Our piece, Remembering Jack Pandol, brought back many memories. Most of us, if we are lucky, have an imprint on our immediate family or perhaps our community. Jack seemed to have impact on the whole world.
As Rick Eastes, whose letter about Jack we included in our piece, wrote after the funeral:
The funeral was really a celebration of Jack’s life and Frieda Caplan gave an excellent eulogy, as did Jack’s physician son. This was a truly international event. It was as if the world, and most of California agriculture, was in attendance.
Frieda also sent us a note after the funeral:
Karen and I just returned from the JACK PANDOL MEMORIAL SERVICE… and saw both Rick and Mary Eastes and Bruce Obbink… so I commented to them about their letters that appeared in the PUNDIT piece regarding the passing of Jack Pandol… By the way, the church had a capacity of 1000 and it looked pretty full!
Just so you know … Fred Williamson, President of Andrew & Williamson… was reading the PUNDIT late the night before the funeral… and learned of Jack’s passing. Though he didn’t know Jack personally, he was so overwhelmed by your story, he got up (In San Diego the morning of the funeral) at 5 a.m. and drove to Bakersfield in order to attend!
The power of the Prevor Pen!
— Frieda Rapoport Caplan
Founder Frieda’s, Inc.
Los Angeles, California
Since Jack was known across the planet, many couldn’t make it to the funeral. We asked both Frieda, and Jack’s eldest son, Stephen, if they would allow us to share their eulogies with the industry which they most graciously did. Frieda Rapoport Caplan spoke these words:
The last time I saw Jack Pandol was a very joyous occasion. It was about four or five years ago at the Produce Marketing Convention in Anaheim. These are cherished events where you not only renew business relationships but it is a wonderful opportunity to visit and greet long time friends.
When Jack and Winnie walked up to our booth… and we made eye contact… both Jack and I became teary-eyed as we hugged. Since my daughters, Karen and Jackie, were there, they joined us in a group hug. My daughters were well aware of our long term relationship with this wonderful, giving couple.
Karen thanked Jack profusely for taking her phone call a few years earlier when we needed guidance on how to handle a potential new grower. Like many others, we turned to Jack on how to handle what might be a difficult relationship. His advice… this particular time… stay away from these people… they are nothing but trouble.
I met Jack in 1957… just after I started selling fresh mushrooms at Giumarra brothers on the 7th Street Produce Market in Los Angeles.. He was walking by our stall and paused to ask if I would sell him some of our white button mushrooms. He was getting ready for his annual Delano barbeque at the Slav Club… for which he was famous because he did all the cooking for his many friends and associates.
Having no clue to who he was… I was still pretty new to the produce business… I had to ask someone at Giumarra Bros. if Jack Pandol was credit-worthy!… And this was the beginning of a relationship that lasted all these many years.
Soon after I founded what is now known as Frieda’s Specialty Produce… Jack needed an outlet to help market and introduce the first produce item that he sourced from China. Many people, even today, are totally unaware of Jack’s visionary role in opening up trade with China. The item was fresh waterchestnuts. Frankly, this was not a particularly successful venture, financially… but demonstrated Jack’s inventive way of opening the door for our produce industry… and it paid off in relationship-building… not only for Pandol brothers… but it pried open the door for other U.S. produce companies as well.
Though it may not have been popular politically… opening business in China at that time… this didn’t stop Jack. He was one of those rare individuals who was able to envision opportunities that would eventually benefit, not only Pandol Brothers, but U.S. businesses of all types.
Knowing the importance of industry associations, Jack literally changed the direction of the Produce Marketing Association, by serving as the first chairman of PMA’s international trade committee, which was created in 1983… largely at his initiative.
As many of you know, Jack enjoyed stirring up controversy in our industry, especially if he felt it would help us reach new heights of produce consumption.
My most vivid personal experience with Jack was the time… when he and I were invited to address the International Apple Association’s annual convention. I think we were both invited because we had recently, though independently, challenged conventional wisdom on the direction that the apple industry was taking.
While my talk questioned the future of the Red Delicious apple, Jack stunned this audience (and did he love the controversy that ensued) when he challenged the growers in the audience to rethink their growing processes and consider growing apples organically. “Orangic” was a dirty word for many of the growers present.
You can’t imagine the hell and backlash he caused that day… he was lucky that he got out of this convention unscathed… and then, our produce press picked up on Jack’s comments and helped spread the word to the many thousands of industry members who weren’t present to hear what Jack had to say that day.
Time, of course, has shown that Jack’s visionary ability was once again, right on!
Jack, over the years, has literally mentored hundreds of members of our industry. I want to read to you an especially touching tribute my daughter Karen received on August 6th, after she wrote to Bill Lewis, a former Pandol employee, who still lives in Chile.
“Hi karen… thank you for thinking of me. Jack truly was such an important influence, in business and in my case… romance. When I foolishly fell hopelessly in love with Andrea, who was living on the other side of the world, Jack immediately solved the problem for me. I never asked what my salary was and really had no idea what I was getting into, but I have never regretted leaving Topco (former employer) because it was exciting to work for Jack. He was much more than an employer; he was like my favorite uncle who we always were trying to keep out of trouble. I’ve learned so much from him.
“I’m in the Elqui valley right now and in deep reflection. Jack’s death is bittersweet as he suffered the past years. We worked hard to get him the Bernardo O’Higgins knighthood and when he received it, he was not truly able to enjoy the honor. Still, it is a testament to the kind of man he was.”
In 2009, Jack was presented with this award by Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, the highest honor given by the people of Chile to a foreign citizen.
One prestigeous award he was able to receive and enjoy in person was the “produce man for all seasons,” presented at PMA’s national convention by the Packer newspaper in 1987.
Jack may have passed from planet earth… but his impact in and on our industry has been and will be enormous… not only because of the international markets he opened and developed, and the produce items he introduced, but most importantly, the many talented family members and Pandol staff members he nurtured. With the help of his lifelong partner, Winnie, this will keep his presence uppermost in our industry’s daily lives for many years to come.
To Jack’s amazing family… and especially to Winnie… I thank you so much for asking me to be part of this celebration of Jack Pandol’s life and legacy.
Stephen Pandol represented His family with these thoughts:
I am Stephen, Jack’s oldest son representing his family. First, thank you all for coming today. Each and every one of you here today played key roles in enriching and making his life the wonderful event that it was. We thank you, and Jack thanks you for being there and the blessings you brought to him and his family.
Now I will tell you the story of the inception of our family.
When Jack returned from the Service after WWII, he had a singular mission — to court Winifred Zaninovich. She was a few years younger and grew up in her family home that was about 20 miles from his family’s home both on Road 192, a country road in Tulare County. They didn’t have an official relationship before he left for the service but they wrote to each other while he was away.
Upon returning, he wanted to show his intentions by going to meet with her and her family soon after returning. This was so important to him that he described to us in later years the stress, emotion and details of his driving this 20 miles from his house to her family’s house. Like many men returning from the service, he felt somehow less than worthy of such an important girl. He was an emotional wreck trying to make this 20 mile drive.
Many years later he recalled his pounding heart and difficulty breathing as he started on his way. He stopped the car and even turned around to return back to his home a couple of times. He talked about being weak in the knees going up the steps to her house. Imagine this man who had just fought bravely in the war having such a difficult time in going to see Winifred to court her. Well, that is who he was and how important Winifred was to him. And that is how the family started.
There were many things we admired about Jack. Even though he had a shy way about him as you see from the story I just told, he stood strong in his convictions, in his love for his family, in his passion for his work and love for those he worked with. He was confident and unapologetic in his approach. We all saw that special quality and how it impacted all of us both in the family and his world. His convictions and values have been so powerful that they are influencing the oldest to the youngest generations in our family.
Now, I have a poetic prayer from Jack to all of us
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there, I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain
When you awaken in the morning’s hush, I am the swift up-flinging rush of quiet birds in circling flight
I am the soft star that shines at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there
I did not die
Jack lives with us.
Stephen elected to recite Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep, a 1932 poem written by Mary Elizabeth Frye. The poem is believed to have been written to Frye’s friend, a Jewish girl of German descent whose mother died back in Germany, and it was not possible for her to go back and visit her mother.
It also strikes us as especially appropriate to be read at Jack Pandol’s funeral. So many who knew him could not have the satisfaction of being with him and seeing him laid to rest.
They will, however, draw solace from Frieda’s boisterous jaunt through a real life business relationship and friendship with Jack and his son’s poetic admonition that the great live on through our own conduct.
We have one more important piece to write about Jack Pandol in the next Pundit for now we say, simply, peace be with Jack and all who loved him.
We’ve received many letters on the piece including a piece from some of the panel participants. We thought, however, that we would start with a submission from a distinguished academic who sees local from halfway around the world:
Jim, as usual I found your writing brilliant, and this time it was regarding the “local foods” issue. At dawn here in Beijing I wanted to send some additional and/or confirming thoughts. I hope you accept these points, even though I am writing from more than 50 miles away from you.
First, let’s face it, the Chinese, the French, and the Italians (and I can add the Mexicans and Indians, and have actually listed what foodies often list as the great original cuisines) are (or I can soften that by saying, are among) the greatest food cultures on earth, with the greatest variety, taste, refinement, obsession with freshness, the history of each dish, mania for regional specialties.
I have found that the average (I mean average) Chinese, Italian or French person I know talks, thinks and knows as much about produce as the “industry practitioners and experts” as one finds in PMA meetings and so on. (I love PMA so I am not “dissing” them, I am just saying the obvious for anyone who spends time in the great food culture countries.) I think that these countries “have it right” in terms of local foods — they think “FOOD REGIONS.”
At any time, in my offices in China or India, or the university where I spend time in France, I can just grab anyone… secretary, professional, local baker, trucker… anyone… and I can say “what’s in season and where is it from?” Anyone… anyone… will tell me in enthusiastic, vivid, and voluminous detail about what peaches or mangos are “coming in” (please remember the verb… “coming in”) coming in from what region.
They can describe exactly when they start “coming in”, and when they “are over” and aren’t worth a word or a chew. In my office in Beijing the other day, I watched everyone (not “food experts”!) crowd around a table at a work break; we were all cutting up, shouting, laughing (the usual scene, I have found, in China, one of the great fun places to work); they were obsessing about … Thai mangosteen (we had a few open and the crowd was digging into them with a kind of food insanity), peaches from Xianjin (these will give my home state California a run for their money…), melons from a local province (only 200 miles away), and an apple from the US.
They liked these things and paid their lower incomes for them because they think they have good TASTE. They CELEBRATED the regions they are from. They did not say, oh, I am sorry, I only eat things grown 100 miles around Beijing! IF and ONLY IF the BEST version of that kind of produce were grown that close to Beijing would they eat it, unless it is just some commodity product that anyone can grow anywhere about the same, unless they mess it up.
I have seen the same scene in offices and homes in France, Italy, India (for fruit and certain vegetables) and obviously Mexico. As usual, France, I think, is leading the way in marrying the modern food system with this traditional food love and culture of “food regions.” They have programs (one of the government, one of the private sector), one of which is called “Reflets de France”, reflections of France. They SELL each region’s specialities (of many foods) … ALL OVER FRANCE.
So a “consumer” in Bordeaux will go to the supermarket and pick up, savor, love, discuss, celebrate, the specialties of departments in the South, North, East, and West. (It is never “local versus non-local” that dominates their choices, or I have never seen this… it is the taste, the season, the tradition of specialty, and if the local is producing something good, they just pull it into the general set of things they love.)
These same persons will ooh and ahhh over an orange from Israel, a mango from India, and berries from Serbia. IF and ONLY IF their local producers can produce the best option for taste (for things with taste differentials), they will buy it. They will eye it, sniff it, touch it, figure it out. Typically they will… already know… what things the local folks can do well, and when, and just then judge among the local producers, assuming that anyone worth his/her salt will do well the local traditional thing, or if they introduce a new thing, they will have the common sense to make sure that it upholds the same quality tradition as the other things made.
But of course these same consumers will pick over bargains for produce and other foods that they are not looking for particular flavor or differentiation in, and if they are poor or lower middle or even middle, those things may be most of what they buy. So they will combine looking for cheap commodities, and looking for the “regional home runs” … whatever region, inside or outside France, that they can find. The same I see in China, the same in India, in Mexico, in Italy. In my personal life, I try to follow the food ideas of these people, as I think that they know … a lot more than I do about food. I go to the local farmers market when I can because I know there are some local things around my Michigan area and San Diego area that folks there do well, and when they do it, and little by little, I learn who can do it.
Second, it seems to me that the mix we now see of “globalization” (just another way of saying what Jim said, the development first of national rather than local, then international rather than only national, markets with great variety of foreign produce and other products to choose from) and the “buy local” “movement” are inevitable partners, neither will go away, and neither will beat out the other for the next 10-20 years — and then the “markets” side will (again, as it already did once.. in the 1950s/1960s) win. For several reasons I note below:
1. Consumers AND producers LOVE the growth of national and international markets — the formation of national, and then the development of international markets — for everything, and produce is part of that. One famous berry grower in Michigan told me when I asked him about “buy local movement”, he said, “Well Tom, I can’t sell a lot of berries within 100 miles of my operation.” I am sure that anyone who is COMPETITIVE (on quality or cost or both) and has a SHIPPABLE product would say that. Producers want big markets! They want FREE MARKETS, not quotas, tariffs, blockages and constraints; they want the right to compete for their apples to get in and duke it out in Beijing with Chinese apples, their grapes and cherries to be sold in Japan, their oranges to sit on French supermarket shelves. Having little local markets means that the producer cannot get scale, return on her investment, and become more and more competitive to expand her market and grow. This is, of course, obvious. Consumers also want big markets. They want choice. They want to save money, they want to find the best product. They want things in season, wherever that product is coming from. They want to buy from the most competitive (in quality, or cost, or both) producers… from anywhere. That is why a local major retailer in Michigan told my class that the “country of origin” thing had nearly no effect on his sales; he noted that by far the regular consumer does not even register any of that. They want quality, or price, or both, and assume the supermarket chain has the sense to screen product to make sure they buy safe.
2. Consumers AND producers LOVE the growth of local markets — for the things that local suppliers can produce with quality and/or good price. I obsessively buy Michigan peaches and tomatoes in season, and go into a kind of juice-covered trance eating them by the bushel. These peaches are like the ones I ate as a boy in California. We all want that. Few consumers really want to eat “pink baseballs” (my term since a kid for the tomatoes found in most supermarkets at least until the recent trend toward slightly better tomatoes). Consumers love to be able to “connect” (so little experienced in modern life) with farmers and the “land” through at least thinking that “hey, this is produced by the local folks, I feel part of their community;this is not some ‘big farm to big box’ cage I am confined to…” and so on. This love and yearning for the local will only grow and grow as several things happen: (a) for defensive reasons, as it slowly dawns on us that foreigners are doing things more and more with the same or better quality but lower cost, and we panic and hug our local produce to reassure that we are still somehow more important and better than the foreigners are; (b) for proactive reasons, as the local produce becomes better or cheaper or more available as local producers, such as in delicate greens, scale up, and hopefully have a big enough market to make enough money to make the needed investments in food safety!
Third, however, it seems to me that over time the “buy local” movement will simply wither on the vine. Not that I want it to (this letter is odd because when I am in any place, including Michigan or China, I obsessively buy the local specialties, frequent farmers markets, etc.) … but … modern packaging and shipping methods are … more and more… making it possible to keep a product, even a delicate one, fresh even if shipped, and allow harvesting when the product is ripe.
Greenhouse technology is constantly improving. My usual dinner in East Lansing is Indiana chicken, cooked in California Meyer lemons, with a salad of Mexican tomatoes and organic arugula from a massive organic farm in California, and Hawaiian or Brazilian papaya or Michigan or Chilean berries for dessert (yet I am still fat! Explain that!!!). I was amazed a few years ago when I could get the delicate — and I thought unshippable Meyer lemons, arugula, and papayas — and a few years later, I think of that as commonplace. And it all is more and more. The LOCAL operations, in other places, became more and more competitive, and the shipping technology better and better, so that THEIR LOCAL BECAME MY MEAL.
As these technologies develop, the local producers will lose any “automatic advantage” in the local market. In fact, of course (as this is already happening), the COMPETITIVE producers of delicate fresh produce will be PROMOTING the development of better packaging and shipping, so they can grow their market beyond the local. That is exactly the story of the Michigan berry producers, or the Chileans. I think those competitive companies would find the “buy local” movement in fact a way to TORPEDO the development of competitiveness in their industry… just like subsidizing soybean production etc.
Subsidize the producer (that is what the “buy local” movement boils down to), and, of course, the producer gets some short-term gains, but as usual, because thus protected from competition, does not invest enough, stay safe enough, keep quality in mind, thinks she has a captive local consumer, and then lets quality decline or costs creep up. The local consumers, of course, eventually tire of that, and they embrace non-local product, and the local guy is wiped out. Is this not a story we hear over and over and over, not just in agriculture?
So I think that what will happen is that the “buy local” movement will be caught from two sides in a pincer — the formerly non-shippable (ripe fruit, delicate greens, etc.) products will become increasingly cheap and shippable and undermine the advantage of any firm hoping to be protected from competition by the transport barrier — and the local firms that are producing products that were by nature supposedly local (like organic arugula! Usually cited a decade ago as the super duper local-only product!) will compete with each other and a handful per region and product will emerge victorious, maybe surrounded by a cluster of smaller firms serving niches (that add up to say 10% of the main market for the product).
This seems to me to be exactly what has happened in organic greens in the US… Then these local strong firms will use the increasing shipment and packaging technology to ship all around (and will fight to keep markets free and open) — and/or they will pepper the cities of the US and other places with roboticized greenhouses that reproduce their product and ship it locally by special train compartments in the elevated trains that will replace freeways…
His perspective on “local” is especially intriguing because he travels for extended periods due to his global work. So he has come to see local from the standpoint of being many different places. This is an enriching perspective and Professor Reardon’s views are enlightening.
Professor Reardon is, though, an economist, and one wonders if the economically sensible comeuppance he envisions for local might not be superseded by politics.
Stated most rationally, those who promote local as a virtue in and of itself are really claiming that there exist externalities in shipping food long distances that are not properly being reflected in the price of food brought into an area. These externalities could include anything from the costs of global warming, to the need to maintain a navy to protect shipping lanes transporting food, to nutrient loss from food being shipped for extended periods.
This is a weak argument, though, because, first, it is not sufficient to proclaim the vague existence of externalities; those who want to claim this are obligated to detail what specific externalities exist and what burden they impose. Second, although moving produce may result in externalities, so does local growing. So, for example, although transport may cause carbon emission, so does farming and at differential rates in different places utilizing different methods. If the claim is externalities, one must contrast externalities.
Third, the proper solution to externalities is typically taxation — not a ban. So, if transporting produce does emit carbon more than local grower, the policy response would be to impose a tax that would allow us to rectify that situation. If, even with the tax, the distant produce can compete, there is no reason to not use it.
Though the externality argument strikes us as the strongest argument for the local movement, in most cases advocates don’t even attempt to make it.
Very often actions are advocated as a kind of protectionism. The whole COOL effort, which we wrote about here in Pundit sister-publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, was less about any consumer demand for such labeling than about producers hoping it would change consumer behavior.
As Professor Reardon writes, improved transport and packaging and the spread of sophisticated horticultural techniques means that many production communities that were once isolated now face competition and are seeking solutions.
The danger is that they may turn to politics to achieve protection from international trade and use a “locavore” cover as justification. This would stop the withering away of the local movement that Professor Reardon projects — but it would be a shame. It would deprive consumers of the produce they would like to buy; it would deprive shippers of the economy of scale needed to be most efficient, and, perhaps saddest of all, it would in the end atrophy the local producers. Think of French cinema, protected, nurtured, subsidized, — and barely watched.
For producers to be world class, the only answer is competition.
We enjoy locavore interests. To taste locally grown Red Amish Deer Tongue lettuce that doesn’t ship and is always suffering from crop failures is neat, it is fun — but it is not a way to feed the world.
Many thanks to Professor Reardon for providing a different perspective.
The way you can treat your customers when you have a monopoly is amazing. The volume of letters and packages is dropping each year at the U.S. Postal Service. In 2006 it handled 213 billion pieces of mail; volume dropped in 2007, 2008, and in 2009 the volume handled was only 177 billion pieces. The brilliant solution the Post Office came up with to deal with the terrible problem was to raise rates, so come January 1, 2011, the cost of a first class stamp will rise to 46 cents.
Now that postage has some competition in the form of e-mail, texting, twittering etc., the postal service will have to think differently if it is to stem its rapid decline.
Now The Washington Postreports that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is no longer going to allow riders to leave the system without paying full fare. The old system let the riders who had electronic SmarTrip cards leave even if they had a negative balance on their card. The balance due was then deducted when they refilled their card, and the consumer then couldn’t get back in without having a positive balance on the card.
The change was part of many fare changes, including a reduction in the cost of the SmarTrip card from $5.00 to $2.50. The WMATA fears that some consumers will try to game the system by buying new cards rather than paying the balance due on the old.
However, the WMATA had no estimate of how much revenue would be raised by this change, nor how it might impact exit lines as people tried to leave, were told they couldn’t, retried and finally went to the cash exit line.
The WMATA also didn’t say what it would do if a customer didn’t have the cash to pay the balance of the fare. It brings to mind the famous 1959 Kingston Trio song about the Boston MTA “The M.T.A. Song,” which is better known as “Charlie on the M.T.A.” or “The Man Who Never Returned” — which was inspired by the “exit fare” collected in the late 1940s by the Boston MTA when it raised its fare but didn’t upgrade the turnstiles and other fare collection devices.
Obviously without estimates of revenue lost, it is difficult to assess the WMATA’s actions. We suspect, however, that most businesses would find inconveniencing the customer to this degree unacceptable.
We also wonder if it is not an example of inside-the-box thinking. Why can’t WMATA deduct the fare from everyone’s cell phone? Why can’t a system be set up to automatically add value to the SmartTrip card via credit card when its value drops below a set amount. Why can’t the system automatically deduct any balance due from a credit card so there never is a negative balance?
The easy answers: In the case of the Postal Service… raise prices; in the case of the WMATA… force consumers to settle their balances before leaving the area, have a cost in customer alienation that these public entities don’t seem to be wrestling with. They will probably be OK because the government doesn’t go out of business.
How many of us in the private sector, though, are making similar mistakes? And we don’t have a government guarantee??
A new study of affluent moms based on data from Ipsos Mendelsohn’s affluence surveys shows that affluent women with kids behave a lot more like the rest of us — although maybe on a larger scale — than do their peers without kids.
The numbers are also large: the firm says that of 15.6 million heads of households with incomes of at least $100,000 and ages 18 to 54, 60% have kids under 18.
The study, which comprises surveys of 4,500 women, reveals that affluent women with children report traveling ten percentage points less than those without; they are also less likely to own a second home or luxury car, or to travel abroad by air or visit a spa. For example, 20% of child-free wealthy women reported owning a luxury car versus 15% of those with kids. Seventy-two percent of women without kids took an airline trip in the past year versus 64% of those with kids.
Affluent women with kids, however, were more likely to visit museums, the ballet, movies and sports events. And far more likely — no surprise — to go to a theme park. They were also far more likely to own an SUV or minivan.
Donna Sabino, SVP of kids and family insights at Ipsos OTX MediaCT U.S., says this is the first time the affluence data from Ipsos has been parsed to break out affluent women with children under 18 versus those with no children.
“Initially, we were not sure there were going to be any differences,” she says. “I come out of advertising, where you think in terms of targets — say, 25-to-54 — more than psychological definers. You don’t think, for example, about how having a child under 18 impacts across product categories; stereotypically, you don’t think of an affluent woman shopping at Kmart or Walmart.”
But they do, and, per Sabino, the large size of the data set makes even small differences by percentage statistically significant. While 86% of respondents who are affluent women without kids said they shop at Target, 93% of those with kids say they shop there. There is similar six-percentage-point difference for Sears; a five-percentage-point spread for JC Penney; and a two-percentage-point spread for the Home Depot (81% for those without kids versus 83% for those with).
There is a sense in which this study is obvious and another sense in which we doubt it is true at all.
Clearly, life stage and life responsibilities lead to purchasing behaviors that are based on these factors, not solely on wealth. So many mothers who could afford more expensive cars will choose mini-vans because they want the utility of sliding doors and a third seat for car pooling or picking up friends after school or sports.
Also young children have social patterns, such as lots of birthday parties that lead to certain patterns of adult behavior. For example, young children often invite their whole class to birthday parties, and many schools require that parents do so if they want to use the school backpack as the mechanism for distributing the invitations. This means, however, that the children attend dozens and dozens of birthday parties often for people the parents barely know. No matter how rich someone is, it would be inappropriate to buy really expensive birthday presents for all but one’s closest friends. Indeed it would put pressure on people to reciprocate who couldn’t afford it.
It is also true that children want more widely distributed products than adults. Adults want things specifically because they are not widely available, such as a designer bag that is hard to get. Children typically want the latest Batman toy. Once you are buying exactly identical products, well… affluent people typically didn’t become affluent by being fools. If the exact same toy is for sale at Wal-Mart for half the price of a local toy store, many people will go to Wal-Mart — regardless of affluence. Indeed Wal-Mart has spent much time strategizing how it can get people who come to Wal-Mart for branded products such as Clorox or Monopoly to stay and buy fashion and fresh food.
So, yes, of course, mothers have similarities that transcend income to influence their purchasing patterns.
At the same time, we are also certain that the study overstates this effect because of the way it defines affluent — a household with income of $100,000 a year or more. This corresponds to the top 20% of households in the US, and so, of course, the study is not incorrect — these are high income people. However, everything is relative. Because the study does not adjust for geography or for family assets, this definition of affluence stretches to encompass a lot of people with widely varying situations.
Two medical interns might together make $100,000, but if they live in high-tax, high-rent Manhattan and each carry $350,000 in school loans and they have three children, their “affluence” is of a very different sort than a one-child family that owns its home outright in rural no-state-income-tax Texas, has no debt and makes its $100,000 income in dividends off its holding of $5,000.000 in an S&P 500 tracking mutual fund.
The study, of course, just sets $100,000 as the minimum family income to be “affluent,” so you are also mixing in people who have an income of $100,000 a year with those who have an income many times that. It is interesting that the President, when he was running for the office, felt the need to promise no tax increase to families earning below $250,000 a year, perhaps an indication of where a real separation starts to occur.
In any case, the study does serve to remind us that income is at best a rough metric to use in anticipating consumer behavior. Age, ethnicity, religion, marital status, parental status and many other factors play into it. This is why efforts to classify stores strictly by income as A, B, C, D, E etc., are only going half way there. The surge in ethnic retailers tells us that many mainstream retailers are just not doing the job.
From time to time we leave a comment or two at various culinary or gastronomical blogs. One we often enjoy is called Al Dente and is part of a network of blogs maintained by Amazon.com. These blogs are not specifically produce-related but sometimes they have picked out our comments to address as when we wrote a brief note on bluefin tuna:
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blurb about tuna fish. The post got all sorts of comments, for various reasons, but one thoughtful comment from Al Dente reader Jim Prevor about bluefin sustainability caught my attention, and prompted me to do some further research.
No sooner had I read Jim’s comment than I was inundated with news about bluefin tuna everywhere I looked. I now wonder how this issue previously escaped my attention.
We also dealt with the issue of bluefin tuna depletion in this Pundit post.
Sometimes, though, these blogs do touch upon fresh produce and issues surrounding produce. Al Dente, for example, just ran a post geared for consumers titled, How To Get Rid of Fruit Flies (Low-Tech Version, High-Tech Version). In the piece, Rebekah Denn, an accomplished food writer who had been the food writer for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, writes about one of her frustrations with fresh produce:
The downside of juicy, ripe summer produce? It attracts swarms of pesty fruit flies, which soon multiply into mega-swarms.
The remedies I’ve tried in the past? Failures. I’ve been told to leave out a glass of wine, or try a few drops of dishwasher liquid in a container of water. What did I get? House parties of flies who seemed to particularly enjoy a nice Cabernet.
She then points out that there are various methods that can improve upon these “Low-tech” approaches and that now there is a “Hi-tech” approach:
Then Terro, the pest control company, sent over a sample of its new fruit fly trap. The trap is a little apple-shaped plastic ball, filled with a non-toxic compound (more or less vinegar and dish soap, looking at the ingredients).
It operates on the same theory as the jam jar, and also works quite well. Bonus points to the Terro device for looking a lot nicer on the countertop than a rubber-banded jam jar. I’m tempted to ding it because the contents stained my counter when my curious toddler turned it upside down… but with enough scrubbing, the stain came out, and a red wine spill would have caused problems too.
We confess that we know nothing about the Terro Fruit Fly Trap or, for that matter, this business of leaving out wine or soap to catch the flies.
What we think is interesting is that things such as this are real obstacles to increasing purchase and consumption of fresh produce. Ms. Denn is a foodie and so probably will put up with it, but there are millions of people who, if they find their fruit covered with flies, will get the message that either it should all be in the refrigerator — probably causing a significant reduction in consumption as compared to a countertop fruit bowl — or that they are buying too much and it is going rotten.
One of things that became obvious during that process was that we actually have very little information about what are the real obstacles to increasing produce consumption. Although many believed that the health message could work if we could just get it out there with sufficient exposures, others saw flaws in the varieties the industry was selling.
This piece points out that fruit flies may be bothering consumers. PMA and other organizations have often looked for ways to increase produce consumption, and the Produce for Better Health Foundation is, in fact, charged with such an effort. Perhaps the industry has been putting the cart before the horse. Maybe PMA, for example, should fund a research program to identify the obstacles that consumers encounter in increasing consumption of fresh produce.
We have spoken about taste and flavor in our piece, Little Taste Bud, in Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS and, recently in Pundit pieces focused on apples here and here. Yet bothersome fruit flies weren’t on the radar screen. Who knows what else a proper research effort could uncover?
When we wrote about Dole’s effort to reinvent the bagged salad category here and here, what impressed us most was the degree to which the company had gone out to research and thus better understand the obstacles to consumers buying more bagged salads. Then Dole’s efforts to change its products were methodical approaches to addressing consumer needs.
Maybe Terro will solve the fruit fly problem for consumers, but it is still an industry problem to know how we delight and disappoint our customers.
Our piece, Supreme Court Ruling May Push Political Donations Toward Trade Associations, addressed a then-new Supreme Court ruling in the case of Citizens United v Federal Election Committee. The gist of the decision was that corporations would have much greater freedom to engage in political speech. We also suggested, and still believe, that the end result will make trade associations more important as confidential conduits for political donations.
Target, however, has gotten itself in a fix. It donated $150,000 to a group called Minnesota Forward, whose purpose is to elect Minnesota politicians who are in favor of low taxes and are focused on private sector job growth. Since Target pays a lot of taxes, it is perfectly understandable that it would like to see politicians who favor lower taxes elected.
In fact, Target made no effort to hide its donation, doing it not through a 501c4 or 501c6 — both of which could have protected Target’s anonymity. It did it through an electioneering entity that makes full disclosure.
Of course, the problem is that politicians take many positions, and it turns out that Republican Representative Tom Emmer, whose gubernatorial campaign was supported by Minnesota Forward, opposes gay marriage. Next thing you know Human Rights Campaign, which advocates for gay rights, was asking Target to donate $150,000 to pro gay marriage candidates, and Moveon.org called for a boycott. Here is a video of a “flashmob” staged at a Target Store:
The substance of the protestors’ argument is weak. Corporations, unions, etc., are all mechanisms which people use to join together to efficiently do their business. It is not clear why two individuals can each donate $50,000 but a corporation owned by those same two individuals should not be able to make the donation.
This still leaves open the question of whether corporate political donations are wise.
It depends. Target got caught because it has cultivated a clientele with an attempt to portray itself as more worldly, sophisticated and, yes, liberal, than the behemoth from Bentonville. So consumers who had chosen to shop at Target because it made them feel more sophisticated than shopping at Wal-Mart could be more easily roused as the donation was counter to the image they had of the company.
In contrast, not much happened when News Corp., which owns, among other things, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, made a million dollar donation directly to the Republican Governors Association. Of course, political opponents are screaming bias, although many media companies have made political donations in the past. Mostly, though, the outcry against this much larger and more directly political donation has not risen to the level that Target is experiencing.
Most probably, it is because the News Corp. donation is generally in line with what viewers of Fox expect. In other words, if Ben & Jerry’s were still a private company and it donated money to reelect the Socialist Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, it would be hard to get a consumer boycott going. If Ben & Jerry’s announced a big donation to some right-wing caucus, the petition would be filled in a day.
We saw a similar issue arrive when John Mackey, the co-founder and CEO at Whole Foods Market, wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal op-ed page opposing ObamaCare — titled The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare. Because this piece caused cognitive dissonance among the Whole Foods shoppers who assumed the company was consistently Liberal and Democratic, it was quick business to set up a boycott.
It is predictable. We would also say it is bad for America. Whole Foods is mostly seen as a paragon of “corporate responsibility” by those who value such things. Its CEO wrote a very adult policy proposal. To boycott the chain is to imply that independent thought is not allowed. It is bad for the country.
The actual business effect of these boycotts on Whole Foods or Target is quite questionable. Most people aren’t that engaged, and to what degree they impact business is unclear. It is also true that in politics, for every action there is a counter-reaction. Megan McArdle, the astute business and economics editor of The Atlantic, promised to support Whole Foods because of the boycott:
I myself do not particularly care for Whole Foods — I find them overpriced, and their prepared food isn’t very good. But as long as the progressive boycott lasts . . . well, Mr. Mackey, you’ve got another customer. I doubt I’m the only conservative or libertarian who will make the same pledge.
So the Citizens United Supreme Court Case has added a new piece to the three-dimensional chess game of corporate image for businesses. Wise executives will think carefully about how and if they donate.
Most advocacy groups probably care more about getting headlines and donations than actually having a boycott succeed. But those who do care about the impact of their boycotts ought to also be wary. After all, if a lot of people, who have demonstrated that they prefer supercenters through their shopping choices, were to actually boycott Target, isn’t it highly likely that they would wind up shopping at Wal-Mart?
Is that actually what the Target boycott advocates actually desire? Seems unlikely, but it is the most logical impact of their actions.
Of course, some of you may just know Joan Nathan because she became a champion of foodservice establishments’ training in the Heimlich Maneuver after chef and restaurateur (and Top Chef judge) Tom Colicchio saved her life by performing it on her. She wrote about the experience in a piece titled A Heimlich in Every Pot.
We turned to Joan Nathan for this year’s conference for a specific reason though. She worked under Mayor Abraham Beame and, way back in 1974, launched the 9th Avenue Food Festival.
It was a celebration of the incredible diversity of New York and the beginning of a broader recognition in American culture that food is more than sustenance.
New York is an ingatherer of people… and produce and Joan Nathan’s life celebrates that ingathering.
As a kind of preview of the role that produce has played in her culinary and professional life, we asked Mira Slott, Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, to find out more:
Q: We are excited you will be a part of the inaugural edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference, the first such event to be held in New York in over half a century. It seems quite apropos, with your rich ties to New York and its ethnically diverse cultures and cuisines, and your affinity for fresh fruits and vegetables. How have you embraced produce in your innovative work as an author, chef, and food curator?
A: In thinking of what I should speak about, I came to realize that I can trace certain fruits and vegetables through my life and career and note how their discovery, especially early on in my childhood and teenage years, inspired my creativity and enthusiasm for food, and helped me to grow and influenced the direction of my work.
Q: Could you take us on a trip down Joan Nathan’s produce memory lane?
A: Different things I remember are emblematic of the times. Let’s start in France when I was in my teens. That’s where I first learned about food and markets. In those days, one only thought of France for good markets.
Actually, my love for fresh fruits and vegetables started even earlier when I was a kid because my father was from Europe and he liked fresh foods. He brought that mentality into our household. That was in the late 1950’s, early 1960’s when everyone was using cans of food, all those processed canned vegetables. We relished getting great local Rhode Island corn. My mother was always growing herbs in the backyard. I would go out to pick the fresh basil.
Even though I was Jewish, I was American. Then in college, I went to study in France and discovered market places. Junior year abroad is where I first tasted Swiss chard. It was in Paris that my taste buds were opened.
Q: Was fresh produce gaining stature in the U.S. during that time?
A: In those days when I was at University of Michigan, there were farmer’s markets, but they were considered leftist; you’d buy brown rice there and alternative foods. Now everyone goes to buy those items, but in those days it was a hippie thing to do.
Q: Continuing on your produce retrospective, where does Israel fit in your journey? I understand you worked for Mayor Teddy Kollek, the first man elected Mayor of Jerusalem after the city was reunited following the Six-Day War. He served six terms.
A: In the early 1970’s, I lived in Israel, and I lived near the markets where I could get fresh everything from everywhere in the world. Discovering food in Jerusalem in my 20’s, I was fascinated at how they were coming out with varieties of kiwis and I couldn’t believe they had so many different avocados there. Israelis would travel around the world and bring seeds back then develop them in Israel. I learned how to make hummus, and back in the States, I gave it to people to taste and they said I should sell it to Zabar’s.
A: That’s right. I believe the annual event started in May 1974. I was working for Mayor Abraham Beame at the time and I had an idea to do an ethnic food festival on 9th Avenue.
All these food people, like Diana Kennedy, were doing demos with fresh fruits and vegetables at the first festival. Working at the Mayor’s office, we had no budget, but we concocted committees. We recruited James Beard and Craig Claiborne.
I contacted someone I knew at New York magazine, who wanted an exclusive on the first 9th Avenue Festival. Craig Claiborne wouldn’t hear of it and announced, ‘Were doing a whole section on 9th Avenue. We had no idea how the festival would be received, and thousands and thousands of people showed up! There were so many funny stories.
When we had a pre-run, James Beard was supposed to walk down 9th Avenue, but we realized he was too heavy, so we got a golf cart for him. Then Mayor Beame was so little, he wanted a cart so he could be higher up since he was the mayor. We also got a food artist who cooked a thousand pounds of rice and colored it and he made a food float.
It was period in which food was emerging in the American consciousness as something more than sustenance. In 1976, Julia Child was doing her T.V. show. The American Culinary Federation pushed and had changed the category Chef in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Dictionary of Occupational Titles from domestic to professional. Chefs changed from blue collar to white collar, and now chefs were respected in the mainstream and no longer just servants. Food was in a better place. Great chefs were looking for the freshest ingredients.
Q: Was this a transformational time for the fresh produce industry?
A: I would say a hopeful time. In 1975, I interviewed the Chef in the White House. He was French but all he used was dry basil.
Slowly but surely, all these farmers markets started. In those days, there were 300 around the country compared to something like 6,000 today. Conventional supermarkets also began expanding their produce sections both in square footage and in the number of items sold, tremendously expanding sales of winter fruit for example.
Now what’s occurring is that people today want fresh taste and flavor. The problem with mass production is we’ve often been focused on shipping quality and appearance; we’ve been losing taste and flavor. The next step, the great challenge, is figuring out ways to bring that back.
There was a lot of hope for organics but what’s happened is that organics grew so quickly, instead of having time to develop new varieties of vegetables; the big farms used the same varieties to achieve mass production. Taste and flavor is still a challenge.
I’m in Martha’s Vineyard during the summer where there are so many farmers, but we have a glut on the market. The next step is finding ways to preserve the abundance of produce so it’s not thrown away. Small farmers are learning to sun-dry tomatoes and preserve produce in other ways, but they are doing all these things themselves and they are not often very good businessmen. And, of course, there is a separate challenge of distributing food where it needs to be.
Q: What other insights have you garnered regarding the evolution of fresh produce here and abroad?
A: In France, farmer’s markets are not looking as good anymore. Their markets have a lot of imported produce from other countries. We have better and more dynamic markets in the U.S.
We’re also not so constrained as the French in what we cook. There has been an explosion in what Americans cook; we’re just trying everything. Of course, California farmers markets have the most wonderful produce as ingredients. But this year, in many places, I’m seeing all kinds of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other beautiful varieties. People are learning how to use Swiss chard and kale.
Q: What key factors would you attribute to this explosion in global and exotic cooking?
A: It started with the Peace Corps in the mid-1960’s and 1970’s when young Americans were exposed to new cultures, and the advent of international travel, combined with the influx of immigrants from countries like India, Thailand, Afghanistan and Lebanon. Now there is so much more intermarriage, people are more adventurous, and we see more high-end eating.
My focus is on Jewish cooking but Jewish merchants have always transported goods. From the eighth century on, they would look around the world and come back with seeds for their family, and trade with other people within their communities. That’s the way so many fruits and vegetables traveled through history. It didn’t take a lot of room to carry seeds. Jews have been very much a part of French history for 2000 years. They’re still in that kind of business, just as Italians and Arabs were.
Q: Let’s get back to our timeline of how you’ve incorporated fresh produce into your career…
Although Food Culture USA was a special one time event, the cultural influences that gave rise to it have grown only stronger. It now seems as if every school has a vegetable garden, and Michelle Obama is doing her vegetable garden at the White House. Although it seems like a celebration of small scale and local, the reality is that this will make people want fresh produce and will demand more from their supermarkets.
After that time, I went back to France and realized what a long way we’ve come.
A: As I mentioned there is a 2000-year-old history of the Jews bringing people food. In the way I wrote about those influences in my book “Jewish Cooking in America,” Jews influence French cooking and the French influence Jewish cooking. There are dispersions kicking out of France and going into France. I’ve always believed in the love affair of Jews for France.
While Jews might traditionally follow the dietary laws, the food is still regional within different areas of France.
Since 1789, France was considered a country where people felt free so people flocked there from other countries. Because of its agricultural richness there was work for people. It’s like the U.S., because people came for a better life. America is a melting pot, and we’ve always thought of France as just French, but there are Russians, Romanians… people have migrated there from all over the world. Since the Industrial Revolution people have flocked to Paris.
Paris is a polyglot city just like New York. It’s really exciting to have a produce show in New York. It’s the first one, and it’s about time. New York is the largest ethnically diverse city in the U.S., and its Jewish community is the largest in the world after Tel Aviv.
It’s a food Mecca, with access to countless varieties of the freshest produce. We’re trying to go back to real food from a world where too much is manufactured and processed, and produce is at the heart of what we eat. I’m so thrilled to have an opportunity to celebrate that heart in the City of New York.
And we are thrilled to introduce Joan Nathan to the broader produce industry. We’ve set our minds on using this event to elevate the industry by urging important voices to think hard about fresh produce. That Joan Nathan, the “mother” of New York’s 9th Avenue Food Festival, should be there for the birth of this new industry institution is a terrific opportunity for the industry to rise to a new level.