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FDA Begins Tomato Safety Initiative

When it comes to food safety, so much of the focus of the produce industry has been on leafy greens that it is easy to forget there are plenty of other items with food safety issues to be dealt with.

The FDA hasn’t forgotten, however, and has announced that it will begin a multi-year Tomato Safety Initiative:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will begin a Tomato Safety Initiative in the Summer of 2007. The Initiative is a collaborative effort between FDA and the state health and agriculture departments in Virginia and Florida, in cooperation with several universities and members of the produce industry.

FDA developed the Tomato Safety Initiative in response to recurring Salmonella outbreaks associated with fresh and fresh-cut tomatoes. The Initiative is part of a risk-based strategy to reduce foodborne illness by focusing food safety efforts on specific products, practices, and growing areas that have been found to be problematic in the past. The Tomato Safety Initiative is modeled after the Leafy Greens Safety Initiative that was initiated in August 2006, in collaboration with the State of California’s Department of Health Services and Department of Food and Agriculture. This new initiative is fully consistent with the 2004 FDA Produce Safety Action Plan goal of minimizing the incidence of foodborne illness associated with the consumption of fresh produce.

Most tomato-associated outbreaks over the past ten years have been traced to product originating from the Eastern shore of Virginia and from Florida; however outbreaks have also been traced to Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio, and California. Accordingly, FDA, in cooperation with Virginia’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, will begin the Initiative in July of this year, by visiting Virginia based tomato farms and packing facilities to assess their food safety practices and to what degree they implement Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs).

Assessment of a variety of environmental factors including irrigation water, wells, procedures for mixing chemicals, drought and flooding events, and animal proximity to growing fields will also be conducted during the farm and packing facility visits. Later in the year, a similar effort will be conducted in Florida coinciding with the production and harvesting season there.

Other components of the Initiative include continuing outreach with the industry at all points in the supply chain, facilitating and promoting research on tomato safety, and working with federal, state and local public health officials in disease detection and outbreak response.

By identifying practices or conditions that potentially lead to product contamination, FDA can further improve guidance and policy intended to minimize future outbreaks as well as ascertain future produce safety research, education, and outreach needs. The findings of the Initiative will be publicly shared upon completion of the effort, allowing the states and industry members to maximize their food safety efforts as well.

Here at the Pundit we’ve been aware of this issue and have discussed it in many pieces, including Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Florida Tomato Committee’s Reggie Brown and a piece that included a lengthy interview with Ed Beckman, President, California Tomato Farmers, which was entitled Moving Food Safety On To Other Commodities: California Tomato Farmers Raise The Bar.

The positive thing about this FDA effort is that it seems to be a genuine search for knowledge — everything from recommended practices being implemented to searching for other factors that could cause problems which might require a change in what practices are recommended.

Fortunately, the tomato industry in both Florida and California has been pro-active on this issue. Let us hope their efforts are being implemented in other states as well.

How One Man Can Make A Difference

Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association, and the Pundit had a recent exchange regarding customer service in PRODUCE BUSINESS, a sister publication of the Pundit.

The exchange was based on consumer research done by PMA that emphasized the enormous impact “high touch” can have in improving customer experience with retailers.

It is interesting to note that this is exactly the point that Tom Parker Bowles — a British food writer and the son of the woman most Americans know as Camilla Parker Bowles, now referred to as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, since she married Prince Charles — found exceptional regarding the new Whole Foods in London. Here is an excerpt from an article in the Daily Mail that we highlighted in the Pundit:

You are constantly being offered food to taste by the very people who make it, so you can ask them lots of questions. It’s a brilliant idea…. Whole Foods Market is the opposite of the usual supermarket experience mainly because you are encouraged to touch, taste and smell.

Now Bryan was kind enough to send along an inspirational video link. Written by Ken Blanchard & Barbara Glanz — that is Ken Blanchard of “One Minute Manager” fame — it tells the story of “Johnny the Bagger,” a young man with Down’s syndrome who responded to a seminar given by Barbara Glanz to employees at a large supermarket chain by deciding to find a way to make a difference to the customers at the grocery store where he was bagging.

The video is heartwarming and you can watch it here.

It also has turned into a whole industry with Ken Blanchard and Barbara Glanz writing a book, The Simple Truths of Service As Inspired by Johnny the Bagger, with a range of DVDs, videos and training kits available here.

The basic thing “Johnny” does is to identify a “Thought for the Day,” which he then prints on a little slip of paper which he puts in the shopping bag of every grocery bag he fills. Customers so enjoyed the “thoughts,” they would wait on line to have “Johnny” as their bagger.

It is a great story and one the Pundit learned early on: Everyone should have a person in their life who symbolizes a world beyond day-to-day boundaries. For this Pundit, that was (and is) a man named Hunter.

Everyone should have an uncle who is always zipping in from a foreign country, putting his life in danger on some hostile border, then skinning-dipping with royalty and movie stars. After a lifetime abroad that took him from the Wm. Morris Agency, getting caught by Life magazine kissing the hand of Gina Lolabrigida on the red carpet of a movie premiere and marrying royalty in Bangkok, my uncle Hunter settled down in New York City where he became the most successful and famous salesperson at the world-renowned Bergdorf Goodman department store.

He sold men’s suits and his clientele spanned the globe. His rolodex was golden, and it was common for some captain of industry, prince or potentate to call with an order for tens of thousands of dollars in clothing.

How did Hunter build such a clientele? On the back of his business cards. On every interaction with a customer, Hunter gave out a business card personalized with a poem, story or aphorism he had written himself.

And that simple card led important people — sheiks from Arabia and dictators from Zaire — to all insist their suits come from Hunter.

Many of these cards are collected in his book, From the Bottom of My Soul to the Back of My Cards: The Philosophy and Poetry of A Salesperson. You can buy it here.

“Johnny” and the Pundit’s uncle Hunter both remind us that the notion that we can’t do more is almost never true. It also explains why despite all the advantages of scale, a smart and dedicated little guy can often win the war.

Many thanks to Bryan and to PMA for reminding us to focus on customer service.

Katzman And Two D’Arrigos
Serve Worthy Causes

It is always interesting to see how frequently it is that the same families step up to positions of industry leadership. In New York, Steve Katzman, President, S. Katzman Produce, Inc., and Matthew D’Arrigo, Vice President, D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York, Inc., have just been reelected to head up the Hunts Point Terminal Market.

Steve Katzman Matthew D’Arrigo

In a ceremony attended by the Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr., the two leaders were commended for their dedication to the wholesale industry and the market, and the Borough President pledged to work closely with them to encourage the development of a brand new market facility in the Bronx.

This election shortly follows the naming of Margaret D’Arrigo-Martin as Ag Woman of the Year by Ag Against Hunger.

Margaret is Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of California.

The award was presented by Lorri Koster, co-chairman of Mann Packing, who was the outgoing Ag Woman of the Year (pictured at right, presenting the award to Margaret).

Margaret is Chairman of the board of directors of United Way of Monterey County and is involved in many community and charity organizations.

She and her husband, Steve, now the parents of twin boys , established “Only Love” — a fundraising and awareness event to assist the Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition after the death of their daughter, Alexis Claire Martin, as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

You can honor Alexis Claire and help the Children’s Hospice and Palliative Care Coalition by buying an “Only Love” bracelet right here.

Congratulations of course to Steve Katzman. The Pundit Dad served for a while on the board of the Hunts Point Market, and being a co-chairman, especially with a new market coming up, is no small commitment. Steve deserves much appreciation

Yet it strikes us as interesting that across the continent, two members of the D’Arrigo family both are assuming obligations of service and winning the industry respect that comes with that.

For all of us with children, it reminds us that our influence continues long after we are gone.

After all, Matthew and Margaret are cousins, they share not parents but a set of grandparents. The Pundit grew up while his family worked in the New York Market, and he was privileged to know Stephen D’Arrigo, one of the patriarchs of the D’Arrigo family. Steve was Matthew’s father and Margaret’s uncle, who has now passed away.

Still Fighting For AgJOBS

We know of no more dedicated advocate of AgJOBS than Jim Allen, President of the the New York Apple Association. He has spoken out in favor of AgJOBS and contributed to the Pundit’s discussion of this issue here and here, and last month he led a delegation to DC to fight for the issue:

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., meets with farmers and agricultural leaders from New York on the steps of the Capitol. Top Row (from left): Kaari Stannard (apple), Stacy Haga (apple) and Angela Bezon. Second row: Ben Russell (apple), Pete Russell (apple), Phil Smith (apple), Bob Gray and Bob Smith. Third row: Maureen Torrey-Marshall, Mark Nicholson (apple), Chuck Mead (apple), Sarah Nobel-Moag, Peter Barton (apple) and John Teeple (apple). Fourth row: Kathy Barrett, Brandon Mallory, Paul Baker, Sen. Clinton, Diane Eldred, Wendy Wilson (apple), Jim Allen, NYAA President.


For months, New York’s apple growers have answered the call to support the industry’s fight for immigration reform to ensure workforce stability.

In May, more than a dozen New York farmers from various fields made a house call to Washington, D.C., to drive home the point.

A group of 18 farmers and agricultural professionals joined Paul Baker of Agricultural Affiliates and The New York Horticultural Society and New York Apple Association President, Jim Allen, for a mid-May, one-day “fly-in” to meet with members of the state’s congressional delegation.

In various smaller groups, the growers met with the offices of each Upstate congressperson, 11 downstate representatives and both New York senators, including a face-to-face meeting with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“The New York apple industry has fulfilled its responsibility financially to help support this cause, but you can’t just buy everything,” Allen said. “It takes people and faces and bodies to make this work. That’s what was so important to have 18 people from New York State — from apples to dairy.”

Baker organized the trip, a whirlwind outing that involved catching early flights to either Baltimore or D.C., taking a train to downtown Washington, participating in a full day of meetings on Capitol Hill and flying back to New York that night.

“It is more cost-effective for (growers) to be able to get in and out in one day,” Baker said in a telephone interview after the trip. “There is a lot going on horticulturally this time of year, and it’s very expensive to stay overnight in D.C.”

The hidden cost of the trip: taking a day away from the farm in the middle of spring. Baker said that sacrifice was not lost on the representatives and staffers who met with the industry representatives.

Now the President is pushing the U.S. Senate to revive the “Grand compromise” immigration bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid withdrew from the floor of the Senate.

There still is a chance for passage of the bill. The specific issue that led to the collapse was the unwillingness of Senator Reid to prolong debate — despite a personal plea by Senator Kennedy. If Republicans have an opportunity to amend the bill, just the fact that they get to bring amendments they like to the floor might satisfy many of the Senators, and if they feel they get some passed and improve the bill, so much the better.

It won’t be easy though. You can watch a video here featuring Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama explaining that he thinks the bill has fundamental flaws. And noticeably absent from all the news coverage is Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Even if the bill gets through the Senate, its prospects in the House are questionable.

The problem may be that the immigration compromise is so big and involves so many issues that it provides all sides with something to hate about the bill.

As an industry we may need to be prepared with a “Plan B” that focuses on the discrete needs of the produce industry for short term harvesting labor.

This need is acute enough to be recognized by all, and because of its seasonal nature allows for “in and out” laborers that even immigration opponents could probably live with. If we don’t confuse the issue by also trying to reduce labor costs, we might be able to get a discrete bill passed if the “grand compromise” is deemed dead.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Are Supermarket Chains Catching Up to Wal-Mart?

Among the many pieces we have run related to Wal-Mart was one entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Wal-Mart’s Market Managers, which analyzed Wal-Mart’s new “Market Manager” position and, specifically, how their food support staff — which outsiders might call food merchandisers but are officially called Market Grocery Managers — were impacting merchandising. That piece was prompted by a letter from Keith Anderson of Management Ventures, Inc.

Now Keith sends along another note:

You’ve probably seen Wal-Mart’s June 1 announcement of plans to scale back the opening of new Supercenters, their most profitable retail format and primary growth driver in the US. I wanted to make you aware of some fresh forecasts and analysis MVI has completed on the subject.

According to our latest estimates, Wal-Mart’s US sales will grow at a compound annual rate of 5.6% from 2006 to 2012, lagging the overall US chain retail average of 5.9%. In the nearly 20 years MVI has closely followed the retail industry, this is the first time we have predicted Wal-Mart will grow at a rate below the overall US chain retail average.

— Keith Anderson
MVI (Management Ventures, Inc.)

Right now in Dallas, MVI is doing one of its presentations to help vendors explore these issues more thoroughly, so we appreciate Keith’s taking the time to send us a note.

He draws attention to an immensely important point: That Wal-Mart, it is projected, will for the first time since supercenters started rolling across America, grow more slowly than the average U.S. retail chain.

This is really the subtext of the recent series we have done on Wal-Mart:

First, we looked at the change from DC assignments to dollar-value assignments, plus looked at the growth of “opportunity buys” in our piece Wal-Mart Continues To Change Its Buying Practices.

Second, we spoke with Ron McCormick, Vice President/Director of Produce and Floral for Wal-Mart, who explained Wal-Mart’s reorganization of procurement, including distinguishing between strategic and tactical vendors. We entitled that article, Ron McCormick Of Wal-Mart Elaborates On Its Procurement Reorganization.

Third, we ran Wal-Mart’s Changing Treatment Of Suppliers, which was built around a letter sent from a supply-side member of the industry decrying how vendors on the fruit side of the business felt they were being treated.

Fourth, we addressed the many calls we had received from Wal-Mart vendors that differed in specifics, but all seemed to feel things had changed for vendors at Wal-Mart and in a negative way. We named this piece, Calls On Wal-Mart Point To More Vendor Negativity.

Fifth, we ran ‘Anyone But Wal-Mart’, which pointed out the enormous psychic switch as Wal-Mart, which once was the preferred customer, has suddenly being the one everyone wants to diversify away from.

Sixth, we asked if Wal-Mart’s thirst for lower prices on produce is symptomatic of a value-shift in Has Wal-Mart’s Desire To Buy Cheaper Changed Its Values?

Seventh, we looked at whether an increased use of “opportunity buys” at Wal-Mart meant a lessening of emphasis on other issues, such as the use of RPCs, RFID and food safety. This piece was entitled Wal-Mart’s ‘Opportunity Buy’ Policy Reveals Much About The Company

Eighth, we looked at how an initiative to audit payments from Wal-Mart made to produce vendors was being handled in From The Frying Pan Into The Fire — Wal-Mart Finds Another Way To Alienate Suppliers

Ninth, we heard from a vendor who spoke in defense of Wal-Mart and claimed that suppliers had abused the Wal-Mart system. The piece was entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — In Defense Of Wal-Mart.

What all these articles focus on is changes in the procurement system focused on increasing gross margin. What is interesting is that not too long ago all the buzz was that Wal-Mart had supermarket chains down on their knees.

Yet today the news is all about how Safeway, Kroger and SuperValu are doing just fine — even with Wal-Mart as competition.

It is as if Wal-Mart has shifted focus and, instead of competing aggressively with a phalanx of loyal suppliers at its side, it has decided to boost margins, slow growth and, in doing so, let those competitors that were down for the count rise to fight again.

In the history of retailing, it may prove to be an epochal decision.

Many thanks to Keith and to MVI for bringing this important fact to our attention.

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