Lousy Fruit Undermines Consumption

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, March 25, 2008

Elizabeth PivonkaWe think we should nominate Elizabeth Pivonka, President of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, as the holder of the most thankless job in the industry. Here she is charged with boosting consumption through marketing and education and we so often don’t do the job with product and at retail that is required to build consumption.

This weekend, we went shopping at a local supermarket — part of a well-respected chain — and bought lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Most were fine but among the purchases was one box of imported clementines and some imported nectarines.

We typically eat these clementines like they are candy. Sweet, seedless and perfect for little kids to peel themselves — but at the bottom of the crate there were four dead rotten clementines. After gingerly dumping those and putting the “good” fruit in a bowl, we gave one to the Jr. Pundit Primo, aka William, age six. He spit it out. We don’t blame him. It was dry and basically inedible, as was the next one we tried and the one after that.

Fortunately we had those nice nectarines but, once again, one bite showed they ate like sawdust. They were rock hard and basically inedible.

Now we suspect that the store will gladly refund our money or give us other fruit if we ask, but it should be noted that there is no signage indicating that at all. Plus it is an inconvenience; we don’t go there every day, and we probably won’t have the product or the receipt with us when we do go back.

Maybe the nectarines can be ripened… we are putting them in a paper bag and we will see. But there was no signage or other suggestion that this fruit is unfit for human consumption if you don’t put it through a procedure.

Now the problem is that both of these situations are not aberrant. It is not the luck of the draw that we stumbled on bad produce in an island of great product.

The clementines are either very old or really at the end of the season. The same store didn’t have clementines the week before — at least not on the floor. We went back to look at the other cases of clementines, and every case has rotten fruit, some with insects flying around. It shouldn’t be for sale. Yet there it is on the sales floor of a highly respected chain in a fairly fancy neighborhood.

Was this a forced distribution? A manager who “discovered” some product in the cooler? We don’t know but someone was putting shrink reduction ahead of the customer.

Our nectarines weren’t an exception either. All the nectarines were hard as a rock and tasteless. Yet there was zero signage as to what consumers should do about this fact or if anything should be done at all. We are not sure that fruit such as this should be sold at all. If it is put on display, it certainly should be sold with a clear indication as to what a consumer can expect to do to make it edible.

Consumption in general can only be increased if individuals consume more. It is no small matter for a six-year-old to be turned off to our products because we offer lousy produce for sale.

Warren Buffet, the famed billionaire investor, once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Elizabeth works hard, as have a long line of staffers and board members at Fruits & Veggies — More Matters, Five a Day and the Produce for Better Health Foundation, but whatever good they do can be undone in one bite by a small child sold subpar fruits and vegetables. We better start thinking about doing things differently.

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