Pundit Interviews

Pundit Letters

Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610



Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Perishable Pundit Celebrates One Year

Today is the first anniversary of the launch of the Perishable Pundit. We just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to the industry.

Thank you to our advertisers that sustain the effort, thank you to the many who have written letters or sent topics for helping to make the Pundit stronger, more relevant and more useful to the trade.

Especially, thanks to the industry for reading the Pundit, for making us part of your daily routine and for helping us, as an industry, to think hard about the subjects that confront us all.

We like to think we’ve done some good in this year and appreciate the opportunity your readership provides to make that contribution.

We also write far too much to not have a little fun. Life requires some bitter greens for health, but we try our best to leaven the bitter with the sweet, and we hope that in this year of writing and reading, you’ve been able to pick out a sweet cherry or two.

Here’s to a better ratio of sweet to bitter in the year to come.

Gallup Poll Numbers Show Waning Consumer Confidence In Government

Gallup does an annual survey of consumption habits and, as part of that survey, asks various questions related to food safety. Its latest results, based on surveys done July 12 — 15, offer some interesting commentary on the state of the industry almost a year after the spinach crisis.

Gallup finds the result worth highlighting that 62% of consumers say they have avoided buying certain food products within the past year due to food safety advisories or product recalls.

Yet this strikes us as not that revealing. Presumably consumers don’t buy things while they are subject to advisories not to buy them. We are more interested in the time period after the advisory is lifted or after the recall is over, what percentage of consumers still didn’t buy the product, etc. This survey is silent on that matter.

Gallup has been asking related questions each year since 1999, and the company warns that confidence in the federal government as a guarantor of food safety has dropped:

The percentage of Americans saying they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the federal government to ensure the safety of the food supply is currently 71%, significantly lower than the previous low of 76% recorded a year ago as well as the high point of 85% in 2004.

By and large, though, consumers still feel confident in the food they buy at grocery stores, with confidence dropping but still higher today than what the study found at its start:

At 82%, current confidence in the food available at grocery stores is on the low end of the range of 80% to 89% found since 1999. It was similarly low, at 80% and 81% from 1999-2001, but higher from July 2001 through December 2006.

Interestingly, although faith in the government is down and confidence in grocery store food is down from its recent highs, consumer confidence in the food from restaurants seems relatively unaffected by the events of last fall, including several outbreaks related to fast food restaurants:

At 73%, current confidence in the safety of restaurant food is in the middle of the range of 68% to 77% seen for this measure since 1999.

Gallup describes American’s attention to food-related news as “listening with one ear.” This category includes not only food safety announcements but also nutritional recommendations:

Given Americans’ self-reported attention to food-related news, Americans neither take the safety of the nation’s food supply for granted, nor are they losing sleep over it. Nearly two-thirds of the public indicates paying at least a fair amount of attention to “the food warnings and nutritional recommendations” in the news, but this includes only 28% paying “a lot” of attention.

This survey was done just prior to the news of Castleberry’s recall on canned meats and chilis, and consumers are paying less attention than they were in December of 2006 to both food warnings and nutritional recommendations. Gallup warns that this number may fluctuate due to short term news. We wish they wouldn’t conflate paying attention to food warnings with paying attention to nutritional recommendations:

Public attention to food warnings and recommendations has fluctuated over the years, possibly a reflection of the timing of the polls relative to food-related issues in the news. Current attention is a bit lower than a year ago and higher than two years ago, but similar to where it was in 1989.

By and large, the survey bodes well for the industry, indicating that most levels of confidence are in the normal range — the big advantage this Gallup Poll offers is that the pollster has years of baseline data to compare things. Most of the efforts to study consumer attitudes post-spinach crisis suffered from not having a baseline to compare against.

There is, however, one point in the survey — the decline in confidence in government to ensure the safety of the food supply — that is troubling. Look at the detailed answers to that question:

How much confidence do you have in the federal government to ensure the safety of the food supply in the U.S., would you say you have — a great deal, a fair amount, not much, or none at all?

  A great
A fair
at all
  % % % % %
2007 Jul 12-15 18 53 21 8 *
2006 Dec 8-10 22 60 15 3 *
2006 Jul 6-9 22 54 18 6 *
2005 Jul 7-10 19 61 15 5 *
2004 Jul 8-11 31 54 11 3 1
2002 Jul 9-11 19 58 16 6 1
2001 Jul 19-22 21 61 13 4 1
2001 Mar 26-28 25 54 17 3 1
1999 Sep 23-26 15 61 19 5 *
* Less than 0.5%

Note that the big change in this number comes about because of a large increase in the number of consumers who say they have no faith at all in the federal government’s ability to ensure the safety of the food supply and those that say they have “not much” faith. With 8% of the population saying they have no faith in the federal government and 21% saying they have “Not Much” faith, we have almost a third of the country more or less likely to dismiss claims of safety by the FDA and similar authorities.

In the last eight months, we picked up 9 percentage points in these categories. The survey doesn’t tell us, but this strikes us as more likely to have to do with reports out of China than produce, since the last survey was done after the spinach crisis.

Whatever the cause, it is very dangerous. Much of our strategy in the produce industry has been to rebuild regulatory confidence in our products so that regulators, like high priests, can give a blessing on the product and thus reassure consumers.

Yet we seem to be approaching a tipping point. If this number continues to increase, the FDA will not have the influence and credibility to reassure consumers. That will leave us very much on our own and will empower politicians to seize the lead by passing politically motivated, rather than scientifically valid, policies.

This number merits close watching on the next survey. We’ll let you know how it works out.

Garlic/Ginger Erratum

It seems as if even the wrapping of the Pundit has strong readership as, last week, we received a bunch of phone calls and e-mails including this succinct note:

Is there a recall on Garlic?

— Jay Alley
Vice President, Fresh Sales
Fresherized Foods/AvoClassic

We inadvertently caused some confusion when we ran our article, More Food Safety Lessons From Chinese Ginger Recall. Although the article talked about ginger and the headline said ginger, the subject line in our e-mail announcements mistakenly said garlic.

There was no recall on garlic from China or anywhere else. The recall was, as the article said, on ginger.

We regret the error and apologize for any confusion.

Many thanks to Jay and our other correspondents for bringing this matter to our attention.

Dole Transitions Marketing Heads

Those who enjoy the Perishable Pundit should know it likely wouldn’t be here if not for PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine likely wouldn’t be here except for the vision of many produce industry leaders who, early on, recognized the value of what we would contribute to the trade. These leaders recognized that this contribution would attract a large, engaged and influential readership.

One of the most important of those early visionaries is Rick Utchell, Vice President of Marketing for Dole Fresh Fruit, who recently announced his plans to retire from Dole after almost four decades of innovation and leadership.

Although most in the produce trade think of Dole as a giant, its marketing budget is but a tiny fraction of what Kraft or Coca-Cola spend. Yet Dole is an iconic brand in the trade, and it is Rick who has for decades spun gold for Dole out of comparatively little money.

In marketing circles, Rick is widely known as the father of the Bananimals, which won every award in the book for marketing innovation. Today everyone wants to market produce to kids, while Rick was doing it long before marketing produce to kids was cool.

He managed to make deals with major consumer packaged goods companies that brought the benefits of their marketing and couponing budgets to Dole and into the produce department.


Rick is also respected in Hollywood and was able to get Dole involved with important partners, including the producers of Kermit the Frog and Curious George — and not in a trivial way. You watch the Curious George movie and see that little monkey waking up in the hold of a ship only to realize he is surrounded by clearly branded Dole bananas — and you know that a master has orchestrated all this.

As so often happens in this business, we started out as strangers and ended up as friends. We would meet every so often for dinner, and we did so long after we had any real business to discuss, because we enjoyed it. Rick knows everyone, and when we couldn’t find a florist for the Pundit wedding, it was Rick who found us an expert florist — although Rick lives on the west coast and the wedding was in New York.

Rick has orchestrated countless events for Dole over the years — ship christenings, headquarters openings and much more. Now, as part of a long planned transition, he is passing his baton to Ronda Reed.

Ronda is no stranger to those who know Dole:

Dole Fresh Fruit Company, a subsidiary of Dole Food Company, Inc., announced today the naming of Ronda Reed to Vice President of Marketing for Fresh Fruit and Vegetables. In this role, she will oversee and integrate all of the strategic marketing operations, new product development, consumer promotions, packaging and public relations for these two areas of the Dole Food Company in North America.

Ms. Reed has been with Dole Food Company for 12 years, most recently as Director of Marketing for Fresh Fruit leading all national and local marketing activities. Prior to this she spent 10 years with the Packaged Foods division where she was instrumental in launching Dole’s Plastic Jar product line, as well as managing the canned fruit and canned juice lines and overseeing trade marketing covering the entire geographic U.S. Her marketing experience also includes positions with Nestle Food and Nielsen Marketing Research.

Following the recent retirement announcement of Rick Utchell, Vice President of Marketing for Dole Fresh Fruit, after 37 years with Dole Food Company, it is imperative that the company move quickly in transitioning that valuable knowledge base throughout the organization.

“Ronda and I have worked closely together for the last year and a half,” said Mr. Utchell. “Her knowledge of the business and successes within Dole Fresh Fruit and Packaged Foods are very impressive and has required her to combine strategic thinking, leadership, and creativity.”

“A success record like Rick’s is not easily replaced. We wish him the best in his long deserved retirement,” said Mike Cavallero, President of Dole Fresh Fruit. “Yet Ronda has clearly demonstrated she has the skills and capabilities to pick up the baton, and I am confident that her style and results-oriented approach will be an asset in supporting our management objectives moving forward.”

Ms. Reed has a BA degree in Economics and an MBA in Marketing, both from the University of California at Irvine.

Ronda has an excellent reputation and was specially selected for this crucial job. As leader of the largest marketing organization in the fresh produce industry, her work will be vital for Dole, but also the position places her in a leadership role for the fresh produce industry.

We wish Ronda the best in her new position, and we wish Rick every happiness in his retirement.

Ocean Mist Website Is Substantial And Sophisticated

We don’t usually mention all the companies that send us press releases about their new websites. Partly because it would be overwhelming and partly because few of the websites offer enough to merit a mention. Most are little more than ads.

When Ocean Mist sent over its announcement regarding its new website at www.OceanMist.com, we knew that we wanted to give it a plug.

It is an interesting hybrid of a trade and consumer site.

In the announcement, Ocean Mist noted that it had done consumer research indicating that 70% of people who, when searching the word “artichokes” on the web, are looking for recipes. They responded with a substantial and sophisticated section dedicated to recipes, which you can see right here.

Ocean Mist also makes a commitment to have a registered dietician answer consumer questions, thus maintaining interactivity and being a resource. You can see this section here.

The site contains wonderful history, product overviews, a motivating mention of some of the Ocean Mist team, and much more.

Years ago,the Pundit, along with Mary Zenorini Silverzweig — the Mary of the Minute in the Kitchen with Mary in-store video series that PMA used to market — did a day of artichoke sampling at a Fresh Fields store, a DC-area chain that later was acquired by Whole Foods.

It was interesting to talk to consumers for many hours about artichokes. Two lessons stood out: First, many who loved artichokes only ordered them in restaurants because they hadn’t the foggiest idea how to prepare them. Second, many who loved artichokes didn’t buy them much because they enjoyed them with melted butter or other fattening sauces.

So although everyone seemed to perceive them as healthy, they didn’t perceive that artichokes would be healthy the way they intended to eat them.

The Ocean Mist site has a “How to Prepare & Cook an Artichoke” and “How to Eat an Artichoke” section right on the recipe page. We would suggest adding a prominent recipe for a flavorful dip that is low fat and low calorie as that, in our experience, was a main issue with consumers.

Beyond clever design, the biggest single problem with websites in the produce industry is that people budget for creation but not maintenance. As a result many are out-of-date, with incorrect or irrelevant information. Ocean Mist has made a major commitment to this site, but Ocean Mist, unusual in the industry, has seized a role as the primary marketer of artichokes in the country. Most companies, with smaller ambitions, would be better off with simpler sites that require less maintenance.

The site offers food safety information, which includes the first time we have seen the mark of the CDFA on a website:

We actually weren’t aware that the mark had been released for websites since these pages are available to consumers and our understanding was that the California Leafy Greens Board was still considering the issue of whether to allow consumer marketing of the seal.

Still Joe Pezzinni, Vice President of Operations for Ocean Mist, is Chairman of the California Leafy Greens Board, so presumably this usage was checked out and cleared.

Actually, though the website has many interesting facets, it is because of Joe’s involvement with the trade — last year chairing the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and now the Leafy Greens board — that I thought we should mention the new website.

It takes a special company to allow the time commitment necessary to fulfill these jobs. The least the industry can do in return is to take a look at Ocean Mist’s new website. We wish them the best of luck with it, and you can see the whole thing right here.

PMA’s Produce Packaging Impact Award

Packaging is one of those things that everyone knows is important, but often gets taken for granted. Yet the fresh-cut boom of the last generation couldn’t have happened without proper packaging, and the environmental and sustainable agenda for the next generation depends crucially on effective packaging.

So it is no surprise that the PMA Packaging Council, under the leadership of Chairman Ron McCormick and Vice Chairman Dan’l Mackey Almy, spearheaded the development of a new award, to be announced at the PMA convention in October. The PMA Packaging Council is one of the many industry bodies in which people toil for the general welfare without much recognition. To let you see who is doing this work, we’ve run photographs of Council members below.

Ronald G. McCormick
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
Dan’l Mackey-Almy
DMA-Solutions, Inc.
Mark Bassetti
Duda Farm Fresh Foods, Inc.
Jeanne Clark
Pactiv Corporation
Philip Gruszka
Grimmway Farms
Fred Heptinstall
IFCO Systems
Roger Pepperl
Stemilt Growers, Inc.
Mike Ralston
C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc.
David Rieser
David Rodgers
ORBIS Container Services
James Vangelos
Polymer Logistics
Eric Wexler
Tanimura & Antle

Amy Adams, Sysco Produce

Dwight Schmidt, Corrugated Packaging Alliance

Hugh Topper, HEB Grocery Company

Here is what the new award is all about:


Whether it is to catch a consumer’s eye and stand out on store shelves, to protect a product in transit and extend its shelf life, or to increase efficiencies with packaging that is more responsive to today’s needs — PMA believes that good packaging should not only be innovative, it should make an impact.


The Produce Marketing Association introduces the PMA Impact Award to recognize companies demonstrating innovation and imagination in produce packaging. With all the advancements in packaging that allows for greater creativity to meet and exceed customer demands, the Association wants to honor companies who have taken the initiatives to pioneer new applications in produce packaging.


  • Create industry excitement about produce packaging innovations
  • Increase awareness of the value packaging contributes to the competitive influence of produce within the supply chain
  • Create additional value to PMA members


  • Food Safety/Traceability
  • Marketing Design/Messaging
  • Sustainability
  • Functionality/Technology
  • Merchandising/Transportability


Any PMA member company engaged in fresh produce sales may have their packaging nominated for the award. All nominated packaging must be currently commercially traded.

The deadline for entries has been extended until August 15th, and you can enter right here.

Send in some good stuff. The Pundit was honored by a request to be one of the judges, so we will be looking out for some “knock your socks off” great ideas, expertly implemented.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Prevention Should Be Higher Priority Than Testing/Auditing

Our piece, No Quick Fix With 12-Hour Test, which followed Hold The Train… 12-Hour Test May Not Be Best Answer, is continuing to bring in feedback regarding both specific concerns with this test and broader concerns over the way the industry may be over-relying on testing and auditing in its effort to obtain food safety.

This letter from a recognized food safety expert makes the point:

The current issue with ginger is a classic example of the limits of any testing program. After spending literally millions of dollars testing for microbes, which is what is being spent by one firm, the industry is once again blind-sided by a pesticide issue. And all of the microbial testing in the world wouldn’t have addressed the ginger issue.

The industry, including the buyers, needs to stay true to the basic concepts of hazard analysis and make prevention from physical, chemical and microbial contamination their highest priority.

Neglecting or ignoring any of these points in order to deal with the crisis of the day is short-sighted.

A few comments regarding the “12-hour test”:

  1. Virtually everything you wrote regarding testing applies to auditing as well. Testing and auditing are verification tools for confirming practices or the effectiveness of practices. We believe that the lion’s share of money should be spent on prevention. The food safety principle that has often been mentioned is that “you cannot test your way out of a problem.” We need to amend that by adding… “and by the same token you cannot audit your way out of a problem”.

  2. At this time last year, and for years prior to that, a number of individuals who controlled considerable resources within major fresh produce processors believed that field-level contamination was insignificant or that their plants would correct problems originating in the fields. Most of those folks are no longer working in the fresh produce industry. Major processors who prior to Fall of 2006 had field programs that were “paper tigers” are now taking field sanitation and hygiene seriously. Not enough time has passed to know if those efforts are paying off.

  3. Some of this push for testing is a buyer response in atonement for past sins of omission. In the first half of 2006, certain buyers were pushing auditing for sustainability and social responsibility. The two buyers that today have become nouveau advocates for finished product testing were the two most vocal pushing for sustainability and social responsibility auditing. We’ve been around a long time, and attempting to address the safety issue for most of that time, yet neither of these buyers has been an aggressive advocate for food safety. Each has historically taken the position that it was their suppliers’ responsibility.

Last year’s crisis, while perhaps leading to a commendable refocusing, did nothing to permanently focus the suppliers’ attention on the important principles of hazard analysis. It certainly ought to give suppliers pause when attempting to allocate resources to address which issue(s) they are serious about. However, the suppliers often respond to buyer incentives. This lack of focus, etc., certainly has not helped over the years.

While my note here is focused on the negative, I should add that last year, long prior to the spinach outbreak, a number of buyers who have long been supportive of efforts to enhance food safety were urging the trade to keep our focus on safety. There are responsible buyers out there.

The search for a “fix” is so palpable that it leads to over-reliance on testing and auditing. The danger here is two-fold: first, in a world of limited resources, millions upon millions are now being spent on audits and tests — money that is not available to be spent on actually improving food safety.

The second danger is that the temptation is strong to promote the test or the audit as “proof’ of safety. The problem, of course, is that the very first time there is an outbreak and the public learns that the test or the audit is not, in fact, proof of anything, the industry credibility is lost and it will be very difficult to get it back.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Anti-Organic Article Raises Legitimate Questions

Our piece, Anti-organic Article Raises Points About Animal Cruelty And Efficiency, brought a torrent of surprising responses. Surprising because the responses indicate that interest in organic, on a cultural level, is waning. That what 10 years ago was a catch-word for “whole earth” attitudes has now come to be seen increasingly as a captive of large business interests.

This letter is from a wholesaler in Ithaca, New York, a university town where, among much else, United Fresh holds its Executive Development Program at Cornell University.

One might expect a correspondent from Ithaca to write in fury at someone’s speaking ill of organic produce, but that is not what we find:

Thanks for sharing this article as it raises legitimate questions about the organic movement.

Clearly federal organic standards have been watered down with a national certification program and what is now organic is not the same as it was 20 years ago as the writer stated but did not explore in the article.

The problem is not so much organic vs conventional farming but instead large farm vs small farm production. Large farms are efficient in terms of product produced but leave other costs out of the equation (mainly environmental). With increased size comes increased complexity resulting in potentially not thought of system failures (spinach E coli).

By the way, I don’t buy Horizon organic milk or Stonyfield yogurt because it is not even a real dairy product anymore, just as the writer alluded. I buy local conventionally grown and processed milk and yogurt. It has only traveled 10 miles and is often only a couple of days old when I get it.

Talk about fresh and wholesome!

— Brent Maynard
Director of Purchasing and Sales
Ithaca Produce Co
Ithaca, New York

We thank Brent for this letter because what his note illustrates perfectly is that the coalition that built organic is fracturing. For many, apparently Brent included, some use of synthetic pesticide is a small price to pay for small scale and local production.

As Wal-Mart has learned and as Whole Foods is starting to experience, it may be problematic for any large chain to appeal to the segment of the population that was presumed to be interested in organic production.

As we discussed here, it turns out that many who fought for national organic standards didn’t care so much about the standards themselves as they desired to use the standards as a kind of proxy for other values that were never written into law or regulation.

There is no way that Stonyfield, Horizon or Earthbound can operate while both sustaining their scale and satisfying this audience.

We saw this at PMA’s foodservice conference as well, where many chefs were interested in local, in flavor, in sustainable — but few expressed much interest in organic.

There is a big movement to convert acreage to organic, because it has been more profitable. Yet, if the zeitgeist is shifting, we may have reason to believe that demand for organic will not be unlimited.

Many thanks to Brent for his thought-provoking letter.

Mail to a Friend

© 2021 Perishable Pundit | Subscribe | Print | Search | Archives | Feedback | Info | Sponsorship | About Jim | Request Speaking Engagement | Contact Us