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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Say Cheese

We launched the Pundit with a discussion of the importance of specialty cheese and focused on the vibrancy of the market for USA-produced specialty cheese. Well if you are expanding or establishing a specialty cheese department, a much older and extremely crucial segment is imported cheeses. And a useful ally in this field is the Cheese Importers Association of America. A lot of their work is done quietly with the Food and Drug Administration and assistance with trade negotiations, but among the ways the general industry can interact with the association is to participate in one of their educational trips, such as their upcoming 2006 SIAL Trip.

The focus is the visit to the giant trade show in Paris, but you get the camaraderie and networking intrinsic in traveling with a group in the industry, and there are many options for retail tours and events both professional and fun. I always find that traveling with industry groups adds a whole new dimension to the travel. You gain much more than traveling all by yourself.

Thinking Beyond The Borders

Whether you are going to travel with the cheese people or not, it is becoming more imperative that Americans should be traveling to shows outside of the United States and preferably to some shows not so tightly focused on your specific business segment. Of course, you have to go to U.S. trade shows and conferences. You need the networking and education and, for many people, you need to exhibit and sell your wares.

In many cases, attending domestic shows is the price of admission to success in the trade. However, it is very hard to get a competitive edge at these events. After all, all your sharp competitors are always one aisle down the way in the trade show and in the next row over in the educational track.

Being everywhere your competitors are is vital. But there is a word for it: Defense.

Going places your competitors don’t go, seeing things they don’t see, learning things they don’t know — that is the way to win a competitive advantage.

Much of the success we’ve had with PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine came about after we started publishing AMERICAN FOOD AND AG EXPORTER magazine, a publication not even distributed in the United States but, instead, mailed to every other country in the world and getting advertising from American food exporters of all types — packaged foods, meat, dairy, poultry, not just produce.

It made us successful because it made us smart. All the sudden, I had to go to domestic shows outside of produce and perishables, and I had to travel overseas to greet our readers. It let me bring back into the produce industry ideas that made our products better.

It is not easy to do. We are all so busy. It is hard to keep up with the necessities. But the key to really being successful is to make the time to go that one step beyond the urgent and do the important, such as getting a competitive advantage.

Sometimes it is impossible for any individual. For example, this year one of the most important food shows in the world is being held in Paris. The SIAL show is an excellent one for Americans to attend precisely because it is so unlike anything in America. It had 136,000 visitors last go-round (the show is held every other year) and covers a large range of foods, from fruits and vegetables to cured meats, poultry, fresh meat, alcoholic beverages, non-alcoholic beverages, dairy products, grocery and more.

This year I can’t attend because it overlaps with the PMA Convention but if I wasn’t in produce, I would be in Paris that week. You can be sure, however, that our team from AMERICAN FOOD AND AG EXPORTER and DELI BUSINESS will be there.

And this is a good time to welcome to The Perishable Pundit our many readers outside of North America. From China to Russia, from New Zealand to Sweden, from Canada to Argentina, all over the world people have been discovering what the Pundit offers. Thank you so much for reading and don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of service.

And, in relation to this story, please come and visit U.S. trade shows and conventions. We’ll be highlighting them throughout the year. They are educational, offer a shockingly broad array of products and can give you, traveling from overseas, your competitive edge.

Avocados and Health

The Health Journal column of The Wall Street Journal featured an article that drew attention to the issue of whether many nutrients in fruits and vegetables require fats to be absorbed. A researcher who does a lot of work on nutrition, Dr. Steven K. Clinton of the Ohio State Comprehensive Cancer Center, came out with a study last year in which he found that by adding avocado or avocado oil (which the newspaper article treated as a general proxy for fat, although the study doesn’t make that determination), subjects enjoyed significantly greater absorption of lycopene, beta carotene and lutein when they had the avocado or avocado oil than when they did not.

I had read the article early in the morning, and by late in afternoon, friends in the avocado business had e-mailed me, faxed me and phoned me to point out the article as evidence the public should be urged to eat more avocados.

Well, I do hope people eat more avocados. I love a good spicy guacamole and think eating more of it will increase the stock of human happiness. I am absolutely certain that in the rank of nutritional problems of Americans, the over consumption of avocado ranks exceedingly, infinitesimally, low. So everyone should eat up. They’ve got a lot of them this year.

And it can be very profitable to sell avocados. I remember the California Avocado Commission used to run brilliant ads in foodservice publications. The ads were two-page spreads, and on the left-hand side there was a photo of some plain meat on a sorry bun and a headline saying something like “Chicken Sandwich $1.49”; then on the right-hand of the spread there was a photo of chicken on a festive plate with a slice of avocado and a headline saying something like “Chicken Ole, $3.99”. The point being that a little added-value can dramatically change consumer value perceptions.

So people should eat avocados, and the industry should sell. By the way, the single most useful commodity web site in the world, AvoHq, is maintained by The Hass Avocado Board. It has almost every bell and whistle you can think of, including nifty maps with market profiles of avocado sales penetration and live web cams of the ports of entry for avocados.

It would be easy enough to attack this study. To start with, they only studied 11 people! And I do think the article gave ridiculous weight to what really is very tentative information. The study also only provided evidence that some discrete dish, such as a salad or salsa eaten without fat, might not allow the body to absorb certain nutrients. It did not find that this deprivation of nutrients due to lack of fat was actually happening in the population over the course of their day. Maybe people eat salad without dressing to save up their calories for a steak. It is not clear there is a nutritional absorption due to lack of fat problem at all. So the most likely outcome of such “knowledge” being widespread is that people who are already eating plenty of fat will just feel a license to eat more.

But I am glad this article ran because it points to the extremely limited knowledge we have about nutrition and its impact on human health. Let us assume the study is correct and there is a trade-off to be made. If we all eat more fat and thus weigh two pounds more, but have better absorption of fat-soluble compounds, would we all be healthier? Would we all live longer? How do we weigh the benefit of increased absorption of beneficial compounds vs. the cost of obesity? The answer: Nobody has the foggiest idea.

In fact, when the 5-a-Day program first started, we couldn’t put avocados in the logo because the National Cancer Institute objected to the fat. Now, avocados are fully permitted, and the good folks at the Produce for Better Health (PBH) Foundation are fans. In fact, the PBH Chairman is now Jan Delyser, vice president of marketing for the California Avocado Commission.

But coconuts are still not included in the program. Are they really so bad? One wonders if the coconut growers had more money for research whether they couldn’t find something favorable. After all, not everyone agrees that coconuts are bad.

PBH is moving away from its hyper-sensitivity toward fat, especially since the lead governmental partner switched to the National Center for Disease Control, which takes a broader view. But I really think that in the early years 5-a-Day hurt the industry because it had to run everything by the National Cancer Institute, and NCI wouldn’t let the 5-a-Day program promote recipes that used a lot of high-fat ingredients, such as oils and butter. But, more seriously, I think it hurt the health of Americans. Why? It doesn’t matter how healthful a recipe is if people won’t eat it.

The sine qua non for any recipe promoted by any food company should be: Is it delicious?

What about obesity, especially among children? Read this:

"So it’s perhaps surprising that, in a debate that has often focused on foods alone, actual levels of caloric intake among the young haven’t appreciably changed over the last twenty years." -Then-FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark McClellan, 2003

Then look at these:

Here is where you can get more info.

What is clear is that the whole issue of diet is over-emphasized. When I worked on the Hunts Point (Produce Terminal) Market, my job included walking the whole market to buy for export several times a day. I never gained weight. Since my job now is sitting at a computer screen all day, I struggle with my weight. It is roughly the story of America.

Telling the American population to lay off avocados is beyond ridiculous, and it has nothing to do with the need for fat to absorb healthy compounds. It is an evasion of the problem, which is decreased activity.

Besides, the produce industry doesn’t have a monopoly on the health issue. Some people think the single best food to eat is

Housekeeping Announcements

If you were wondering why I didn’t link to The Wall Street Journal article in the previous story, it is the Pundit’s policy — in order to create as seamless an experience as possible for readers — to eschew links with sites that require payment or registration. I won’t say I will never, ever, ever do it. But it is a pain in the neck, so I’ll try darn hard to avoid it.

Also, now that we are on Day Three of the Pundit, I draw everyone’s attention to the Archive button on the left side of the page. If you miss a day, you can always go to the Archive and retrieve the missed day’s Pundit.

Also note the Search button, where you can search every written word in the Pundit if you are doing important research or just looking to be witty at cocktail parties. Did you ever try a Pomtini?

Health Benefits Of Fish

The National Fisheries Institute is looking to make sure that seafood consumption gets its place when the consumer thinks of healthy eating. So they’ve announced the availability of a new information card that pinpoints areas on the body that can benefit from a diet rich in fish and shelfish.

It is a great card. Of course, with every food group finding its own health benefit, you have to wonder if consumers bother to pay attention anymore.

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