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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Lieberman And Lobbying

The defeat of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman in the Democratic primary tells us a number of things. That the bi-partisan post-9/11 consensus on the war on terror has broken down, that incumbents who become big players on the national stage and neglect the local game are vulnerable, and that the growth of the blogosphere and other alterative fundraising and communication channels open new opportunities for those looking to challenge establishment figures.

He may still win as an Independent, but whether he does or not has less significance for the Democratic party or the country than some would like to assert.

The bottom line is he is not that influential.

As a religious man, he was portrayed as the great moral conscious of the party during the impeachment of Bill Clinton. But he punted and gave him cover. When he ran for Vice President on Al Gore’s ticket, he had no moral qualms about quickly abandoning inconveniently conservative thoughts on issues such as affirmative action and educational vouchers to conform to the wishes of interest groups important to the party.

Some speak of him as the heir to Scoop Jackson’s legacy and leader of this wing of the Democratic party. But that “wing” has long ago flown away… There is no evidence that he had “moderating influence” on his Democratic colleagues. He had a vote, but no influence.

For businesses and trade associations looking for influence in the nation’s capital, what the race really points to is a continuation of a long trend in American politics away from geographically based parties to ideologically based parties.

In effect, American politics, which were always driven by regional and parochial concerns, are becoming more like European politics with ideologically more consistent parties. So there is really no place for conservative Democrats or liberal Republicans. Remember Joe Lieberman won for the senate in his first race with the endorsement of well known conservative commentator William F. Buckley Jr., who thought it more important to rid the Republican party of liberal Republican incumbent Llowell Weicker than to help the party capture more seats.

In fact you may see this trend to ideological consistency heat up on August 12th when the most liberal Republican in the Senate, Lincoln Chaffee, may lose a primary himself against a more conservative opponent.

Win or lose, the trend is clear. When you had a large group of conservative southern Democrats and liberal northeast Republicans, bipartisan deals were very frequent and interest groups were expected to work both sides of the aisle. As the parties became more ideologically homogeneous, the important battles will take place within each party, and the parties will increasingly demand that interest groups declare allegiance. Playing both sides of the street, when control of the country is at stake, will be seen as bad form.

Besides, the membership of trade associations won’t tolerate it. It is one thing for a trade association to support a member of Congress because he is on your side on some parochial issue, when that issue gets lost in the midst of a robust debate over larger issues. But if the membership realizes that the association supports a given candidate in the hopes of organizing the House or the Senate along party lines contrary to the members’ beliefs and interests on major issues — war and peace, income tax, etc. — in order to win approval on small issues — pesticide regulation, funding for pet programs, etc. — the membership will object.

So Joe Lieberman’s loss means that the parties will be more ideologically consistent, and anyone seeking favors will do well to pick sides.

Fresh Foods vs. Perishables

The Pundit’s mailbox overflows with nice notes, well wishers, constructive criticism and extravagant presents… Much appreciation to all for taking the time to help launch this project and, as I was taught by Momma Pundit, I promise to catch up on my thank you notes as soon as possible. But special thanks to Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association, who will go down in infamy as the author of the first industry-oriented letter to the Pundit:

Good morning Jim and congratulations on your new Perishable Pundit. Lots of fun stuff to read and debate. If you want to start the punditry with some lively exchange, herewith my suggestion:

I hate the word “perishable.” In fact, I’ve argued before, often, for its banishment from the food business. What we need is a mass “search and replace” whereby “perishable” is replaced by “fresh foods.”

“Why?” I hear some pained cries.

“Perishable” (to describe a category of food) is a word that was coined in the grocery business in a century past by merchants who wanted to differentiate shelf-stable groceries from the fresh foods that needed more TLC than did cans on the shelf. The word is inherently negative in meaning, projecting something that is on its way to dying (yes, like all of us). When the food business professes to be consumer-centric, why would it use a word of such pejorative connotation to describe so broad a range of foods that are so wonderfully fresh, so close to nature? “Fresh foods” are foods that are delivered with care and tenderness and an attempt to retain perfection; “perishable” foods are delivered with an eye focused on their expiration, not on their freshness.

Lest you think that this harangue has no resonance, let me add that I’ve had senior executives at some supermarket companies change their titles from “Perishables” to “Fresh Foods” because they agree that the future is fresh, the future is not perishable. “Perishables” are a dying breed!

Words, as you know probably better than anyone in this business, are powerful weapons in changing attitudes. Let’s use the right ones. The ones that sing, the ones that resonate, the ones that aren’t about death and dying but are about life and the fun of living. Jim, please do what you can to put “perishable” to death.

Bryan is profoundly persuasive in explaining why perishable should be replaced with Fresh Foods and, clearly, anyone who promotes perishable departments to consumers is making a mistake …and yet I did elect to name this project Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit. A decent respect for the opinion of mankind (or at least of Bryan Silbermann and Karen Caplan of Frieda’s, who expressed similar sentiments in a letter to me) compels me to explain myself.

First, I have found a valuable rule in business: Deal with the world as it is and not as one might like it to be. A decade ago when we came out with the premier edition of DELI BUSINESS, we were widely attacked as not being progressive enough. The hot trend was a weirdly named thing called Home Meal Replacement or HMR, and we were told that we were a dinosaur out of the gate and should have called the magazine HMR magazine, Meal Solutions magazine, Supermarket Foodservice Magazine, Takeout Food Magazine and 20 other such titles. All of these titles were used in one form or another on publications or events over the next few years and all are out of business. And the lowly, prosaic deli is still here, as is DELI BUSINESS. It is just that now delis and DELI BUSINESS are filled with foodservice, from rotisserie chicken to wok stations to Mexican food bars and sushi counters. So maybe, despite Shakespeare, there is not as much in a name as would appear.

Nothing is forever, and surely the title could one day change but, for today, the overwhelming majority of vice presidents or directors in charge of produce, deli, meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, bakery and floral are called Vice President or Corporate Director of Perishables.

This daily is the only publication perfectly aligned with their sphere of interest. Not so narrow that it requires reading 20 industry-specific publications to keep up and not so broad as to include information on managing the paper plates and the canned soup.

So, we accept a realistic positioning today — without thinking that this precludes change tomorrow.

Second, what about Floral? Cindy Rapshus is Chairman of PMA’s floral council and VP of Floral for the new Albertsons (which consists of the units Supervalu has purchased, as opposed to the rest of the supermarkets that were purchased by Cerberus Capital Management, which was definitely the dog in the deal). William Byland of Micky’s Minis Flora Express is Vice Chairman, and, working with PMA Vice President Terry Humfeld, they have been presiding over a renaissance of floral in PMA.

Floral-related booth sales are blooming and PMA has joined a group organized by the Wholesale Florist and Florist Supplier Association called the Floral Logistics Coalition where PMA’s ace on techno issues, VP Gary Fleming, is helping with harmonization of data standards. And coming up in the wings for one of the floral spots on the PMA boards is Winn-Dixie’s floral director Cindy Hanauer, who has impressed a lot of people. To paraphrase Daniel Webster, it is a small department but those who know it, love it.

Calling a VP a VP Fresh Foods is a terminological inexactitude if that person is responsible for floral as he or she inevitably is. So, sticking to perishables is a vote for clear thinking — although one of the few exceptions to the VP Perishables term is Cindy Rasphus’ boss, Jim Smits, Group VP of Fresh Foods, who is doing great things at his new perch.

Third, there are many audiences to be performed for, and although it is true that perishable is not going to be a hot seller for consumers, fortunately at retail, consumers get introduced to individual department names, such as seafood, farmstand or deli, and they are not exposed to corporate groupings, which is really inside baseball. Internally, for associates, the term perishable may be just the spur to action, the reminder of the urgency of the task that is required. After all, the stuff is, well, perishable. It has to be kept refrigerated, rotated properly, etc.

Fresh is not a type of food; it is a temporary condition of food. Fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, cheese, bakery products, prepared foods… all these are fresh, right up to when they are not. All these foods are always perishable.

And finally, food is not the only thing that is perishable. Much like fresh food, words that seem so brilliant today are almost always tarnished by the passage of time. The word “perishable”, on screen, is thus a good word of caution for the reader, and Pundit, alike.

But I like fresh foods too and, so, a concession: For those who simply can’t bring themselves to write out the word perishable, just enter www.FreshFoodsPundit.com in your browser and you will automatically be redirected to our site.

Champion In The Bakery

One of the reasons for maintaining service departments is that it puts real people in the store in contact with the customers. But how many of us really do a good job of taking advantage of the enormous range of talent those people bring to our operations? Here is a shot of Melissa Carville of Giant Eagle with one of her creations.

She was the winner of the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association’s 11th Annual Cake Decorating Challenge. You can read about the competition, which was strenuous, right here.

Kudos To Costco And U.S. Beef

Although surveys indicate significant concern regarding the safety of U.S. beef following its reintroduction to Japan, Japanese consumers snapped up the five metric tons of U.S. beef sold at three Costco stores. The United States Meat Export Federation has been working on the re-introduction of U.S. beef to Japan, basically since the day it was banned, and the planning showed.

Key is something called the “We Care” campaign, which includes advertising, retail and foodservice promotions, PR events, press conferences and a web site.

Kudos to Costco and USMEF. Opportunity meets preparation.

A Japanese consumer tries a sample of U.S. beef the first day it went on sale at a Costco store in Tokyo. Customers lined up to taste U.S. beef and many bought multiple packages.

A Costco customer eyes a package of U.S. beef for purchase. Approximately five metric tons of U.S. beef were sold at three Costco stores in one day.

Japanese media capture the return of U.S. beef to the Japanese market. The beef case at this Costco store was stocked full of U.S. beef, but by day’s end, all supplies were snatched up by Japanese consumers.

Live Long And Keep Praying

As all the food groups jostle for position as the healthiest of all, it is interesting to hear what centenarians credit for their longevity. In a survey of 100 people between 100 and 104 years of age, faith is the Number One attribute credited for their longevity. This is followed up by genes and good medical care.

Diet ranks way down, in between “hard work” and living “a good clean life”. May we all live to see if we agree.

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