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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Is Marking Some Produce “Farm To Store In 24” Good For Fresh & Easy? Is It Good For The Produce Industry?

Our extensive analysis of Tesco’s Journey to America as Fresh & Easy has served as a wonderful case study into the way at least one giant corporation does business. One of the things that has been interesting is how often, even if technically accurate, the announcements from headquarters are not entirely frank.

For example, Fresh & Easy has been running a program that promotes its ability to get product into the store in 24 hours. In fact, it just announced that it is expanding the program:

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is expanding its popular “Farm to Store in 24” program, bringing more produce from California farms to its stores in less than 24 hours. The grocer is working with local growers to bring additional fruit such as peaches and nectarines as well as vegetables into the program as summer turns to fall. Fresh & Easy’s “Farm to Store in 24” program started with a simple concept: getting the freshest produce possible to its customers in the shortest amount of time.

In choosing partners for the program, Fresh & Easy’s produce team identified local growers who share the grocer’s passion and commitment to bring customers high-quality food at affordable prices. All “Farm to Store in 24” products come from California farms, and depending on the season, as much as 65% of all of Fresh & Easy’s produce comes from California.

“Getting produce from the farm to the store in 24 hours or less is an incredibly tricky task, which makes it important to partner with strong local growers who share our commitment to quality produce,” said Justin Hill, Fresh & Easy’s produce manager. “We are working closely with these growers here to put in the extra care required to expand our ‘Farm to Store in 24’ offerings whenever we can.”

This summer Fresh & Easy has been offering strawberries and table grapes through the “Farm to Store in 24” program. With the table grape season in the Coachella Valley wrapping up, Fresh & Easy is now getting “Farm to Store” grapes from Pandol Bros. in Delano. Andrew & Williamson (A&W) grows strawberries for the program in Ventura County and Watsonville, always within sight of the Pacific Ocean. San Diego-based A&W is family-owned and operated.

To let customers know when produce is available on shelves within 24 hours from leaving the farm where it’s grown, Fresh & Easy places a special logo on “Farm to Store in 24” products. The company also recently created a video about the program, available to view on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/

This whole line of promotion is a little curious. It is being trumpeted as if it is a great novelty and innovation, yet it is not uncommon for certain items from California to hit the shelves within 24 hours of leaving a packinghouse.

Just the other day, we recommended that Fresh & Easy consider hiring Dick Spezzano, the former Vice President of Produce at Vons, as a consultant. He knows the region, the competitors and the supply channels, so we thought he could help.

Now that Fresh & Easy is into this “Farm to Store in 24” program, they could certainly benefit from some of Dick’s personal experience. He started the same program at Vons, maybe, oh, a little over a quarter century ago. We called Dick to ask him to refresh our memory. Here is what he said:

Yes, this was one of our marketing claims as we did get the produce from the Central Valley, Central Coast and the Coachella Valley from the field, cooled, to our DC, and to the stores in less than 24 hours. We would say “most produce from field to store in 24 hours or less”.

So, both Vons and Fresh & Easy and probably others have managed to get some produce items into the store in 24 hours. The image appeal of the freshness is understandable. The actual impact on freshness less so. After all, the programs carefully select those items that are seasonal and close by anyway.

Even if another store gets the produce there in 36 hours, the impact on flavor and shelf life may not even be noticeable by consumers. After all, the same product, shipped the same time still hasn’t hit New York and that product is perfectly acceptable. In general, there are other metrics, say, how quickly the fruit was pre-cooled, that probably matters more than being in the store in 24 hours.

Beyond the issue of whether it matters or not, there are issues regarding the way Fresh & Easy is presenting this program to consumers.

Although the slogan is “Farm to Store in 24” Jim Hill, who identifies himself as “the produce guy” at Fresh & Easy, explains in the video referenced in the press release that consumers should look for the “Farm to Store in 24” logo on certain items. Then he goes on to explain the meaning of the logo… “…that means that our product goes from the pack house to our stores within 24 hours…” but, of course, coming from the packinghouse is not the same as the farm. If Jim Hill is speaking accurately, it makes the program rather deceptive.

There also is an explanation that this program has something to do with “local growers,” which is surely true if all we are talking about is geography. Of course, the grapes from Coachella or Delano were just as local last year when they didn’t promote this program.

We pointed out that Wal-Mart was goosing its local numbers by defining local as anything grown in state.

Recently we pointed out the absurdity of all this by noting that the single action Wal-Mart could take that would most boost its local percentage was just to open more stores in California! The question is whether consumers aren’t expecting something different when they are told that Fresh & Easy is working with local farmers to accomplish something.

In fact, the press release seems as if it was designed to bamboozle people. Read this sentence:

All “Farm to Store in 24” products come from California farms, and depending on the season, as much as 65% of all of Fresh & Easy’s produce comes from California.

The syllogism is obvious:

All “Farm to Store in 24” produce comes from California.

As much as 65% of all of Fresh & Easy’s produce comes from California.

A more skeptical person would think Fresh & Easy wanted consumers to leap to the conclusion that 65% of the produce in store is there in 24 hours.

In reality the first two steps of the syllogisms are logically unrelated and lead to no third point at all.

Actually, very few items are going to meet this 24-hour limit, and if Fresh & Easy is serious about it and, say, asks it third-party auditor to verify the statement, even fewer will.

To us the bigger issue is whether, today, with the local movement so strong, this approach is good for either Fresh & Easy or the produce industry. After all, presumably a program like “Farm to Store in 24” is saying that this is a good thing, that the consumer is getting some value here.

In the same video, Fresh & Easy’s Jim Hill explains what that value is as he explains that the chain will be transitioning into fall produce and more vegetables, such as cauliflower, broccoli and the leaf items. He claims that consumers “can taste the difference,” although we know of no studies showing consumer taste preference for produce items that are in the store in 24 hours as opposed to, say, 36 hours.

If this is true, what are the implications? That 95% plus of the produce in Fresh & Easy is noticeably not as tasty as it could be? That all the California produce shipped to the east coast and all imported produce is noticeably less delicious than the 24-hour old product at Fresh & Easy?

Vons may have used the 24-hour turn-around as a general marketing tool to show it emphasizes freshness and cares about freshness. But the stores didn’t mark individual items with badges. Maybe it is because they realized that the items without the stickers might be the ones being badged — with the absence of the 24-hour mark meaning that this product is not very good.

Is that good for Fresh & Easy? For Tesco? For produce growers and shippers?

Does New Personnel For Wal-Mart Mean New Hope For The Vendor Community?

We have written a great deal about Wal-Mart, and now the whole spirit of the company has seemed to pivot. Why is all this happening? Simple: John Fleming, who had been the merchandising chief at Target before he became merchandising chief at Wal-Mart, is leaving Wal-Mart in August, and Eduardo Castro-Wright has been removed as President/CEO of Wal-Mart’s US Division, although he will continue to work for Wal-Mart as a Vice Chairman and as overseer of Wal-Mart’s e-commerce and global procurement efforts.

Both moves were positioned by Wal-Mart as accommodations to personal needs. Eduardo Castro-Wright’s wife is seriously ill — she had a heart transplant in California — and now California is where Eduardo Castro-Wright will be based. John Fleming made the move to Bentonville but his family stayed behind in Minnesota and he has been seeking a way to be more connected to them.

Doubtless this is all true, and one doesn’t want to be insensitive, but it is also true that these are positions at the very pinnacle of American corporate life and that those who choose to compete on this level make many sacrifices that normal people would not. Combine this with the fact that such high achievers are given every possible technological tool and every possible accommodation… and skepticism is always in order when such high level people give up important positions because of the sudden need to deal with family issues.

One would be foolish not to think that if the last four consecutive quarters had been barn-burners rather than wrought with negative same-store sales, Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s CEO, would have worked very hard to keep the team together.

But the team wasn’t producing.

Jack Neff, who used to write for PRODUCE BUSINESS and then went on to bigger and better things at Advertising Age, wrote a terrific story on the reassessment going on at Wal-Mart. He began the piece with this, possibly apocryphal anecdote:

There’s a legend circulating around Bentonville: Walmart Chairman Lee Scott enters a Friday morning senior-management meeting with two bags of groceries from Harps, the Arkansas retail chain that has somehow survived the dominance of its much bigger hometown rival.

The bags, the story goes, were filled with items Mr. Scott’s wife had purchased that week because she couldn’t find them at Walmart. The implication: The chain’s assortment cutbacks under so-called Project Impact to declutter aisles and make the shopping experience more upscale had gone too far.

Spokesman David Tovar said he could find no evidence of “anything quite so dramatic” happening at a senior-management meeting and said the story may have gained some details in the retelling. But he did acknowledge that assortment issues have been a management concern for the past nine months.

No wonder. Wal-Mart, arguably the most successful retailer in the world, came to be occupied by people like Fleming and Castro-Wright who perceived the place as a broken entity that they had to fix. To do this, they set out to make Wal-Mart more like Target, more like Tesco, and more like everybody else. Yet the secret to its success, of course, was being what it uniquely was — Wal-Mart.

Now, as the famed “Action Alley” starts to once again feature product on promotion rather than pure and clean aisles, the sense of getting back to its roots is everywhere. The article mentions the point:

One person close to the company, noting a big display of watermelons next to little-girls’ dresses in Bentonville area stores, said, “I think Sam [Walton] would be smiling about that.” He wasn’t so sure, though, how Mr. Sam would have reacted to the idea, attributed to Mr. Fleming, “of removing 15% of the inventory from the stores because surveys show consumers see it as improving the experience.”

He likened Walmart’s move to become more like Target to Coke changing its formula to be more like Pepsi after the Pepsi Challenge taste tests of the 1980s. “A lot of people did like Pepsi — and those were mostly Pepsi drinkers,” he said. Blind taste tests aside, there were always a lot more Coke drinkers in the U.S., and changing the formula alienated them until Coke offered the old one again.

In similar fashion, Mr. Fleming led a drive to make Walmart look more like Target, a move that played well in consumer experience surveys but didn’t necessarily translate into increased sales for the retailer, which has had four consecutive quarters of declining U.S. same-store sales even as competitors from Target to dollar stores saw improving results.

The detachment of the current Walmart management team from the retailer’s roots has been a recurrent theme among some supplier executives, some of whom knew Sam Walton themselves — although most of Walmart’s current leaders didn’t.

Can’t imagine who would focus on watermelons as they chat with the reporter! There are still big mistakes being made. For example, the private label initiative is a disaster:

Last year, at a time many suppliers had their doubts amid a ramp-up in Walmart’s Great Value private label, Mr. Simon at an analyst conference reiterated that Walmart is a “house of brands” dedicated to working with brand suppliers. Subsequently, Great Value expanded well beyond what many expected based on Mr. Simon’s pronouncement, but in most every category where it gained share, Walmart lost overall category share to other classes of trade, said Deutsche Bank consumer products analyst Bill Schmitz.

Wal-Mart was built on selling the products that consumers wanted for less, not forcing consumers to buy brands they don’t want. Although some private label programs have become high quality brands over many years — Marks & Spencer, Kirkland, Trader Joe’s, etc. — Wal-Mart doesn’t have that equity. Its brands are assumed by consumers to be cheap, not high quality.

Indeed the whole idea of reducing assortment, as in the Lee Scott anecdote that starts the article, doesn’t really make sense. Aldi has to carefully restrict assortment. Wal-Mart’s whole advantage is that it can have everything consumers want in its 180,000 square feet — and that is a big advantage.

It is not clear if the reassessment will cause Wal-Mart to reevaluate some of the procurement changes it has been rolling out on fresh produce. Eduardo Castro-Wright is still running global procurement, which spearheads the effort. But anyone looking honestly at the numbers has to acknowledge that the new plan is a catastrophic failure. Items that were expected to be in-stock 99% of the time under the old regime now are pulling numbers that show availability at 65, 75 and 85%. That is a fortune in lost sales and disappointed customers.

Just as it doesn’t help Wal-Mart to grow private label if it loses market share on the whole category, it won’t help Wal-Mart to buy a few pennies cheaper and not have anything to sell.

Ocean Spray Accused Of False Labeling And Marketing Of Dried Cranberries

We chronicled, at length, the long and desperate thirst for justice that Jim and Theresa Nolan fought against Ocean Spray. Vindication was to be theirs, but it was a bitter-sweet vindication, following the passing of Jim Nolan and the valiant stand by his widow, Theresa, to see the righteous triumph.

If the battle was to a large degree a personal one — for honor — it also raised the possibility that one of the nation’s most prominent produce and food companies might reflect and decide to conduct business differently. In fact, the example put before us all in the contest of wills that we observed held the hope that we might have all re-learned the importance of honesty in the conduct of our business.

Unfortunately, now there are new allegations that Ocean Spray has elected to conduct business in a disingenuous manner.

Decas Cranberry Products, Inc., a long-time competitor to Ocean Spray, issued a press release:

Decas Launches Consumer Education Website
To Expose Ocean Spray Mislabeled “Choice” Product

Decas Cranberry Products, Inc. announces the launching of a new consumer education website www.scamberry.org. This site helps consumers understand the issues behind the mislabeling of a product being sold by Ocean Spray called “Choice.” This initiative follows a petition filed with the FDA by the National Consumers League in November of 2009 accusing Ocean Spray of falsely marketing its Choice SDC (Sweetened Dried Cranberries).

Ocean Spray lists cranberry as the first ingredient for Choice when sugar should actually be listed first. According to Ocean Spray’s communications, the company uses 50% fewer barrels producing “Choice” than it uses for their Classic “soft and moist” SDC product. Ocean Spray has repeatedly stated that this product is sold to only food manufacturers but, in fact, it has been purchased by consumers at retail stores and foodservice outlets that serve the public.

In July 2009, an independent reputable laboratory, Krueger Foods Laboratories, Inc., concluded: The Choice product contains little or no cranberry soluble solids. The bulk of the solids are derived from the cane sugar. The color derives from a blend of cranberry and elderberry. The acidity derives from elderberry juice and added citric acid.

Consumers and consumer protection groups are urged to visit the new site and to take one or more of the actions noted to help stop this deception by one of the leading consumer brands in America — Ocean Spray.

The National Consumers League bills itself as America’s oldest consumer organization, founded in 1899. Now it has spoken out against Ocean Spray, requesting the FDA launch an investigation:

…the National Consumers League (NCL) called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate misleading labeling involving a new food product, Ocean Spray’s “Choice.” According to NCL, the nation’s oldest consumer advocacy organization, the product is sold to food manufacturers as a “sweetened dried cranberry” but contains more sugar than actual fruit and is made from cranberry skins — not whole cranberries.

“Sweetened dried cranberries (SDCs) have become the common or usual name for a popular ingredient in a variety of foods, capitalizing on the healthy image of cranberries and cranberry juice,” wrote Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director, in a letter to the FDA. The consumer group is concerned that, because this product is being sold as a “sweetened dried cranberry” for manufacturers’ use in breakfast cereals, cereal bars, baked goods, and trail mixes, it has the potential to result in the mislabeling of these food products.

NCL’s request that FDA investigate Ocean Spray’s Choice product is the latest in the organization’s longtime work in food safety, nutrition, and truth-in-labeling advocacy. After NCL called on the FDA to investigate claims made by Cheerios®-maker General Mills last fall, this spring the federal agency issued a cease-and-desist letter to the cereal manufacturer because the health claims exceed those permitted for food products. In August, NCL sued General Mills in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia for continuing to claim that eating Cheerios® would reduce total and “bad” cholesterol.

The mislabeling of sugar-heavy products such as dried fruit, according to NCL, is of particular interest to consumers who may seek the nutrition benefits of sweetened dried cranberries without realizing they’re eating — and paying for — something that is actually quite different.

SDCs are the fastest-growing segment of the cranberry market and traditionally consist of dried cranberries that have been infused with sugar and coated with a small amount of sunflower oil. Ocean Spray Cranberries Ingredient Technology Group recently introduced the “Choice” product to food manufacturers as a less expensive alternative to SDCs on the market. Foods currently on the market that NCL believes contain Ocean Spray Choice SDC are Ann’s House Good Health Energy (a blend of soy nuts, cranberries, almonds and pumpkin kernels); Nature Valley Fruit Bars; and Pepperidge Farm Chewy Granola Cookies.

Laboratory analyses by Krueger Food Laboratories, commissioned by NCL, on November 4, 2009, found that “Choice” is really little more than cranberry skin infused with sugar syrup, consisting primarily of inverted beet sugar and citric acid. These characteristics are inconsistent with products using whole cranberries. The cranberry content is so small that Ocean Spray must add color in the form of elderberry juice concentrate and acidity in the form of citric acid to simulate the color and acidity of cranberries. These findings are consistent with Ocean Spray’s own claims that it uses 50 percent fewer cranberries to make “Choice” than the regular SDC product. Ocean Spray’s marketing materials tout “Choice” as a low-cost SDC with the same taste, texture, appearance, and health benefits as other SDCs.

“Because of its minimal cranberry content and use of other ingredients to simulate the flavor and color of cranberries, Ocean Spray’s Choice product should not be named ‘sweetened dried cranberries’,” said Greenberg. “We question whether the word ‘cranberries’ should be allowed at all in the name of this product.”

In addition, NCL said that the product label’s ingredients declaration, which lists cranberries as the predominant ingredient, is misleading and inaccurate. Greenberg stated that “according to our lab analyses, this is false and should be corrected to list sugar as the predominant ingredient.” All food labels are required to list ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight.

You can read the letter the NCL sent to the FDA here.

Ocean Spray has tried to portray the matter as a commercial dispute between two companies as there is litigation going on between Ocean Spray and Decas. The issue, however, is broader.

Most marketing for the cranberry category and for produce in general is health-based. Whether the FDA investigates or not, whatever it may rule if it does investigate, the issue is clear: Consumers are being promoted a “dried cranberry” and getting something with so little cranberry and so much sugar that it is not clear any of the health claims made for dried cranberries apply.

The allegations made by the National Consumers League depend on the technical issue of whether cranberry is the largest, or sugar is the largest, ingredient in the “choice” product. Even if in some other study cranberry manages to edge out sugar by an iota, the product is clearly not representative of the healthy vision consumers imagine when they choose cranberries.

Ocean Spray claims the product is not sold to consumers but to processors. Yet the product, once sold, can be distributed to anyone and this product has leaked into the consumer market. Besides, the processed products that incorporate the ingredient are also trading on the healthy reputation of cranberries.

In the end, this product seems to be setting up two classifications of produce: Produce items that conform to the health claims made, and produce items that don’t. This seems like a positioning likely to sow consumer skepticism and create hesitation about purchasing. That is not good for Ocean Spray, for cranberry growers or the broader industry.

Take a look at the video gone viral on this subject:


Are USDA Stimulus Funds Actually Going To Create New Jobs? Or Are They Just Currying Favor With Local Politicians?

The question of whether and to what degree the national stimulus program has worked is hotly debated. We looked at the portion of the stimulus package that seems to be going to the food industry and, in a piece for The Weekly Standard, questioned how any of this expenditure could possibly produce net new long term jobs for the country.

Sure, some short term construction jobs can be generated by spending money and certainly local cities and towns can benefit through economic development in their areas. But we questioned how building milk processing plants or produce greenhouses could result in net new national jobs:

Even if we give the stimulus credit for all 70 permanent jobs produced by this factory rehab — almost certainly this act of “stimulus” created no net new jobs nationally. Why? The number of people employed in milk processing is determined mostly by the consumption of milk.

Since the stimulus did nothing to boost milk consumption, if this large plant is a success, then, gallon for gallon, other milk processing plants will experience a decline in business and lay off workers or close.

In other words, if local boosters in Holland, Michigan, wanted to improve their community by converting an old auto parts plant to a milk processing plant, then more power to them. It might increase jobs and economic activity in town and get rid of an eyesore, but those milk processing jobs will come from some other areas.

There is really no reason for the federal government to be involved in this case. Certainly there is no reason to think of these 70 jobs as some net addition to the nation’s job rolls.

Yet this approach is very typical. The USDA, for example, just gave a nearly $4 million loan guarantee out of stimulus funds to a northern Nebraska produce company to build a greenhouse in which it will raise vegetables.

Yet there is no shortage of cucumbers or tomatoes in Nebraska. The area is not even short of greenhouse-grown products. In all likelihood, every tomato purchased from this new greenhouse will be one not purchased from greenhouses in Colorado, Arizona or Tennessee. No reason at all why this Nebraska company shouldn’t try to seize that market share — and no reason at all for the Federal government to help.

USDA also decided to guarantee a $6 million loan to a winery. The USDA press release points out how compelling a use of stimulus funds this is:

Meanwhile, in Dundee, Ore., the Torii Mor Winery, LLC was selected to receive a $6 million guaranteed loan that will enable the company to restructure debt and establish a working capital reserve to create and retain jobs — including preserving nine existing positions.

Established 17 years ago, the business is in the heart of Oregon wine country and is an integral part of the local value-added agricultural economy. The winery purchases nearly 90 percent of its grapes from local vineyards, which helps sustain additional jobs and agricultural businesses in the region.

Torii Mor happens to make a nice Pinot Noir — so all is not lost. An honest man, though, must realize that there is nothing in the criteria for giving money to this winery that would not apply to every business in America.

USDA Under Secretary for Rural Development Victor Vasquez justified the loan guarantees for the Nebraska greenhouse and the Oregon winery — and a group of other food producers from a potato chip maker to a cheese factory — by explaining that “This funding will help create and save jobs and build on America’s economic recovery.”

But it won’t. It can’t. It can only reshuffle jobs from other producers. The Obama administration is acting as if it doesn’t know the difference between local economic development and a national increase in jobs.

You can read the whole piece here.

Joe Nucci, Tip Murphy And Opportunities To Play Golf, Raise Money And Honor Two Good Men

It is summer and in many parts of the country that is golf time. It is also a time that PMA’s Foundation for Industry Talent uses golf as a mechanism to raise funds to do good works in honor of two respected and much missed individuals who were active in PMA and the broader industry.

This Friday, in conjunction with PMA’s Annual Foodservice Conference, the 2010 PMA Foundation for Industry Talent Golf Tournament, which benefits the Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation, is scheduled for the Bayonet Blackhorse Golf Course.

Joe Nucci died at only 40 years old while on vacation with his family in Disney World in 2005. He was in line to become Chairman of PMA and was President and CEO at Mann Packing.

His loss is felt every day and this tournament, held in the “world’s salad bowl” where Joe grew up and lived and worked, is a small way of remembering Joe and of supporting the values of innovation that he so strongly represented.

We wrote about Joe’s passing here.

And the first golf tournament here.


This year it is also time to celebrate the life of another industry member taken from us all too soon. The second annual Tip Murphy Memorial Golf Tournament will be taking place on Monday, September 20, 2010, at the Oasis Golf Club in Loveland, Ohio.

The tournament is sponsored by the Tip Murphy Legacy Fund, which was created by Ready Pac, Chiquita, Paramount Citrus and Naturipe Farms, to honor the life and career of Terrence “Tip” Murphy, a 15-year veteran of the produce industry.

Tournament proceeds support the Tip Murphy Scholarship for Leadership Excellence, a scholarship program managed by the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent to aid industry professionals seeking to advance their leadership skills and better serve the industry. The scholarship winner is awarded full registration and associated hotel expenses to one PMA or PMA Foundation for Industry Talent leadership event.

Registration is now open. You can get all the details here.

We wrote about Tip’s passing and the launch of the scholarship fund here.

Golf tournaments always strike us as particularly nice ways to remember those industry members who have left us. The friendly competition and the small group play all seem especially appropriate to the kinds of relationships the industry at large had with these giants.

Then, afterwards, there is always a chance to tell a few stories and raise a glass to a dear departed friend.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Hairnets In The Field There For A Reason

We ran a piece built around a letter from Alan Siger, President & CEO at Consumers Produce Co., Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The piece poked a little fun at the idea of wearing hairnets in an outdoor field as a food safety measure.

Now we are getting double-teamed:

First came this note:

I can appreciate Alan’s comments, and while the LGMA metrics are debated ad nauseum, it should be noted that in this photo some of us were about to enter a romaine field where the crop was being processed into whole leaf lettuce singles.

From the field they are brought into a facility for finished washing, drying, inspection, packing, etc… I suppose we can debate the effectiveness of wearing them in the field, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, if you ask me.

Mann does require and will require all visitors to wear hairnets (and trust me…no one likes being photographed wearing one!).

— Lorri Koster
VP of Marketing
Co-Chairman, Board of Directors
Mann Packing Company
Salinas, California

Then quickly afterwards this one:

I wanted to make a note that the field Lorri toured was a field being harvested FOR processing.

We do take extra precautions for field harvesting for “process”. Not all GAP’s require hairnets in fields, but we have now adapted all food safety standards to be the same for each product. It helps continuity in training programs, which is the first and most important step in Food Safety.

Hairnets may seem overkill, but no one wants to eat a salad and see a hair in it. From the kitchen or from the field.

Why not take that extra step of prevention for a cleaner better pack of produce?

— Gina Nucci
Director of Food Service Marketing
Mann Packing Company
Salinas, California

PS: Dogs are no longer allowed in fields… not just for photo ops… but not in the back of your pickup truck.

We knew Lorri and Gina’s father, Don Nucci, and these ladies are definitely Don Nucci’s daughters — so we know when to quit.

Gina makes a good point in that we were talking about food safety, she adds the idea of quality, pointing out that nobody wants to find a hair in the vegetables, no matter where it came from.

Lorri points out the importance of doing everything one can to get the best quality and safety as well as the importance of consistency and simplicity in establishing rules for employees

These are important points. Although we are not aware of any studies that actually show that wearing hairnets in the field makes any difference in safety or quality — it is worth noting that every associate in the place saw that Lorri Koster, the co-Chairman of the company, put on her hairnet and made her visiting guests do so as well.

That sends a message to everyone associated with the operation that safety and quality are the highest priorities and that even the smallest rules are there for a reason and apply to the biggest bosses.

That itself is a strong reason to do it.

As for the Pundit, the whole Pundit family is heading out to Monterey to attend PMA’s Annual Foodservice Conference. When we visit our friends at Mann Packing, we will wear both a hairnet and a helmet. The hairnet protects the field; the helmet protects us from getting beat up by Lorri and Gina.

Pundit’s Mailbag — What To Do About Bad Apples

Our piece, We Have Our Own Selves To Blame For Poor Growth in Consumption, brought many notes, including this knowledgeable respondent:

Did you think that I would not have something to say about your “Toy Story Apple Tale”?

It reminds me of the strategy behind the Happy Meal — push the toy to sell the meat. Excellent marketing concept that set the standard for marketing to children decades ago… but, of course, the huge difference is that McDonald’s seldom disappoints the customer with poor quality fries and burgers!

Sometimes the Chinese made the laser shooting right arm of the Luke Skywalker not bend, but the cookie always delighted!

Mimicking this practice with a perishable apple and possible improper handling can spell ‘risky’.

Without placing blame, you did hit on a number of reasons why you were not delighted with the purchase, except for the neat box! Apples tend to bounce around in a container such as you described, and certainly at certain times of the year, the apple may react differently to the bounce.

Top that off with the difficulty of seeing beyond Woody’s cowboy hat to get an unobstructed view of the apple, well you were virtually buying blind!

You’re most accurate assessment and the quote from Frieda Caplan about the lack of refrigeration is likely a huge factor on fruit condition. Not only the lack of refrigeration, but the enclosed container under high intensity lighting at point of display can only reduce the shelf life of apples.

From harvest to delivery to the DC, an enormous amount of money has been invested to keep those apples under refrigeration, and then to subject them to ‘heat lamps’ on the store floor can lead to disaster.

Not only does it cook the fruit, it sends the opposite message to the consumer.

If they are going to write so much on the box, they should make some room for ‘Keep Refrigerated!”

Displaying fresh apples is not quite the same as displaying house wares and sneakers, so the execution of the display must meet the needs of the merchandise.

Last but not least, I am holding back the urge to give you my final explanation on why the product disappointed you, but out of respect for the industry and without having sound evidence on where the weak link was, I will defer from mentioning anything about the geographic origin of the product or that another region happens to be 1786 miles closer to your store.

But I am reminded that I have promised you Johnny Appleseed Apples come this fall for the Annual Pundit Johnny Appleseed Event

— Jim Allen
New York Apple Association, Inc
Fishers New York

Jim is a tireless worker on behalf of his growers. The Pundit and Mr. Allen bravely endured the perils of communism down in Cuba, as Jim Allen fought to get his growers a prominent market position.

So, logically, he can’t be and shouldn’t be indifferent to a marketing chain that allows consumer disappointment with the product.

Indeed this attractive box — which, undeniably, was the motivator for purchase — has the side effect of removing geographic and even varietal distinctions between apples. The box prominently highlights “Apples!” and then the various Toy Story characters. Indeed the only mention of origin or variety is a tiny white sticker, an inch and a half wide by 3/4 of an inch tall, with the letters “WA EX FCY” on the top line and “GALA” on the bottom line. Because the white sticker is placed on a white portion of the box, the sticker doesn’t stand out, and because it is written in “industryease” — how many consumers know what “WA EX FCY” means — they really are selling a generic apple.

Which means, of course, consumer dissatisfaction with the product could easily rub off on other apples.

Indeed a large shipper in Washington sent this simple comment:

There is no excuse for consumer disappointment. I apologize for my industry. Shame on the shipper of these apples.

So the problem is serious, and contributing factors can be easily identified:

1. Shippers can be shipping poor quality and the system does not really preclude that.

2. Packaging can be done for sales impact but not product protection. Could these little boxes be done with tray packs or something that will better protect the fruit?

3. Attractive packaging can promote sales but lead to dissatisfaction if it obscures the condition of the fruit.

4. Communicating proper care-and-handling information both to the trade and to the consumer is crucial.

5. If items that normally require refrigeration are to be sold out of refrigeration at all, it is essential that it be done judiciously. What is the product condition? What is the speed of movement? Jim Allen mentions McDonald’s… years ago McDonalds used to pre-cook its sandwiches. It also marked them so they would be thrown out after a predetermined interval. Perhaps each case put on display out of refrigeration should be marked with a sticker and if it is not sold by a certain interval, be discarded.

The question is what to do about all this. It is in everyone’s long term interest to fix these problems and in everyone’s short term interest to bang the fruit out.

This is a quandary that made last year’s debate over the generic promotion of produce so problematic. Produce is highly variable in quality, yet generic promotion serves to “brand it” as a unity.

It reminds us of the currency crisis in Greece and the Euro — it is hard to have a common currency if each country is able to have its own fiscal policies. It is hard to have a common promotional program if every shipper and every retailer has different acceptable levels of quality.

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