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

The Problem With Food Miles

The New York Times ran an op-ed article entitled, Food That Travels Well, on the hot subject of “Food Miles”:

The term “food miles” — how far food has traveled before you buy it — has entered the enlightened lexicon. Environmental groups, especially in Europe, are pushing for labels that show how far food has traveled to get to the market, and books like Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” contemplate the damage wrought by trucking, shipping and flying food from distant parts of the globe.

There are many good reasons for eating local — freshness, purity, taste, community cohesion and preserving open space — but none of these benefits compares to the much-touted claim that eating local reduces fossil fuel consumption. In this respect eating local joins recycling, biking to work and driving a hybrid as a realistic way that we can, as individuals, shrink our carbon footprint and be good stewards of the environment.

On its face, the connection between lowering food miles and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions is a no-brainer. In Iowa, the typical carrot has traveled 1,600 miles from California, a potato 1,200 miles from Idaho and a chuck roast 600 miles from Colorado. Seventy-five percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas, the writer Bill McKibben says, even though the state produces far more apples than city residents consume. These examples just scratch the surface of the problem. In light of this market redundancy, the only reasonable reaction, it seems, is to count food miles the way a dieter counts calories.

But is reducing food miles necessarily good for the environment? Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer-reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more — or less — to food miles than meets the eye.

It all depends on how you wield the carbon calculator. Instead of measuring a product’s carbon footprint through food miles alone, the Lincoln University scientists expanded their equations to include other energy-consuming aspects of production — what economists call “factor inputs and externalities” — like water use, harvesting techniques, fertilizer outlays, renewable energy applications, means of transportation (and the kind of fuel used), the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed during photosynthesis, disposal of packaging, storage procedures and dozens of other cultivation inputs.

Incorporating these measurements into their assessments, scientists reached surprising conclusions. Most notably, they found that lamb raised on New Zealand’s clover-choked pastures and shipped 11,000 miles by boat to Britain produced 1,520 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per ton while British lamb produced 6,280 pounds of carbon dioxide per ton, in part because poorer British pastures force farmers to use feed. In other words, it is four times more energy-efficient for Londoners to buy lamb imported from the other side of the world than to buy it from a producer in their backyard. Similar figures were found for dairy products and fruit.

These life-cycle measurements are causing environmentalists worldwide to rethink the logic of food miles. New Zealand’s most prominent environmental research organization, Landcare Research-Manaaki Whenua, explains that localism “is not always the most environmentally sound solution if more emissions are generated at other stages of the product life cycle than during transport.” The British government’s 2006 Food Industry Sustainability Strategy similarly seeks to consider the environmental costs “across the life cycle of the produce,” not just in transportation.

“Eat local” advocates — a passionate cohort of which I am one — are bound to interpret these findings as a threat. We shouldn’t. Not only do life cycle analyses offer genuine opportunities for environmentally efficient food production, but they also address several problems inherent in the eat-local philosophy.

Consider the most conspicuous ones: it is impossible for most of the world to feed itself a diverse and healthy diet through exclusively local food production — food will always have to travel; asking people to move to more fertile regions is sensible but alienating and unrealistic; consumers living in developed nations will, for better or worse, always demand choices beyond what the season has to offer.

Given these problems, wouldn’t it make more sense to stop obsessing over food miles and work to strengthen comparative geographical advantages? And what if we did this while streamlining transportation services according to fuel-efficient standards? Shouldn’t we create development incentives for regional nodes of food production that can provide sustainable produce for the less sustainable parts of the nation and the world as a whole? Might it be more logical to conceptualize a hub-and-spoke system of food production and distribution, with the hubs in a food system’s naturally fertile hot spots and the spokes, which travel through the arid zones, connecting them while using hybrid engines and alternative sources of energy?

As concerned consumers and environmentalists, we must be prepared to seriously entertain these questions. We must also be prepared to accept that buying local is not necessarily beneficial for the environment. As much as this claim violates one of our most sacred assumptions, life cycle assessments offer far more valuable measurements to gauge the environmental impact of eating. While there will always be good reasons to encourage the growth of sustainable local food systems, we must also allow them to develop in tandem with what could be their equally sustainable global counterparts. We must accept the fact, in short, that distance is not the enemy of awareness.

About the best one can say for this piece is that there seems to be movement on the subject so that defenders of the concept of “food miles” are giving up on defending the ridiculous — that the only thing that matters is how far the product is shipped — to defending the merely incorrect — that by carefully doing a ”lifecycle assessment” of each food, we can determine where it is best to purchase food from.

Food miles are, on their face, bizarre. The concept implies that one would help the environment by operating a pineapple-growing greenhouse in Toronto.

Yet what this author advocates is more dangerous because, as a result of studies, it adds the patina of science to what is really just made up garble.

The problems are many, but let us look at five quick ones:

First, it is virtually impossible to know the true “carbon footprint” of anything. Flying strawberries from California to London? What if they fly in the belly of a passenger jet that would have flown anyway? How do we score that? The allocations are fundamentally arbitrary because there are so many different ways to calculate the carbon footprint.

Second, how does anyone know what would be done in place of the current activity? So, if the land isn’t valuable for agriculture where the strawberries grow, perhaps it will be developed into vacation homes that will be energy hogs. How do we score this?

Third, is this the only value in the whole world? What if an African tribe makes a living exporting vegetables to the UK, and if we stop buying their product, they will die. Does that count for nothing?

Fourth, what if the “better” product is distributed slightly differently so consumers have to drive 15 minutes out of their way to farmstands to procure it. Maybe the inefficient transport — 20 items in a Range Rover — outweighs much more distant but more efficient commercial transport.

Fifth, whole industries are set up to take advantage of empty back hauls. My family was once principally interested in growing produce in Puerto Rico — an expensive place compared to other Caribbean and Central American options, specifically because its large reefer import trade was going back empty or hauling non-refrigerated cargo. An almost impossible thing to score.

The truth is that the pricing mechanism is the best single way we know to incorporate all the varied factors that go into deciding whether, here in the U.S., we should buy our counter-seasonal grapes from South Africa, Chile or Australia.

The advocates of “food miles” don’t recognize it, but what they really should be fighting for is pricing externalities into products.

So, if, for example, we have to maintain a navy because we need to import oil, we have to tax oil imports so that the cost of maintaining the navy falls on consumers of imported oil, not the general public.

Every product has a million unknown and, for practical purposes, unknowable impacts on the environment. Because some Mexican immigrants in California pick strawberries, towns in Mexico are transformed. Because consumers in London buy Kenyan produce, Safari animals are not shot for food.

To think that consumers can do something useful for the environment by looking at “food miles” or “carbon footprints” is unreasonable. The best we can hope for is to make sure that the costs imposed on the environment by things such as oil are properly accounted for in the price of food and all other goods.

“Food miles” is a form of protectionism or nationalism in which foreign product is derided. Prosperity is not built on such notions.

A Big Week For Ramseys… And For Mann Packing

August 9th was Bill Ramsey’s birthday. August 8th was Dick Ramsey’s 33rd anniversary of working at Mann Packing, and today, August 10th, Bill Ramsey’s first great-grandchild, who is also Dick Ramsey’s first grandchild, is scheduled for delivery.

As if this wasn’t a big enough week for the Ramsey family, Mann Packing sent along this announcement:


Bill Ramsey Resigns as Part of Succession Plan,
Son Named Co-Chairman

Salinas, CA — Mann Packing Company is announcing today the appointment of Dick Ramsey as co-chairman of its board of directors. The appointment follows the resignation of his father, Bill, who is becoming an ex-officio member.

Mike Jarrard, president and CEO, comments, “Bill has long planned to pass the torch, so to speak, to his eldest son on his 75th birthday, which is August 9th. This move allows him to stay involved with the business, but also provides more flexibility in his schedule.”

Dick Ramsey joins Lorri Koster who represents her family on the board. Both are the third generation of their families to be involved in the industry, their grandfathers founded and operated W&S Packing from 1936 to 1967. Bill Ramsey joined Mann Packing in 1955 and Koster’s father, Don Nucci, came on board in 1967. Both were made full partners by H.W. Mann in 1976. After Mr. Mann’s passing in 1996 the Ramsey and Nucci families acquired his interest in the company.

Jarrard continues, “Dick and Lorri are second generation leadership here at Mann. Their experience in the industry is an essential ingredient to our success.”

Dick Ramsey literally grew up in the business. He spent summers as many Salinas Valley youth do moving irrigation pipe, driving tractors and working the ranches through high school and college. After graduating from Chico State University he returned to Salinas and became a full time ranch manager in 1974. In 1976 Don Nucci asked Dick to move into the office and help with the quickly expanding sales department.

While under his tenure in sales Mann Packing saw its business morph from being largely a broccoli supplier to frozen food companies, to the world’s largest shipper of bunch broccoli. In 1982 Mann entered the fresh-cut foodservice business which followed an entry into fresh-cut at retail in the late 1980’s. Today the company is the category share leader in fresh-cut vegetables and known for its innovative products such as Broccolini® and Garden Valley® Stringless Sugar Snap Peas.

He comments, “We have been able to adapt to ever-changing markets. That has been a key formula to our success, in addition to hands-on management and strong customer and grower relations.” In 2000 Dick moved from sales to raw product procurement where he works today as vice president of field operations for broccoli and Broccolini®.

Lorri Koster, comments, “I feel fortunate Bill will be here as a mentor to provide a historic perspective on how Mann got to where it is today. Dick and I respect the legacy that is passing on to us. We worked our way through Mann Packing from the ground up. We appreciate first-hand what makes this company special.”

Bill Ramsey comments, “It’s hard to imagine it’s been 51 (?) years. I’m confident Dick and Lorri will carry this company to the next chapters in its life and I’m fortunate to be here to guide them on the journey whenever they need my support or guidance.”

This week marks a busy one for the Ramsey family. In addition to Bill’s 75th birthday on the 9th, August 8th is Dick’s 33 anniversary of working at Mann Packing and Bill’s first great-grandchild, also Dick’s first grandchild, is scheduled for delivery on Friday the 10th.

Bill concludes, “It is heart-felt. I planned this for so long it’s hard to imagine it’s here. Now, with the great-grandchild coming, it just feels right.”

Here at the Pundit, we are always thrilled to receive releases such as this. Why? Because orderly notices of transition, such as this, carry with them the hallmarks of appropriate succession planning.

Mann is an unusual company in many ways. The industry has many family-owned companies with all family management, but only a few, including Mann, Strube and Pandol Bros., have successfully integrated family employees with a non-family CEO, in Mann’s case Mike Jarrard.

Transitioning a family business through multiple generations is a business management project all its own. There are tax implications, family dynamics to consider and many other considerations. Family businesses that don’t plan to survive — usually don’t.

Of course, no amount of planning guarantees a smooth transition. The deaths in rapid succession of Joe Nucci and his father, Don Nucci, could not reasonably have been anticipated. Yet the hallmark of an exceptional business is to plan for what can be planned for and, in going through that process, develop the strength of purpose and depth of connection to be able to deal with the unexpected.

As the Ramseys’ pass the baton, there must be much pride. For a father to look upon his son as a grown man, rich in achievement and worthy of the trust of safeguarding the family legacy, brings forth a powerful emotion. And for a man of 75 to survey a company he helped build, strong and vibrant despite being buffeted by mighty winds, it must be a source of enormous satisfaction.

Congratulations to the Ramsey family and all at Mann Packing. May the wind be at their back in the years to come.

Do You Have What It Takes To Be PMA’s Floral Marketer Of The Year?

When Lauree Lincoln of Big Y Foods (photo at right) was named the 2006 Marketer of the Year at the PMA convention in San Diego last fall (presented by Pat Bauer of Temkin International, Inc.), we ran a piece entitled, Welcome Presence Of Floral At PMA Convention, which noted a renaissance in floral at PMA, including more floral exhibits, more attendees focused on floral.

Now with the move to Houston this year, PMA stands to pick up more of the Latin American floral exporters as well as the floral buyers from chains in the South, Midwest and Northeast portions of the country.

A big part of the resurgence of floral at PMA is the active participation of the PMA Floral Council. These leaders (listed below) work to develop relevant programming while pointing out to the trade the benefits that PMA can offer the floral industry.

William J. Byland, Jr.
Micky’s Minis Flora Express
Cindy Hanauer
Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.
Vice Chairman
Traci Adams
Larry Alexander
Ahold USA, Inc.
Joan Branciforte
Kerry’s Bromeliad Nursery, Inc.
Brian Gatcke
Garden City Growers
Alice Grazziani
Bristol Farms
Scott Hill
The USA Bouquet Company
Ted Johnson
Delaware Valley Wholesale Florist
Matthew M. Johnston
Nurserymen’s Exchange, Inc.
Patty Knoll
Temkin Inernational, Inc.
Ben Pauley
FTD, Inc.
Rita Peters
Hy-Vee, Inc.
Kelly Strauss
HEB Grocery Company
Traci Terrace
Aerial Bouquets
Joanne Torres
Falcon Farms

Not Photographed:

Jill Auman, Bay City Flower Company

part of the preparations for this year’s show, PMA is soliciting nominations for its Floral Marketer of the Year award:


Call for nominations for 2007 Floral Marketer of the Year award

Each year the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) recognizes the individual who has had noteworthy impact on the supermarket floral retailing industry through its annual Floral Marketer of the Year award. Nominations are now being accepted for this year’s award, which will be presented during PMA’s 2007 Fresh Summit International Convention & Exposition to be held October 12-15, 2007, in Houston, Texas.

“Receiving the Floral Marketer of the Year award is a great honor and is especially meaningful because the nominations are made by my industry peers. This award is an inspiration to all of us who believe in the value of marketing floral products,” said Lauree Lincoln, floral sales manager of Big Y Foods, Inc. and 2006 Floral Marketer of the Year.

Nominees must have made significant contributions to the mass-market floral industry and must also be a PMA member. Nomination forms require descriptions and examples to support the nominee’s consideration for the award.

The deadline for submitting nominations for PMA’s Floral Marketer of the Year award has been extended until August 15, 2007. You can contact Becky Roberts at +1-302-731-7100 to obtain a nomination form or submit an online nomination form right here.

Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Calif. Dept. of Public Health’s Sue Foerster

As part of our continuing efforts to explore the intersection between the industry and health and nutrition issues, we have run many pieces, including, most recently, an interview with Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, Vice President, Nutrition and Health, United Fresh, and a letter received from Elizabeth Pivonka, President and CEO of the Produce for Better Health Foundation.

Yet, in many ways, the mother of all the current efforts to improve public health through increased produce consumption is Sue Foerster. She was there at the beginning when 5-a-Day was first conceived as a California cancer-prevention effort and has stayed with the program through all its iterations through the present day..

The transition to Fruits & Veggies — More Matters on a national level is, in many ways, a decided break with the past, and we asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, to speak with Sue and update us on what they are doing in California and how the transition to More Matters is perceived:

Susan Foerster
MPH, RD, Chief Cancer Prevention and
Nutrition Section
California Department of Public Health
Sacramento, California

Q: How did Champions for Change come about, and what are the program’s key components and goals?

A: Champions for Change is our tag line for consolidation of 5-a-Day, which became obsolete, and California Nutrition Network for Healthy, Active Families. 5-a-Day was built into everything we did for the California Nutrition Network, but when 5-a-Day was re-branded to Fruits & Veggies More Matters, ownership shifted away from California.

From the time we developed 5-a-Day back in 1988, we also integrated physical activity. We understood from our research that everything we did needed to combine fruit and vegetable consumption with physical activity and incorporate a multi-faceted approach. In line with the Network for a Healthy California brand identity, the tone is about empowerment, champions and being agents of change.

Q: I’ve noticed there are still references to 5-a-Day on your websites [such as here and here]. Are you going to phase out 5-a-Day and if so, how will the transition be handled? Are you concerned that consumers will be getting mixed messages?

A: Because we have a brand new Department of Public Health, the organization has to invent a new web system, switching brands and nomenclature. We are waiting to get a Fruit and Veggies — More Matters license and are doing things to co-brand. We have a huge print order. It will involve a phase-out period. The license calls for a phase out in two years. We’re depleting our supplies.

We’re talking about champions and agents of change. We have a whole bunch of custom websites for employers, consumers, retailers, and partners with sections that provide a lot of data and reports, and where they can get right to where they are interested quickly.

The More Matters fruit and vegetable recommendation itself is throwing people, because it is no longer just a single number. We’ve developed a slide guide for consumers based on gender and age, so people can begin to feel more comfortable. People understand that fruits and vegetables and physical activity go together.

It’s a matter of changing over. It was difficult for me to let go of 5-a-Day after 20 years [you can read about her leadership role in its development in PRODUCE BUSINESS here]. It’s been a grieving process, but we have a more comprehensive approach now that integrates values and social change. The challenge now is execution.

Q: What trigger points drive the program and funding?

A: Since we are funded through the USDA food stamp program, we are focused on those families eligible for food stamps, or 185 percent of the federal poverty level for inclusion, which is higher than food stamps alone at 130 percent. Ten million Californians out of 38 million are estimated to have annual incomes that qualify. One of the challenges has been shaping all our programs through this USDA funding stream, channeling lower income audiences and particularly the 7 million parents and children. All media research for targeted campaigns tries to reach low-income families with kids.

More Matters is aimed at moms, but also Gen X or Gen Y and without an income target.

Part of our ability to build a comprehensive approach and intervention program for low-income families with children is a resource deal, from the way it’s funded through matching USDA food stamp funds. A lot you do is based on the resources you have. It’s perverse in a way that because of the obesity crisis, we are fortunate to be able to grow this program. We get our federal funds by raising state funds that qualify for matching federal financial participation. We were able to bring in $100 million in new money because our partners through state and local government have allocated equal or larger amounts, which qualify for matching USDA funds.

With the replacement of 5-a-Day nationally, we knew that there was going to be a whole new branding strategy. More Matters does not focus on physical activity. In addition, we focus on food security, but not in the way you may be defining it related to terrorism. In this sense, food insecurity is when people don’t get the right foods, whereas extreme insecurity would be when people go without food sometimes because they can’t afford to buy it.

Q: What challenges do you face in reversing childhood obesity, improving health and nutrition, and altering engrained lifestyle patterns and behaviors?

A: What we’re all about in our program is prevention, cancer and other disease prevention, and health and nutrition. We’ve been working for a very long time to help Californians reduce risk of cancer through diet and physical activity and alleviate food insecurity as a way to reduce chronic health problems. First will be combating obesity leading to reduction of Type 2 diabetes, and further out, heart and stroke, and last we’ll see results in the areas of cancer. Our planning sets goals that target significant change in the population by 2010, which is very, very ambitious. Nobody has yet done that.

How can we turn this health epidemic around? Our approach has to be comprehensive. We can’t just change school food, or just advertise to children, or insure grocery stores are carrying fresh fruits and vegetables. We have to pay attention to the social environment, the food environment, how fruits and vegetables are available, the cost and quality. And for our population, fruit and vegetable cost is a big deal. It’s a barrier to consumption. About 40 to 50 percent of the population report cost as a substantial barrier. That’s why this program is critical to our success.

The Institute of Medicine released three big reports on obesity and kids. In 2005, it established a real need to pay attention to upstream contributors to obesity; related to fresh fruit and vegetable consumption and its availability in school, the impact of fast food and eating habits at home, food advertising and pricing. Any program that wants to change obesity in kids, and this applies to adults as well, must develop an upstream factor set.

Q: How unique is the Champions for Change concept? Are you consulting with other state departments of health? Are other states adopting similar programs? How does this program gel with the other programs out there?

A: In developing the new brand, our consultant guided us in looking at obesity prevention/healthy living brands and logos from other states, and most said what it was they wanted people or communities to do — shape up, move more, and so forth. So, as far as we’ve seen for nutrition, physical activity and obesity prevention at least, this seems to be unique and, we hope, “evergreen”, as well as on-target with the emotional value that will result in normative change.

We also hope it will transcend the silo mentality that is so easy to slip into and be a big enough umbrella to allow lots of diverse stakeholders to buy in and participate. Consumers seem to love it. It speaks to them of community and joining efforts and commitment and respect.

We just launched it in late April, so we haven’t been beyond our own borders much yet. There’s a lot to do with the transition and learning how to build synergy, a principal purpose for making the change — there should be some good stories to tell over the coming months.

People carve off what they can do. With the National Partnership, we’ve developed a national action plan. It covers 10 different areas and is quite comprehensive.

Q: What is this national action plan? Is this a government or private program, and how long has it been around?

A: The National Action Plan to Promote Health Through Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption was pulled together by PBH with input from and on behalf of the entire National Partnership and reflects the broad approach that we partners believe is needed and that we’re working together to accomplish.

It involves the states, United Fresh, PMA, the canned and frozen food alliances, the diabetes and heart associations, National Cancer Institute (NCI), CDC and USDA, among others, and covers a wide scope of issues, such as marketing to schools, retail, health care research policies, etc. It’s the ability to execute that’s the challenge.

Coordinating all this is really a handful because we’re depending on voluntary efforts, and organizations each with their own timelines, expectations and demands. Trying to get things like this to work in one company is hard, and voluntarily is really tough.

Q: You’re certainly no stranger to overcoming such obstacles and building coalitions for change, as exemplified by your prowess in spearheading development and expansion of the California 5-a-Day program.

A: Initially 5-a-Day was headed by NCI, but then turned over to CDC about three years ago. There has always been coordination in the industry for this program. This is one initiative where all industry groups have come together to work with the federal government.

Fruits & Veggies — More Matters is the new brand replacing 5-a-Day. Because CDC didn’t feel it had authority to create a new brand, PBH developed and owns the brand and trademark. The government has always been the arm to license on the industry side. Now the role has flipped. PBH licenses the brand, and CDC, in turn, sublicenses it to the states, the Cancer Society, Heart and Diabetes Associations, etc.

We are still in discussions with PBH on the terms of the More Matters license. I believe 27 or 28 states now have interim licenses with PBH that are good for one year. They will eventually phase into the CDC license. PBH is taking very seriously the intellectual property aspects of the brand and using appropriate care so the integrity of the brand is maintained.

We are familiar with the style guide and brand ideology and how PBH is playing it out. Our agreement with them is consumer empowerment, to empower moms in this case to have control and put more fruits and vegetables into their family diet. For us, we remain The Network for a Healthy and Active California with our pillars of fruits and vegetables, physical activity, food security and chronic disease prevention starting with obesity.

This is the way we have our campaign laid out and what the public will see over the coming year. We have a comprehensive media campaign that includes T.V. in English and Spanish, in seven English and six Spanish media markets, and radio, billboard and transit ads in both languages. In addition, we have a totally new, drop mail bi-lingual DVD to almost 600,000 low income households in six counties, where moms talk about how they are making changes.

The emotional hook we’re building on is mom’s concern for her family and her environment; taking control of her home and kitchen, and working with other moms to change the community.

Q: The produce industry has always faced an uphill marketing/funding battle to compete with junk food manufacturers and fast food establishments. Now it seems in many schools physical education programs are being cut back, while kids get more sedentary off campus as well. What can be done to shake up established behaviors?

A: We’re creating a whole theme of champions, whether it’s kids speaking out, or a retailer or policy-maker or teacher who is a champion for change. That’s the tag line: Network for a Healthy California, Champions for Change.

We have about 160 local projects we fund, and about 2,000 partners, including regional organizations around the state. The challenge is to introduce this new approach in a way they will carry it through and capitalize on the will of the consumers to change their own environment, whether school, home, church, or community, wherever it happens to be.

We believe Californians have to change norms, what people expect and consider normal. They should expect fruits and vegetables at their children’s schools. They shouldn’t expect to have advertisers telling kids to eat bad food. They don’t want this. We did this as a state for tobacco control, wearing seatbelts, and putting on sunscreen. We tried and succeeded to de-normalize something unhealthy. That’s what has to happen with Champions of Change.

Q: How do you measure success of Champions for Change, and in a larger sense other health and nutrition programs? Do you have studies to document and validate the methodologies? Do you have examples you can share with us of how programs have evolved and changed?

A: We do our programs two ways. We develop at the state level based on research, test ideas and rollout programs on a pilot basis, test again, revise and rollout statewide. For example, on our Latino campaign, we found we could get an increase of one serving of fruit and one serving of vegetable a day from our pilot study, then tried to replicate the pilot in the real world with live partners, providing training and materials so they’d be able to implement the program according to the science we found and expected, while customizing it with community-based incentives.

At the local level, Latino campaign coordinators found the use of cultural festivals and flee markets important places large numbers of families gathered to build the program. As we roll out the program in other venues, such as schools and grocery stores, we look for changes in fruit and vegetable consumption at the state level. Now we have Latino campaigns in 9 of 11 regions. We do targeted surveys to understand our Latino audience. The other way is through evaluations that the partners have developed. The local agencies put their own money against ours.

Our Harvest of the Month program seemed to take off in schools like wildflowers; we stepped in and looked at evaluation results to see if it was doing what people thought it was doing. We now have three years of Harvest of the Month materials that can be used mainly in schools, but that extend to the home and community. Now we’re trying to carry the program into the retail environment. If the parent knows kids will be learning about kiwis, then the retailers can feature kiwis, and by working together we can increase consumption.

We have a high level of evaluation requirements to watch for what works and what doesn’t work as we roll out the program, and then we do surveys every two years; age 9 to 11 — 4th and 5th grades — done in odd years, as is our adult survey, and our teen survey in even years, age 12 to 17 — middle school and high school. The surveys are in-depth, with a focus on eating habits, physical activity what people know, as well as their opinions.

On our children’s survey, we had fabulous results showing huge increases in fruit and vegetable consumption, which we attributed to a combination of children’s T.V. promotion, our rollout of in school and after school programs and our ability to reach parents and their subsequent participation. Interestingly enough, the change in USDA rules in 2004 meant we could no longer do children’s T.V. in 2005. That same year we reported consumption did go down substantially. This was the main thing we could attribute the drop to. We know T.V. is very powerful with kids, resulting in very strong recall, and we were using child celebrities for normative change. We don’t know there’s a link; we can only speculate.

On the state level, we do compare our numbers against behavioral risk surveys by CDC that every state does roughly every two years targeting fruits and vegetables. We can compare how California does for adults using that survey. We come out high, but not the highest. It fluctuates. We thought it had to do with 5-a-Day programs. No one has actually analyzed this. It is very complicated work.

We are tracking low-income adults in our own survey, and we are seeing nice results. Numbers from 2005 have been showing steady increases, not any more than the high income group, but they are keeping up and the gap is not widening. We don’t know any other reason why, other than our work. We’re still doing number crunching to compare our results to national trends in this area.

Q: What are some valuable lessons you’ve discovered through your tenure?

A: There are many more influences on low-income populations that effect produce consumption. Their disposable income is shrinking all the time. It is complicated to know how much money they will have for food. Produce can be a risky and relatively costly food investment to someone on a strict budget when they don’t know what the quality, taste and freshness will be.

What we’ve learned in public health is that evaluation is very messy. We don’t have all the knowledge on the impact of all the countervailing forces, and it is very difficult to prove. Five billion dollars is spent on food advertising in California and two percent of that is on fruits and vegetables. By far most of the food advertising is not helping us. Only about 10 percent is for the healthier foods. We just know there is not as much advertising as there should be to turn these numbers around. We believe that by doubling or tripling, we’ll see reductions in obesity.

People who eat more fruits and vegetables have lower body weights. There is a correlation. But if all you’re doing is eating two additional food groups, the result could be counter-intuitive. One of the things we’ve learned is we need to tell people to eat less of other stuff, calorie-dense foods, soda, fried foods, portions and frequency and what the plate or snacks should be looking like.

Eating less is a shift from normal. Filling up on water-containing foods, such as soup, reduces caloric intake. When people go on Weight Watcher’s or South Beach, they do substantially increase the fruits and vegetables they eat to stave off hunger and stay on an eating plan for life. These are strategies to try and recalibrate our systems and expectations on a whole social level.

We appreciate the time Sue Foerster devoted to sharing her perspectives with the industry. What Sue and people like her in other states think about Fruits & Veggies — More Matters really matters. Because, to be blunt, they have the money. Note the reference to getting an extra 100 million dollars. PBH hasn’t spent $100 million dollars since it was started!

When Elizabeth Pivonka at PBH speaks about a multiplier effect in which small amounts of money spent by PBH pay off in larger amounts of in-kind promotion and government expenditures, a big chunk of that is what people like Sue Foerster spend.

The good news is that Sue is running an astounding program that is focused on poor people. Not only is the program about nutrition but also exercise; it has a behavioral component in which people are encouraged to see themselves as change agents and incorporates a focus on values and social change.

So many of the benefits that society could realize through a more fit populace come from the poorer sector of society. We can’t help think that, regardless of its impact on produce consumption, Sue’s laser-like focus on people at 185% or less of the federal poverty line is bound to do more good for the world than getting affluent people to boost their consumption slightly.

At the same time, we sense that there is a divergence today that didn’t exist when the national 5-a-Day program was established. Part of it may be the natural dynamic that comes about from a change of ownership of a program. After all, 5-a-Day was a California program that went national.

Now there is a national program and California has to be persuaded to use it.

And they will. Sue Foerster is not an enemy of Fruits & Veggies — More Matters. They will eventually get a license, co-brand and be supportive. But it is not going to be the same as 5-a-Day.

At best, Fruits & Veggies — More Matters can be useful as a nutritional component of a larger message such as Champions for Change.

Part of it is the sense that more than nutrition education is required, so any program so limited — as more Fruits & Veggies — More Matters is — can only be a part of the solution.

Part of it is the difference in focus. Sue is looking to help poor people; the More Matters program has no income focus.

Yet it also strikes us that there is a bigger issue. In answering Elizabeth Pivonka’s most recent letter, we wrote the following:

We also confess that to our ear, the whole More Matters slogan rings uncomfortably in an era when caloric restriction is the order of the day.

Now we read Sue Forester’s comments:

…if all you’re doing is eating two additional food groups, the result could be counter-intuitive. One of the things we’ve learned is we need to tell people to eat less of other stuff, calorie-dense foods, soda, fried foods, portions and frequency…

Obviously, Sue has concerns that go well beyond the Fruits & Veggies — More Matters message.

Although Sue said nothing negative, intrinsic in the issues Sue raise is a real question about the compatibility of the More Matters message with the kind of low income focus Sue is responsible for.

More Matters might make sense if the problem is education. If the message we need to get out is that everyone, everywhere should increase their consumption of produce and if the only obstacle to doing that is understanding, then More Matters might make sense.

But Sue explains that there are substantive factors that block access to produce for the poor:

There are many more influences on low-income populations that effect produce consumption. Their disposable income is shrinking all the time. It is complicated to know how much money they will have for food. Produce can be a risky and relatively costly food investment to someone on a strict budget when they don’t know what the quality, taste and freshness will be.

If this is true and there is, for example, an economic barrier to consumption, then the More Matters slogan is almost cruel. It is like a psych on poor people. It is saying to poor people that More Matters — and you can’t afford it!

It is hard to see how programs focused on the poor are going to find that this general admonition to eat more fruits and vegetables should be the focus of their efforts.

This doesn’t mean that More Matters is a bad program, but there are clear signs that the old network of state groups has interests that are diverging from that of PBH.

In her recent letter, Elizabeth Pivonka said it clearly: Fruits & Veggies — More Matters was not developed specifically as an anti-obesity message…

But Sue Foerster tells us that a lot you do is based on the resources you have: It’s perverse in a way that because of the obesity crisis, we are fortunate to be able to grow this program. We get our federal funds by raising state funds that qualify for matching federal financial participation. We were able to bring in $100 million in new money because our partners through state and local government have allocated equal or larger amounts which qualify for matching USDA funds.

It makes you wonder if the produce industry isn’t missing the boat. The action is in anti-obesity efforts, and produce could play an important part but the particular program we’ve developed and slogan we’ve selected may lead to our marginalizing ourselves in a world focused on obesity.

We appreciate the insight Sue has provided into one of the most important public health efforts in America.

We wish her well and hope the produce industry, so important in the state of California, will find a way to be a true partner in Sue’s program to help the needy to lead more healthful lives.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Where Accreditation Is For Sale, We Better Know Our Suppliers

Our piece, Pundit’s Mailbag — Eye-Opening Visit To China’s Garlic Growers, has caused much controversy and brought this letter from a well-recognized force in food safety:

I was fascinated with, though not surprised by, the letter from Roger Niebolt regarding garlic handling in China. As someone who has worked in produce all over the world, I also have many horror stories to tell. But my real purpose in writing is to validate your comment concerning your experiences in the Caribbean and the importance of control.

We in the produce business are all accustomed to the idea of quality control, because quality is what we sell. But we have also grown accustomed to outsourcing our concerns about food safety so that we rely on a certificate or accreditation to assure us of the safety of our products. While this may once have adequately served the purposes of covering our rear ends and facilitating the deal, it is now necessary but insufficient. Anything less than control of our food safety systems won’t do.

Accreditation is well and good. But in many parts of the developing world accreditation and certification are for sale. I have been in food facilities in Eastern Europe that proudly display their ISO Certification documents in the entryway. But when touring the facilities, it became very clear that they could not possibly have completed the stringent ISO requirements of continuous improvement, attention to detail and documentation.

In short, they were filthy and disorganized. They probably purchased their certification. Unfortunately this is all too common in much of the world. Be suspicious of certificates. They are only a piece of paper, and a piece of paper never prevented a food borne illness outbreak. Even when the certificate is legitimate, some certifying organizations, government or private, have little experience with produce food safety and microbiology. Produce really is different, and the microbiological principals that pertain to meat, fish, poultry and other foods often do not hold with produce.

Firstly, and most importantly, know your suppliers. And know their suppliers. Know who they are, how they approach food safety, the level of their commitment to food safety, and their actual food safety practices. Are there staff members with knowledge and training in food safety or is the head of maintenance in charge of food safety? Do they have a living, breathing food safety program, or did they download it off the internet? Visit them and find out.

Secondly, know your food safety partners. What is the education and experience of your auditor? Does your auditing company actually do the audits, or do they outsource the job to somebody they don’t know or control? Do your suppliers’ auditing companies outsource the job? Who is in control and what quality standards are in place within the auditing company? How much experience do they have in the fresh produce business? The same holds true for testing labs. What experience do they have in fresh produce?

Thirdly, invest in food safety knowledge and training. Knowledge and understanding are your best defense. Each time there is a food borne illness outbreak associated with fresh produce we learn new things. We now know that flooded land can be hazardous; that feral pigs in riparian areas can be a risk factor; that feral pigs like to eat grapes and so the proximity of vineyards can be a risk factor; that mixing pesticides in spray water will not kill pathogens in that water; that E. coli can survive in soil for months; that organic produce is not inherently safe simply because it is organic, and on and on.

We may not have been as aware of these things a few years ago, but we are now. If we fail to comprehend and learn from our failures, we will not improve. And lack of improvement is the surest way to lose the confidence of our customers. Shame on us if we repeat our mistakes. Invest in food safety, invest in training your people, and understand the risks in your operation so that you can address and minimize them.

And thanks for mentioning Davis Fresh Technologies in your column. We are now NSF Davis Fresh since we were acquired last year by NSF International of Ann Arbor, MI. We are now a sister company to Cook and Thurber, QAI, and soon another European audit company. This association greatly increases our global reach and the breadth of services that we can provide while maintaining the high professional standards that have always been the source of our pride.

— Devon Zagory, Ph.D.
Senior Vice President
Food Safety & Quality Programs
NSF Davis Fresh

We appreciate Devon’s letter. It echoes a piece we ran in the midst of the spinach crisis entitled, Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, which included this phrase:

Food safety is like flavor; to successfully deliver it you must have commitment and control in an aligned supply chain. The commitment required is to hold food safety (or flavor) as a core value. The control can only be asset-based. The parties involved must have control over the assets necessary to execute daily. These assets are obvious from the shipper standpoint, and from the buyer side it is control over the PO’s.

It is the fact that foodservice buyers often purchase a limited number of items on a contract basis that gives foodservice the opportunity to have an aligned supply chain, and this, by reputation, leads to a safer product. To explore this further, we did a series of interviews with foodservice executives, which you can review here.

The Taco Bell problem last fall demonstrated that even a highly aligned supply chain is no guarantee of safety. Since we had been preaching the benefits of alignment, we were called on this in a letter by Alan Siger of Consumers Produce Co. We responded that the large scale of these operations distort the statistics and, anyway, an aligned supply chain can be aligned for many purposes — to drive costs out of the system, increase flavor, enhance food safety, etc.

So while an aligned supply chain doesn’t guarantee safety — in fact if aligned to reduce costs, it could serve the opposite cause — alignment in favor of food safety seemed the most likely way to produce food safety. You can read the exchange here.

Devon’s letter is helpful because if you want to understand the industry efforts on food safety since the spinach crisis, it is best seen as a battle between aligned supply chains and forces looking to preserve traditional ways of operating.

The whole California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement is, in fact, a mechanism to allow buyers to purchase from anyone and thus preserve traditional trading mechanisms. Fresh Express resisted signing the agreement before relenting, in part because the vision of the industry Fresh Express preferred was one where buyers sought to align themselves with the companies that have the best food safety practices. Fresh Express had that reputation and so, in theory, would benefit.

The challenge with Devon’s letter is that much procurement is not of that aligned supply chain form. Our interview with Dan Crimmins of Notre Dame illustrated clearly that Notre Dame, along with countless others, was buying through distributors and wholesalers and had no ability to research to the source. He certainly had no ability to audit the auditors.

Our pieces on locally grown, as we have dealt with both here and here, pose problems of scale. How do small farms do all this?

Even highly aligned supply chains get broken because of crop failure. So we really need an aligned supply chain with an aligned back-up plan.

And how many buyers have this expertise anyway? Should every wholesaler on Hunts Point hire a PhD to send off to fields from New Zealand to the Netherlands? And where will all these food safety experts come from? PMA has been looking for a star for months and hasn’t been able to catch one.

Devon’s report of certifications being sold is, of course, frightening. Though it’s not surprising. The value of a certification can be millions in business, so corruption is inevitable. So what step is the food safety community taking to stop this completely predictable occurrence?

Devon’s urging of buyers to know a lot about suppliers is wonderful — if we are talking about Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. Yet, surely, we need a mechanism by which Notre Dame or a fruit store in Brooklyn can have safe produce as well.

This seems to imply that the focus of government should be on doing undercover work to prevent the sale of certifications as well as preventing counterfeiting — which, as we discussed here, here and here, deceives consumers and the trade.

In other words, Dan Crimmins should be able to get an assurance from a distributor that every raw product he purchases is certified to a set standard such as EurepGAP and that every processing plant is certified to a set standard such as operating to British Retail Consortium standards. And he should know that these certifications mean something.

Devon’s letter is a reminder to the industry that we can’t take representations of food safety for granted. For large buyers with aligned supply chains, Devon lays out a path to food safety. As for the rest of us… this is what deliberations on food safety are really all about.

Mail to a Friend

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