Pundit Interviews

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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



Loss Of Two Industry Leaders —
Bob DeBruyn And Frank McCarthy

One of the special joys of going to industry events each year is the opportunity to see old friends. In an industry that spans the globe and relies mostly on phone and e-mail to get business done, these annual meetings are often the only opportunity to see people one feel’s closer to than neighbors.

As the industry prepares to head off to PMA, we are looking forward to seeing such friends, enjoying our annual dinners and late night commitments to raise a glass in good cheer.

Yet each year, when we head off to PMA looking forward to reunions, we are also confronted with the sometimes bracing reality of reunions that have been held for the last time.

Obviously this is a big industry and many people pass away each year, almost always including some luminaries. But it is, of course, the loss of personal friends that moves one to sadness.

For this Pundit, a few losses have led us to write about them.

One year, we lost in quick succession Ralph Pinkerton, Dave Stidolph and Carl Fields. We wrote a piece about these stalwarts, titled Ralph, Dave and Carl.

There was, of course, that horrible year we lost Joe Nucci.

And it was just last year that we wrote Jim Nolan, A Man Of Honor And Integrity, Passes Away.

Now, as we prepare to head off for Anaheim, we received word of two other friends who will not be there.

Bob DeBruyn was an unassuming man but one of great achievement. His DeBruyn Produce Company quietly grew into one of the largest and most diversified onion suppliers in the country, while he served his industry and community on many association and non-profit boards. He won many awards including the Distinguished Service Award at Miichigan State.

The Pundit owes Bob a special debt. In the early years of Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, Bob ran frequent ads promoting his Debco brand, providing sustenance for a then new and unproven idea. In addition, Bob was kind enough to share from time to time his ideas for how we could make this a better industry.

His support and contributions will be missed.

We also got news that Frank McCarthy had passed away. Frank is no stranger to the readers of these pages, having weighed in on diverse issues.

He thought that United and PMA should remain separate:

“Partnerships” aside, the economic and political interests of the growers, shippers and distributors are fundamentally opposed to those of the retailers and food service operators. United, FFVA and WGA saved PACA not so very long ago when PMA sat on its hands.

There are any number of issues where PMA and United must disagree. They have different franchises. We need them both. The issue is how to fund United. Income from produce growing, shipping and distributing is notoriously unreliable, and when those involved have a bad year, there is no choice but to hock the jet, fire all non-family staff, cut the advertising and skip United.

I wish there was a simple solution to this problem, but hopefully those more creative than I can come up with one.

— Frank McCarthy
Vice President of Marketing
Albert’s Organics/United Natural Foods
Dayville, Connecticut

He believed Ernest Gallo was a genius:

He was one of the creators of the American wine industry. His early vision was to make wine accessible to the average person. His early wines were made from inexpensive grapes, but they were always technically excellent and a great value for the money.

His company essentially controlled the price of wine grapes in California, but you never heard a grower complain. Gallo’s price was always fair and sometimes generous. This, of course, put a floor under the table grape market as well.

His real genius was in marketing. He knew the value of distribution and he fought constantly for every placement and every facing. He also played fair in what was sometimes a dirty game.

Some of his later wines were superb, made from the best Napa and Sonoma had to offer, and still a bargain. In a world full of pretense and pretension, he was an honest merchant. We are poorer for his passing.

— Frank McCarthy
Vice President of Marketing
Albert’s Organics/United Natural Foods
Dayville, Connecticut

He saw the global economy as a threat to American food producers:

The simple and uncomfortable truth is that we live in a global economy. We have already seen close to a quarter of the Washington State apple business move South or off shore; virtually all of the frozen fruit and vegetables are already imported precisely because of high US labor costs.

The supply chain must maintain its margins to be viable so a $.05 a pound cost increase for apples ($2 for a 40-pound carton) is equal to roughly $.15 per pound at retail. For that kind of money (and much less), consumers and retailers will change vendors.

I believe that the export of American food production is the cheapest form of foreign aid and that the State Department has used this as a policy to help and bring stability to our neighbors to the South and West.

— Frank McCarthy
Vice President of Marketing
Albert’s Organics
Bridgeport, New Jersey

He admired family businesses:

This reminds me of a conversation I had with Ernest Gallo in another career about twenty years ago. He wanted to upscale the image of his wines. I explained to him that he’d spent a half billion dollars over a forty year period positioning Gallo as good cheap wine. (Remember Gallo Hearty Burgundy?) I told him it would take a generation and a billion dollars to accomplish this task. He said, “I better get started right away.” Family companies have options that public companies don’t.

— Frank McCarthy
Vice President of Marketing
Albert’s Organics/United Natural Foods
Dayville, Connecticut

He warned against the trend of using cartoon characters to sell produce with which they had no connection:

First, Jim, thank you so much for spreading your abundant common sense on a daily basis. It is most refreshing. As a fellow pundit and sometime curmudgeon, I’d like to comment on cartoon characters and marketing to children. Specifically, an effective brand spokesperson must epitomize the product. Thus Bugs Bunny can sell carrots, Popeye can sell spinach, but Garfield can’t sell apples. “Borrowed interest” is never an effective marketing tool.

— Frank McCarthy
Vice President of Marketing
Albert’s Organics/United Natural Foods
Dayville, Connecticut

Frank’s frequent contributions to this column showed not only a lively intellect but a generosity of spirit as he was anxious to try to make this industry stronger..

His frequent advice to this Pundit certainly made both the Perishable Pundit and sister magazine, PRODUCE BUSINESS, more lively and intelligent.

His friendship and input will both be missed.

* * *

We’ve been writing this piece with a particular tune running through the head.

The Pundit lost another “acquaintance” recently. Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary shared a physician with the Pundit some years ago and we would sit and chat in the waiting room.

Although perhaps best known for children’s songs such as “Puff the Magic Dragon” — by the way, Mary gave assurance that the song had nothing to do with drugs… it was just a song of lost innocence — and for covers of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer,” plus their number one single Leaving On A Jet Plane, written by John Denver, as well as for children’s albums — Peter, Paul and Mommy from 1969 and 1993’s Peter, Paul and Mommy, Too — it was Mary’s haunting, almost achingly beautiful voice, that took the group to a different level.

It helps this Pundit to think about Bob DeBruyn and Frank McCarthy and all those other friends who are now far away, by hearing a mournful Mary singing an old standard. Here is an ancient clip of Peter, Paul & Mary performing 500 Miles:




Is PTIToo Expensive And ‘Untenable’?
A Retailer Speaks Out

We’ve written a great deal about traceability. In one of our pieces, titled Is Produce Traceability Initiative Worth The investment, Gregory J. Fitz, President of Cleveland, Ohio-based Produce Packaging, Inc., pointed out severe doubts that the Produce Traceability Initiative was worth the cost for individual companies.

Now Dan Sutton, Director of Produce for Albertsons LLC, has written us a letter questioning whether it makes sense for the industry as a whole:

I am attaching a letter that was sent to me recently by three shippers in California. The letter has the logos of nine retailers and food service operations, who (based on the inclusion of their logo) fully support the PTI initiative. Since the letter was assumedly written and sent by a large buyer, the tone of the letter certainly seems to be intimidating. However, when you open the MS WORD document properties, you see that it was written by someone with the initials “glf” at the PMA.

This tactic to me seems disingenuous at best. The veiled threat of “do it now or the government will make us do it” is an artful attempt at twisting the arms of growers and convincing them to throw money at GS1. The government will only mandate GTINs if the “industry” requests and supports it, and so far the only support and discussion of GTINs seems to be coming from the PMA.

I guess my question is, Why? The costs to the industry for moving to a GTIN-driven system will easily run in excess of $100 million, and for what? The ROI on the purchase of GTIN numbers is ZERO. The ability to do trace-backs will be dependent upon a robust and industry-wide database, not on an expensive numerical license plate.

Growers can spend several thousand dollars on GTINs, but if the retailer or receiver does not have the database in place to handle a dynamic numbering system, the expenditure on the numbers is a waste of money. And then what of the growers who do not buy the numbers… will their product be less expensive?

There is no doubt that there needs to be standardization within the industry to aid traceability, but this can be done at far less cost than the extremely expensive and ill-advised PTI proposal. Transaction ID numbers could be generated and used in a database scheme that actually facilitates traceability at much less expense than does GTIN numbers, and steps 6 and 7 of the PTI are untenable.

In today’s environment, scanning each case in and out of a distribution center will slow the industry to a crawl. Pallets will need to be reconfigured, boxes will need to be redesigned to make the numbers visible for every case, voice selection software will need to be re-written, union contracts will need to be re-negotiated, Warehouse Management System software will need to be re-written and every single grower, shipper and receiver in the country will have to do this 100% correctly or the traceability effort will be short-circuited.

There needs to be a frank and open discussion on Produce traceability somewhere (perhaps via The Perishable Pundit?), growers are very uncomfortable buying GTINs because the government may come out and NOT require them, and nobody wants to waste money on something that is not required (ala the RFID program that was touted several years ago).

We need to have more opinions than just that of the PMA (who has absolutely zero financial risk in this game). The PMA needs to be figuring out how best to unite the industry and drive a cost-effective/reality-based solution to traceability, NOT layering on more costs that will provide a negative ROI and hamper the efficiency of the industry.

The attached letter by “glf” appears to me as a plea by the PMA to salvage their missed quota deadline for GTIN purchasers.

Hopefully, we as an industry can get past this expensive and wrong-minded initiative and move toward a better solution for traceability.

— Dan Sutton
Director of Produce
Albertsons LLC
Boise, Idaho

We thank Dan for this thoughtful and passionate letter. Whatever one’s opinion on the Produce Traceability Initiative, the easy response to such a program is to “go along” as least in name. There are no penalties for saying one endorses PTI and then not doing it. The produce person can always blame the board of directors or the CEO for not appropriating the funds.

It takes people of integrity to be willing to buck the flow and stand up and say what they think to be correct. If PTI is a good idea it will withstand the scrutiny of many skeptics. If it is not, the voices of those willing to subject the initiative to public scrutiny may save firms in the industry more than a small fortune.

So we thank Dan for speaking out.

Now the question is what does the industry do with this input?

There is no question that some of the supplier base is aggrieved. Although we all know that buyer influence is powerful at moving the supply base to act, there is a question as to whether it is proper for the associations to facilitate such an event.

Although Dan mentions PMA, the PTI is sponsored jointly by PMA, United and CPMA. Although things have changed now, traditionally, while United was busy on the Hill, PMA was doing technical standards such as PLU codes and so, Gary Fleming, PMA’s Vice President of Industry Technology, has been working on this for a long time.

In fact, if we ever need to buy Gary some monogrammed towels, we can now bet with some degree of safety that his middle initial is “L” and that he is the GLF whose initials appear as the “secret source” of the document.

We see no scandal in this. Gary is a PMA staff person and staff people write letters and, presumably, get sign-offs before they get sent-out under the names of the industry members serving on a particular committee or board. The truth is that Gary is both very knowledgeable and deeply committed. He has explained the gist of these issues in two pieces he did for us early on:

Guest Pundit — Traceability And The Need For A Common Language
Guest Pundit — Pairing The Global Language With Technology

Though staffers drafting letters and sending them out after circulating is common, in this case the shippers who passed letters onto Dan had a right to be perturbed at the associations. These nine big buyers whose logos are on the letterhead — HEB, Food Lion, Supervalu, Wegmans, Sysco, Kroger, Schnucks, Wal-Mart and Safeway — are not the Steering Committee of the Produce Traceability Initiative; they compose no board or committee at all — they are just a bunch of big buyers.

If they want to send communication to their vendors or potential vendors, they are certainly free to do so but it is not the place of the associations to do it for them. The shippers pay dues and are members of these associations. It is just not right to pluck out a few key members and send letters to the supplier base from them, especially when there is a kind of threatening implication to the letters.

Besides, why only one way communication from buyers to suppliers? Buyers that endorsed this initiative have timelines too. In fact the stages 6 and 7 of the Produce Traceability initiative that Dan calls “untenable” are heavily buyer-oriented responsibilities: Stage 6 requires the reading and storing of information on inbound cases and Stage 7 requires the reading and storing of information on outbound cases.

Although the deadlines for these are not immediate, with Stage 6 being due in 2011 and Stage 7 being due in 2012, these abilities are long lead-time items and everyone can get a reminder about what they have committed to do.

Aside from all this, we wonder if the letter even had its intended effect. What kind of letter is sent out with logos of companies but no signatures? It almost makes one think nobody wanted to sign it. And, who, precisely, from all these buying organizations, is standing behind the “support and endorsement” of the Produce Traceability Initiative?

We don’t doubt the sincerity of the produce folks who have signed these things in the past, but in almost all cases the produce team needs a lot of investment and technology help to actually implement the PTI. It would be more important to send out a notice that the boards of directors of these buying organizations have all approved the necessary funding to ensure the realization of the commitments made.

Dan doesn’t believe there is an advantage to using GTIN:

The costs to the industry for moving to a GTIN driven system will easily run in excess of $100 million, and for what? The ROI on the purchase of GTIN numbers is ZERO. The ability to do trace-backs will be dependent upon a robust and industry-wide database, not on an expensive numerical license plate.

Growers can spend several thousand dollars on GTINs, but if the retailer or receiver does not have the database in place to handle a dynamic numbering system, the expenditure on the numbers is a waste of money. And then what of the growers who do not buy the numbers, will their product be less expensive?

There is no doubt that there needs to be standardization within the industry to aid traceability, but this can be done at far less cost than the extremely expensive and ill-advised PTI proposal. Transaction ID numbers could be generated and used in a database scheme that actually facilitates traceability at much less expense than does GTIN numbers.

Dan is raising empirical questions that deserve thoughtful answers. Now we can say that when we ran the letter from Greg Fitz, we received a quick response from Jane Proctor, Vice President Policy & Issue Management, Canadian Produce Marketing Association, Dr. David Gombas, the Senior Vice President for Food Safety and Technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, and Gary Fleming from PMA. We included that response in a piece called Pundit’s Mailbag — Joint Response To Produce Traceability Cost Concerns. In that letter they dealt with the “Why GTIN?” question this way:

The PTI Steering Committee recognized that a globally-unique company number was a critical first-step for every company putting a brand and lot code onto a produce case. While any company can generate its own number, there must be a central authority to ensure that number remains unique; this is similar to how social security or tax ID numbers are unique. GS1, a not-for-profit international organization, was recognized as the best authority available. In the long run, creating such an authority ourselves would cost more.

Even a government-run authority would have huge start-up costs and would not necessarily obtain international acceptance. GS1 is already used by over 2 million companies in over 145 countries, is globally recognized, and gives us a running start.

Is this persuasive? Well much depends on the alternatives, and Dan is laying out for the industry an alternative vision, suggesting the use of “transaction ID” numbers in a ”database scheme” — are the advantages of the use of GTINs merely technologically beautiful or are there practical reasons to think GTINs are preferable?

Whatever is theoretically the best alternative, Dan is also raising questions about the practical nature of this initiative:

In today’s environment, scanning each case in and out of a distribution center will slow the industry to a crawl. Pallets will need to be reconfigured, boxes will need to be redesigned to make the numbers visible for every case, voice selection software will need to be re-written, union contracts will need to be re-negotiated, Warehouse Management System software will need to be re-written and every single grower, shipper and receiver in the country will have to do this 100% correctly or the traceability effort will be short-circuited.

These thoughts dovetail with our two basic concerns over PTI:

First, we have asked whether, in the end, retailers are actually going to do this. For all the reasons Dan outlines and more, this will be difficult and expensive, and the endorsement has not come in the form of public commitments by retail boards of directors in a way that would build confidence.

Second, even if it was done, we are not sure it would really do much. We keep going back to the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak from the summer of 2008. That involved an awful lot of small Mexican restaurants, in many cases getting their produce from purveyors who bought off terminal markets. Even some of the large chain retailers bought some product at store level, and individual stores and restaurants are not required to do anything under PTI. As our first assessment of PTI we ran a piece titled Though Traceability Initiative Is a Big Win, Weak Links Still Exist, which included a letter sent to us by a wholesaler both knowledgeable and incisive. Here is what he said

Putting in a system to trace product gets more difficult the further down we go in the distribution chain. Stand on the floor on a busy Terminal Market and try and imagine where the product goes after it is sold by the Wholesaler. A customer known as “Ken, the guy with Red truck,” pays cash for a pallet of tomatoes. He takes the tomatoes to his garage where the boxes sit on the floor next to cleaning supplies, motor oil, and who know what else.

He and his kids (2 of whom just used the toilet without washing their hands) dump the tomatoes on a dirty tarp to sort them for color. The green ones sit in the garage for a few days to color up during which time one or two rodents snack on tomatoes. When they finally ripen, Ken delivers the tomatoes to some of the finest restaurants in town for all of us to enjoy.

Somehow I don’t think that Ken or even a legitimate small wholesaler or purveyor is interested in investing in a traceability system. They will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the table. The problem is that the system is only as good as its weakest link, and unless Ken is a part of the system it doesn’t work.

So we have this big expense for the industry and, even if implemented, it won’t ensure the next outbreak is easily traceable.

This leaves two mega concerns — one of which Dan raises and the other he alludes to. Dan mentions this idea that the industry needs to implement the PTI or else the government will impose it, but Dan points out that if the industry can coalesce around a different standard, perhaps the industry could persuade government to adopt that standard and, quite possibly, we could. In other words, even if one accepts that industry action is the only alternative to government regulation, that doesn’t dictate the GTIN.

The other big concern is the degree to which doing all this will actually impact procurement practices. The capability to do all this scanning in and out doesn’t mean it will be used. If shippers who have not invested in becoming PTI-compliant are cheaper, that product will be appealing to many buyers.

We are no fans of intrusive government but the truth is that the industry traceability systems for the large firms that are part of this initiative worked well during the Salmonella Saintpaul problem. The biggest issue was that the epidemiology was lousy and the traceability worked; it just didn’t confirm the incorrect theory that CDC and FDA had settled upon. The second biggest issue was that FDA was not equipped — and is still not equipped — to handle records electronically. So all the computer data generated by the industry was requested to be printed out and FDA field staff spent hours faxing things back to headquarters for someone to figure out.

Of course, PTI will neither improve CDC’s epidemiology nor equip FDA to handle electronic records.

The vision is clear, enter 62 numbers into a computer and the FDA can instantly realize that 59 of those lots passed through the same repacker in Omaha — but we seem very far from this.

One problem that doesn’t seem to have really been anticipated is that years ago, when grocery firms were buying their GTINs, they were much cheaper. Now the price is higher and so produce is, in a sense, paying a disproportionately high percentage of what the food industry paid for GTIN. The associations have tried to negotiate here, but it seems success is limited.

Haunting this whole matter is that although one would think the government would go along with an industry initiative, it might not. That would mean a lot of people spent a lot of money for no purpose.

Of course, even if many believe Dan to be correct, many would surely think it too late to start a new standard. Although many have not bought GTINs, many have. Although many have not created 14-digit GTINs for every case configuration, some have.

Institutionally, it is hard to imagine getting everyone in a room to agree to another standard.

So far buyers have mostly extended deadlines. From one perspective, this is working with the supplier base. From another perspective, it is evidence that the buyers are not willing to pay a premium to constrain their supply chain to the firms meeting the PTI timeline.

PTI was certainly a politically astute thing to propose. Its existence defused some momentum toward congressional mandates. Yet, if there should be another outbreak and the industry is still giving extensions, we wouldn’t want to be Bryan Silbermann or Tom Stenzel explaining the situation to a Congressional committee.

If PTI is too expensive and is not going to happen, or not happen broadly enough to ensure traceability, we should face up to it and develop an alternative that will really work and can really be paid for.

Many thanks to Dan Sutton for being willing to take a stand and being willing to encourage a diversity of opinion to speak out on such a significant industry initiative./p>




Pundit’s Mailbag — Sexism In The Produce Industry

I was reading the Perishable Pundit’s smart and progressive column in PRODUCE BUSINESS this morning and thought, with PMA around the corner — perhaps Jim Prevor would champion or at least take a look at my concern for what I believe to be antiquated and chauvinistic practices still seen within the produce industry.

In this day and age, I’d like to think that there is no excuse for scantily clad women, hired to be on display, in anyone’s trade show booth. (An exception I can think of would be last year’s Guatemala booth which had provocatively dressed FEMALE and MALE Mayan dancers.)

Visit Us at Exhibition Booth #1802
PMA Fresh Summit, October 2-5
Anaheim, California

“We’ve Got You Covered”

The above is from Coosemans’ website. As you probably will recall, in the recent past — the “girls” hired to work the Coosemans booth have not been covered with much.

As a professional from within this industry and as a mother of two daughters, I find this sort of message to the industry and public to be a huge embarrassment, unprofessional, old-school and frankly inexcusable.

I voiced my opinion to Coosemans after the ’08 convention in Orlando. I hope to hear that Coosemans has decided to discontinue this practice and feature produce at this year’s tradeshow instead of cleavage.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Deidre Smyrnos
Formerly Northeast sales representative
CF Fresh
Rye, New Hampshire

We appreciate the kinds words about our column. We like balance and since we are sometimes told we are Hannity-like and should be a talent on Fox News, it is a treat to also be called “progressive.”

On this issue, we have struggled because there are conflicting issues at stake and the answer depends on, to some extent, in what capacity we are being asked the question.

One issue we have to put right up front is freedom of speech.

Back in June 1991, Pundit sister publication PRODUCE BUSINESS ran a cover story on Women in Produce. The issue included an advertisement from Lisenbey, Inc that featured a former Miss Arkansas, scantily clad in a bikini. Though the headline innocently read, “Relax. Arkansas’ Home-Grown Tomatoes Are Ready!”, the juxtaposition of the article and the ad brought several letters objecting and we published a response.

The gist of the response was that PRODUCE BUSINESS served as a kind of open forum for the industry and that, as such, allowing the ad to run was appropriate.

So, in the case of an exhibit booth that has been challenged on grounds such as these, we would presume that PMA or any exposition operator would be hesitant to issue a cease-and-desist notice.

Our youthful expression on this issue has always troubled us as not quite right. Free speech is an issue, but it is really an issue for government.

Private organizations such as PRODUCE BUSINESS or PMA have their own free-speech rights, and certainly that includes the right to reject inappropriate ads or inappropriate exhibit displays.

Yet it is problematic and a right that needs to be exercised softly. There are only limited numbers of outlets, and the attempts to impose uniform standards in these industry venues is likely to often cause conflicts as, on a multitude of issues, not just this one, the organization who control the “commons” of our industry attempt to impose their values and standards.

It is interesting that your letter addresses Coosemans, because they are a company with European roots and the standard for use of sexuality in advertising and marketing in Europe is quite different than in the US. To what degree cultural uniformity should be enforced by PRODUCE BUSINESS or PMA is a subject to be wrestled with.

On the other hand, there is a separate issue of efficacy and whether or not the scantily clad women are permitted in an ad or on an exhibit hall, the question is whether a company actually gains from using such techniques.

We doubt it. Marketing is tricky because many times the short term impact can be encouraging — lots of traffic at a booth, for example. Yet the long-term implications, what that traffic will mean for corporate image and future sales and profits, is uncertain.

The last time a client submitted an ad that we thought counterproductive because of its use of sexuality, the Pundit wrote a private note to the company attempting to persuade the executives of the company to change the creative. They decided to do so. Here is the case we made in a slightly edited version of the letter:

I wanted to write you today because as a client I feel an obligation to offer you not just our obedience in doing what is asked but also to offer our judgment — a judgment honed by over two decades of involvement in the ad campaigns of hundreds of produce companies.

I think that you should withdraw the ad from use in the industry. If you run it, your company will get 15 minutes of fame — your salespeople will get high fives, everyone will notice you — and when it is all said and done, the industry will think less of your very fine company.

Like your family, I too am fourth-generation in the produce trade in America. And some things never change. The importance of a good name, good quality, fair dealing — all these are constants since my great grandfather set up a produce wholesaling operation in New York.

But in other ways the industry has changed; in fact the world has changed. Not only are there more women in professional positions but many of the men today have corporate backgrounds, MBAs etc., and this ad won’t come across as professional.

It is possible that you will very specifically lose business or the potential to sell business. There are important people in the industry; people such as Heather Shavey, Assistant General Merchandise Manager for Fresh Foods and Produce at Costco, who, my guess is, will take serious exception to the ad.

But beyond those individuals, even to men and women who have no particular objection to the ad, it just won’t make your organization seem a better company; it will make your company seem retrograde and dated.

Remember that corporations often have to respond not to the ad itself, but to employee complaints about the ad. At a company such as Wal-Mart, sensitive after allegations have been made that they haven’t paid women fairly, the wrong complaint could lead to your being dropped from the vendor list.

In today’s litigious world, a company that allows such ads to be around the office could wind up having the ads entered in evidence as a form of sexual harassment — which only requires proving that an employer allowed a hostile environment to exist. Please don’t think that VPs at places such as Sysco, Safeway, Kroger, and Supervalu are oblivious to these issues.

It is not the photo, per se, the naked body has long been recognized as a legitimate object d’art. One suspects that used in some other context the photo might be fine. The problem is the photo in this context, when combined with the headline, specifically urges the objectification of women. Implicitly, this means that your company is saying that all the buyers are men. This is not true and is thus particularly insulting to female buyers.

Although I know you never intended anything like this, all you need ask is how you will answer when asked why there is not, instead, a naked man in that ad — and the answer, self-evidently, is that the ad is an attempt to appeal to men’s prurient interests in order to sell products.

In a business-to-business ad in 2009, that is simply not the way to go.

Your company is an industry leader and should run a campaign that helps elevate the industry and its own reputation.

This is basically the point: Marketing with sex may get people to think of your company or brand, but what, precisely, will they be thinking about you?

We will say that we do not think that putting scantily clad men in the booth solves the problem; that is a kind of political correctness that doesn’t stand up to sustained inquiry.

What probably does make sense is to look at the authenticity of the connection between the marketing and what one is selling. The Guatemalan dancers, dancing authentic Guatemalan folk dances, is the presentation of a work of art to establish the connection between the product and the place. It is authenticity marketing. If the authentic dances depended on all female, all male, all children or all senior citizens, it would not make any difference.

We could question whether this kind of marketing really has enough meaning to a produce buyer to be effective, but, certainly, it is not offensive.

In this sense, the critique is not that a booth or an ad features a scantily clad female. It is that the scantily clad women have nothing to do with what is being sold; it is gratuitous.

We know that on occasion PMA and other trade show sponsors have spoken to exhibitors and gotten agreement to have staff dress more conservatively. And, obviously, if things reach a point where it is disruptive, any trade show organizer is going to stop an exhibitor from impacting the show just as a magazine publisher is not going to allow ads that offend the readership.

So having been asked to weigh in on the matter, here is where we come down:

For the most part, such efforts are a waste of money — or worse — for an advertiser or an exhibitor. Not only do they expose a company to substantial downside risk that individual buyers and whole organizations will decline to do business with you, but, even if that does not happen, the point of advertising and exhibiting is not just to attract attention, it is to make the buying community think better of your organization and your products. Having scantily clad women around doesn’t achieve that goal.

Although in the end organizations such as PMA and PRODUCE BUSINESS have to protect their attendees and readers against offensive material and protect the integrity of the environment for other exhibitors and advertisers, this is a diverse industry. Some people sell to Wal-Mart and some sell to small wholesalers; some of us are Americans and some come from other countries; some import, some export; we go from the farm to the consumer and everything in between, so there are bound to be different standards of what is acceptable and what is not.

It is friendlier and thus more conducive to industry collegiality for those who control “public” industry events and resources to try to persuade rather than dictate.

What Ms. Smyrnos did in communicating her dissatisfaction to an exhibitor strikes us as right and valuable. It doesn’t actually take many complaints before most exhibitors will perceive a need to change their approach.

We thank Deidre Smyrnos for weighing on an issue that many are passionate about.




Pundit’s Mailbag — Other Deli Suppliers Look Closely At Boar’s Head Debate

Our pieces, Dietz & Watson Takes On Boar’s Head: Is Exclusivity Anti-Consumer? Is It even Good For Retailers? and Pundit’s Mailbag — Deli Private labels Also Benefit From Boar’s Head Banner, brought a disapproving letter from another deli meat manufacturer:

Your coverage of the Dietz & Watson vs. Boar’s Head battle may be of interest to those who carry either brand; it does not deserve the lengthy reports that you continue to publish.

How about taking the same space to report on the other companies in the deli meat business that would love to have all of the free advertising you have afforded the two companies in question. All of us would love the free exposure.

— Frank Pocino
Chief Executive Officer
Pocino Foods Co.
City of Industry, California

Although we appreciate Mr. Pocino’s letter, we confess that we are perplexed as to how anyone could interpret our pieces as merely “free advertising” for anyone.

Clearly, as with all the pieces we run in the “Pundit,” our initial piece was a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the issues involved in a retailer offering or a manufacturer requesting, retail exclusivity — an issue with broad implications for the trade.

The follow-up piece was built around a letter to the editor from the director of the Harvard Business School Agribusiness Program and dealt thoughtfully with the complex issue of how carrying premium-priced lines can impact the profitability of private label programs.

These issues impact retailers and producers throughout the deli industry and on into the broader perishable food industry.

In fact, a company such as Pocino may find itself confronted with a serious issue if retailers elect to, in effect, “lease out” their deli departments to full line operators. Though Pocino offers an extensive line of products, it does not, for example, offer cheese or poultry-based products, and so does not have a full line capable of competing to brand a deli.

We’ve argued that retailers can offer a superior selection to consumers by retaining the right to select individual products, each from the best supplier, rather than blindly purchasing a complete line from one vendor which, almost surely, does not have the very best product in each and every category.

We’ve also argued that retailers could benefit by using their space and foot traffic to build up the reputation of their own store or a deli concept name the store owns, rather than building up the brand name of a supplier.

Whether our views prove persuasive or not, we suspect that companies such as Pocino have a significant stake in the outcome of these debates.

Once again, we thank Frank Pocino and Pocino Foods Co. for weighing in on the matter.




How I Met Irving Kristol

The passage of Irving Kristol has, of course, brought forth an avalanche of kindness from those who were close to him professionally and personally.

Though I was not one of those fortunate to be close to him, I distinctly remember shaking hands with him three times: Once briefly at a Federalist Society Meeting at Harvard; one fantastic experience when I was able to sit down and have a conversation with him at a Toward Tradition conference in Washington, DC; and, luckily and most recently, for a few moments, when, just last October, I flew to the American Enterprise Institute to hear his wife, Bea, the distinguished historian known professionally as Getrude Himmelfarb, present what one suspects will be her last public lecture, a talk titled, Some Reflections on Burke’s Reflections. I exchanged one set of letters with him and spoke with him on the phone once.

So, in a sense I have no credentials to speak of the man, at least compared to many so much closer.

Of course, one of the marks of a great man is his ability to influence people he never gets to speak to or to know and, in that sense, Irving Kristol was a very great man.

This is obviously true in the Keynesian sense of practical men being the slaves of some defunct economist. In founding and being associated with small-circulation magazines and journals that were read by few but very influential people, Irving Kristol influenced the intellectual currents and this flow of ideas influenced everybody.

Irving Kristol’s influence on me was more direct. I “met” Irving Kristol on the op-ed pages of The Wall Street Journal. My father was not a professor, not an “intellectual” — he was a businessman, and no amount of writing in specialized journals would have reached my home. Many intellectuals would have spurned The Wall Street Journal as non-academic but Irving Kristol did not. Lucky for me. His writing and his thinking were a great gift that opened my mind to the power of ideas.

My father read The Wall Street Journal because it was the businessman’s Bible and I read it every day because I admired my father. But while Dad valued the stock tables and the news, I found my place on the editorial and op-ed pages. Irving Kristol wrote there for a quarter century. Roughly that was from when I was 10 years old to 35. So from a boy struggling to understand the arguments to a mature man wishing he could write — and think — as well as he, I had the incalculable benefit of growing up with a quarter century of Irving Kristol as tutor to open my mind once a month.

He was not a philosopher, but wrestling with one important issue once a month one came to sense the outlines of a philosophy. Indeed as impressive as each piece was on its own, it was their coherence that was extraordinary.

John Podhoretz, writing at Commentary, said of Irving Kristol that he “…was the rarest of creatures — a thoroughgoing intellectual who was also a man of action. He was a maker of things, a builder of institutions, a harvester and disseminator and progenitor of ideas and the means whereby those ideas were made flesh.” The consequence of this for a young man growing up outside of an intellectual household was that Irving Kristol was a kind of brand, a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for where I would not be wasting my time to explore further.

In a sense, Irving Kristol gave me a priceless reading list. So, one thing led to another and I found The Public Interest, Commentary, sent money away to England to get a subscription to Encounter, read The New Criterion, The National Interest, looked for books published by Basic Books and looked for ideas coming out of The American Enterprise Institute. At around 20-years-old, I even joined The Committee for the Free World.

So I read Irving Kristol and Gertrude Himmelfarb and Daniel Bell and Nathan Glazer and Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter and Jacques Barzun and James Q. Wilson and so many more. How can you thank a man for giving you that kind of course in the history of ideas?

When I got to sit down with him, I tried to thank him. He was very gracious but was much more interested in what I had to say about my work publishing magazines for the produce and perishable food industry. In fact, I left our meeting only after he had somehow persuaded me that the very future of western civilization hinged on my work with the food industry. Although it is well known that he urged businesspeople to support the institutions that support democratic capitalism, it seems to me an under-reported part of the Irving Kristol story that he was so open to business and businesspeople.

Years later, after The Public Interest had closed, I found that the web site had fallen into neglectful hands, with advertisers using it to promote ideas Irving Kristol wouldn’t have abided. It didn’t seem right so I bought the site and made it into a little homage page, a small respect to say thank you to a journal… and a man… that had introduced me to a world of ideas.

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