Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Publix Tests Curbside Service… Hello, Tesco?

When Tesco announced its new concept, before it even confirmed the name, it kept saying that the new store would be convenient. Many American analysts took that to mean that it would be a convenience store concept. As it became obvious that this was not so, but that Tesco was looking to create a more convenient small supermarket, leaning heavily toward prepared food, we questioned exactly how convenient this whole concept was:

…even assuming execution is perfect, readers report that the concept has real risks.

My key question is whether the West coast mom will stop, get out of the car, purchase a rather expensive main dish and perhaps a few side dishes for dinner. The ease of purchase is a higher hurdle than the UK mom exiting the tube station and finding oneself at the door of Tesco Express and only being a few doors away from her London flat.

Indeed, and this is the great dilemma. Tesco is proposing to open, very quickly, hundreds of stores all built in a format that has no track record of consumer acceptance.

This is a ”brilliant or bankrupt” strategy. If it works, Tesco and its executives will be hailed as pioneers and innovators and will establish a new category for food retailing in the US. If it doesn’t work, Tesco will be attacked as foolhardy adventurers so anxious to make a big splash they were unwilling to test out their concept in America.

So which will it be?

Well, there is already a substantial market for high quality prepared foods in urban areas. If they were talking about doing this in Manhattan, San Francisco or Boston, it would be uneventful. It isn’t surprising that Wall Street bachelors, midtown lady lawyers and yuppie couples stop on the way to their apartments to pick up some food.

But move out to the burbs and the soccer moms and things change. Money has other uses when you have a family, so they don’t go for higher margins as quickly. And getting a couple of kids unstrapped from the car seats and strapping them in again starts to seem like a big reason not to go into a store.

If Tesco really wants to revolutionize the business, it should refuse to rent non-urban locations without drive-throughs. Drive-throughs are the American way. Retailers hate them because the retail DNA wants to drag people past items they don’t want in order to induce impulse buys. But that is not a consumer-friendly philosophy.

We talk about retail learning from foodservice. Well, the business of big hamburger chains is now going through the drive-through — 70% of business at a chain like Burger King. And the big issue is how can everyone do it faster.

The pizza business is driven by delivery. Casual dining chains, such as Outback, Carrabba’s and Applebee’s, went to curbside pickup to remain competitive.

It is very clear that in this market, it is not just the food, the quality and the location — a lot of people simply don’t want to get out of their cars.

We pointed out that, to be truly convenient, Tesco would need an option so that people didn’t have to get out of their cars:

Maybe Tesco has some tricks up its sleeve. If they don’t have drive-throughs, maybe they will offer curbside delivery or even home delivery.

In another piece, we pointed out that in most of America you can’t think about convenience without thinking about how Americans interact with their cars:

The way for Tesco to really create a more convenient store is to recognize that Americans don’t want to get out of their cars. The revolution Americans want is not what is inside the store, nor it being close to the house. It is not having to go inside. Drive-throughs, curbside-pickup, convenient delivery.

For all the talk of being consumer-centered, most proposals to do these things are met with resistance because, after all, how are you going to sell consumers impulse buys if they can just call in or e-mail their lists and when they pull up, you’ll just put it in their trunk?

To our British friends from Tesco, that would be a boot and if they want to be truly convenient in the American context, they should look at all the restaurants that offer curbside service. No reason a retailer that is consumer focused can’t do that as well.

Well we have no idea if Tesco is going to take us up on any of this, but Publix seems inclined to test the concept:


Supermarket chain tries in-car delivery of deli take-out items in one Fort Myers store.

Publix Super Markets Inc. is taking a page from the restaurant industry for its latest innovation: Curbside carry out. Spokeswoman Shannon Patten said the company recently began testing a curbside service for deli items at a store in Fort Myers, allowing customers to have things like subs, salads and fried chicken delivered to their cars. “For customers who are time-starved it’s a way for them to consider us as an option for lunch or dinner,” Patten said. “It’s convenient.” Patten said the program works similar to a restaurant curbside service, in which customers phone in orders, park in designated spaces and submit their payment to an employee. She said Publix allocated a handful of parking spaces near the deli entrance at the Fort Myers site and monitors them with a video camera…

The only question is why limit it to the deli? The obvious answer is that the main competition of supermarket deli foods — restaurants — is doing it. But how about Tesco getting ahead of the curve and just doing it on the whole store? That would wow Americans.

FDA Nixes Health Claim Of Tomatoes Because Of Poor Evidence… Can PBH Step In?

It is very common here at the Pundit to receive requests from industry members to run articles pointing out that one or another produce item has been found to fight cancer or another ailment. Typically, though, we find the evidence so flimsy that it is little more than a speculation.

There is a mechanism, however, by which commodities can apply to the FDA for permission to make certain health claims. Basically you present your evidence and the FDA either allows or disallows certain claims.

Tomatoes have a significantly larger body of research supporting the health claims of advocates than most produce claims. Yet, the FDA has refused to allow much in the way of health claims. Now the FDA has explained its reasoning:

The FDA won’t rule out the possibility that tomatoes are cancer-fighters, but it considers the evidence supporting that claim to be exceedingly flimsy.

Eighteen months after the agency refused a request from food companies to allow them to make unfettered claims that both fresh and cooked tomatoes have anti-malignancy properties, and that lycopene, the anti-oxidant in the fruit, is responsible, the FDA has explained its thinking.

If granted, food companies would have been able to advertise that everything from the tomato sauce on pizza to lycopene capsules from a health food store prevented a range of cancers, Claudine Kavanaugh, Ph.D., of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition here, and colleagues wrote in the July 10 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

But after a painstaking analysis of 145 studies, the agency concluded there’s no scientific evidence of any cancer-fighting benefit from lycopene and only limited evidence for any benefit from tomatoes themselves. (See FDA Tomato Ruling May Make Pizza a Health Food)

All of the 81 observational studies of lycopene and cancer were rejected as failing to meet the scientific standards for a claim of a cancer prevention benefit, Dr. Kavanaugh and colleagues said.

But tomatoes themselves, whether fresh or cooked, fared better. Of the 64 studies of tomatoes and various forms of cancer, only 25 were rejected outright.

And, on the basis of the review of the remaining 39, Dr. Kavanaugh and colleagues said, food companies were allowed to make “qualified claims” that tomatoes might reduce the risk of prostate, gastric, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer.

But any claims had to include the FDA’s own view of the evidence:

  • For prostate cancer, there was “little scientific evidence” supporting an anti-cancer benefit.
  • For gastric cancer, “FDA concludes that it is unlikely that tomatoes reduce the risk.”
  • For ovarian cancer, “it is highly uncertain that tomato sauce reduces the risk.”
  • For pancreatic cancer, “FDA concludes that it is highly unlikely that tomatoes reduce the risk.”

For all other malignancies that were studied — including breast, lung, and cervical cancer — the FDA concluded there wasn’t enough credible evidence to allow any form of health claim, no matter how qualified.

The process was limited by the small number of high-quality studies, said Paul Coates, Ph.D., of the NIH in an accompanying editorial, and the results are likely to be difficult to communicate properly to the public.

But neither problem “diminishes the importance of using evidence-based review principles to evaluate important diet-health relationships,” Dr. Coates said.

He added that one advantage of an evidence-based review system is that the issue can be re-opened if new data become available.

In another editorial, Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, argued that the widespread use of prostate-specific antigen testing might be skewing the data concerning prostate cancer and tomatoes.

In places where PSA tests are used widely, Dr. Giovannucci argued, the rate of prostate cancer increases, as more small cancers — including many that are not clinically important — are found.

If occurrence is used as an endpoint, he said, any beneficial effect of either lycopene or tomatoes themselves might be overwhelmed by the increased rate of disease.

He noted that studies supporting a benefit for lycopene or tomatoes were either done in the U.S. before widespread PSA testing or more recently in places where PSA tests are still not widely used.

“Although it may be premature to espouse increased consumption of tomato sauce or lycopene for prostate cancer prevention, this area of research remains promising,” he said.

Dr. Giovannucci was lead author of a 2002 prospective study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on tomato products, lycopene, and prostate cancer risk.

It is important to understand that the FDA did NOT find that lycopene does not help prevent cancer. It basically found that all the research is too weak to support strong health claims.

We have long contended that a very useful role for the Produce for Better Health Foundation would be to methodically go down the list of produce items and make sure that research studies are conducted on each item to provide evidence to submit to the FDA to get health claims approved. PBH would be perfectly positioned to make sure that any research conducted would be of a scale, a type and of the quality necessary to be acceptable to the FDA.

Yesterday, our piece on PBH and “Fruits and Veggies — More Matters” questioned the efficacy of trying to run a national promotion program on such a limited budget. Yet, here, by funding a series of scientific studies, we have a job in line with the resources available.

In the past, proposals such as this have been rejected because of the supposed need to treat all produce items alike.

It seems to us, though, that we can overcome that hesitation. Perhaps we commit to taking turns or perhaps we offer a matching fund mechanism so each commodity has to raise some money on its own.

Whatever the mechanism, the key thing that will help increase produce sales is an FDA-approved health claim. We need to start doing what is necessary to gain approval for them. The sooner we start… the sooner the research is done… the sooner the FDA can approve… the sooner we can start promoting… the sooner sales will increase.

What, precisely, are we waiting for?

Watermelon Industry Creates Food Safety And Crisis Management Guidelines

We’ve been running a project here at the Pundit to learn what different commodity groups and geographical sectors are doing to enhance food safety. We started in the east with Pundit Pulse — New Jersey Dept Of Ag’s Al Murray to see how a state department of agriculture was working to enhance food safety across a diverse range of commodities. We followed this with California Strawberry Industry Moves To Make Food Safe, focusing in on one commodity from one state.

Tomatoes were our next subject, first in the southeast, with pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Florida Tomato Committee’s Reggie Brown, and then we went out west with Moving Food Safety On To Other Commodities: California Tomato Farmers Raise The Bar.

Next we turned to almonds an industry utilizing a mandatory marketing order to establish food safety regulations. That piece was called Pundit Pulse Of The Industry: California Almond Board.

Now we try something different… we look at the watermelon industry, which, almost uniquely, has a national association and a national marketing order. To learn how this industry is addressing the issue of food safety, we asked Pundit Investigator and special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to see what we could learn.

Mark Arney
CEO, Executive Director
Leslie Coleman
Director of Communications
National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB)


Q: In the produce industry’s quest to enhance food safety, is it underplaying the importance of crisis management following an outbreak?

MARK: Like an insurance policy, it is critical to have a comprehensive crisis management strategy and clear communication action plan. You hope not to use it but you’re making a good investment on the premium. These are very strong initiatives in direct response to the spinach crisis; to be sure we’re doing everything possible to be prepared.

Q: What is NWPB’s relationship with The National Watermelon Association (NWA) in making it happen?

MARK: NWA President Bradley O’Neal is also on our board of directors, which is helpful. NWA Chairman and past-President Brent Jackson was on our board of directors until recently and very much involved. We are prohibited from lobbying government for funding, whereas NWA, our sister-trade organization can. Bob Morrissey, CEO, runs that effort.

Developing a crisis communication plan started at the top level with our Chairman and President, Brent Harrison, but it is truly a team endeavor. We all put our heads together to strategize what role we needed to take to prepare for a crisis. Crisis management training would be handled by NWPB in partnership with NWA, which would focus on GAP, certification, food safety issues at farm and packing house levels, and collaborating with the other industry organizations on safety initiatives.

Q: Many industry executives say the spinach outbreak spiraled out of control in terms of how it was handled in the media, at the government, retail, foodservice, and consumer levels. The outbreak’s aftermath devastated the spinach industry and caused significant harm to the produce industry at large both financially and reputation-wise. What impact would an organized crisis intervention program have in assuaging the damage?

MARK: From my perspective, a significant impact. The spinach industry really didn’t have an organization like NWA or NWPB, which probably would have helped tremendously on damage control, working closely with government officials to isolate the spinach problem quicker and get the right information out quickly. If the industry had a good crisis management program in place, it could have alleviated the fallout from the problem. It wouldn’t have gotten rid of the problem because of the seriousness of the outbreak and the deaths, but would have gone a long way to at least minimize losses.

Q: Do you have examples of incidents within the watermelon industry that required strong crisis management skills?

MARK: Go back to cross-contamination issues we had with watermelon in Milwaukee in 2000. A young child died from E. coli poisoning after eating watermelon. It turned out to be cross-contamination at a restaurant where the cook had cut up some watermelon with a knife previously used on raw meat. The Milwaukee Health Department conducted an investigation. It was a terrible, unfortunate accident.

LESLIE: Mark and I both came on board following that event. From what I’ve seen in the files and from media coverage, the health department moved quickly in determining the source of the problem. I did not see tremendous evidence of mistakes in managing the incident. People on the Board were quick to get the word out that it was cross-contamination.

MARK: On August 1, 2000, immediately after the event occurred, the Milwaukee Sentinel released an erroneous article. “E. coli Traced to Watermelon” was the headline. It reported “…watermelon served on the salad bar of a south side Sizzler restaurant from July 14 to July 21 appears to be the source of the E. coli bacteria that killed a young girl and sickened 41 other people that Monday.”

LESLIE: One of the unfortunate things that happens with the Internet is that these stories never go away. One of these initial stories indicating watermelon as the source of the contamination ended up being picked up again and re-reported around Christmas time just this past year. Apparently a reporter writing about a new food safety incident went on the Internet to do research and picked up that first incorrect story. Through Internet news sources, Mark found the article that mentioned this Milwaukee incident from years and years ago falsely linking it to watermelon.

The danger with the Internet is that you can go back to find one bit of information about an outbreak but don’t necessarily find the whole story.

MARK: Shortly after, the City of Milwaukee Health Department and Wisconsin Department of Health linked the contamination to two Milwaukee Sizzler restaurants and isolated the problem to raw meat from the restaurant, manufactured by the company Excel. Lawsuits were initiated against Sizzler USA and Excel but none against the watermelon supplier because of a lot of work our staff did to get the word out that watermelon was only the vehicle for the contamination.

Even food poisoning attorneys I would describe as the equivalent of ambulance-chasers looking for victims admonished the watermelon industry of any responsibility in that case.

Q: Bean sprouts are considered a high risk item on the food safety Richter scale. Where does watermelon fit in the rankings?

LESLIE: Right behind eggplant, watermelon is considered one of the safest fruits and vegetables. The rind is a nice barrier to protect the interior fruit compared to other products sitting open in the field. What we’re trying to do is communicate to consumers how important it is to wash the exterior and wipe it off, and always use a clean knife when cutting it. We have never experienced an incident where the watermelon itself was the problem. The potential problem is with the surface. If a knife goes through it and any pathogen or bacteria is on the rind, of course it would come right through. That is why washing and wiping the rind is a real critical step.

Q: With the advent of the fresh-cut fruit industry, do you believe food safety issues are growing or lessening and why? How does this affect your strategies?

A: MARK: Many retailers have gone to centralized processing facilities for fresh-cut watermelon and pre-cut fruit mixes. These facilities are constantly scrutinized for food safety. The majority of watermelon is sold whole. While the product itself is safe, there is always concern of cross-contamination. This starts at the farm level and continues through the supply chain, whether it gets cut at a fresh-cut facility, at the retail level, in a restaurant, or in the consumer’s home. More exposure with a fresh-cut facility magnifies the chances of contamination versus selling it whole, as long as consumers are practicing safe handling. Rinsing watermelon under tap water goes a long way.

LESLIE: We pick up the guidelines from the Fight Bac program developed by experts. The safety program comes out of partnerships with a couple of federal organizations. Because we don’t have the scientific staff for appropriate protocol, we look to these experts. They recommend consumers wash all fruits and vegetables, and in the case of watermelon wipe the rind with a clean cloth. We’re not in a position to make any comments on FIT and these other washes’ health claims. Fight Bac is a great resource with a lot of consumer programs related to produce that appeals to wide audiences.

We are fortunate because of the nature of our product that food safety issues are not as challenging as in some commodities. Food safety communication plays an important role. Keeping it simple is a good philosophy, but it is also critical to be very open and transparent.

Q: How far along are you in accomplishing your crisis management goals?

LESLIE: We are about 95 percent of the way in finishing our enhanced communication plan. We are working with two communication crisis experts, helping us walk through this. They are both investigative reporters with T.V. and newspaper background in major markets including Miami, helping us understand how to communicate with the media if faced with a crisis.

Q: Tell us some key lessens you’ve learned.

LESLIE: On many occasions a crisis might arise, is heavily reported and then concluded and the communication to consumers stops. It might be overlooked that communication should go out to website media to alert consumers the danger is over and what this means in terms of buying and eating the product again. It is very important for us to send out information on what the health department found in clear terms that are understandable to consumers. This seems like a no-brainer, but is often not done in the flurry of the moment. The consultants helped us in formulating a core plan and check lists that need to be covered in case of a crisis, good solid thinking and planning to move through the process methodically if, heaven forbid, something happened. The FDA may have known a lab finding determined x, but what does that mean for product in the grocery store?

As far as the Internet goes for industry members, we are working to provide links on our site to food safety practices and resources.

We conducted one crisis training session for board members, with another one scheduled in November. All staff has gone through the crisis training program.

Safe food handling information has been sent out in press kits and in flyers for consumers to be distributed at different state promotional programs such as health fairs, parades, and watermelon festivals. Different state watermelon associations work with their state agriculture departments. Watermelon queens for each state and the national organization make a tremendous amount of event visits, including store openings where they cut up watermelon, pass out these flyers and provide food handling tips to consumers. The watermelon queens are trained on messaging and how to interact in interviews.

We are also conducting food safety consumer research and attending food safety seminars.

We’ve developed a crisis communication tip card for industry members with emergency numbers and important initial steps on how to handle a crisis that might come up. It is laminated like a business card for them to keep in their wallets.

Q: Are you integrating your efforts with other industry initiatives?

LESLIE: One thing we did is partnered with NWA and co-sponsored a food safety convention that brought in key people from the government and other industry organizations to help watermelon industry members understand what’s ahead of them. Retailers have higher food safety expectations now out of concern for their shoppers, and the retailers want to be sure what they are getting in their stores is safe.

MARK: We’re trying to support all efforts undertaken by Bob Morrissey and NWA, working directly with industry members to insure good food safety practices are complied with at the farm level. The importance of safe handling at food operators and communicating that to consumers is paramount to lessening incidents of foodborne illness related to watermelon.

We have to look at our mission and what our activities should be as the communication arm. We certainly are trying to work as closely as possible with NWA so that neither of us is duplicating the other.

A lot of our work is borne out of advice these consultants have shared on the proper things to do in a crisis based on principles. We feel the right thing to do is be very open in sharing information. This is in the best interest of consumers and industry members.

LESLIE: The handling of the Tylenol cyanide-tampering incident is a shining example. Johnson & Johnson made it a policy to be very transparent with consumers on exactly what was going on. In an unprecedented move, the company invited cameras and investigative reporters from 60 Minutes into one of the internal meetings to see how the board was handling the crisis. That course of action and openness was courageous and smart.

I don’t believe they ever caught the person who did it, and analysts predicted that the Tylenol brand was ruined forever. The fact that consumer confidence in Tylenol product could still come back is a powerful testament to the merits of how Johnson & Johnson handled the situation.

Q: Food safety investigations can often be complex undertakings. Couldn’t releasing information quickly cause confusion or create problems? For example, in Taco Bell’s rush to get back to business and calm consumer fears, the company falsely reported green onions as the source of an E. coli problem after a “presumptive positive” test result, taking swift action against the supplier, when in fact green onions ended up not being the source of the contamination.

MARK: This is an extremely important point. You have to be very cautious in anticipating or projecting what may or may not be the cause. Be sure consumers are getting accurate information. What’s important for everyone to remember is that in a crisis situation there is a victim or many victims. If a camera shows up on a farm, the Number One important thing to do is to express concern that someone became ill. Stay calm and speak to the facts at the moment. When people try to answer questions, they don’t have answers that get jumbled. If you don’t know something, say so versus ‘no comment,’ which sounds like you’re trying to hide something.

When organizations decide how they are going to put out messages regarding a food safety crisis, they need to know what is going on with consumers. Internet information is exchanged very quickly. Consumers are savvy and tend to be more skeptical than 20 years ago. They appreciate honesty and openness.

When United issued its initial call for uniform, mandatory, federal regulation, it got some push-back from commodities that weren’t known to have food safety problems. These commodities were concerned, reasonably enough, that they would fall under some kind of rigorous, and unnecessary, food safety scheme that would cost them money, expose them to liability, etc. — all to no point.

Although PMA joined in the call — and both associations made clear they were not looking for inspectors looking over the shoulder as every seed is planted — it is still a little difficult to envision what type of mandatory regulation will both be rigorous enough to prevent future food safety problems and flexible enough to not impose burdens where none are required.

It is also not clear what is the standard of safety that will be required. This interview is intriguing because it is very different than our conversations with leaders in the strawberry, tomato and almond industries. There, the food safety emphasis was heavily research and field-based. Here, the focus is on having a great crisis management plan. The reason is explained clearly:

…watermelon is considered one of the safest fruits and vegetables. The rind is a nice barrier to protect the interior fruit compared to other products sitting open in the field. What we’re trying to do is communicate to consumers how important it is to wash the exterior and wipe it off, and always use a clean knife when cutting it. We have never experienced an incident where the watermelon itself was the problem. The potential problem is with the surface. If a knife goes through it and any pathogen or bacteria is on the rind, of course it would come right through. That is why washing and wiping the rind is a real critical step.

Sometimes the problem is cross-contamination, and Mark and Leslie tell the story of how that has happened and sometimes been incorrectly reported as a problem with watermelon.

What is unclear at this point in time is what the FDA will ultimately mandate for all products in terms of field-based, transportation-based and retail-based contamination. Will it be considered acceptable to sell a product that will be perfectly safe — if the rind is thoroughly and appropriately washed? In other words, is it going to be acceptable to require consumers to play an active role in food safety?

The implications for many industries are vast. Many watermelon packing sheds are, well, just that, packing sheds. Perfectly adequate for putting a melon in a bin or box but not enclosed, air-conditioned, sanitary facilities designed to produce a melon with a clean surface.

The truth is that many of our industry packaging sheds — and this is certainly not strictly a watermelon issue — are designed for a different age when packers were thought to have different responsibilities.

Today, we doubt that, say, Marks and Spencer in the U.K. buys many American watermelons because, frankly, most of the packing facilities would not meet their standards. In many cases, they are not even enclosed buildings.

The watermelon industry deserves a lot of praise. Everything about this interview points to a leadership focused on getting ahead of the game. They are spending money, working hard, getting plans ready. It is an effort without fault.

Yet it also points out that much of the produce industry is still at a crossroads. A consultant from the food processing industry told to design a packing house for watermelons would probably focus on what changes in growing practices or surface treatments after harvest need to be done to eliminate pathogens from the surface of the melon. Then he would look for packing, some type of shrink wrap, perhaps, to make sure the melon would remain pathogen-free in transport and at retail — until the consumer opens the wrap. Then he would look for some type of labeling to make sure consumers knew how to open the wrap and avoid cross-contamination.

Maybe this won’t be where we wind up; it seems very far from a natural product just harvested from the earth. Yet, when Costco started having manufacturers label spinach with “Wash Before Using” messages, one of the questions was would that really matter? If the people got sick and died in the spinach crisis because they failed to adequately wash their spinach, would that really have made the FDA any less concerned?

The watermelon industry has done exemplary job preparing for a crisis. The question, for the watermelon industry and the produce trade at large is are we obligated to take actions to make sure that even if consumers are negligent, they are still safe?

Many thanks to Mark, Leslie and the National Watermelon Promotion Board for both sharing their work on food safety and for giving the trade an opportunity to reflect upon such important issues.

Lady Bird Johnson — Pioneer Environmentalist

To a large extent, the growth of the organic movement is an expression of love for the beauty and health of the planet. And, for many, that love had Lady Bird Johnson as a progenitor.

Breaking ground as an activist first lady, Lady Bird Johnson pressed for cleanup efforts in the nation’s capital and had a key role in lobbying for the passage of the Highway Beautification Bill in 1965. The $320 million bill became known as “The Lady Bird Bill.”

According to the Federal Highway Administration’s account, the first lady was particularly incensed by what she saw while traveling to campaign stops during the 1964 election. On a stop in Portland, Oregon, in September 1964, the President said the auto junkyards they had seen during the campaign “are driving my wife mad.”

The bill, signed October 22, 1965, provided incentives to reduce the number of billboards and remove or shield other ugly sights along federal highways. Planting wildflowers and other native plants along highways — already a well-established program in Texas — was expanded.

Johnson showed her love of flowers in other ways, both in the White House and afterward. She commissioned a china service for the White House that featured dozens of different wildflowers, including the official flowers of the 50 states. …

Harry Middleton, the retired director of the LBJ Library and Museum in Austin, said her efforts helped foster interest in the environment.

“So she figures mightily, I think, in the history of the country if for no other reason than that alone,” Middleton said. Environmentalism boomed after the establishment of the first Earth Day in 1970, the year after the Johnson administration ended.

She pointed out that more than 4,000 native plant species are in danger of extinction nationwide.

“Will these plants be lost to all but memory, with succeeding generations losing even that fragile connection? Are there sources of food, fiber, or medicine that might perish with them? How do we save these species in the face of an ever-expanding human population and its impact on the land?”

The family has asked that those who wish to honor Lady Bird Johnson do so through a gift to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Endowment Fund. You can donate here.

Wall Street Journal Piece Gets Accolade From Abroad

Our piece Pundit Makes WSJ Op-Ed Page was marred by a technical difficulty that, for half the day, kept people from accessing the link to the full article.

The piece dealt with editorial integrity, the necessity for personal responsibility and a willingness to sacrifice to maintain one’s integrity — lessons for any industry.

We continued to receive nice notes on the piece, including this one that made a great literary analogy:

I just read your article, The Roots of Editorial ‘Independence’ in The Wall Street Journal on the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Delhi.

Great piece! I kept thinking as I read it, of one line from the ancient “Book of the Samurai”:

“The Samurai willing to die is stronger than 10 opponents.”

— Thomas Reardon
Professor, Agricultural Economics
Michigan State University
Co-Director IFPRI/MSU Joint Program "Markets in Asia"

We thank Tom for his strong imagery and apologize for the malfunctioning link. We have fixed it now and you can access the whole article right here.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Former Sunkist Employee Weighs In On CEO Selection

Sunkist is one of the few iconic produce brands and so it has been a place we have long paid attention to. We wrote a piece in 1991, in Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, entitled, Diversify Sunkist? This article dealt with many of the issues Sunkist wrestles with today.

Before we get to today’s letter, written by a former Sunkist employee, here is a summary of a number of pieces on Sunkist we’ve written to date:

Sunkist Wake-up Call? — which explored what the message was in the loss of Paramount Citrus as a Sunkist shipper.

Next came International Positions Of Two Citrus Companies, which suggested that the grower/owners of Sunkist should think about where Seald Sweet would be if it hadn’t gone international in a big way.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sunkist Responds to Article contained a lengthy letter from Rick Eastes, then director of global sourcing for Sunkist Global LLC, explaining Sunkist’s international efforts, and the Pundit responded by praising the effort but also by pointing out that these were the easy, noncompetitive decisions to make. The growers/owners of Sunkist still had to deal with competitive regions in the northern hemisphere such as China.

We extended our congratulations to the newly appointed president and CEO of Sunkist, Timothy Lindgren, but also posed a question: Will Tim Lindgren Go To China? The question was both literal: Would Tim Lindgren establish an effective strategy for Sunkist with regard to Chinese citrus? And figurative: Would Sunkist’s new President and CEO use his grower-friendly credentials to take the co-op public or otherwise lead it in a direction that had previously been resisted?

Pundit’s Mailbag — In Defense of Sunkist’s New CEO came from a reader who had worked with Tim Lindgren and gave the writer’s take on the situation.

Bee Sweet Departure Adds To Sunkist Woes pointed out how quickly the relationship had soured between Sunkist and Bee Sweet.

A Paradigm Shift for Citrus pointed out that Sunkist was in big trouble and that the effect on the citrus industry would be transformative.

Sunkist And Pure Gold pointed out how consumer impressions of the Sunkist label would drop precipitously, which could lead to a weakening of the Sunkist brand.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sunkist And The Australian Citrus Deal brought a letter from Jeff Gaston of Sunkist discussing Rick Eastes and the development of Sunkist’s southern hemisphere programs.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Univeg, Ready Pac, Sunkist and The Lord Mayor of Dublin dealt with many subjects, including the challenges Sunkist faced as a vendor of primarily one category grown in one place.

Pundit’s Mailbag — China, COOL And International Opportunities was built around a letter from Thomas Reardon, a Michigan State University professor with extensive experience in China.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Sunkist’s Missed Opportunities included a letter from Delos Walton, a former analyst at Sunkist questioning Sunkist’s ability to pursue markets in China and Europe.

Sunkist Hires Consultant To restructure Sales, Not Governance dealt with the decision Sunkist made to hire a consulting firm but not to deal with large strategic issues related to the cooperative’s governance.

Now we receive a note urging us to look at the future and, specifically, the question of a future CEO:

I am a former employee of Sunkist. I will say up-front that I had many fantastic years at Sunkist and left the company with only positive feelings. I do not have an axe to grind with the company.

Having said that in advance, I would like to discuss another take on who will run Sunkist and to ask if there is a reason that you have not discussed it. You have focused many of your comments on Tim Lindgren, who was appointed Sunkist’s president last summer. You also mentioned briefly that he was brought out of retirement, and as I have heard, Mr. Lindgren is either 68 or 69 years old. Both of these facts indicate that Mr. Lindgren is not going to be at Sunkist for the long-term, and I heard this sentiment from many within Sunkist.

Additionally, there was the reorganization last year as outlined in the following press release and which I am sure that you are aware of:

Staff alignment reflects expanding operations

Sunkist operating structure is being aligned to provide a more coordinated, integrated approach to our operations; better utilize the resources and talents of each division; clearly define reporting relations, and improve the lines of communication. To accomplish those goals, the board of directors has affirmed the following changes….

To facilitate closer integration of fresh fruit sales, licensed products and marketing, Russ Hanlin (formerly VP International Sales and Sales Operations) is named Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing. In addition to overseeing the sales and marketing functions for fresh fruit and licensed products, Russ will oversee Sunkist’s interests in our two LLCs — Sunkist Global Sourcing, directed by General Manager, Rick Eastes, and our new fresh cut produce joint venture, led by Rick Harris, President, Sunkist/Taylor LLC. This alignment will improve coordination of our core domestic and export business with our newer global sourcing and fresh cut program. It also will improve communication among those divisions charged with enhancing the value of the Sunkist brand and will complement the way in which Sunkist products, both fresh and licensed, are presented.

John McGuigan (formerly VP Domestic Sales) is named Vice President, Fresh Fruit Sales, and will assume responsibility for fresh fruit sales in both our domestic and export markets. Robert Verloop, Vice President, Marketing, will continue to direct Sunkist’s marketing support activities and Greg Combs, Vice President, Global Licensing will continue with his current responsibilities with licensed products.

Mike Wootton is named Senior Vice President, Corporate Relations and Administration. Added to his current responsibilities of corporate communication, government and grower relations are the oversight of research and technical services (fruit sciences, food safety and engineering) and Sunkist’s human resources functions.

Richard French, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, continues his oversight of the finance, accounting and IT functions. Tom Moore, Vice President, Law and General Counsel, continues to lead our legal division and Frank Bragg, Vice President, Citrus Juice and Oil, continues to oversee that business unit.

Prior to this reorganization Sunkist had a number of VPs reporting to the president, but there was no senior vice president position. With that reorganization Mr. Russ Hanlin II was given a promotion above the level of vice president and put in charge of a number of departments, all of which had vice presidents reporting to him. Mr. Hanlin thus went from being in charge of export sales to almost all of the key departments at Sunkist.

Given Mr. Hanlin’s greatly increased scope of responsibilities and the short-term nature of Mr. Lindgren’s tenure, it is not difficult to see that Sunkist has Mr. Hanlin in mind as the next long-term president of Sunkist. I could also see that Mr. Hanlin now has much greater influence within Sunkist and is taking a more hands-on role within the organization. As such, his philosophies and views will be very important to the direction that Sunkist takes in the upcoming years, and these should be addressed in your column as well.

If you do decide to comment on this, I ask that you do not use my name or identify me. I am still on good terms with my former co-workers at Sunkist and would like to stay that way. As you might guess, your column is not the most popular thing at Sunkist right now, especially your praise for Jeff Gargiulo (I agree with you on that point, by the way), and while I am very happy to offer my opinions on Sunkist, I would prefer to do so quietly and without identification.

We have many friends at Sunkist. It would be unfortunate, if human, for anyone to take the attitude of criticizing the messenger when what they really don’t want to deal with is the message. Benjamin Franklin is believed to have said, “Our critics are our friends, they show us our faults.”

It is not always pleasant to be shown one’s faults, but this is business, not personal, and for a company to constantly reexamine itself is imperative. As Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, entitled his book: Only the Paranoid Survive.

Besides, if they knew what the Pundit charges as a consulting fee, Sunkist would have a party at Sherman Oaks every time we give free advice.

Besides, a cursory glance over the baker’s dozen pieces we’ve done related to Sunkist shows that much of the impetus for what we have written comes from people in the industry, whether they are customers or suppliers, staff or ex-staff, board members past and present. Sunkist executives should take seriously this intellectual outpouring, since virtually all these people would like to see Sunkist succeed.

The obvious question posed by our correspondent is this: Is Russ Hanlin II, the namesake of his father, the highly esteemed former President of Sunkist, the man for the job to be the next President of Sunkist?

We found the letter a bit curious, and so asked our correspondent for his own opinion on the matter. Here is what he said:

My impression of Russ Hanlin II is that he is not similar to his father at all. I met his father on occasion, and as you know, he is very polished and a gentleman who is still very much respected within Sunkist. Russ Hanlin II does not quite have the people or diplomatic skills. He is more of nuts-and-bolts type of guy. He appears to be straightforward in what he says, but he also appears to keep his cards close to his vest and not let on as to what he is thinking. Also, since he spent his entire career managing fresh fruit sales and the associated income, he is also more focused on bottom-line numbers, a.k.a., a "bean counter."

None of these comments are intended to be positive or negative in nature, only objective observations. I doubt that I would want to report directly to Russ Hanlin II, but that is not the criteria for which somebody should be judged to be president. Russ has been at Sunkist for quite some time, so he obviously knows a bit about how Sunkist works and how to get things done (if they can get done). He may be the best candidate to be Sunkist’s next president. I don’t know if this is the case or not. My only point is that Tim Lindgren is obviously only a stop-gap appointment and will not be there long-term, and that all signs point toward Russ Hanlin II eventually taking the reigns. As such, I think that Russ Hanlin II’s attitudes and ideas are much more important to the long-term future of Sunkist than those of Tim Lindgren.

We rarely speculate on personnel matters. First of all, in a case such as this, we are not certain what Sunkist is going to be like in a few years. With volume dropping, headquarters for sales, sales offices closing, it may be a very different Sunkist than we saw even a year ago.

Second, much depends on what one wants a particular person to do. We have made the point several times that, although we would not have selected Tim Lindgren to run Sunkist, this is because we would be looking for a great strategic thinker to position Sunkist for the future. We would want someone to reform governance, to completely change the capital structure, to separate the powerful brand from the weight of grower interests in selling their own crop.

However, since the board of directors at Sunkist wanted none of these things, we think they made a great hire in the sense that the person hired is well suited for the job the board wanted to see done.

We can’t read Russ’s mind and so can’t say what his “attitudes and ideas are.” We can only say this:

When Sunkist was seeking a CEO, Russ was in the running. The board decided not to name him CEO, and the “inside scoop” was that he needed more seasoning. So they brought Tim in as an interim leader while Russ got seasoned.

In our opinion, having been passed over for CEO, Russ should have left and used his formidable talents somewhere else.

It is not good for companies or people to have someone who has been passed over still around. It doesn’t mean Russ is a bad person or even a bad executive. But when the man and the moment don’t meet, everyone is better off if you part ways.

We are also a little skeptical of the ”seasoning” argument. Russ has been at Sunkist, as our letter writer states, a long time. And he is not a kid. Whatever hesitation the board had about hiring Russ as CEO is unlikely to be satisfied by a couple of years’ experience in domestic sales.

Russ’s father ran Sunkist with a true understanding of a cooperative. In an interview as he was departing he said it best:

Advice for his successor — “Remember every day that Sunkist is a voluntary membership association. You have to have the consensus of the membership to make it work. Massage that consensus, get out there and try to communicate as best you can what it is you’re trying to do. Work on that constantly and don’t feel that it’s an intrusion on your job. That is your job.”

Yet we can’t help but think that time has passed by this management style; the CEO can’t be so busy massaging the membership of a co-op. There is just too much else to do. Perhaps it means time is passing by this kind of co-op all together.

We hope that the board won’t choose to give Russ the job out of nostalgia for the father. That would be bad for business and an unconscionable burden to put on Russ.

Our letter writer is, however, correct: The current regime is not thinking strategically, so the key to the future of Sunkist may be in the mind of the next CEO. We just hope there is enough of Sunkist left to be worth rebuilding.

Many thanks to our correspondent for bringing such a crucial question to the fore.

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