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Perishable Pundit
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Bankrupt Brown & Cole Blames Wal-Mart

When on November 8, 2006, Brown & Cole LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, the company blamed three factors:

First, in 1999 Associated Grocers, which owns a minority stake in Brown & Cole LLC, stopped paying dividends. Brown & Cole had been receiving $2 million a year up to that point.

Second, healthcare costs nearly doubled over a two to three year period.

Third, and most interestingly, Brown & Cole issued a statement that said this:

The tipping point came with Wal-Mart’s saturation of markets in Washington, causing Brown & Cole to close four large stores in the Tri-Cities and Arlington areas. Even though the stores are closed, the company has continued to pay rent on the facilities and has been unable to find replacement tenants. The inability to shed lease expense on closed stores has put an additional burden on the company’s finances.

“We pay wages that are 50 percent higher than Wal-Mart and make health care payments on 95% of our workers, more than double Wal-Mart’s commitment. It’s hard to remain profitable competing with a low-wage, non-union operator like that, but fixing our financial problems on the backs of our employees was never an option that we were willing to pursue,” Brown & Cole Stores President Craig Cole said. “Our sales and customer growth over the last six months have been strong, and most of our 27 stores are profitable. We have to keep our prices down in order to remain competitive, so our overall cost structure, especially with high lease expense on closed stores, needs reworking.”

Cole said that competing with Wal-Mart for customers is very doable, except when it over-stores a market. He asserted that Wal-Mart’s long-term strategy has been to oversaturate markets with surplus retail capacity so that smaller companies will be driven out of the market.

“Wal-Mart’s pattern is to flood a market with supply of too much retail space in relation to demand. That is happening all over the country, and the small and regional operators are typically the fallout, leaving mostly global and national operators in the market,” Cole said.

Wal-Mart has expanded rapidly into Washington over the past few years, in places such as Marysville, Omak, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Sunnyside and Moses Lake. It now boasts 44 stores in the state and has announced plans for several more.

Leases on closed stores are a classic reason for entering bankruptcy. Though the laws have changed recently, these leases can either be rejected or settled. A vibrant, profitable operating company that is burdened by leases for discontinued operations can almost always be successfully reorganized.

Beyond that point, though, it is hard to make much of these claims.

We have a lot of trouble understanding what it means to say that “…competing with Wal-Mart for customers is very doable, except when it over-stores a market. He asserted that Wal-Mart’s long-term strategy has been to oversaturate markets with surplus retail capacity so that smaller companies will be driven out of the market.”

Obviously, if Wal-Mart, or any other competitor, limited its new store openings to those towns that were growing so fast that there was a genuine need for more retail space, then, yes, they would not “over-store” a town. But assuming that in most of the country nobody is starving due to a shortage of food retailing square footage, then every time anyone opens a new store — be it additional supermarkets, warehouse clubs or supercenters — the town will become “over-stored.”

Then what happens is consumers reshuffle their shopping, electing to choose those shopping venues they like best for all kinds of reasons — location, price, service, assortment, etc.

The venues unable to sustain themselves close up and, typically, become furniture stores or get subdivided into smaller stores or become ethnic markets or some other usage. This brings the square footage of food retailing space down and a new equilibrium is formed.

But this dynamic has nothing to do, particularly, with Wal-Mart. If a town can support only one conventional supermarket and a competitor opens a second supermarket across the street, the new competitor will have over-stored the market until one guy goes out or the market grows or the concepts change.

Basically this seems to be accusing Wal-Mart of having the audacity to think that, ultimately, consumers will value its offer enough to shop its stores. Remember Wal-Mart could open 100 stores and if nobody shopped at them, the “over-storing” would only be a problem for Wal-Mart.

The release goes on to say: “We pay wages that are 50 percent higher than Wal-Mart and make health care payments on 95% of our workers, more than double Wal-Mart’s commitment. It’s hard to remain profitable competing with a low-wage, non-union operator like that…”

This is sort of odd because it implies that the higher wages they claim to pay are a form of charity. Typically, when a company pays higher wages, they realize some benefit from doing so.For example, they may have less turnover. If so, then Wal-Mart’s seemingly cheaper wage may be no bargain because a higher percentage of its employee time is spent in training.

Or better wages may result in better long term retention, so Brown & Cole may have highly experienced employees, expert at doing their job, and Wal-Mart may have rank novices who mess everything up. Or perhaps the higher wages just attract higher IQ employees who are better problem-solvers and improvisers. Whatever the case, this argument is basically that the employees are burdens as opposed to an asset to the organization.

Yet the weirdest argument of all is this sort of grandiloquent statement: “…fixing our financial problems on the backs of our employees was never an option that we were willing to pursue.”

This is a chain that has already closed four stores out of 31 and announced that it expects to close four additional stores out of the remaining 27. So this is a chain that will have closed 8 out of 31 stores or over 25% of all its stores. And that is if everything works out as planned. It could get much worse.

This means that the people working in the closed stores get paid a lot less than they get paid at Wal-Mart. They get fired and are paid nothing.

Before they get so self-righteous about not “…fixing our financial problems on the backs of our employees…” maybe they should have asked the employees if they would rather have a lower paying job as opposed to no job at all?

One wonders if this isn’t all a smokescreen. The stores just weren’t doing enough business to make them viable.

You can read the whole press release here.

Viral Marketing: Advertising With A Twist

One of the things we are always doing here is looking for ways to advance the industry. Obviously we try to have the kind of content that will help move the industry forward, but this attitude also includes pushing industry marketing to the next level.

When we started PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine, a sister publication of the Pundit, we worked very hard to raise the marketing sophistication of the trade. It was common at the time for an ad to consist of little more than a contact name, a phone number and a line saying “shipping sweet corn from May to July.”

We spent a lot of time and money helping people do better, more sophisticated ads that would help their businesses grow.

Now with the Pundit, we’re helping people find new ways to market using the power of the Internet.

One type of marketing we are working with companies on is called Viral Marketing. The basic idea is to use the power of the Internet and people’s own relationships to get a message spread. This both decreases costs, because you need only get the message to certain key people, and increases effectiveness because people are likely to be more receptive to messages sent by friends, family, co-workers, bosses, etc., than they are going to be receptive to messages from perfect strangers.

A lot of this is focused on consumer marketing but it has application in the trade as well. If, for example, you want to get a message to all the buyers of perishable food at Wal-Mart, well, one of the most effective ways would be to focus on creating something that Bruce Peterson, Senior Vice President and General Merchandise Manager of Perishables at Wal-Mart, thinks is valuable enough that he wants to forward it to everyone. Or, a marketer might piggyback on valuable content produced by something like PerishablePundit.com. This is a kind of viral marketing that fades out once your target audience — in this case, Wal-Mart buyers — is reached.

Do the right job and you will probably get 100% readership by your target audience and a degree of attention that would be difficult to duplicate.

We love working on these kinds of efforts because the core in these efforts in the trade is great content. Our goal is to create something sufficiently insightful that people want to forward it to people they have influence with.


With consumers, a lot of the effort is funny jokes or videos, especially if you are targeting younger consumers.

Here are some examples:

Burger King lets you tell this subservient chicken exactly what you want it to do.

Heinz has had great success with this Ketchup Against Tomato Cruelty campaign

Folgers Coffee has a Tolerate Mornings campaign. Lower the shade and click on the TV for a video getting wide play.

And Carlton Draught has this very big ad about beer.

But marketers are just beginning to experiment with the potential. User-generated content is all the rage. The original Extreme Diet Coke & Mentos video has now been seen over six million times. You can see it right here. Just click on the button on the left next to the megaphone.

The transition is to a different type of marketing. Not only technologically but also in terms of goals.

Starbucks, for example, has developed its Cheer Pass Central, which is getting a lot of attention. The goal is to have people do good things for others during the holiday and then “Pay it Forward” to another person.

Starbucks will start it off, giving out free passes to movies, metrocards for the New York Subway and other freebees. They also give a numbered card and ask you to “Pay Forward” this kindness to another person and give them the card.

Everyone can go online and log in with the number and explain the act of kindness they gave or received. The idea is to see how long a “chain of cheer” can be sustained.

In theory you can be given a card in New York and watch it on the internet as it travels the whole world.

It is another kind of viral marketing and another way to use the Internet.

Which means this is probably as good a time for a commercial message as any. As we are in budgeting season, we hope you will consider the Pundit worthy of support in 2007. Please don’t hesitate to contact my associate, Ken Whitacre, right here to learn more about how we can help bring the influence of our content together with the reach of the Internet to make your marketing more effectuive.

New Arrival At Stemilt

For many years, there was a tradition that the trade would publish both wedding and birth announcements for children born into families active in the trade. Being born to the business, the birth of the Pundit was announced in several trade papers. The practice was discarded over the years as the industry became much larger and more scattered.

Yet technology, specifically the reduction in the cost of communications and the rise of the Internet, has created the possibility to revive the notion of the industry as a community.

When we started the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, it was still common for ads to feature two phone numbers, one with the letters LD next to the number.

LD stood for long distance, and it symbolized that this was a line that would be allowed to ring without being answered if a person of authority wasn’t in the office. In other words, long distance phone charges were significant enough that it was important to promise people you traded with that you wouldn’t waste their money by having a secretary or receptionist answer their “LD” phone call.

Nowadays, with communication so cheap and it being so easy to shoot off an e-mail without worry what time zone someone is in, the sense of closeness to others in the trade is coming back.

And if you care about people and the history of families in this business, what gives more joy than a wedding or the birth of a child? And what more helps businesses focus on the future than the fact that there is a new generation to build for?

So, we thought we would revive this tradition. Please let the Pundit know about weddings and births that you would like to see announced to the trade.

Our first birth announcement is to welcome to the industry and the world Jax Byron Mathison. Jax is the newborn son of West and Courtney Mathison. West is the President of Stemilt Growers. He is also a recipient of the PRODUCE BUSINESS 40 Under Forty Award.

Born October 30, 2006, at 12:25pm, Jax weighed in at 7 lbs, 9 ounces and measured 20 inches long.

Jax is the Great-Great-Great-Grandson of Thomas Cyle Mathison, who by 1914 began planting cherry, apple and pear orchards on land the family homesteaded on Stemilt Hill, overlooking Wenatchee, WA.

Jax is the Great-Grandson of Tom Mathison, Chairman of the Board of Stemilt Growers and a legend in the Washington State fruit business, who took a leadership role in the family business after his own father, Chris Mathison, died in 1947 in a tragic accident as he tried to save an irrigation reservoir from destruction during a winter flood.

Jax Byron Mathison with his Great-Grandfather Tom Mathison

In its modern iteration, Stemilt Growers was founded in 1964 with the vision of building a packing house and cold storage facility to serve growers on Stemilt Hill. Speaking at the ceremony on June 23, 2005, at which he became president, West said the following:

“There was a time when the fruit that was shipped by Stemilt Growers was strictly product from orchards on Stemilt Hill,” he said. “Against the recommendations of many people, my grandfather decided to pack for growers who didn’t grow fruit on the Hill. He bought 10 acres at Olds Station and built a state-of-the-art facility there,” he said, referring to Stemilt’s largest packing house located in Wenatchee’s Olds Station area that now serves hundreds of growers.

“My grandfather was continually looking ahead, saying, ‘What should we do next,’ always looking for the next opportunity. In 2002, we teamed up with Douglas Fruit in Pasco, and in January of 2003, we bought majority share of Chinchiolo Fruit (in Stockton). Recently, we’ve expanded our Chilean orchard operations.

“Change is a constant, and the people who succeed are those who change at a faster rate. Speed to market is one of the strongest competitive forces,” he said. “But even though change is constant, the mission statement of return to the land and the core values of Stemilt will not change.”

Jax is the grandson of Kyle Mathison, a grower and partner-owner of Stemilt Growers, well known for his ventures in cherries, blueberries and organic farming

The Pundit owes a special debt to West and Courtney, because when the Pundit’s father was ill West took the time to get his wife Courtney, who had worked at hospitals in both Texas and Washington state, on the phone to help determine the best place to go. It would have been a more difficult decision without their help.

Jax is a very lucky guy. We’ve never met Courtney but she is sharp and super nice on the phone. West is the kind of infectiously optimistic person everyone wants to be around. He has never signed off an e-mail without an optimistic blast such as “Onward” or “Make it a Great Day.”

And he takes his responsibilities seriously: West sold his custom chopper (motorcycle) in anticipation of the little guy’s arrival.

The Pundit extends congratulations to the family and best wishes for little Jax in the years to come.

Pundit’s Mailbag —
Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food
Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action

Here at the Pundit we’ve been doing a lot of work on the Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative. You can read here of the issues related to this important issue.

In response to our piece Buyer-led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment, we received a number of phone calls and this letter from a well-respected member of the shipper community:

Great article!

I agree with you and share your frustration about the hollow call to action. It is the buyer that can truly force change by committing to align its supply chain with like-minded suppliers. Take a look at Nogales — ground zero of lateral trading. It is amazing how many of the companies who signed on to the letter rely on brokers who have no control over or interest in the core elements of food safety.

Food safety is like flavor; to successfully deliver it you must have commitment and control in an aligned supply chain. The commitment required is to hold food safety (or flavor) as a core value. The control can only be asset-based. The parties involved must have control over the assets necessary to execute daily. These assets are obvious from the shipper standpoint, and from the buyer side it is control over the PO’s.

Very often we see good intentions at the VP level vaporize by the time the buyer goes to work.

Trade associations and governmental regulations are not structurally positioned to deliver the commitment or control to raise the bar. Many commodity promotion boards are well aware of the consumer challenge, and they speak to the trade and the consumer as a producer promising to deliver solutions. As a marketing order, however, these groups can influence standards but clearly cannot do what is necessary to solve the consumer challenge.

At best, they have the commitment and control to deliver like a coop… defined by the least capable member, in reality they operate at the lowest common denominator.

Even in industries where there were players who controlled the assets and worked at the commitment, they could not address the eating quality challenge without the retailer.

There must be an aligned supply chain to solve these challenges. When the end is clear and the relationship is right, higher quality (safer food) can be achieved and total costs can be lowered, but only if we get out of the bid-ask environment where these elements are not valued.

This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain). Markon and Sysco are so much farther along than the retailers in this regard when it comes to food safety. This is probably a result of the development of foodservice-tailored products and the broad use of private label.

The challenge is that the whole industry must truly address the call but it can happen and must be lead by the economic incentive of the buyer. Look at what the suppliers of the UK chains have accomplished in the area of food safety because they had to. The producers in Chile are so far ahead of their California counterparts as a result of having to meet the requirements to have access to the chains in the U.K.

These requirements have limited the number of “qualified suppliers,” which has limited the supply of “qualified product” that has driven the prices to the appropriate level given the demand. If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.

Thanks for your thoughtful insights.

The Pundit thanks our correspondent for taking the time to write. What an informative and insightful letter. Look at some of the key points being raised:

  1. The same flaws in our procurement systems that make it difficult for us to secure food safety also make it difficult to secure good flavor and probably many other good attributes.
  2. There is a disconnect between the VPs of Perishables/Fresh Foods, VP of Produce and other higher level executives and the actual procurement staff.
  3. Foodservice does a better job than retail on most items.
  4. Many foreign buyers, especially in the U.K., have higher standards than U.S. buyers. As a result, foreign shippers from markets, such as Chile and South Africa, that have to meet these international standards are ahead of U.S. shippers who do not have to meet the same standards.
  5. Marketing orders are not well positioned to be the instrument by which food safety standards are enforced as they tend to operate at the lowest common denominator.
  6. What growers and shippers need from buyers is not a committee to establish high standards; they need a commitment to align with vendors and not abandon them because someone is cheaper.

This is an incredibly valuable letter, and we are going to deal separately with each of theses six issues in the days to come.

Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative Recap

There is an ad-hoc group that started it all, the National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute has a conference planned. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.

As new developments, occur we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.

On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:

“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”

Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, which pointed out:

“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”

The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:

Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative

Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:

“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”

As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published, Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Efforton November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:

“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”

On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:

“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.

In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”

We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Groupand pointed out:

“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”

Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:

I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.

Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.

Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray, which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:

“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.

It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”

Botulism And Carrot Juice Summary XIX

We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.

We initiated our coverage on October 2, 2006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.

On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.

In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.

On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada, that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.

October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.

On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.

October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.

Spinach Crisis Summary Rewind XXIX

With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:

The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.

On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.

September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.

On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.

On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.

The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.

Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industryin which a panel of retail pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.

The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.

On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.

September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.

On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.

October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.

The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidence that both discussed the industry plan and proposed an alternative plan. Read about it here. Also on October 2, 2006, we did a piece called Collateral Damage vs. Assumption of the Risk, which analyzed some of the liability issues surrounding the outbreak. You can find the piece here. Additionally, on October 2, 2006, we published the second in our series of Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry. This one including insight from Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart, regarding reaction at retail as spinach outside California became available. Read it here.

On October 4, 2006, the Pundit ran a piece entitled In Defense of Salinas, in which, based on a discussion with a Salinas farmer, we outlined five points you need to understand about the relationship between the Salinas Valley and this outbreak. You can find it here. Also on October 4, 2006, we published Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You, which discussed the new food safety plan revealed by Natural Selection Foods and discussed the necessity of product testing. Read it here.

October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here.

We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.

Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.

October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.

On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.

Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.

October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends. You can find the piece here.

On October 19, 2006, the piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farmingexplores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. Read it here.

On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.

October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.

On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment.You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.

On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can read it right here.

November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiative, which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. Read it here.

November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Growerthat focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can read it here.

On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.

In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.

Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.

On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.

On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.

On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.

On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.

Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.

September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.

On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.

October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.

In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.

On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.

October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.

On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.

Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.

On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.

Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.

In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.

On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.

October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.

October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece right here.

On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach. You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it here.

November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.

Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. Find the piece right here.

On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it right here.

November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece here.

On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.

Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.

In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.

The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.

Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.

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