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Perishable Pundit
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Produce Business

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American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Tesco Finally Opens Doors…
British Press And Protesters Unimpressed

The build up to the Tesco opening in America is now over. The Times of London’s Los Angeles correspondent hasn’t exactly been enthusiastic. In fact, he titled his column Tesco in the US? It’ll never work:

…Now, to me, the idea of the British selling ready-meals to Californians makes as much sense as the Iranians selling Second World War text books to the Israelis. There’s a culture problem. A big one. I get the feeling that Sir Terry already knows this: nothing else could explain the almost military secrecy that has surrounded the Fresh & Easy project since its inception. You would think they were developing a tactical nuclear weapon, not a selection of microwavable dinners.

You can’t fault Tesco for not doing its homework…

Which makes Fresh & Easy’s debut “dinner made easy” promotion all the more inexplicable. This is what they are offering: “A 25oz beef lasagna, Caesar salad, ciabatta loaf, and bottle of wine, all for under $12.” Yes, Sir Terry is trying to sell the residents of the most diet-fixated, calorie-paranoid, carbohydrate-obsessed city on Earth a combination of red meat, pasta, bread, cheese and booze. A round of applause, please, for the Fresh & Easy marketing department. Incidentally, if someone offered you a beef lasagna and bread at an LA dinner party, you’d sue them. A three-cheese lentil and tofu lasagna you might get away with — but you’d still be unpopular.

The bigger problem here is that ready meals just don’t appeal to Californians — as much as Britons cannot understand it. You can see why by visiting a Gelson’s, a Whole Foods or a Bristol Farms. These LA superluxurymarkets hire their own chefs to prepare gourmet food daily and sell it piled high at deli counters so it looks like a king’s feast. Even boxed sushi is prepared in-house, by a resident sushi chef. Of course, Tesco hopes there’s a middle ground — a refrigerated, prepackaged niche somewhere above Wal-Mart and below Whole Foods. But I’m not at all convinced….

We are not convinced either. In the column, Tesco’s Prepared Foods Challenge that the Pundit wrote in Pundit sister publication, DELI BUSINESS, we pointed out that this product line is 1) Not in line with the way Americans shop, 2) Likely to produce high shrink levels, and 3) Very expensive to deliver.

Regardless of the suitability of the concept, Tesco had its troubles at the opening. Although its stores have generally been busy, it is hard to know who is a journalist, who is a competitor, who is a supplier, who is a tourist… and who is actually a customer. Britain’s The Independent reported on protesters:

…the company’s plans for a joyous celebration of spicy blue tortilla crackers and organic crunchy peanut butter were also marred by the — metaphorical — stench of a few rotten eggs.

Shoppers who lined up for more than an hour to be among the first to patronize Tesco’s new mid-sized Fresh & Easy stores — 200 of which will spring up across California and the American Southwest over the next few months — were greeted by a giant banner on Eagle Rock Boulevard reading: “Shame on Fresh & Easy!”

On their way in, they were handed leaflets by a group called the Alliance for Healthy and Responsible Grocery Stores — a coalition of community activists, church leaders and union organizers who do not trust Tesco’s promises of a living wage for its workers, of plentiful health and other benefits, of environmental sensitivity and a commitment to serve poor neighborhoods with little or no access to fresh, high quality food.

As the ribbon was cut at exactly 10am, and shoppers filed in with a very British sense of orderly queuing, many of them read a flyer detailing the alliance’s demands for a community benefits agreement making Tesco’s promises both real and explicit.

… The 30-40 activists leafleting outside are not to be underestimated, however. The alliance was responsible for keeping Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, out of an inner-city neighborhood and now wants Tesco to put its money where its mouth is when it says it will serve the most blighted parts of the city like South LA.

“We’re not trying to boycott,” the Alliance’s spokesman, Greg Good, said. “But the world’s third largest retailer has at least a moral obligation to sit down with the local community. To say people shouldn’t worry and just trust them is a lot to ask.”

Part of the problem is that Tesco raised expectations so high. Promising, for example, to serve underserved neighborhoods — this promise as well as others to provide “good jobs” and “health insurance” — will eventually be subjected to verification and it will be shocking if the various advocacy groups are satisfied with Tesco’s behavior. The Independent continues:

A study by researchers at LA’s Occidental College over the summer found that of the first 98 Fresh & Easy sites announced by Tesco, just 10 were in low-income, high-poverty areas, and only one was in an area without a full-service grocery. The first six are all in relatively comfortable suburbs.

The Occidental researchers also found that Tesco intended to employ large numbers of part-time workers, raising questions about the company’s commitment to health and other benefits.

On Wednesday, about 100 alliance activists attempted to picket a company party at the Glassell Park store but were kept off the premises by security guards. A rabbi and the head of the county labor federation tried to deliver a message to the chief executive of Tesco’s US operation, Tim Mason, but were turned away. “That was disrespectful, and disappointing,” Mr. Good said.

Yesterday, they were joined by carpenters’ union members upset at the behavior of a Tesco subcontractor at a branch in Upland in the eastern LA suburbs. “Fresh & Easy has an obligation to the community to see that area labor standards are met,” the carpenters’ flyer said.

Maybe all this won’t matter. Many consumers surely buy what they want where they want to buy it — regardless of protestors. But Tesco has worked hard on reputational marketing, and those who live by the sword can easily die by the sword.

One thing that will either be a big win or a big problem is Tesco’s decision to rely on UK suppliers transplanting themselves to the USA. The Financial Times called its piece, Tesco stakes US success on its British Suppliers:

As Tesco, the UK supermarket group, officially opens its first Fresh & Easy stores in southern California today, it is bringing with it a group of British companies who are gambling that its US venture will prove a success.

Fresh & Easy’s own-label Big Kahuna Australian wine, for instance, is imported by Cornerstone, a new US subsidiary of Copestick Murray, a wine company based in Wiltshire, England.

Its fresh poultry and meat is prepared locally by 2 Sisters Food Group, part of a private company based in the English Midlands that supplies leading UK and European supermarkets.

Fresh & Easy’s own-label bags of sugar snap peas, washed salad, fresh fruit and fresh juices are prepared by Wild Rocket Foods, a US subsidiary of the Langmead Group, a Sussex lettuce grower that built a UK-wide business from its relationship with Tesco.

Tesco’s decision to bring in partners, rather than work with local suppliers, underlines how much of a radical shift its operating model is from the conventional US grocery business.

Yet some of Tesco’s plans seem contradictory. The Financial Times continues:

By selling only pre-packed salads, it will also cut down on overheads by reducing the need for energy-consuming cold cabinets that are regularly used for lettuce and salads by its US rivals.

Perhaps, but how does selling “only pre-packed salads” comport with a desire to be “fresh”? Here is how the Financial Times describes Tesco’s current product operation in America:

Nature’s Way has set up a US company, Wild Rocket Foods, and is working with Betteravia Farms, a grower with farms in California and Arizona that is part of the Bonipak group and with Jacobs Farm/Del Cabo, an organic producer that imports from a cooperative in Mexico’s Baja peninsula. In March, Wild Rocket announced it was abandoning a plan to build a facility next to Tesco’s distribution centre, citing unexpectedly high water-supply costs, but said it would use a site elsewhere in Riverside County.

The initial feedback is that the stores are pretty much what was promised — a Trader Joe’s-like offering but with more standard assortment items. The décor has put off some people — too institutional and cold — not warm and fresh.

The real question is how big is this market? Even with opening specials, we are not hearing about them out-pricing Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s. At the same time, we are not hearing of them being fresher and more beautiful than Whole Foods. So Tesco seems to be aiming for a mid-market that is popularly believed to be shrinking.

In fact the new Whole Foods in Pasadena seems to be stealing some media thunder from Tesco’s debut.

Tesco has invested hundreds of millions in this concept; many produce vendors are deeply invested as well. Now we have to wait for the hullabaloo to die down so we can see how consumers will really react to the concept.

Of course, that may not tell us how Tesco will ultimately do — since a wild success will surely elicit a strong competitive response.

Shifting Sands Of Nutritional Science

Our piece, An Observational Study Is Not An Experiment: Cautions In Research Interpretation, was just one of many pieces about the limited and confusing state of scientific knowledge on nutrition. Articles such as this led an industry friend to send along this note:

This stuff drives me crazy. You just never know what to do from an eating standpoint.

One study I read said eat only flax seed oil — it’s much better for you. So I was doing that. Then I read another study that said flax seed oil seems to have a strong link to accelerating the growth of prostate cancer. Chocolate’s good for you, no wait it’s bad for you…….on and on it goes.

You’ve also already seen stuff on soy — real good — or maybe not so good. Now another report: Men who eat a half a serving of soy each day have much lower sperm counts than men who do not, according to a study at Harvard Public School of Health in Boston. However, the soy industry claims the findings do not compare with its own studies that show soy to have no effect on sperm count, reported Fox News Channel.

From a consumer’s standpoint, I might as well eat what I want, when I want it, and in the quantities I desire. Woody Allen’s line about “health food” from the movie Sleeper comes to mind: “It’s got to be good for you; it tastes terrible”.

Well, I would suggest the science of nutrition is terrible.

To be fair, the science of nutrition suffers from three things:

First, laymen pay attention to it, which means that it gets covered in the media. Scientists have wrong ideas in all kinds of fields but rarely does the layman hear about some thesis that gets proved incorrect in particle physics.

Second, the stakes are so high — billions upon billions of dollars in medical costs, billions in sales of different foods — that there is a strong impulse to act on very imperfect and incomplete information. Normally that doesn’t apply to a lot of science.

When the pressure is on, much of science is uncertain. The recent death of Paul Tibbets, who flew the Enola Gay over Japan to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, reminds us that one reason proposals to demonstrate to Japan a drop of the atomic bomb instead of actually using it on people were rejected is because, until very late in the process, nobody was sure it would work or how extensive the damage would be. As it turned out, the bomb was from twice to ten times as powerful as most estimates held it would be.

Third, it is so difficult to do legitimate experiments on human beings because of our ethical standards. For example, if there is a consensus that eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day is required for optimal health, we can never do a test with a group being restricted to less than that consumption level for ethical reasons. We could give one group five a day and another 20 a day and see if that makes a difference, but we can’t actually do a controlled experiment where one group gets only one a day and we compare that to five a day.

Still, this all being understood, the news reports are bound to drive people crazy. If on November 7, 2007, you happen to be reading the Chicago Tribune, for example, you would have seen this headline:

No bones about it: Study firmly links obesity, cancer

If you, however, preferred to read The New York Times on the same day, you would have found a large graphic with this headline:

Fewer Deaths Among the Overweight

The New York Times graphic came with an article that explained that Causes of Death Are Linked to a Person’s Weight.

Now to some extent, the difference between these two articles is one resolved by careful reading. The Chicago Tribune piece is about cancer and only cancer:

One of the largest medical studies ever undertaken has confirmed what many public health officials already feared: Being overweight can give you cancer.

Whereas The New York Times piece is about death from any cause:

Linking, for the first time, causes of death to specific weights, they report that overweight people have a lower death rate because they are much less likely to die from a grab bag of diseases that includes Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, infections and lung disease. And that lower risk is not counteracted by increased risks of dying from any other disease, including cancer, diabetes or heart disease.

As a consequence, the group from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute reports, there were more than 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight in 2004, the most recent year for which data were available, than would have expected if those people had been of normal weight.

Another point is the use of specific terminology. The Chicago Tribune piece talks about “obesity,” whereas The New York Times piece talks about being “overweight.” These terms mean different things as The New York Times piece explains:

Researchers generally divide weight into four categories — normal, underweight, overweight and obese — based on the body mass index, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. A woman who is 5 foot 4, for instance, would be considered at normal weight at 130, underweight at 107 pounds, overweight at 150 pounds and obese at 180.

Still, the articles do seem to directly contradict each other at some points. For example, the Chicago Tribune piece claims:

It is already established that excess body fat is an important cause of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and early death.

However, The New York Times piece specifically refutes the notion that “excess body fat” — as opposed to obesity — is even correlated with, much less a cause of, early death:

“If we use the criteria of mortality, then the term ‘overweight’ is a misnomer,” said Daniel McGee, professor of statistics at Florida State University.

“I believe the data,” said Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, a professor of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego. A body mass index of 25 to 30, the so-called overweight range, “may be optimal,” she said.

And on the specific claim of the Chicago Tribune piece that obesity correlates with increased likelihood of cancer, The New York Times piece says no:

…contrary to expectations, the obese did not have an increased risk of dying from cancer. They were slightly more likely than people of normal weights to die of a handful of cancers that are thought to be related to excess weight — cancers of the colon, breast, esophagus, uterus, ovary, kidney and pancreas. Yet they had a lower risk of dying from other cancers, including lung cancer. In the end, the increases and decreases in cancer risks balanced out.

Ahh, this explains something. The Chicago Tribune piece deals with a study that actually found this:

…the study found that excess weight causes cancers of the esophagus, endometrium (uterine lining), ovary, kidney and pancreas, as well as leukemia, multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

It also causes breast cancer — but only in post-menopausal women.

The New York Times piece draws on research that doesn’t look at just certain cancers but at cancer in its totality, thus “….a lower risk of dying from other cancers, including lung cancer. In the end, the increases and decreases in cancer risks balanced out.”

Which to some extent just tells you that medical and nutritional research is just like any other kind of research: The answer you get depends on the question you ask.

By focusing on particular cancers, the research group that the Chicago Tribune piece draws on thinks that though “…scientists may continue to debate how much excess fat one has to have for his risk of cancer to go up … we have passed the point of debating whether the relationship exists. There is now consensus that obesity increases the risk of getting and dying from multiple types of cancer.”

Whereas the researchers that The New York Times piece draws on looks at the overall situation and “…concluded that, compared with people of normal weight, the overweight had a decreased death risk and the underweight and obese had increased risk.”

All in all, it is a cautionary tale for those anxious to use nutritional evidence to promote particular food items and even whole industries. We just don’t know an awful lot and what we think we know may yet be proved wrong.

Our letter-writer reminded us of the Woody Allen movie Sleeper. As far back as 1973 when that movie came out, it was clear that an awful lot of what we “knew” about nutrition wasn’t so. Unfortunately the interceding 34 years do not date this bit of dialog from the film, which takes place 200 years in the future after the Woody Allen character, who ran a health food store back in 1973, is revived from cryostasis. His doctors are discussing Woody Allen’s breakfast request:

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”

Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.

Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or… hot fudge?

Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy… precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

Dr. Melik: Incredible.

For the foreseeable future a focus on fresh, on flavor, on lifestyle — is likely to provide a sturdier ground for produce promotion than the shifting sands of nutritional science.

Court Jurisdiction Questioned
In Dole’s Tellez Case Ruling

Dole announced itself pleased by the fact that a Los Angeles Superior Court jury verdict in the Tellez case found that six of the 12 plaintiffs did not suffer any injury as a result of their alleged exposure to an ag chemical called DBCP on an independent banana farm in Nicaragua almost 30 years ago.

Doubtless it was less pleased by the award of $2.5 million in compensatory damages to the other six plaintiffs. Dole intends to appeal those verdicts.

In its announcement, Dole focused on the facts of the case:

“Dole has always believed that there is no scientific basis to support these alleged injuries,” said C. Michael Carter, Dole’s executive vice president and general counsel. “However, the six verdicts against Dole are flat wrong and the result of junk science, raw emotional appeals and false testimony. These six men were not injured by DBCP or Dole, and it is unjust for them to be awarded money from us. We are appealing to set the record straight.”

The Facts:

  • All the independent scientific research demonstrates that, to be possibly injured, a man would have to be exposed to hundreds of times the amount of DBCP that an agricultural worker could possibly receive. The only possible injury caused by exposure to DBCP is male sterility, and even that effect can occur only at very high levels of exposure over extended periods of time.
  • Some of the plaintiffs claimed to have been made sterile by DBCP even though they were still fertile after they left work on the farm.
  • Some of the other plaintiffs were sterile before they came to work on the farm.
  • Other plaintiffs had become sterile through common causes like serious alcoholism and sexually transmitted diseases.

Dole believes there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP. Nevertheless, Dole has consistently demonstrated its willingness to compensate fairly those male banana workers who meet minimum criteria consistent with reliable science, as an effort to resolve disputed claims — scientific research indicates that DBCP does not have any harmful effects in women. As in Honduras, where Dole, worker unions and the Government of Honduras have implemented a successful worker program to deal with DBCP claims, Dole is committed to finding a prompt resolution to DBCP claims in Nicaragua, and is prepared to discuss a structured worker program with science-based criteria.

Dole is prepared to litigate cases anywhere in the world where there is a fair and independent judicial process and where resolution cannot be reached. Dole will not be intimidated by ugly accusations, fraudulent claims, junk science, or threats from U.S. trial lawyers, and is prepared to fully litigate each and every case.

The Pundit, however, is more concerned with the abuse of the US judicial system represented by this case. Note that this is not the end of things. The Court could still award punitive damages.

Our questions is this: Whoever may be right or wrong, what in the world is a dispute between a Nicaraguan banana farm and Nicaraguan farm workers doing being heard in a U.S. courtroom?

We are not the only one who has asked this question. The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial that raised the same issue:

Lawyers Without Borders

How did it come to pass that a lawsuit concerning banana farmers in Nicaragua is being adjudicated in a state court in downtown Los Angeles? Just the latest abuse of the U.S. civil justice system, courtesy of the plaintiffs bar.

The jury trial got underway earlier this month and involves 12 male plantation workers who allege that exposure to the pesticide DBCP in the mid-1970s in Nicaragua left them sterile. Dole Food, which contracted with the plantations where DBCP was used, is the lead defendant, even though the Nicaraguan government was already spraying the pesticide long before Dole entered the picture.

There’s no evidence that the farm workers were ever exposed to harmful levels of DBCP, or that the level of exposure they did experience causes sterility or any other health problems in humans. But there is evidence that some plaintiffs were already sterile before exposure, while others had children afterward. It’s worth noting as well that DBCP, which kills the microscopic worms that attack plant roots, was also approved at the time for use in the U.S., Europe, Australia and South America. Which is to say that untold millions were exposed to the chemical without incident. But never mind all that.

The real mystery is why this case is being heard in a U.S. courtroom. These are foreign nationals, after all, with no connection to our civil justice system. Prior to the start of the trial, the plaintiffs had never even set foot in the U.S. And the claims being brought on their behalf concern lawful conduct that took place in another country 30 years ago.

Unfortunately, the Dole case isn’t anomalous. U.S. class-action firms best known for tobacco and asbestos suits increasingly are reaching out across the globe to drag all manner of claims into American courts. Back in 2000, the Australian-based mining giant, Rio Tinto, was sued by a Seattle-based plaintiffs law firm, Hagens Berman, on behalf of South Pacific Islanders who claim that Rio conspired with the government of Papua New Guinea to quell civil resistance to a mining operation in the 1980s. The suit, which continues, was allowed to be brought in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco because Rio happens to have a subsidiary headquartered in Los Angeles.

Earlier this month a U.S. district judge in Miami dismissed a lawsuit filed against two United Arab Emirate sheiks on behalf of thousands of children who were forced to race camels in various Persian Gulf countries. Although no forced camel jockeying actually took place in the U.S., the plaintiffs attorneys argued that the court had jurisdiction because the defendants had interests in racehorses in the Miami area. Motley Rice, the U.S. law firm that brought the suit (on a contingency-fee basis, of course), is reportedly considering whether to appeal the decision or try another state.

As a practical matter, these cases consume limited judicial resources and clog our courts with claims that have no connection to anything that actually occurred in the U.S. But they also raise Constitutional issues. The plaintiffs in the Dole case are seeking not only compensatory damages but also punitive damages for conduct that has no connection to the state.

Why should a jury in Los Angeles be allowed to impose punitive damages against a company for actions that were legal in Nicaragua and caused no injuries in California? In its 2003 State Farm vs. Campbell decision, among others, the Supreme Court made clear that the Constitution precludes a state from “punish[ing] a defendant for conduct that may have been lawful where it occurred.”

The tort bar won’t police itself, so it falls to others to do the job. Congress, state legislatures and courts could take steps to create higher jurisdictional hurdles and limit the ability of plaintiffs lawyers to seek punitive damages. That won’t stop every abuse, but it’s a start.

Many things happen in the world — but U.S. courts have neither the capacity nor the competency to try every wrong the planet might present. Besides, cases such as this challenge the very nature of law itself — because the behavior Dole is accused of was completely legal in Nicaragua 30 years ago.

Dole is obviously concerned with its image and so has tried to help legitimate victims, but if the principle is established that anyone, anywhere, can bring a lawsuit anyplace, then there will never be a way for anyone to ascertain if his behavior is legal or not, because there will never be a single set of laws that one can say applies to a given situation.

We hope the case goes to the US Supreme Court and that the Court vacates the decision on the grounds that a US court lacks jurisdiction in such matters.

Steffanie Smith Named CEO
Of River Point Farms

At the PMA convention this year, the association unveiled a new “Fresh Perspectives” networking event to celebrate and encourage the accomplishments of women in the produce industry.

Now comes word that one of the trade’s well known female executives has scored a major accomplishment: Steffanie Smith has been appointed as CEO of River Point Farms.

River Point Farms is one of the “secret giants” of the industry. Formed only in April of 2007 when American Onion and Rivergate Farms joined forces with CIC Partners, a private equity firm based in Dallas, Texas, River Point Farms now promotes itself as “America’s largest grower, packer, shipper and processor of onions; including yellow, white, red, sweet and organic onions.”

CIC Partners is what is known in the trade as “smart money,” tripling its investment in Buffet Partners (owners of Furr’s restuarants), recapitalizing Quiznos and quickly getting its investors all their money back while keeping the upside potential and venturing with Steve Barnard in a growth capital investment in CampoSol S.A. in Peru — not to mention a bunch of non-food winners, such as Restoration Hardware and the Texas Rangers Baseball Club.

People with this kind of record don’t choose their CEO’s lightly. So Steffanie’s appointment is a real endorsement.

It is also a reminder it pays to be nice to everyone. The Pundit remembers when Steffanie started work at the old United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association. Coming from an agricultural family, she gained a wide perspective on the industry during her time in Washington, DC.

On the professional side, she ultimately served for ten years as president of Pacific Pre-cut Produce before the company was acquired in 2005 by Taylor Farms. More recently, Steffanie has served as president of the Deli/Prepared Foods Division of Taylor Farms, the largest fresh-cut vegetable supplier to the foodservice industry. This put her at the epicenter of some of the most hot and happening products in the produce industry.

As if her love for the business wasn’t enough, she also loves the people — especially one Andrew Smith of Andrew Smith Co., a large Salinas-based supplier of bulk bins of lettuce and vegetables to the fresh-cut industry — who Steffanie married.

At the “Fresh Perspectives” event, they featured a speaker who had climbed Mt. Everest. Now Steffanie has climbed an industry summit, becoming one of still very few women to be named CEO of a produce company without owning it. Not absolutely certain which is a more difficult accomplishment.

Best wishes to Steffanie and River Point Farms for many years of productive association.

You can read the whole story here.

FPFC Looks To PMA’s Carissa Mace
To Fill Void After Linda Stein Departs

It wasn’t long ago that we ran a piece entitled, Association President Needed In Southern California. They didn’t want to say the name of the association but you didn’t have to be a produce Einstein to figure it out. Now the official word is out:


The Fresh Produce & Floral Council (FPFC) is pleased to announce that Carissa Mace has been selected as president of the organization. Her selection is the result of a six-month, nationwide search process conducted by the FPFC.

Mace has 11 years of experience working for trade associations in the produce and floral industry, most recently serving as the Director of U.S. Business Development for the Produce Marketing Association, and an additional eight years of experience in the nonprofit/association profession. She is an active member in two professional organizations — the American Society of Association Executives and the California Society of Association Executives.

“The FPFC Search Committee is proud to bring such a highly qualified candidate to the position of FPFC President. Carissa will bring solid industry experience and management expertise to the Council. We are looking forward to her leadership in the organization,” says FPFC Chairman and Chair of the Search Committee, Raul Gallegos.

Mace will assume the role of FPFC President on Monday, December 10, 2007.

Carissa was honored in 2005 as an inaugural member of Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS’ roster of 40 under Forty — a recognition of up-and-coming industry talent. Here is what we wrote at the time:

Mace came to the produce industry in a roundabout way. Her background was in fund-raising for non-profit organizations, and she happened to luck into the Food Industry’s Circle for City of Hope. Here the story begins to unfold.

Mace quickly discovered her favorite group of volunteers was the retail folks from the produce/floral side. At the time, Dick Spezzano was vice president of produce/floral for Vons and the co-chairman of the Fresh Produce and Floral Council, along with Kerry Hodges (who is now retired from Ralph’s). Committee meetings were held at 5:00 am at the Los Angeles Wholesale Market.

“I soon found out what a wholesale market was and that Los Angeles traffic is quite a breeze at four in the morning. But more importantly, what I found was a group of individuals who were dedicated, hard-working and fun,” she says, adding, “We brought in over $600,000 toward the cause of cancer research that year.”

Mace became connected with FPFC and president Linda Stine through City of Hope and was thrilled when a position handling events and membership development became available. She ran with it for five years, growing the annual trade show, expanding into the foodservice area and coordinating produce and floral tours to educate store level retail personnel.

In 2001, Mace couldn’t pass up an opportunity to join PMA, the “big gun” in the produce association world under Bryan Silbermann’s leadership, she says.

PMA had never had a business development department before; most sales were spread out among various event managers. She visits companies and attends industry functions, networking and gaining market intelligence to serve the industry better.

“The friendships I’ve developed with my mentors in the industry have been both professionally and personally rewarding,” says Mace. Among them, she calls Jan DeLyser of the California Avocado Commission, “the gold standard of what a woman in produce should be. She serves as a great inspiration for what I want to be when I grow up in the produce industry.”

It is interesting; Dick Spezzano, Kerry Hodges and other retail produce executives were looking to give to society at large through The City of Hope and they wound up getting the produce industry a new leader.

In any case, Carissa is an ideal candidate. Having worked at FPFC, she knows the organization and culture well. Having worked at PMA, she also knows how a much larger, national organization functions. This intimate knowledge opens the door for even closer collaboration between the two associations.

And Carissa surely knows how to deal with any produce diva who may come along. She cut her eye teeth working at the New York Opera after studying arts administration at the NYU’s famed Tisch School Of The Arts.

Carissa will be taking the place of Linda Stine, who will be retiring. Here is Linda’s mini-bio:

Linda Stine joined the staff of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council in March 1995 as Executive Vice President, continuing a 21-year career as a professional in management of Trade Associations and Business Councils. New to the produce industry in 1995, she became involved in committees and boards of allied industry associations attending seminars and meetings of the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, Produce for Better Health Foundation, the Alliance for Food and Farming, California 5 a Day-California Department of Health, in order to build her knowledge of the industry.

Educated at Southwest Missouri University, Linda continued her education at the Institute of Organization Management, a specialized Association Management program held at Stanford University and UCLA. She is an active member of the American Society of Association Executives and has served on the Board of Directors of the Southern California Society of Association Executives.

In 1997 the title of Executive Vice President of the FPFC was changed to President. She also serves as Corporate Secretary of the Fresh Produce & Floral Council.

Linda has presided over a great portion of the growth of the FPFC, including efforts in both Northern California and Arizona. With a background in association management, she has demonstrated the importance of that skill set in an industry where the board can often provide the produce knowledge.

We wish Linda a fulfilling retirement and congratulate Carissa on her new position. May both know only success and happiness in their new endeavors.

And For Your Listening Pleasure…

In our recent discussion of the PMA convention in Houston, Texas, we queried whether a great closing speaker could keep attendees in town for that last day. Well here is another idea, let us hire the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra:

The Vegetable Orchestra performs music solely on instruments made of vegetables. Using carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, leek-zucchini-vibrators, cucumberophones and celery bongos, the orchestra creates its own extraordinary and vegetabile sound universe.

The ensemble overcomes preserved and marinated sound conceptions or tirelessly re-stewed listening habits, putting its focus on expanding the variety of vegetable instruments, developing novel musical ideas and exploring fresh vegetable sound gardens.

This video takes you through the whole process, from buying the vegetables, to making the instruments, to a grand performance:

You can get info on their latest CD, listen to excerpts and buy it as a CD or an MP3 download right here.

Pundit’s Mailbag — Wal-Mart’s Short Term Mentality Hurts Produce

As Tesco as been on everyone’s mind, we’ve also been running a series on Wal-Mart. Most recently, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Wal-Mart Lacks Store Level Produce TLC, which featured a producer/consumer explaining the quality is good at purchase and bad at store level.

Prior to that we ran, Is Wal-Mart Foolish For Focusing On Small Savings? This piece asked if Wal-Mart’s and other’s efforts to import directly weren’t putting quality at risk.

Wal-Mart’s Global Procurement Division Gets Special Pass On Quality assessed acceptance procedures for product Wal-Mart imported itself versus that supplied by U.S. importers.

High Lettuce Prices Strain Supplier Relations With Wal-Mart was the piece that initiated this thread, and we quickly followed up with an article we called, Wal-Mart Tightens Quality Specs.

We also published a letter from a Wal-Mart vendor under the title Pundit’s Mailbag — Wal-Mart’s Path of Decreased Store-Level Execution. These pieces all built on a series we ran some time ago that concluded with an article entitled, Wal-Mart’s ‘Opportunity Buy’ Policy Reveals Much About The Company.

Today another longtime Wal-Mart vendor and a much esteemed eminence on the marketing side of the business wanted to applaud one of our letter-writers:

Ditto the Wal-Mart vendor from Pundit’s Mailbag — Wal-Mart’s Path Of Decreased Store-Level Execution. An old-time produce man for whom I had a great deal of respect once told me, “You can save your way to profits or you can sell your way to profits.”

With just a little consideration to these concepts you realize that the former has a finite end while the latter is truly limitless.

I saw the same philosophy of saving occur at Winn-Dixie some 15 years ago. I even had an employee tell me that they had cut the night cleaning staff. And now, while emerged from bankruptcy, they struggle to regain just a little of what they lost.

While it may be true that Food Safety/Traceability will take us down the road of “all packaged” produce departments, it will not change the perishable nature of our business nor will it replace the need to have “someone on the floor” of the department who recognizes that one bag of spoiled grapes can ruin the perception of freshness in an entire display. Or, by some remote possibility, a customer might want to ask a question.

The point about Winn-Dixie is telling. The Pundit remembers a day when we would sit with baited breath wondering if the mighty Lincoln Meena would give us some small portion of Winn-Dixie’s order for Chilean fruit.

One of the things that Bruce Peterson was remarkably good at is knowing what was truly important. At the stage Wal-Mart was in, when he was building the produce department, he knew that the key risk for such a rapidly growing organization was being out of stock.

The whole system he designed was focused on securing adequate product, not buying things at the absolute cheapest cost possible.

Now, Bruce is gone, but perhaps more important, the growth has slowed, so the focus is on other things.

The risk, though, is that top executives outside the produce department will press for efforts to save money via procurement because that is so much more certain than pressing for improved results through increased sales due to enhanced marketing efforts or improved customer service.

Wal-Mart has become so gimmicky that its actions in produce can be seen as an outgrowth of overall short-term thinking.

This is a company that, until yesterday, was all about being the “buying agent for the consumer” and providing “every day low prices,” yet now the company is putting up a “Secret Website” with special deals for those “in the know,” and The New York Times reports that Wal-Mart has already started to offer “…door-buster discounts…three weeks before they are traditionally unveiled on the day after Thanksgiving.”

This doesn’t sound like the actions of a company any longer dedicated to the long term development and maintenance of an image as a retailer that always and every day delivers the lowest prices. It sounds like the actions of a company desperate to meet year-end numbers.

And desperate companies, as with desperate people, do desperate things — in many cases things that hurt long-term results.

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