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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Advice For Wal-Mart As It Asks Chinese
Suppliers To Be More Socially Responsible

Lee Scott, CEO of Wal-Mart, flew to China and the company issued an announcement:


Company sets new goals and greater expectations for environmental and social compliance, transparency and accountability.

Beijing, China — Oct. 22, 2008 — Today, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE: WMT) took the next step in its sustainability journey by hosting an unprecedented gathering of more than 1,000 leading suppliers, Chinese officials and NGOs in Beijing, China. The company outlined a series of aggressive goals and expectations to build a more environmentally and socially responsible global supply chain.

“Sustainability is about building a better business. We think it is essential to our future success as a retailer — and to meeting the expectations of customers,” said Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. “Maintaining the trust of our customers — today and in the future — is tied hand-in-hand with improving the quality of our supplier factories and their products.”

The company will focus on areas aimed at meeting or exceeding social and environmental standards, driving innovation and efficiency and building stronger partnerships with suppliers, government and NGOs.

Scott continued, “I firmly believe that a company that cheats on overtime and on the age of its labor, that dumps its scraps and chemicals in our rivers, that does not pay its taxes or honor its contracts — will ultimately cheat on the quality of its products. And cheating on the quality of products is the same as cheating on customers. We will not tolerate that at Wal-Mart.”

Addressing suppliers in attendance, Mike Duke, vice chairman for Wal-Mart’s international division outlined a number of requirements and expectations for suppliers who want to do business with Wal-Mart. “Achieving the goals that we lay out today is going to require a common commitment. It’s going to take even stronger and deeper relationships. And it is going to take all of us working together.” said Duke. “We are expecting more of ourselves at Wal-Mart, and we will also expect more of our suppliers.”

Responsible Sourcing

At the Summit, Wal-Mart laid out a series of requirements for companies who want to do business with Wal-Mart. These requirements include:

Required demonstration of compliance with environmental laws and regulations — China’s desire for a cleaner environment is clear, and the laws on the books reflect that. Wal-Mart is taking a number of steps to further strengthen and enforce supplier compliance with environmental and social standards, including the creation of a new supplier agreement that will require factories to certify compliance with laws and regulations where they operate as well as rigorous social and environmental standards. The agreement will be phased in beginning with suppliers in China in January 2009 and expanding to suppliers around the world by 2011.

Partner with suppliers to improve energy efficiency and use fewer natural resources — Wal-Mart will partner with suppliers to improve energy efficiency in the top 200 factories it sources from directly in China by 20 percent by 2012. The company will share information and best practices with all of the factories it sources from as well as its competitors.

Higher standards of product safety and quality — Wal-Mart aims to drive returns on defective merchandise virtually out of existence by 2012.

Greater transparency and ownership — By 2009, Wal-Mart will require all direct import suppliers plus all suppliers of private label and non-branded products to provide the name and location of every factory they use to make the products it sells. The company will also have all suppliers it buys from directly to source 95 percent of their production from factories that receive the highest ratings on environmental and social practices by 2012.

Wal-Mart also announced a major effort to make Wal-Mart China a leader in sustainability in China by committing to make its stores more sustainable. The company will design and open a new store prototype that uses 40 percent less energy and will reduce energy use at existing stores by 30 percent by 2010. In addition, during the next two years, Wal-Mart China will aim to cut water use in all of its stores in half by investing in new hardware and systems and developing best practices that will help its associates and stores use water more efficiently.

The company also pledged to bring more environmentally sustainable products to its store shelves.

Outlining the steps Wal-Mart will take to become the most environmentally responsible retailer in China, Wal-Mart China President and CEO Ed Chan addressed the need for collaboration between Wal-Mart, the company’s suppliers and the Chinese government. “Few challenges in our world today are more pressing than protecting the environment and, in China, Wal-Mart has a unique opportunity to lead,” said Chan. “With the world’s largest population, and a robust manufacturing industry, no market presents a greater opportunity for environmental sustainability to take hold than China.”

On the environment, the Chinese government has set strong goals for sustainability and Wal-Mart is aligned with those goals. Wal-Mart and the Administrative Center for China’s Agenda 21 of the Ministry of Science and Technology signed a Memorandum of Understanding that will serve as an example of a partnership that benefits both industry and government. Wal-Mart China will also reach beyond its own operations to engage customers and suppliers and form partnerships with government and NGOs.

The Summit builds on Lee Scott’s “Company of the Future” speech to Wal-Mart store managers in January, 2008. In the speech, Wal-Mart pledged to make the company’s operations in China more sustainable and our build a more environmentally and socially responsible global supply.

You can watch a video of the speech by Lee Scott, as well as speeches by other Wal-Mart executives, at the China summit right here.

Considering how dependent Wal-Mart is on China as a supply source and how important China is in Wal-Mart’s future retail plans, Wal-Mart has every incentive to ensure the acceptability of China as a vendor to governments and consumers around the world.

This won’t be easy. In addition to the intrinsic problem of the various scandals related to food and product safety, during economically difficult times there is a temptation for governments to become more jingoistic and protectionist.

Yet, though Wal-Mart’s initiative is strategic and will surely have some good effect, there are really only three things Wal-Mart or any other buyer need to say and do if they want to boost the standards of their Chinese supply base:

1. Wal-Mart has to announce that it is willing to pay more to buy product that meets its standards. In other words, as long as its standards are higher than legal minimums or as long as legal standards are not enforced, there will probably be cheaper product in the market. Wal-Mart is electing not to buy that product.

2. Wal-Mart has to announce that low prices are suspicious. This is a cultural change but sustainability includes ensuring the supplier base is viable. So when a vendor comes in with pricing significantly below what other vendors propose, rather than grabbing the opportunity, Wal-Mart executives have to sit down with the vendor and confirm that the vendor can make a living at this price. Otherwise the temptation is too great to bid what is necessary to get the order and, then, to do what is necessary to survive. Wal-Mart has to avoid putting vendors in this position.

3. Verification has to deal with reality. When we did a piece on organic certification in China, which you can read here, it quickly became obvious that verification standards of all sorts in China are very problematic. If you have a community that is deeply dependent on one crop or one employer and the verification company, even a US company, has a local office, think how difficult it will be for that one local representative to go against the interests of his mishpokhe.

We have an American friend who is currently a translator for the US military in Iraq. Interestingly enough, he tells us that when translators are needed regarding a situation where different elements of the local population are all urging different actions on the US, all the factions prefer to have an American translator. Why? The local translators are part of the local conflicts, they belong to ethnic and religious groups, their families need jobs and may need the help of local officials; only the Americans, as a true third-party, can be trusted.

Equally verifications in China need to be done by foreigners. This is very expensive but the only alternative. Bring in a Swiss team or a Swedish team to do the inspections and verifications. If Wal-Mart doesn’t set up this type of system, enforcement will be lax and the suspicion will be that Wal-Mart is willing to avert its eyes from violations.

As Aldi Opens In Orlando, The Age Of
Deep Discounters Is Upon Us

During our recent to trip to London to speak at the annual Citi Retail Conference, we toured numerous UK retailers, including an Iceland store and Aldi store — both so-called “hard discounters.”

We found the whole retail scene in the UK to be presenting as if the Depression is upon us. Tesco, which we have thought of as a mainstream retailer — the largest in the country — seemed determined to transform itself into the bargain basement of Britain. Even carriage-trade retailers, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, were feuding over who offered better value.

As the trade gathers in Orlando, Aldi will be opening five new central Florida stores, which means the chain is on the verge of hitting the 1,000-store marker in the US.

Interestingly enough, this deep discounter has been talking up its compensation policy as it looks to attract employees:

The company said starting pay for cashiers is $10 an hour, and $20 an hour for assistant store managers. Starting pay for store managers is a salary of $65,000 a year.

The company offers health care insurance to employees who work 20 hours or more a week.

Tesco’s Fresh & Easy, whose journey to America we have been chronicling here, also promotes that it pays $10 an hour. Fresh & Easy has not promoted what it will pay managers, but we understand Aldi managers are far better paid.

We wonder if both Tesco and Wal-Mart — with its Marketside stores — didn’t make a mistake in not focusing their small-store concepts on a very clear value proposition such as Aldi.

Perhaps they didn’t think they could do it any better?

Bailout Analysis Ahead Of The Times

As we get ready to leave for PMA’s Fresh Summit convention, thought we would give a two-minute shout out to point out some of the really incredible value we’ve been delivering on the Pundit.

Perhaps, for example, you got to read Alternative Energy Suddenly Faces Headwinds or 3 Oil-Rich Countries Face a Reckoning, both which were published by The New York Times on the web on October 20, 2008, and in the print edition on October 21, 2008. Of course, you could have just skipped the pieces, because on October 17, 2008, we published Oil Price Decline Dampens Alternative-Energy Fervor, which basically said the same thing three days earlier!

Our two main points presage The New York Times articles precisely:

1. “…the other sound you hear is that of brakes screeching all over the world as alternative energy projects no longer make sense and consumer sacrifices for conservation — say smaller cars — become less appealing.”

2. “…lower oil prices mean some people who make a lot of trouble will have less money to make trouble with and may even have trouble keeping control of their own people.”

If your tastes run more to The Wall Street Journal than The New York Times, you might have caught the piece entitled, Uncle Sam Goes Car Crazy, published October 22, 2008. The key point:

The talk is of synergies and cost-cutting, of tapping new lodes of cash to ride out the storm. Don’t believe it. These negotiations are about one thing: creating a political last stand of American auto making that a Democratic Congress and president won’t be able to resist bailing out.”

Or you might have read the Pundit piece that we published on October 16, 2008 — six days earlier! — entitled Bolstered By ‘Too-Big-to-Fail’ Theory GM/Chrysler-Merger Plan Is To Make Two losers Into a Winner, where we pointed out:

Both companies are hemorrhaging money, and their products are not particularly complimentary. The combination will not provide much in the way of pricing power, and eliminating overcapacity will be difficult as a result of union contracts.

So what could be the point? How can combining these two losers make a winner? How about this as a theory: GM wants to bulk up. GM has a 24% share of the US auto market, Chrysler 11%. Combine them and you have over a third of the market. The combined company will employ almost 200,000 people in North America, plus many more at parts suppliers. Its 11 brands will have over 10,000 dealers.

What is the lesson of the last few weeks? Be “too big to fail”!!! The word on the street is that GM President Frederick Henderson has been pushing the deal. Perhaps he is thinking he can become so big so that if GM threatens bankruptcy the government will feel it has to lend it money until the business cycle turns.

We’ve also learned that the Pundit is in excellent company. While we are discussing The Wall Street Journal, know that if you can only read one article about the financial crisis, we suggest you read Bernanke Is Fighting the Last War, published in The Wall Street Journalon October 19, 2008. The article contains an interview with Anna Schwartz, now 92 years old and still going to work at the National Bureau of Economic Research in New York. Ms. Schwartz co-authored with Milton Friedman the classic work “A Monetary History of the United States.

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has called their joint work: “the leading and most persuasive explanation of the worst economic disaster in American history.”

It is a fascinating interview and we recommend you read every word, but here is the key point:

Ms. Schwartz thinks that our central bankers and our Treasury Department are getting it wrong again.

To understand why, one first has to understand the nature of the current “credit market disturbance,” as Ms. Schwartz delicately calls it. We now hear almost every day that banks will not lend to each other, or will do so only at punitive interest rates. Credit spreads — the difference between what it costs the government to borrow and what private-sector borrowers must pay — are at historic highs.

This is not due to a lack of money available to lend, Ms. Schwartz says, but to a lack of faith in the ability of borrowers to repay their debts. “The Fed," she argues, "has gone about as if the problem is a shortage of liquidity. That is not the basic problem. The basic problem for the markets is that [uncertainty] that the balance sheets of financial firms are credible."

So even though the Fed has flooded the credit markets with cash, spreads haven’t budged because banks don’t know who is still solvent and who is not. This uncertainty, says Ms. Schwartz, is “the basic problem in the credit market. Lending freezes up when lenders are uncertain that would-be borrowers have the resources to repay them. So to assume that the whole problem is inadequate liquidity bypasses the real issue.”

As we said, it is a fascinating interview and filled with a lifetime of wisdom but on its essential point — that the government is barking up the wrong tree because the problem is not liquidity but a lack of certainty as to asset value — well you could have read our piece, Lessons For Everyone From Bear Stearns, which was published on March 25, 2008. In that article, we said:

“Although stepping up to save Bear Stearns may have avoided panic, it reduced the transparency of the market. In some ways, the best thing would have been to auction off Bear Stearns assets so clear values could be assigned. This would make people confident in doing business with other holders of the same assets.”

Or you might have read our piece, Perishable Thoughts — Lessons From Bernard Baruch, published September 16, 2008:

The truth is that there is plenty of money out there. What has been missing is good information to allow legitimate business decisions….

…government bailouts of companies such as Bear Stearns and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have kept hundreds of billions of dollars of assets that eventually will need to be liquidated off the market. This artificial restraint on supply has served to confuse the market as to what the true value of financial assets actually are….

Markets have to clear before they start to rise, and the dissemination of accurate valuations of financial assets is the key ingredient necessary for markets to clear on real estate and financial instruments.

Perhaps you read our piece, AIG Bailout Gives Short-term Relief Many Dangers Long-term, published September 18, 2008”

“…by not compelling the sale of assets, the Treasury’s bailout will avoid a speedy reckoning. What was needed was a quick liquidation so valuation could be clearly established.”

Then we had Government Bailout Requires Deeper Analysis, published September 26, 2008, which said:

“To the extent there is a problem with credit between financial institutions, it is a reflection of the difficulty potential buyers or lenders have in valuing the assets held by other financial institutions. The more the government buys these assets, bails people out so they don’t have to sell these assets, etc., the longer this period of evaluation difficulty continues.”

So with all this value being delivered, if we bump into each other at PMA, or if you come by our booth # 515 to say hello, we don’t want to hear that you are not getting value for your subscription price.

Oh wait, other publications charge hundreds of dollars for subscription. The Perishable Pundit? We don’t charge at all. What a value indeed.

Tribute To Tip Murphy

A critique that is often attributed to Oscar Wilde is that “The problem with socialism is that it takes too many evenings.” Well a comparable problem with food safety crises is they take up too many articles.

In the midst of the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, a friend of ours in the industry died. We didn’t write about it at the time. Partly because we were doing important work on that crisis and thus we shielded ourselves emotionally lest we cease to function. Partly, we didn’t write the story because we thought the intermingling of it with our daily expositions on Salmonella would be, in the artistic sense of the word, grotesque.

At first we thought we would write about it as soon as the crisis died down. Of course the crisis dragged on and, by the time it was over, it seemed out of place.

Now, however, there is a reason to broach the subject again. We are speaking, of course, of the death of Tip Murphy, at the age of 48, earlier this year.

The short industry biography of Terrence P. Murphy is that he became a force in the industry during 13 years in sales at Chiquita, where he had been assigned a tiny account that had maybe 10 stores. Fortunately it was Wal-Mart and when others walked away, Tip listened to the projections of a man named Bruce Peterson, who many suppliers thought was crazy although he turned out to be prophetic as he told Tip that one day this tiny force in produce would need a boatload of bananas a week. Tip rode that bronco till it accounted for a big portion of Chiquita’s business, and it made Tip what some say was the largest selling salesperson in the history of produce.

Eventually Tip left Chiquita and went to work briefly for Paganini Foods, as we explained here.

At the time of his death Tip was, as we mentioned here, the Division Vice President, Retail Sales for Ready Pac.

When we didn’t write about Tip, we received many “nudges” suggesting we do so. Some came from his co-workers, such as this note:

I always enjoy your comments and spin on things in our great industry.

We at Ready Pac are sad as this week we laid our friend and co-worker Tip Murphy to rest in Cincinnati.

His services were attended by literally hundreds of family, friends, industry folks, and even customers.

As you know he suddenly passed away from a massive heart attach on July 13th while golfing with his friends, and wife, Gretchen.

The services were followed by a great “tail gate” party with an awesome LSU back drop and the celebration of Tip’s life was in full swing.

I know you know the sudden and tragic loss of a friend on a personal note with Joe Nucci, and all of us at Ready Pac who worked with Tip, and those who he touched and “gabbed” non-stop with, will miss him terribly, but not as much as his wife and two daughters.

Just wanted to let you know…

— Scott Harrington
Divisional Vice President
Ready Pac, Inc.
Irwindale, California

Some letters came from friends:

My name is Greg Kurkjian. I am the VP of retail sales at Mann Packing.

I was wondering if you had written anything about the passing of Tip Murphy. Tip was a mentor and friend of mine. I heard some rumblings this week about recognizing Tip at the PMA.

He embodied all the best things about so many people in the produce industry; passion, work ethic, and giving back to the industry. We need to recognize Tip during the upcoming PMA.

— Greg Kurkjian
Vice President Retail Sales
Mann Packing
Salinas, California

Indeed many felt as Greg did. Tip served on the board of directors of PMA from 2005 to 2007 and the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent established the Tip Murphy Legacy Fund.

The official announcement of the fund will come at the PMA convention during the Saturday Morning General session where Tip will be honored. The gist was described by PMAFIT In a press release:

The goal of the fund is to build a permanent endowment of $250,000 by 2012 to fund scholarships in perpetuity, according to PMA FIT Executive Director Cindy Seel. A limited number of scholarships will be granted while the endowment is being raised.

Scholarships will enable recipients’ participation at current and future PMA and foundation leadership development programs, such as PMA’s annual Leadership Symposium. Scholarship applications will be reviewed by an advisory board now being established.

The Pundit was honored to be asked to serve on the advisory board along with Todd Melton of Chiquita, Scott Owens of Paramount Citrus, Bruce Peterson of Naturipe Farms, Bill Schuler of Castellini Company, Bob Spence of Ready Pac and Dick Spezzano of Spezzano Consulting Services. Tip’s widow, Gretchen, will be involved as well and Dan’l Mackey Almy of DMA-Solutions and the PMA FIT staff, especially PMA FIT’s Executive Director, Cindy Seel, have facilitated the effort.

Foundational grants were received from Castellini, Chiquita, Naturipe Farms, Paramount Citrus and Ready Pac.

We’re not quite in the financial league of any of these fine organizations. We would, however, like to do our part to both honor Tip and support this worthy cause. So the Pundit is donating $1,000 to the Tip Murphy Scholarship Fund.

If you or your company would like to donate, you can send an e-mail to Cindy Seel right here.

Before we sign off on this one, we would like to share a little happiness and a little sadness about Tip and our relationship with him that maybe can help everyone live a little better life.

We had known Tip for many years, but our friendship took to a different level when Tip left Chiquita and was looking for a job and reevaluating his life. We spent a few hours together at the PMA convention in 2006 and talked for a long time about what mattered in life, about family and friends and career. After the convention, Tip sent us a note telling us how so many people in the industry had been so kind:

I wanted to send you a short note to thank you for your comments to me at PMA about my situation. I very much appreciate all of the support in this phenomenal industry… it is truly a testimonial to the great people and great relationships in the Produce Industry!… Thanks again for your interest in me… I truly appreciate it!!

The little happiness we can share is that we are so glad we spent the time to sit down and try to be a friend to Tip. Concern for another person manifests itself in a richer and more rewarding relationship. We are plenty busy at PMA and really had no time for that discussion yet making the time resulted in an acquaintance becoming a friend and thus was one of the most rewarding decisions one can make in life.

Now here is the sadness. In December of 2006, after Tip had accepted a position with Paganini Foods, Tip invited the Pundit to travel with him to Sicily in January 2007. Nominally the trip was to visit citrus growers, but Tip had laid out a great opportunity to have fun and become better friends.

We didn’t go on the trip. Can’t even remember why — basically there was office stuff and work and not wanting to be away from home. We left it that we would make a point to do it in the future.

We never did. And now we can’t.

There is surely a lesson there for everyone.

You can make a pledge to the Tip Murphy Legacy Fund by sending an e-mail here.

Questions About ‘Brain Food’
Auction Offer For PMA’s FIT

Our piece, Perishable Thoughts — Building The Future Of Our Industry, dealt with the importance of youth to our industry and the many efforts the newly named PMA Foundation for Industry Talent is conducting to help the industry attract new recruits.

As part of its fundraising efforts, we mentioned that the Foundation was holding a silent auction at the Fresh Perspectives: Women’s Leadership Event on Friday morning and that to kick it off, we donated an event which is described in the catalog this way:

Power Lunch with the Pundit

This is the opportunity of a lifetime to experience “up close and personal” the one-and-only Jim Prevor, also known as the “Perishable Pundit.” As founder of both PRODUCE BUSINESS and PerishablePundit.com, Jim is read in over 100 countries each week and has lectured on every continent save Antarctica.

His insights into the future of the produce, fresh foods and retailing industries and how these industries intersect with broad societal trends such as food safety, sustainability, demography, etc., have led CNN, Fox, the BBC and dozens of newspapers and magazines to seek out his perspective.

Jim will dine and discuss with the winning bidder and up to seven friends or teammates at a mutually agreeable place and time. The cost of lunch and travel expenses are included and Jim’s schedule generally allows for travel to most major cities, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas etc., as well as most major produce centers, such as Salinas, Fresno, Yakima, Vidalia, etc.

Food for your brain and your belly!

We indicated that anyone at the event can bid there, and we also mentioned that if anyone wasn’t going to be at the event but still wanted to bid they could let us know that they would like to bid right here.

We received a number of questions so we thought we’d try to answer them now:

1. “Would you do the lunch at our offices with more than eight people?”
Sure, the donation includes the Pundit buying lunch for up to eight people, but if you would rather do something at your facility and you bring in the lunch — no problem.

2. “We need you for a specific date. Can we get that?”
Maybe, we’ll try. The promise is for a “mutually agreeable date” but if you have something specific in mind e-mail us here and we’ll let you know if that date is available.

3. “I’m not attending that event and want to bid but don’t want to overpay either — what can I do?”
Simple — just e-mail us here with your maximum bid, and we’ll increase your bid in the minimum increments. So, you will only pay your maximum if someone else bids right up close to that amount.

4. “Do we have to pay for the Pundit’s flight, hotels, etc.?”
That is all included — you pay only what you bid.

5. “Will you visit us outside the US?”
Perhaps. Going elsewhere depends on how far, how expensive and your ability to tempt the Pundit — Mrs. Pundit would sure like it if you need the Pundit in Bali Ha’i! Worst comes to worst, you might have to pay the airfare for trips outside the US. If you have something specific in mind, feel free to e-mail us here and ask.

6. “Is PMA paying you to do this?”
No, not at all. This is a contribution to the PMA Foundation for Industry Talent to help attract youth to the industry. One-hundred-percent of what you bid will go to the Foundation. So bid early and bid often! You can enter a maximum bid right now by e-mailing us here.

Perishable Thoughts —
The Supremacy Of Character

We’ve run several pieces lately that focus on character. In this piece, we included a famous exchange that JP Morgan had when testifying before a Senate committee:

Untermeyer: Is not commercial credit based primarily upon money or property?
Morgan: No, sir, the first thing is character.
Untermeyer: Before money or property?
Morgan: Before money or anything else. Money cannot buy it… Because a man I do not trust could not get money from me on all the bonds in Christendom.

The other day we wrote a piece focusing on what PMA’s new PMA Foundation for Industry Talent was doing to attract new personnel to the industry, and we wound up focusing on the personal integrity involved in not going along with the crowds and the great difficulty in regulating good behavior in the absence of personal ethics.

We pointed to the University of Pennsylvania and its motto Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, which translates as “Laws without morals are useless.”

As we visit Orlando this year for the PMA convention, there is a bit of the flavor of going to Philadelphia in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks. We don’t want to overplay the comparison — after all, people died on 9/11 — but the financial crisis that we have chronicled here has created uncertainty and, in uncertainty, people have a yearning for connection.

That is why we suspect that this year’s PMA convention, despite troubling economic times, will likely draw a record attendance — certainly for an east coast show.

We hadn’t started the Pundit yet in 2001, but in some ways the Pundit could be said to have started then. For the first time in our company’s history, we sent a mass e-mail to every e-mail address we had to urge people to attend PMA in spite of the times, perhaps even because of the times. You can read the e-mail here.

It was in the community, the outpouring of response from around the world to that e-mail, that the genesis of the Perishable Pundit can be found.

In a time of financial uncertainty, we will all learn how lucky we are.

The obvious reason is because we are in the food business. When times are tough, the distinction between discretionary and non-discretionary expenditures means a lot. Once again, we don’t want to make too much of this… certain sectors of the industry, such as those that serve the foodservice sector, are already hurting and badly… still, on the whole, things have to get pretty bad before people respond by eating less food.

The other reason we are fortunate to be in this business is that the nature of the trade tends to drive out of the business those without scruples. In a business where the “abnormal” — a frozen load, a missing driver, cooked product, etc., etc. — is an everyday occurrence, you just can’t do business with people who would look to take advantage. Many years ago, the Blue Book institutionalized this perception by creating Moral Responsibility ratings for the industry and incorporating these ratings in credit reports.

With e-mail and electronic interfaces, the trade has changed, yet we are old enough to remember as a teenager being told by the Pundit Papa to pick up the phone and order a few trailers of apples or oranges or carrots, and the fact that Mike Prevor’s son was on the phone placing an order was all they needed to start the loads rolling.

Although some people are just evil, there are many people who do things they would rather not do under the exigencies of circumstance. It is in declining markets that receivers may become scrupulous about product meeting all specifications. So during tough times, people take tougher attitudes.

This strikes us as a good reason to go to conventions, to go to an event such as PMA. It gives one an unequaled chance to take the measure of a man.

Perhaps it is in times of difficulty that we really see what men are made of. A famous clergyman and civil rights leader put it this way:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

— Martin Luther King Jr.
Strength to Love, 1963
US civil rights leader & clergyman (1929 — 1968)

We were discussing some of these issues with Bryan Silbermann, President of the Produce Marketing Association. Bryan and the Pundit share a monthly column in PRODUCE BUSINESS, so we have discussed many issues, including these:

Marketplace Perception vs. Reality (part 1) Food Safety / Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Marketplace Perception vs. Reality (part 2) Organics / Perceptions Can Be Changed

The Zen Of Dining Out Healthfully / What Does ‘Fresh’ Mean?

Confidence Rising, Caution Necessary / Don’t Ignore Low-Consumption Users

Finding Our Way To Innovation / A Blessing And A Curse

Mumbai Magic / Country of Contradictions

Something About May / The Rest of the Story

Pondering Produce Marketing / Five Challenges to Marketing

Citizenship, Courage and Character / The Strenuous Life

Market Disruption: Challenge Or Opportunity? / Look Beyond The Industry

Making Sense Of Sustainability / Economy May Affect Behavior

People of good will often disagree on the substance of issues and, often, our exchanges are lively. Yet we agree on one thing: It is the exceptional character of the individuals making up this industry that defines it and makes it — in good times and bad — an exceptional privilege and pleasure to earn one’s livelihood in its confines.

Each year at PMA, Bryan, as President of the Association, gives a general session presentation as he will do again this Friday. In these times that try men’s souls, count on Bryan making an important point about character.

Even if you arrived in Orlando not registered for the general session and seminars, one can still upgrade on site or buy a pass just for one day’s events. To do so demonstrates a commitment to learning and engagement with your peers and the industry at large. Such a commitment expresses a strength of character all its own.

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