Pundit Interviews

Pundit Letters





Perishable Pundit
P.O. Box 810425
Boca Raton FL 33481

Ph: 561-994-1118
Fax: 561-994-1610


email:
info@PerishablePundit.com

a

Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur



With Its Stance On Trans Fats,
Tesco May Be Hip But Not Healthy

One of Tesco’s oft-repeated claims is that its private label products will be made without trans fat. This sounds like a good thing. The very word ”fat” strikes most people as a bad thing, and there have been studies indicating that trans fat — which is just what you get when you add hydrogen to vegetable oil — does raise the “bad” cholesterol while suppressing the “good” cholesterol.

Of course, this alone tells us nothing — whether getting rid of trans fat is a good thing depends entirely on two things:

What will trans fat be replaced with?

How will consumers react to trans-fat-free items?

A piece in the “Health Journal” column of The Wall Street Journal explains that health experts have concerns:

Food companies are scrambling to replace trans fat in everything from french fries to cookies, but health experts worry that what’s good for the nation’s heart might be bad for its waistline….

….what’s going in food instead of trans fat? Some food makers are going back to ingredients high in cholesterol-raising saturated fat, such as palm oil, palm kernel oil and coconut oil. In Kellogg’s Eggo blueberry waffles, for example, trans fats have been replaced with palm oil and palm kernel oil, while Oreos now contain “palm oil and/or canola oil.”

….Other products are achieving trans-fat-free status through interesterification, a process in which fatty acids are redistributed on a fat molecule to make liquid fats behave more like solid fats. Products made with interesterified fat include Promise Buttery Spread and Enova cooking oil. Unilever, the maker of Promise, conducted its own study 10 years ago that found no adverse effects from food made with interesterified fat, says Doug Balentine, Unilever’s director of nutrition sciences for the Americas.

But other nutrition experts say not enough is known about the safety of interesterified fat. There was little interest in researching the ingredient until the recent push for trans-fat alternatives. David Baer, a research physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, says his own research has studied only blended fats, and offers no insights on interesterified fats specifically. “We’re interested in trying to figure out the health effects,” he says. “The nutrition community is puzzled by what might be the most healthful alternative to trans fat.”

K.C. Hayes, director of the Foster Biomedical Research Lab at Brandeis University, says that while the ingredient is in relatively few products now, its use may grow before the health-care community fully understands its impact. Dr. Hayes, who conducted a small study funded by the palm-oil industry that did find negative health effects from interesterified fats, says, “The point is, we should know more before we go off trans fat and onto something else.”

…The biggest danger of the trans-fat swap-out could be that consumers will eat more junk food because they think it’s healthier. For one thing, zero doesn’t necessarily mean zero. Products can still have up to half a gram of trans fat and carry a “zero trans fat per serving” label. So if someone eats more than a serving of cookies, they could still be consuming a few grams of trans fat.

The irony here is that very few of these products contained trans fat in their original formulations. It wasn’t until the same groups that are agitating for its removal from products and pushed successfully for a federal labeling requirement previously pushed to eliminate saturated fats.

We also think the last point of the article — that people tend to eat more of things they are told are “healthy” is very telling — many a consumer is going to think trans- fat-free means fat-free or calorie-free and is likely to over indulge. Perhaps an extra inch on the waistline is worse that some trans fat?

Tesco is certainly showing itself to be hip. It will be many years before we know if it actually is healthy.

Tesco Teases With Video Of New Store

Here is a little one-minute video that Tesco released to get some buzz going among consumers before the launch of its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market concept. Difficult to say much definitively from a little clip, but these things stand out:

  • Products they choose to emphasize in the video, such as Gelato and Atlantic Salmon, seem decidedly upscale — too upscale for many of the locations.
  • The prepared foods offerings look very similar to what you see in the U.K. with similar packaging.
  • An awful lot of the produce looks covered in plastic — uncertain how this will go over. Not the typical presentation Americans are used to.
  • A lot of emphasis on how great they are — good neighbor — great place to work — no trans fat, etc. — Pundit’s Mom taught him you can break your arm patting yourself on the back. If they really are a great place to work, word will get around really fast — if not, all the signs in the world won’t help.
  • Biggest problem — store doesn’t look fresh. Too much stuff behind glass doors, too many grocery items, too much stuff in plastic wrap or trays. Décor lacks the visual cues that mean warmth and freshness to Americans — wood floors, cascading waterfall displays into bushel baskets. It comes across like an overgrow gas station mini-mart.

Here is the video:




Tesco Teases With Video Of New Store

Here is a little one-minute video that Tesco released to get some buzz going among consumers before the launch of its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market concept. Difficult to say much definitively from a little clip, but these things stand out:

  • Products they choose to emphasize in the video, such as Gelato and Atlantic Salmon, seem decidedly upscale — too upscale for many of the locations.
  • The prepared foods offerings look very similar to what you see in the U.K. with similar packaging.
  • An awful lot of the produce looks covered in plastic — uncertain how this will go over. Not the typical presentation Americans are used to.
  • A lot of emphasis on how great they are — good neighbor — great place to work — no trans fat, etc. — Pundit’s Mom taught him you can break your arm patting yourself on the back. If they really are a great place to work, word will get around really fast — if not, all the signs in the world won’t help.
  • Biggest problem — store doesn’t look fresh. Too much stuff behind glass doors, too many grocery items, too much stuff in plastic wrap or trays. Décor lacks the visual cues that mean warmth and freshness to Americans — wood floors, cascading waterfall displays into bushel baskets. It comes across like an overgrow gas station mini-mart.

Here is the video:




Confirmation Of Tesco In SFO

We received many inquiries when we disclosed that Tesco has been signing leases outside of Nevada, Arizona and southern California, as we wrote:

We know it has already signed several leases in the San Francisco Bay area and needs to build many more stores within range of its distribution center to efficiently utilize its enormous size.

Although Tesco still isn’t talking, things are now starting to leak out in the local press. For example, the Danville Times, a local Bay area paper, confirms that Fresh & Easy is coming to the Bay area:

Floating rumors about a new grocery store and anchor tenant in Green Valley Center — where the old Albertsons once stood on Diablo road by the freeway — are now confirmed.

Owners of the property have signed a lease that could have the United Kingdom-based Fresh and Easy Neighborhood Market up and running by summer 2008.

This is a direct assault on Safeway’s homeland. If the Southern California launch goes well, how many weeks can it be before Safeway unveils a small store format?

You can read the whole story here.




President’s Import Safety Action Plan
Leaves Much To Be Desired

We found the “strategic framework” published by the President’s Interagency Working Group on Import Safety to be dubious. Now that the full Action Plan of Import Safety has been published, we remain — - at least at first read — underwhelmed.

You can read the President’s comments here, review a fact sheet on the Import Safety Action plan here and read the text of a press briefing by Secretary of Health and Human Services, Michael Leavitt, here.

Along with the import plan, the FDA announced a Food Protection Plan, which you can download here.

There are, surely, a lot of good ideas in the plans, but they are mostly incremental and marginal things that simply will not have a major impact on import safety.

For example, it may be a great sound bite to say that the FDA should have mandatory recall authority, but as we learned in the spinach crisis, the FDA has complete authority to recommend consumers don’t eat something. Since no reputable retailer will sell products consumers are advised not to eat, the FDA has defacto recall authority right now.

Political opponents of the President were also unimpressed:

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the President’s package “leaves consumers in the dark and continues the hodgepodge of federal oversight.”

“Of course we need tougher penalties, more inspections, and better information sharing when it comes to the food and toys coming into our country,” Schumer said. “However, the rubber won’t meet the road until the administration does three key things: Provide the FDA and CPSC with more federal dollars so they can carry out their heavy mandates; give consumers quick and user-friendly access to comprehensive food and product safety information; and set and implement government-wide priorities for import and domestic food and product safety oversight.”

And nothing in the plans seems to change the status quo of food safety regulation being divided between FDA, USDA and other agencies, nor does the plan assure adequate resources:

A recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, noted that about 61 percent of the $1.7 billion the federal government spends on food safety went to the Agriculture Department in 2003, which is responsible for regulating about 20 percent of the food supply.

The FDA, which is responsible for most of the remaining 80 percent, gets only about 29 percent of the total.

“FDA’s food program is very small compared to its task,” said William Hubbard, a top FDA official for 14 years who now pushes for stiffer food safety regulations and more resources for his former employer.

We will take some time to study the recommendations before definitively commenting, but our sense is that the solutions are likely to create their own problems. The idea of a certification mark for food safety for imported food that is believed to pose risks sounds good, but in raising the value of such an audit, one also raises the likelihood of corruption. Not to mention that the plan is vague on how requirements on imported goods that are not imposed on domestic producers could possibly square with our treaty obligations under the WTO.

The once-over tells us that we have a mostly political document filled with admonitions for agencies to have “enhanced cooperation” without really making the kind of substantive changes that would actually make a big difference.




Scholarships Offered To Attend
PMA Leadership Symposium In 2008

Come January 2008 PMA, Cornell University and PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine will partner to present a very special event:

This year’s PMA Leadership Symposium will offer you rare insight on how to harness the innovative strategist, marketer and business leader within you and your employees, not just to respond to today’s unprecedented changes in the marketplace, but to lead the way toward even greater growth and profitability. You and your colleagues will meet and hear from some of the leading minds in business today, learning the kinds of real, breakthrough strategies and solutions that can help you find Inspiration for Your Next Big Idea.

This year, in order to encourage the participation of a diverse assortment of industry leadership in the program, PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine has partnered with Grimmway Farms and Mann Packing to make a special scholarship opportunity available for four fortunate industry executives, two each from the retail operator and the foodservice operator end of the industry.

The scholarship is all-expenses-paid, and this program will ensure that the PMA Leadership Symposium will draw on the intellectual capital of all segments of the trade.

If you work for a retail or foodservice operator, or know someone who does, this is an opportunity to attend a program that will take attendees out of the box of “industry thinking” that we often find ourselves trapped in.

And for two lucky retail operators and two lucky foodservice operators, it will only cost the intellectual commitment to make oneself a leader.

You can nominate yourself, a team member or a business associate right here.




Facts Obscured About Frozen Produce
On General Mills/Green Giant Web Site

We owe a hat tip to an industry expert who could easily write to us on many subjects. Today, however, he wrote us not about an urgent industry issue such as food safety or food security but about our piece, Will Fresh Industry Foot Bill If Frozen/Canned Uses More Matters Logo?

In this piece, we raised two key questions:

  • If PBH is going to promote canned and frozen, does this mean the fresh produce industry needs to start a new organization for the sole purpose of promoting fresh produce?
  • Whatever the science behind the health claims, does it make sense for PBH, which depends heavily on fresh produce vendors as a funding source, to be promoting canned and frozen?

Our expert sent us this note, with a most interesting resource:

I enjoyed your article, “Will Fresh Industry Foot Bill If Frozen/Canned Uses More Matters Logo?”

Check out the website http://www.GoFrozen.com — another challenge for the fresh produce industry!

A challenge indeed. This web site http://www.GoFrozen.com is shocking. It begins with these words:

Think fresh vegetables are better then frozen? Think again.

Think Fresh. Go Frozen.

The web site is put out by Green Giant — the same Green Giant that licenses its name to The Scholl Group to be used on fresh product.

Apparently, although they are willing to accept royalties for their name from fresh producers, they don’t realize that properly marketing fresh could provide a “halo effect” for their canned and frozen product. Instead they devote an entire website to getting people to “Go Frozen.”

If you click on “Explore the valley and see what we mean,” you will see a series of videos related to why frozen is preferable for freshness, nutrition, safety, variety and convenience.

General Mills owns Green Giant, and it should be ashamed of itself for producing such a highly deceptive website. Every single video on the site has a lily-white person who looks like he or she just got off the farm in Minnesota.

The clear implication of the site is that Green Giant grows everything in Minnesota and — because the growing season isn’t year round — freezes in the goodness to make it available year round.

Yet we searched that site high and low to get information on country-of-origin and couldn’t find a word.

But the facts are clearly being obscured by this website. We know, for example, that Pillsbury, which owned Green Giant when both were acquired by General Mills in 2001, had closed its plant in Monterey, California, to produce product in Mexico:

Pillsbury Company’s Green Giant division, for example, moved a frozen-food packing factory from Watsonville, California, to Mexico in anticipation of the adoption of NAFTA, with the idea of importing products back into the United States without tariffs and with few food safety controls.

For the community of Watsonville, the loss of the Green Giant factory means that the farmers in the area who grew crops for the plant lost their market, farmworkers who picked those crops lost their jobs and the workers in the cannery were put out of work.

And if you take a look at the product, you clearly see that many items state “Product of Mexico.” We have circled the notation on some of the packaging below:

Some of the canned items state, Product of China:

Now, this is the exact kind of product that would qualify for the “More Matters” logo that Safeway and Schnuck Markets are putting on their frozen and canned fruits and vegetables.

We should be clear: There is nothing wrong with selling frozen or canned produce.

We do think that the Green Giant GoFrozen.com web site is not as forthright about where their product comes from as would be expected of such a premier corporate name. We think any consumer who went through that site would be shocked to learn that Green Giant is importing broccoli from Mexico.

Our real point though is that the frozen and canned industry are not the same industry as the fresh business.

It doesn’t help D’Arrigo Bros. Of California or Mann Packing if consumers eat more frozen broccoli from Mexico — they are competitors, not compatriots.

Now, the Produce for Better Health Foundation is obligated to follow the science on nutrition and the findings of government. So, if they have to promote fresh, canned, frozen and juice — so be it.

The fresh broccoli industry, though, just as with the fresh mushroom industry and many other commodities, needs a promotional arm that can sing their praises.

If it can’t be legitimately done based on health — let us do it on flavor or freshness or another product attribute. And if PBH can’t do it, well, we need another mechanism to make it happen.




Foolish Organ Donation Policy

Under the Pundit’s picture on his driver’s license, you find the words “organ donor.” In the State of Florida they ask each applicant if he is willing to donate. Having it on the license is crucial because speed is of the essence in successful organ transplant.

The subject comes to mind because Robert Goulet, the baritone who won fame playing Lancelot in the original Broadway rendition of Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot — along with Julie Andrews and Richard Burton — recently died at age 73 awaiting a lung transplant.

Goulet was something of a man born in the wrong time. He rose to stardom after Elvis had already begun a transformation in musical tastes.

The New York Times obituary reminds us that in 1961, he was identified as “just the man to help stamp out rock ‘n’ roll.” But the Beatles soon appeared and that battle was hopeless.

So he was just a man with a great voice — although one considered so good looking that Judy Garland called him a “living 8 x 10 glossy,” and women were known to toss their hotel room keys to him when he performed in Las Vegas.

Harkening back to an age with a different definition of male elegance, here is a little clip of Robert Goulet and Bobby Darin kicking off a season of The Andy Williams Show.

They start out by introducing Kraft as a new sponsor and end up with a corny routine:

Robert Goulet was a very successful man, but, of course, all that success won’t get you a lung transplant. So he is now dead.

Oftentimes in the Pundit, we’ve written about a tendency to avoid association with bad, more than a desire to do good. In this piece about child labor being used to produce clothes for the GAP, we pointed out that GAPs sanctimonious promises to root out the problem will do exactly zero for the children.

Equally our policies on organ transplants — that make it a crime to offer money in exchange for an organ — do little other than guarantee that people needlessly die every year and families that need money don’t get it.

There are a lot of efforts afoot. This group is trying to set up a “preferred list” so that people who have volunteered to donate organs will get preference in receipt of organs.

These economists help enable elaborate swaps in which Joe wants to help his son, Max, but doesn’t match so donates to a stranger named Julie whose brother John donates to Max. These can be elaborate chains, and the operations must all happen simultaneously to prevent people from backing out.

The truth is that people doing this are surely receiving valuable “consideration” for donating an organ and, thus, an honest reading of the law would say it is illegal, but advocates got the Justice Department to issue a finding that it is not.

Others are trying to change criteria so that more people are acceptable as both live donors and deceased donors.

These efforts are all laudable, but they are also all evasions of the truth, which is that there are hundreds of millions, probably billions of people alive today who would consider it advantageous to donate a kidney, a portion of their liver or a lobe of a lung in exchange for proper medical care and compensation. It is also true that millions who die and never were motivated to make the selection to donate organs would do so if they knew their families would benefit in some substantial way.

Denying the opportunity for these transactions doesn’t help anybody and hurts many, and we do it just so we can avoid feeling sullied by people’s selfish nature.

When Robert Goulet had prostate cancer, he spoke openly about it, encouraging many men to undergo testing. Early in his career, Robert Goulet won a Grammy award for his hit single, “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Perhaps his death waiting for a transplant will lead us to think deeply about how foolish our policy is on such matters.

Mail to a Friend

© 2017 Perishable Pundit | Subscribe | Print | Search | Archives | Feedback | Info | Sponsorship | About Jim | Request Speaking Engagement | Contact Us