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Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Are Leaders Born Or Made?
Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Leader?
Find Out At The London Produce Show And Conference
As Rutgers University Expert On Leadership, Management And Organizational Development, Mary Nikola, Leads An Interactive Workshop

We’ve been writing about Leadership for a long time. Indeed, in the early days of the Pundit it was an important focus for many industry members and we wrestled with the subject in pieces such as these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Leadership

Pundit's Mailbag — More On Leadership

Pundit’s Mailbag — Where’s The Passion?

Pundit’s Mailbag — Wild Oats’ Harris Talks About Mentorship

Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis

The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Award

Tim Vaux Reflects On DuPont, Leadership And Jeff Gordon

So when we learned that Mary Nikola, who we have worked with for years in arranging the student group from Rutgers for The New York Produce Show and Conference, was available to come to London, shepherd a student, and speak in her area of expertise — Leadership, Management and Organizational Development — we were thrilled. We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:

Mary Powers Nikola, PhD
Director, Leadership & Organization Development
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences
Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey

Q: You bring important skill sets to the London Produce Show. At Rutgers, you’ve implemented leadership strategies, organizational development interventions and programming for faculty, customers, and stakeholder groups for the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. In addition, for 12 years you’ve directed the New Jersey Agriculture Leadership Development Program, a two-year initiative for New Jersey’s farmers and agri-business professionals.

How will you translate your expertise and inspire this international produce industry forum, filled with a bastion of strong leaders across the supply chain? Tell us about your presentation…

A: My workshop is titled, “The Challenge of Leadership.” In the session, I plan to address the difference between managing and leading, and share the latest research on what followers want in a leader. I’ll bring in the research of James Kouzes and Barry Posner, linking that research to specific skills for leaders to engage in. I like to use a famous saying: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”

Q: That’s a stimulating quote to jumpstart discussion. You describe the session as a workshop. Will you be encouraging audience participation?

A: Right now, my initial plan is to open up a dialogue about leading and managing and to ask the group, what does it mean to be an effective leader?  How do you define management, and how do you define leadership? My objective here is to eventually distinguish between managing and leading. They are not the same thing, but there is an overlap; managers lead and leaders manage.

Sometimes you’re doing both simultaneously. It’s like driving a car and listening to the radio. You’ve got the capacity to do both, but I want people to understand they’re different. When taking care of things today, this is management function, but when you’re thinking five years from now, or even six months from now, visualizing what this could be, that’s when you’re leading, thinking innovatively and creatively.

For instance, when Jim Prevor and his colleagues got together and started talking about the London Produce Show, that was a leadership function. I have a Vice President here who I was working with for years, and clearly his strength was in leading, but when it came time for implementation — let’s get down to the nuts and bolts and the implementation — that was really a management function.

He liked to come up with the concept and ideas and bring it together, and then move on to the next project. So you surround yourself with good managers that can assist you in your project. And there are people who are great at management but can’t dream up the idea, or see the forest for the trees. That’s just not their thing or it’s too hard for them.

Some people can do both; some people just excel at one. But that’s important for people to know because you want to pull to your strength and, understand, I’m not good at math, so I need to surround myself with people that are good at math.

Q: Why focus on the Kouzes and Posner’s research?

A: This is solid research. Nothing has come around the corner yet that’s better than this. We’re looking at a model of leadership that’s been proven and demonstrated consistently over the past 30 years of practice and scrutiny of research, quantitative and qualitative data, involving well over 350,000 people, and hundreds of personal interviews.

This has been the one model that has undergone the test of time. And every year it’s updated.

Q: So your workshop centers on this quintessential research by Kouzes and Posner? In other sessions at the London Produce Show, speakers, including John Stanton, Miguel Gómez and Brad Rickard, will be sharing their own research on different topics. How will your session unfold?

A: I’ll have a handout of the course description and learning objectives on the agenda. I have an activity we’ll do during the session to define leadership. The topic has been studied about 75 years, not as long as management or biology. There is considerable research, but lack of consistency on the definition of leadership. It’s not definitive, so there is a lot of wiggle room.

We want to create a working definition with the group they can live with for the purpose of our session together. Generally I like to define leadership as the capacity or wherewithal for an individual to influence or inspire followers; to motivate or cajole others to willingly follow. If you’re following because you’re forced to or because of your father, your teacher or your boss, that’s not the kind of leadership we’re talking about. We’re talking about someone who gets on board because they think you’re doing the right thing or you’re going in the right direction and they are willing to follow.

The next real chunk of the session we will discuss is what does it mean when the follower says I’m on board, sign me up, I’m interested in what you’re doing and where you want to go. We’ll look into the research that’s been done by Kouzes and Posner on what are the top leadership characteristics followers say they want in a leader?

There’s about 25 to 30 years of research done, and about 350,000 participants in their data base. What I’ve done is taken the top characteristics and printed them out on index cards with their definitions.

I’ll give everyone a deck of cards with the top 20 characteristics, and ask attendees to pull out your top five. Those 20 are important, but which top five are most important to you? It’s a nice interactive group activity.

Q: Considering the talent and diversity in the room, this should get interesting…

A: Sometimes, I’ll ask people to turn to the person sitting next to you, in front of you or behind you, and see if you agree on the top five. The idea is to pull from the group. And then I share what the research is showing, so we can start to synthesize the results. So characteristics would include being ambitious, broad-minded, caring, competent, cooperative, courageous, dependable, determined, fair-minded, forward-looking, honest, imaginative, independent, inspiring, intelligent, loyal, mature, self-controlled, straight-forward and supportive.

My key learning objectives are to differentiate between managing and leading, and if you’re no good at leading, you need to know that so you can surround yourself with someone who can fulfill that role. Second, I want to identify the key leading behaviors, and if I have time, describe key elements of influence. We have a lot to cover in a 45-minute session. This would normally be a two-day workshop.

Q: Will attendees leave with action-oriented steps?

A: It’s a training, application session. We take the research of others proven to be valid and statistically relatable. It’s the same as the guy doing research on blueberries or strawberries, and translating it to deliver to the public.

This is the model of extension to translate the best research into practical application for people sitting in on the workshop. The big thing about training and development is adults want information that is immediately useful. We don’t even listen to the information we can’t use.

Adults come in with preconceived notions; anything we cover or teach needs to relate to experiences they’ve already had. It’s not like their mind is an empty vessel. They don’t want theory; they want practical applications. Some might have learning disabilities, eye sight or hearing problems; everyone doesn’t have the same tools at their disposal, whether it’s about botany or leadership. How do you help people hear information and connect it? When people walk in, they have preconceived ideas.

Often, change is going to be awkward and a little uncomfortable. I’ll do a closing exercise that exemplifies this, involving one small change people need to make.

This is not a lecture. My format and delivery style are more collaborative. In typical row seating at sessions, people only interact with the speaker. So it’s better to have an open “U” set up where people can see each other face to face, because leadership is networking and building relationships with the people around you.

Q: Do you find sometimes in sessions that people may be hesitant to participate or ask the first question?

A: When it’s an open U, I can connect more with people and facilitate the discussion. With adult learners, part of the experience is pulling from what they already know, and building on it together as a group, rather than just having someone come in and say, here’s the research, this is what the deal is, and goodbye. That’s not the process. It’s about discovery and engagement.

So, once they have the set of cards, and pick their top favorites, I share what the research says. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong or right. It’s from the 350,000 participants in the data base. The question is what traits in a leader are important to you?

Q: Is it industry-specific, or culture-specific? For instance, could there be a different emphasis on the top leadership traits if you are a produce grower versus an investment banker, or if you’re working in China versus the UK, or in the U.S., for that matter… Wisconsin versus New York?

A: That’s a good question. My work has focused a lot on the produce industry in New Jersey, the family farms, and generational retail businesses. I just got Kouzes and Posner’s latest research report on the UK, which will be interesting to discuss at the show.  

There’s also the idea of collectivism versus individualism. Some societies are collectivist, like Japan and China. They believe in teamwork, and don’t try to outdo each other. In the U.S., we’re all trying to climb that corporate ladder.

It’s fascinating to see how that plays out. I can also share Geert Hofestede’s research on the five dimensions of culture — time-orientation, short-term versus long term; another is power differential...etc. What Kouzes and Posner’s research is showing in the UK might have implications for other countries as well.

Q: Could you give us a preview of the UK findings? Does it shed any new light on the overall picture?

A: The London report, titled, “The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership,” builds on the body of Kouzes and Posner research, basically presenting the same information on leadership qualities, with similar challenges to those around the world.

What the researchers find is these characteristics transcend across borders, cultures and generations, regardless of industry or geography, public sector or non-profit, and despite individual differences of age, ethnicity and gender. The five practices of exemplary leadership have consistently been found related to positive employee and organizational outcomes.

Q: Could we go back to your use of the word “follower”?  Is getting someone to be a follower necessarily a good thing? For instance, couldn’t it be desirable for a leader to have people under him or her, willing to challenge and keep the leader on his or her toes, rather than following blindly? To be a follower can sometimes have a negative connotation…

A: That’s a valid point. Maybe follower isn’t always the best word to use, or could perhaps offend. When everything is said and done, communication and tone is key. When we’re leading, we are painting the picture, choosing words to appeal to the audience. How do you deliver the message? Here’s the path, now how do we communicate that path?

I can expound on a study done by Howard Gardner on the eight signs of intelligence, and who’s in charge. It wasn’t as expected. In order to move up the rank and file is social intelligence, the ability to bond with people, whether or not a brilliant scholar. When you look at kids early on playing in the sandbox, and you see the kid sharing his toys, that kid has a sense of social intelligence.

Q: So future leaders can be spotted at an early age… Would you say many leadership qualities are innate?

A: When you think of leadership experience at its best, when we watch other people, they’re not always the best. It’s better to focus on those who have excelled. I tell people to think of a time when you were involved with someone, or personally observed or admired someone that did a good job. You want to pull from personal experiences or something you’ve done.

When I ask this, often people start giving examples of good management, rather than leadership.

Q: Could you give some examples?

A: Management is about administration, running the show, focused on structure, organizational charts, job performance, and mechanisms to control a situation.

Management gives rewards, perks such as shorter workdays and casual dress, as well as sanctions. A manager is interested in the bottom line. We have a deadline, getting things done on time. We imitate past successes, it worked that way, we’ll repeat the process.

Leadership is about being innovative and conceptual. Instead of motivating by rewards, buy in to the intrinsic value, not because you’re getting the new office, get hooked by inspiration, and by trust. I think she has a good idea, and I’m willing to leave my job to go with this new start up. Leadership is not bottom-line thinking.


Very often, in evaluating workshops and similar enterprises, people look for relevance in the most short term kind of way.

This is a mistake. The most valuable thing a person can do is develop their own capacities. To discover one’s inner leader is not a trivial matter, and it can have life-altering properties.

For a business, to invest in the enhancement of its team members is probably a more meaningful and useful investment than almost anything else.

Yet, businesses often don’t invest in this way, fearing that the newly minted assets will walk out the door and keep their training with them.

At The London Produce Show and Conference, we try hard to cover many interests and needs. How to do social media betterhow to hire betterhow to market better and much more.

We hope you’ll come and participate in this workshop and many others.

You can learn more about The London Produce Show and Conference right here.

This is a small brochure we created that showcased the event from last year.

Please register at this link.

And, remember, we have a great “better-half” program; you can learn about it here.

You get the most out of the event by staying onsite at the headquarters hotel. It maximizes networking and thus the value you take out of participating. Get discounted rooms at the headquarters hotel right here.

We have exactly two booths left, so if you want to participate as an exhibitor, please let us know here.

And sponsorship opportunities allow you to position your company as a leader; find out about opportunities right here.

We look forward to seeing you at The London Produce Show and Conference!

Gala European Premiere Of Frieda Caplan Documentary, Fear No Fruit, Hosted By The London Produce Show And Conference

The American premiere of Fear No Fruit, the documentary focused on the life and times of Frieda Caplan, received significant press in America:

Fear No Fruit does a great job of showcasing both Frieda and Frieda's. We get Frieda — 91 years old, with no signs of slowing down — talking about her life, how she got in the industry, and how it was being a married mother with children in the 1960s while working in produce, as demanding a profession as there is. The filmmakers do a great job of having television clips of Frieda through the years explain the company's rise -- both a clever montage, stylistically, but also showing how much influence she's had over decades that the press went to her again and again.  

And if that's not enough, there's a shot of the staircase at the offices of Frieda's Produce highlighting just some of the hundreds of fruits and vegetables she's introduced to American palates over the decades — as awesome a Walk of Fame as you'll ever see.

Then Fear No Fruit switches over to family succession in the form of Frieda's daughters, Karen Caplan and Jackie Caplan Wiggins, who currently serve as president-CEO and vice-president-COO, respectively, and even sneak in Alex Jackson, Karen's daughter and a Frieda's marketing program manager.

All three talk about their own challenges living up to their legendary mother (and grandma) while forging a new path forward for the company. There are testimonials by journalists about the company, a behind-the-scenes look from staff meetings to going to downtown Los Angeles at 3 a.m. on the search for deals, and much more. It's a great family story, an awesome profile of a company, and enjoyable throughout thanks to the wisecracking Frieda.

And though it's never really painted as such, it's more feminist a film (and company) than any Lena Dunham claptrap can ever hope to be.

Take a look at the trailer here:

Now, The London Produce Show and Conference is proud to host the European Premiere of this documentary, with an exclusive post-film discussion moderated by yours truly with Frieda’s eldest daughter, Karen Caplan, President and CEO at Frieda’s.

The official press release is here:

“It is an extraordinary privilege to bring this film to London and to host its European premiere,” says Jim Prevor, editor-in-chief of PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine and founder of The London Produce Show and Conference. “Frieda Caplan is more than a produce industry icon; she helped bring about the ‘foodie culture’ that so defines today’s culinary scene. Frieda built her company and reputation on bringing the most interesting fruits from around the world to America. By hosting this film, we get to introduce one of the most extraordinary Americans to England, Europe and the world at large.”

Influential U.S. produce veterans and culinary masters making cameos in the film include: Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting Services; Tonya and Rick Antle of Tanimura & Antle; Chef Susan Feniger and Chef Mary Sue Milliken, both American chefs, restaurateurs and cookbook authors seen on various Food Network shows.

This exclusive red carpet event, held in the rarified confines of the Screening Room at the elegant One Aldwych Hotel just off of Covent Garden, starts with drinks and canapés.

You can see the announcement below. This is a capacity-controlled event, so if you would like an invitation please let us know here.

At The London Produce Show And Conference We Will Visit
The 'Poet Laureate' Of The Produce Industry...
Alick Glass Admonishes The Junior Pundit Primo:
'Become A Shining Light Of Good, In A World That’s Sometimes Bad'

We’ve written a number of pieces about the extraordinary event soon to unfold in the United Kingdom called The London Produce Show And Conference

Here are just some of the articles:

Bruce Peterson, Founder Of Wal-Mart Produce Program, Will Urge Industry To Rage Against Mediocrity, Value Experience Over Education, And Merchandise To Wow The Consumer At The London Produce Show And Conference

Will Reducing Food Waste Be Sufficient Reason To Embrace GMO Produce? Cornell Professor Brad Rickard To Guide A Controversial Session At The London Produce Show And Conference

The Renaissance Of The Wholesale Sector — Why Those Who Support 'Locally Grown' Should Support Investment In Market Intermediaries. Cornell University Professor Miguel Gómez Reveals Research Findings At The London Produce Show And Conference

Branding And In-Store Marketing: Perfect Together... St. Joseph’s Superstar Professor John Stanton To Present At London Produce Show And Conference 

On The Cutting Edge: FreshDirect’s Tenley Allen To Showcase How Social Media, Partnerships And Social Programming Can Win Over The Millennials And More At The London Produce Show And Conference

Of course, we thrive on the intellectual stimulation, the opportunities for commerce and the chance to meet new people.

Yet, as our involvement with the UK has grown, as we prepare to board a plane to England, we increasingly look forward to seeing friends.

This was a big year for us, as Junior Pundit Primo, aka William, celebrated his Bar Mitzvah.

The whole family was honored as William was showered with gifts from all corners of the globe, but, as we head to the show, we will be looking for one particular Brit, who we hereby nominate as Poet Laureate of the Produce Industry.

He, along with his wife Ruth, sent William a very generous present and a poem to go along with it:

When I was a Bar Mitzvah
Just like you
How fondly I recall
My father then advising me
The most important thing of all

“Remember where you come from, son
Who and what you are
Take example set by parents
And you will go far”

Prevor is not just a name
It’s a badge to wear with pride
A privileged reputation
That’s honored far and wide

Live up to it.
Bring credit
To your doting mum and dad
Become a shining light of good
In a world that’s sometimes bad

        —Alick Glass

We’ve been lucky enough to previously be the focus of Alick’s pen, in a piece we titled, Pundit’s Mailbag — Nobel Prize Commentary and Poetry.

That was a treat, but to a father, to have someone write about his son, is just something special.

William has the verse taped to his study desk and to his closet, so each time he faces the morning and each time he sits down to study, he is reminded that he has an obligation, to “live up to it” and “bring credit” and in this world we live in, where so often it seems people have no sense of obligation at all, to be given such a reminder is a very special gift.

This father owes the poet a great deal.

The connections one makes at these events are serendipitous, but rewarding beyond belief. Come join us at The London Produce Show and Conference.

'Truth Is His Best Defense'
Paul Kneeland Addresses The Assembled
As EPC Presents Pundit With Lifetime Achievement Award

Our piece, A TRIPLE CROWN OF AWARDS: For Commentary Well-Thought; Events Well-Presented; A Life Well-Lived… All In Service To An Industry Well-Loved, profiled a series of awards with which we were honored.

We have worked with Paul Kneeland, Vice President of Produce & Floral at Kings Food Markets, for many years, dating back to when he was Produce and Floral Director at Roche Bros. In fact, when Paul was at Roche Bros., he also served as First Vice President of the New England Produce Council and Chairman of their annual epo. When NEPC launched the first edition of its expo, we flew up to Boston to help Paul and the Association by keynoting the first year’s event.

Years later, after he had moved to King’s and New Jersey, Paul would head The New York Produce Show and Conference Committee for the Eastern Produce Council, and we would work together as we launched the very first edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference.

Ultimately, Paul became President of the EPC, and we continued our close cooperation.

Now Paul has finished his term and Vic Savanello, who we just highlighted here, has assumed the role of President.

Both Vic and Paul recently did the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award, which the EPC was generous enough to bestow on the Pundit. It was a special honor that, as one of his last official acts as President, Paul read the presentation.

We thought it would be nice to share his kind words:

It gives me great pleasure tonight to present the Eastern Produce Council’s ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’. This award exemplifies the efforts of great leaders in this great industry, leaders that make it an everyday habit of giving back. 

Our honoree can be described as controversial and challenging, unfettered and unapologetic, riveting, bold, and edgy. He has been known to challenge the biggest and the best in the industry, causing certain heartburn and unease. Yet, Truth is certainly his Best Defense.

He is described as an intelligent thinker, provoking inflection and questioning the norm. He is a trendsetter, always looking for different ways to inform the industry. He is an educator, providing insights and understanding to those who simply ask him.

In fact, he has made a career out of it.

Addressing companies around the globe from Australia to Europe, speaking to supermarkets, wholesalers and grower groups, our honoree is sought out by those who want to know more.

Adding to his cornerstone publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, our honoree has grown a global media empire consisting of multiple publications in multiple places. In social media, he fairs just as well with his very popular newsletter, the online Perishable Pundit, along with his website Perishable News to name just a few. He has been seen on CNN, Fox Business, NPR and the BBC. He has written for the Wall Street Journal and been quoted in the New York Times, the Financial Times and many other publications.

In 2009, his group joined hands with the Eastern Produce Council on The New York Produce Show and Conference, and in just five years helped it grow it into the second largest produce show in North America. But that’s just the beginning of our honoree’s event career. In 2014, the London Produce Show and Conference was born and, working with the Fresh Produce Consortium, that extraordinary event is about to unveil its second edition this June in London.

Karen Caplan, President & CEO of Frieda’s had this to say:

“(He) truly is a thought-leader. And I might add: he is fearless. When others would never speak out loud; they were afraid of the consequences. Jim would.

He definitely would publish widely about controversial subjects, (such as the wisdom or folly of Tesco’s foray into the USA market, Walmart’s Purchasing Practices or the ROI of the industry’s investment in macro marketing activities such as PBH or Sesame Street).

Jim does his research. And then he goes public with his thoughts and predictions.  He makes our industry think. And in some ways, he gives us hope, because oftentimes what he writes about are only thoughts we think, and we wonder what others feel on these controversial subjects.

On a personal note, he makes sure to balance his crazy work travel schedule by attending almost every event his two awesome sons are involved in (Jr. Pundit Primo  aka William  and Jr. Pundit Segundo  aka Matthew). Jim is truly a family man, and never misses an opportunity to reference his family roots in the produce business.”

Our honoree is the fourth generation of his family to be active in the food business in the United States, with roles in importing, exporting, and wholesaling. His family business also included running supermarkets and convenience stores as well as a restaurant chain and a farming operation.

From day one, the motto of his companies has been to ‘Initiate Industry Improvement’. Surely, this grounding was imbedded into our honoree through his father Michael, grandfather Harry, and great-grandfather Jacob.

Theresa Nolan had this to say:

“Without Jim’s coverage in PRODUCE BUSINESS of my and [my husband Jim’s] protracted legal battle, I am not sure how I would have made it through his death, the trial and all the emotional ups and downs that ensued. 

Even before my husband’s death, Jim’s excellent commentary in The Perishable Pundit gave Jim and me comfort and hope. We felt alienated from so many people, but Jim courageously supported us. So many were afraid to speak out. We knew we were not alone in our fight. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I will never forget what Jim Prevor did to help us. God bless him for all he has done.”

Awards? He has a few. Including the American Business Media’s Jesse H. Neal Award and the American Society of Business Press Editors Azbee Award for excellence in editorial, commentary and opinion journalism.

In recognition of our honoree’s rock solid reputation for bringing courage, integrity and passion to his work, he was presented with the Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity, an award often referred to as ‘the most important award in business-to-business journalism’

He, himself, will describe his greatest awards as his family. For all he does is for them  his wife Debbie and the apples of his eyes, sons William and Matthew.

Ladies and Gentleman, I proudly present the Eastern Produce Council’s 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award to Mr. Jim Prevor.


It was an overwhelming experience to hear these words, and we will never forget this moment. A sincere thank you to Paul Kneeland, Vic Savanello, John McAleavey, the Executive Director of the EPC, the entire board and the membership. It was especially meaningful as team members and family and especially the Jr. Pundits could all be there to hear Paul speak.

We all work hard and do so many things, but our children rarely get to hear exactly what other people think of their father or mother. That was a gift that we’ve never received before.

Here is a pledge to strive to always be worthy of this recognition.


Pundit’s Mailbag — 
The Local Conundrum
Is What We Really Have A Failure To Communicate?
We Need Each Other To Boost Consumption

Producers outside New Jersey are watching with interest what the Garden State does in defining local.

Our piece, New Jersey Prepares To Define Local, But Do We Need To Penalize Retailers? How The Initiative Will Hurt Jersey Farmers And Consumers Vic Savanello Speaks Out, along with our follow-up piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Jersey Fresh: Local Before Local Was Local! Can Vic Savanello And Beth Feehan Find Common Ground? Do Consumers Actually Need An Official Definition For Everything? — brought a comment from a producer who has contributed to Pundit pieces such as these:

Pundit’s Mailbag — Kudos To Wegmans And An Industry Willing To Work Together

Pundit’s Mailbag — Green Acres Is The Place To Be?!?

Pundit’s Mailbag — Flavor Consistency

Pundit’s Mailbag — Temperature Monitoring

Perishable Thoughts — Politics And Cynicism

Pundit’s Mailbag — Retailers Should Pay For What They Say They Want

Pundit’s Mailbag — No Matter What Growers, Shippers Or Retailers Do About Food Safety, ‘You Will Be Sued’

Pundit’s Mailbag – Who Should Pay When Bananas Are The Focus Of A Store’s Promotional Effort?

Here is what he had to say on this issue:

I am not a great writer as I have a tendency to write from the heart and not the head but here goes:

I have to agree with Vic Savanello.  Though what we really have here is a failure to communicate.

The American farmer, the men and women who grow the healthiest, safest fruits and vegetables in the world — without Government subsidies like half the farmers behind program crops, what we call welfare farmers — are being hit by lefts, rights and uppercuts and have no one to hit back at.

A bad law or regulation is not going to help New Jersey or any other states; we all know politicians will pass anything for a vote or do nothing for a vote. Politicians do not change from state to state.

The New Jersey growers, like most of us, are frustrated, and they are grasping for help — good, bad or indifferent.

As the Pundit has pointed out many times before, there is a big question for the industry to confront: Will a grower who is doing a better job actually get a profitable return on the investment required to do this job, or will he still have to match prices from Mexico, China or just from bad growers domestically.

Locally grown is a great marketing tool, and we have been using O’Brien Family Farms labels for years to convey that message — even if our product from Florida is out of state, even if it is being sold in New Jersey.

Marketing is a great tool, but in the end it is the customer who makes the final decision and from my experience (and I’m old and have worked both sides) the customer wants fresh, healthy, good-tasting, safe and American grown fruits and vegetables locally or from an OBFF (online best friend forever) 1,000 miles away.

So God Bless the farmer AND the retailer, wholesaler, foodservice provider and everyone else who is stepping up and meeting the difficult challenges that lay ahead of us. In other words, we need each other to keep the customer coming back and enjoying produce 10 times a day.

—Tom O’Brien
C&D Fruit and Vegetable
Bradenton, Florida

The question comes down to this: What are consumers really aiming to achieve by buying local? If, as Tom suggests, they want American produce, well why can’t Hawaiian Pineapples or California and Florida avocados all be “local” — if these are the closest domestic sources of these products.

The problem with creating legal definitions is they are inherently arbitrary. Look at the organic rules.  There is no basis for banning GMO product from organics. Hybridization is allowed under organic rules, so why would the tools used to achieve hybridization matter? It is marketing.

This wouldn’t be a problem if a private organization undertook it. In other words, anyone can form an organization, establish a logo, create rules for being marketed under that logo and prevent those who don’t conform to the rules from marketing their product under that logo.

But allowing the government to establish these standards gives them a special weight — this is what organic is or this is what local is — that really isn’t merited. It is just telling us who is politically powerful in this particular sphere, not who or what is right.

We thank Tom for weighing in on this important issue.

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