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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Do Childhood Obesity Programs Work?

One of the pet causes is to change school eating programs from vending machines to breakfast, lunch and snacking options. The New York Times magazine did a major piece on the subject.

The comeuppance, though, is that although there are many programs being promoted by all kinds of entities, we have no particular reason to believe any of them will have any effect on childhood obesity. Here is they way the Times put it:

But there is one big shadow over all this healthy enthusiasm: no one can prove that it works. For all the menus being defatted, salad bars made organic and vending machines being banned, no one can prove that changes in school lunches will make our children lose weight. True, studies show that students who exercise more and have healthier diets learn better and fidget less, and that alone would be a worthwhile goal. But if the main reason for overhauling the cafeteria is to reverse the epidemic of obesity and the lifelong health problems that result, then shouldn’t we be able to prove we are doing what we set out to do?

The smattering of controlled prevention studies in the scientific literature have decidedly mixed findings. “There just isn’t definitive proof,” says Benjamin Caballero, the principal investigator on the largest study, of 1,704 students over three years in the 1990’s, which showed no change in the body-mass index of those whose schools had spent $20 million changing their menus, exercise programs and nutritional education. A second study, of more than 5,000 students undertaken at about the same time, came to similar conclusions. “There are a few smaller studies with more promising results,” Caballero went on to say, “but right now we can’t scientifically say that all the things that should work — by that I mean improving diet, classroom nutrition education, physical activity, parental involvement — actually do work.”

I think that is a problem. Read the article here.

Latino Marketing Needs Improvement

Ethnic differences matter enormously in the food business, because tastes change very slowly. My family hasn’t lived in Eastern Europe for five generations and yet even my little guys like to go to the deli where we order various Eastern European favorites. So, without a doubt, if you are looking to sell to people of Mexican descent, you better have bountiful displays of mangos and avocados.

But the use of Spanish has to be navigated. Advertising Age printed an American Demographics analysis of a Census Bureau survey and described the situation this way:

Nearly three-fourths (72%) of Hispanics 5-17 speak English "very well"; another 18% speak English "well." So nine in 10 Hispanic youth are able to communicate well in English.

In contrast, fewer than half (47%) of those ages 18-64 speak English "very well," and 19% speak English "well." Among those 65 and older, just 36% speak English "very well" and 19% "well."

Under certain circumstances, the use of Spanish can be a sign of respect to the Latino culture and homeland heritage. Used in the wrong way, it can be a backhanded insult. This is really an area where you need to know what you are doing. Bring in a professional marketing consultant.

You can read the analysis of the issue here. I discussed some of these issues in a column I wrote for DELI BUSINESS, which was a response to a cover story on the same subject.

Snack Insights

Having broadened their view of snacks beyond such items as chips, cookies, and crackers, consumers today are more likely to consider any small portion of food as a potential snacking candidate. Retailers, however, have not caught up to this new consumer thinking (while only 20% of consumers today define snacks traditionally, 40% of retailers still do so). This perceptual gap separating retailers and their customers is alarming — an indication that, as a group, retailers do not fully recognize their competition within the snack market.

The report didn’t survey producers, but I am not sure they are any more enlightened. This kind of stuff is crucial because, whether a producer or a retailer, you don’t want to be put in the position of just trying to sell “stuff” for some unidentified purpose.

You want to be able to direct your marketing so that each product can meet specific consumer needs, as for snacks. Get more information right here.

New Twist On New Product Introduction


One of the biggest problems in the produce industry is that shippers outside of the fresh-cut world often are totally focused on selling whatever products and packs they happen to produce. They don’t really think about their customers and how to serve them better.

There is often significant underinvestment in developing new products. Here is how Dole explains what it did:

With foodservice operators seeking a more convenient, value-driven asparagus pack, Dole rose to the challenge, creating a new product that eliminates both prep time and waste. This new item includes hand-selected fresh asparagus — already cut to a tip form, thoroughly washed and packed in a patent-protected, breathable microwave-ready bag, ready to serve in 6-8 minutes.

This product is being offered in 1.5lb and 2.5lb bags that extend shelf life by six days. Available in a 100% edible seven-inch tip length, this product is hand-selected and sorted to insure uniform sizing.

While focus of this fresh solution lies in providing usable product portions and simplified product preparation, improvement to the end-user is also seen in price. Dole’s fixed pricing on this item helps maintain stable food costs, while reduced labor costs and decreased freight cost is achieved per usable pound.

New products don’t have to mean new fruits or vegetables or for that matter, new flowers, new meats, new cheeses or new fish — it can mean altering the basket of products and services that go along with each item so as to change the value proposition for the customer.

Small feature changes, such as cutting the product to a tip form, pre-washing it and putting it in a microwaveable bag, have enormous implications for a restaurant’s labor, storage, waste disposal, and transit costs — it turns a simple vegetable into a new product.

I see so much money, time and energy spent to sell the same old thing that doesn’t address the customers’ needs. How much better for your company and your customers if you do some work on creating better products.

Pundit Mailbag: Consumer-Focused


At virtually every food industry conference, there are 20 speakers who all repeat, like some kind of mantra, that we have to be consumer-focused, we have to serve the consumer, on and on.

Yet in actual execution, I find that consumers are generally ignored or viewed in a very limiting way. I don’t think it has to be that way. How do we sell better, healthier, more life-enriching foods to the people of the world? How do we help people with diabetes, cancer, heart disease and other illnesses? How do we help people fuel themselves with high energy food so that they can live their lives to the fullest.

It is asking questions like this that really defines being consumer-focused.

Among the generally supportive responses was this:

I agree. I think too often that being consumer-focused is more about making the consumer want what you are trying to sell them, rather than listening to what they need and want. This is true in all industries, not just perishables. Also too many decisions are not thought all the way through. Analysts focus on history and rarely extrapolate the future into the equation. It is as if no one puts themselves in the consumer’s shoes. Instead they run focus groups and ask questions designed to achieve a desired result rather than a fresh look at reality

Finally, there is not enough focus on vision and mission. Business should be vision-driven and that vision should have the good of the consumer, the industry and society in its sights, not just the bottom line or the price of the stock. Tom Peters had it right in "Thriving on Chaos."

Leadership should push decision-making down to the levels that are most in touch with consumers, producers and vendors. Workers in a company should be inspired by vision instead of motivated by fear.

— Richard Kaiser
The Richard Kaiser Company

Somewhere in all this, there is a kind of intellectual leap that great executives take in which they stop thinking narrowly of the consumer. They stop breaking down the consumer into a consumer of cheese or radishes or sneakers but start associating themselves with the hopes, dreams and aspirations of that consumer.

Then producing mushrooms or soup or shrimp or a cupcake becomes bigger and more important as it becomes part of the way to help a person be what they want to be and what they can be.

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