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

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Produce Business

Deli Business

American Food & Ag Exporter

Cheese Connoisseur

Decision To Fight “Price Gouging” Is A Decision To Prolong Misery 

As we get ready for The New York Produce Show and Conference, the City is pretty much back to normal, with the re-opening of the Brooklyn-Battery tunnel.  Though damage remains both to equipment that was below the waterline and beach houses in New Jersey and on Long Island, New York City has moved on, as great cities do, to celebrate the holidays. The tree is up at Rockefeller Center, and will be lit Wednesday.

Sadly, though, the recovery in the region is in spite of, not because of, many government policies.

Virtually as soon as Hurricane Sandy hit, the politicos moved to condemn and sometimes prosecute “profiteering “and “price gouging” as many articles explained. In New York for example:

Hit by a cascade of complaints from consumers, the New York Attorney General’s Office launched a probe on Monday into price gouging in the state in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

The complaints centered on gas-price hikes but also include reports of jacked-up prices on everything from emergency supplies like generators to higher hotel rates and loftier prices for food and water.

“Our office has zero tolerance for price gouging," NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "We are actively investigating hundreds of complaints we've received from consumers of businesses preying on victims of Hurricane Sandy, and will do everything we can to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of New Yorkers trying to rebuild their lives."

According to state law, merchants are not allowed to take unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services for an “unconscionably excessive price” during an “abnormal disruption of the market.” The law doesn’t spell out what constitutes unconscionably excessive, but Schneiderman said a before-and-after price analysis can be used as evidence of price gouging.

The legislation covers vendors, retailers and suppliers like supermarkets, gas stations, delis and taxi drivers.

And the reaction was similar in New Jersey:

We will not hesitate to impose the strictest penalties on profiteers who, in direct violation of our consumer protection laws, seek to capitalize on the misfortune of others in the midst of a crisis and recovery period,” Gov. Chris Christie said, issuing his second warning in as many days on the issue.

This bi-partisan condemnation of “price gouging” may be politically clever, but it is worth noting that it undeniably makes recovery more difficult and more miserable.

Profit opportunities, and high prices, function in three ways to ameliorate a shortage:

First, the opportunity to sell things at high prices motivates people outside the region to move product to the region. In other words, we never had a shortage of gasoline in Florida, but what incentive were they offering people in Pompano to stop selling fruit and work to secure a few truckloads of gasoline and get it up to New Jersey or Long island? If the gasoline has to be sold at normal retail — well, they could do that in Florida. It is the opportunity for a robust profit that motivates people to stop doing what they are doing and divert product to end the shortage.

Second, although many businesses for reputational reasons won’t want to raise prices, having a few independents that will can change the psychology of a situation. Once gas gets short and lines get long, people get petrified and panic at the thought of driving with less than half a tank. They don’t want to run out of gas. So they see a station – the line is “only” two hours — and they say I better top off.  Now if there is an independent in town who charges a crazy price — say $12 gallon, but is never closed, never has a line, etc. — the psychology changes. Now the consequence of not waiting on line is not running out of gas; it is overpaying for a few gallons so you can wait on line elsewhere. The mere availability of a constant supply would make a lot of gas available because people wouldn’t be so hysterical about driving around with an almost full tank.

Third, higher prices lead to less demand. If one needs generators, for example, if the generators are priced normally, one might buy quite a few — say four — to run almost everything in the house. If the price quadruples, one might just buy one to run absolute necessities for the duration of the crisis. This is a good thing because it frees up three generators for other families.

Same thing with hotels. When the Pundit family travels, we usually try and get two connecting rooms for our comfort. But if a room was normally, say $300, and in the crisis they raise the price to $600, we might economize and all share a room. This makes our other room available to another family.


Combine these three factors together and shortages ameliorate very quickly. So a decision to fight “price gouging” is a decision to prolong misery.

The Pundit Momma used to caution us against “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Yet this seems to be the approach that politicians believe is going to win the next election for them.

Get An Inside Look At The New Philadelphia Produce Wholesale Market By Taking A Tour During The New York Produce Show And Conference

Ever since the founding of The New York Produce Show and Conference, we have had a tour bus head down to Philadelphia on the day after the trade show. Our friends at Wegmans have always been kind enough to let us stop in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey store and to treat us to lunch at their bountiful foodservice offering.

Then the bus has headed down to see the brand new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, the newest design in the country. Our inaugural year, the market was not yet open for business, so attendees got a sneak preview of what was soon to come. We highlighted that tour in a piece titled, Tour To New Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market Offers A Glimpse Into The Future Of Produce Wholesaling In America.

By Year Two of The New York Produce Show and Conference, the market was open for business, and we profiled that experience with a piece we titled, Not Your Father's Wholesale Market... The New Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market Wants The World To Know..."We Are Open For Business."

This year, The New York Produce Show and Conference is offering an expanded tour option: There are six tours in total:

1) To the Hunts Point market, the largest wholesale market in the country,
2) To a hot selection of Manhattan retailers,
3) A visit to the powerhouse New Jersey retail community,
4) A visit to the unique facility of Baldor, which includes a tour of their test kitchens, fresh-cut processing facility and more,
5) A unique tour of Brooklyn retailing combined with some examples of New York’s urban agriculture operations and, once again,

6) Our visit to Wegmans and the Philadelphia Market.

We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out what is new and exciting down in Philadelphia:

John Vena
Board of Directors of PWPM
Chairman of Marketing Committee
President of John Vena, Inc.

Q: Do you view the Philadelphia Market as a model for the future of terminal markets? In what ways?

A: Absolutely, there are certain required features if you intend to preserve the cold chain and to keep cleaning and maintenance manageable, but I am sure that facilities built in the future will improve on our design. The best advice that we can give is this: Get involved in the design from the first day of discussions and stay involved until the building is completed. The best investment in a project like ours is in a staff of “owner’s reps” to insure that all the details are managed.

Q: Since the market has been operating, what are some of the biggest accomplishments, surprises, issues that have arisen?

A: The biggest surprise most of us have had is the increase in the shelf life of our product and the increase in efficiency when loading and unloading product. An unfortunate occurrence has been the closing of two of our merchants, leaving some unoccupied units.

Q: How important is the Market to supplying the region? What is your reach?

A: Our market is a major supplier to both foodservice and retail customers within a large radius. We serve customers from upstate New York to Virginia and west to Ohio every day. A big part of our customer base consists of various wholesalers and distributors with an even wider reach daily.

Q: How has your customer base changed? Have you expanded the range of customers, the number of customers, the amount of business with established customers, etc.?

A: We have made a concentrated effort to better serve existing customers and to rebuild our customer base within the metropolitan Philadelphia area. Tad Thompson, our Business Development Director, has been working on ways to reconnect our market to areas in the region that have been classified as food deserts. This means working closely with a variety of non-profit organizations and government agencies that are developing programs to kindle local entrepreneurship and create new outlets for fresh produce in underserved communities.

Q: Are there unique attributes and variables that might make it difficult to duplicate the Philadelphia Market elsewhere?

A: The most unusual aspect of our development was the “buy in” from all our merchants. We spent many hours in lively discussion, but everyone agreed that our course of action was the right one.

Another key to the successful completion of our project was the unflagging determination of our CEO, Sonny DiCrecchio. There were times when he literally carried the project on his shoulders to keep things moving forward. However, without the support of The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania — specifically our landlord, The Philadelphia Regional Port Authority lead by Jamie McDermott — we would never have made it to Essington Ave.

Q: What advice can you offer to other terminal market operators that want to improve their operations based on what you’ve learned through the process?

A: The most important thing to consider is to continually reinvest in facilities… the future depends on it. However, be sure that those improvements are well thought out and well funded.

Q: Could you describe competition in the area and what impact the Philadelphia Market has had on penetrating that competition?

A: I think the heaviest competition we will face in the future won’t come from the people and businesses that we struggle with today. There are some fundamental changes occurring in the way all business is done in this country, particularly the food business, and we have to prepare ourselves.

Q: Could you describe the scope of companies in the Philadelphia Market. Do you see that changing in the future? Are companies at the Market also operating elsewhere? How is capacity for storage, distribution, etc.?

A: We will see a change in the makeup and the lineup of players in our market. One of our newest merchants, Philly Produce, is a division of a very large wholesale distributor based in northern New Jersey. Colonial Produce, composed of some of the younger generation of salespeople on the market, opened its doors earlier this month. This is an interesting development, because it highlights the fact younger people who are familiar with the challenges that we face are not afraid to throw their hats in the ring.

Q: You say that you now have open units and offices for the first time. Could you elaborate on this? What companies could benefit most by capitalizing on the availability?

A: At the end of last year, Al Finer Co. and Klayman Produce both closed their doors. Finer closed without finding a successor to either take over the business or the three units it was committed to lease. We are actively seeking a tenant or tenants for those units, and this is a terrific opportunity for a new or existing business. In addition, the design of our building contains a supply of office space that is open to any related business. Currently we have a variety of tenants including buying brokers, an IT provider, transportation companies and an HR consultant. Our location is excellent, convenient to highways and the airport.

Q: On a personal note, what inspired you to become so involved with bringing this Market to fruition?

A: I have always believed that a healthy, modern facility was crucial to future success in our industry and was a key component in the success of my company. I am very committed to the concept of terminal markets as a viable part of the supply chain, at least in an area as densely developed and populated as our region.


All the tours offered at The New York Produce Show are incredible learning experiences, and this one offers a one/two punch — an opportunity to visit the one retailer, Wegmans, that foreign retailers most want to see when they visit America, and the most modern wholesale market in the country.

In fact when Dr. Johan Van Deventer traveled from South Africa to join our very first “Thought Leaders” panel, a journey we chronicled here, he was so impressed he submitted a report to the Government of South Africa urging them to pay attention to this model.

The whole future of terminal markets is yet to be determined. There is no question that this new facility is dramatically better in every way than the old facility — it keeps the product better, it keeps it safer, it is more efficient, a dramatic winner — except it is also a lot more expensive than continuing in an old warehouse long-since paid for.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the new market attracted dramatically more business, but it is not clear if that will happen. In theory, a high quality market might lead big chains — both retail and foodservice — to buy more from a market. After all, there are significant benefits to buying off the market, most notably that retailers can order less direct, which is the same thing as saying the retailer takes less risk. In all likelihood, it also means the consumer will have fresher product.

Still, this is a big switch for chains, and they are so focused on buying direct and leveraging volume to get better prices that it is not obvious that any improvement in facilities will lead them to buy much more from terminal market wholesalers.

If, however, one thinks of a terminal market as a distribution center for independents, then the fact that the facility can do a better job, give the customer more shelf life, etc., means that those independents may do better than they would have without a market. Over time, they may grow and that may be the way a better market winds up producing extra business. But that can take a long time.

In any case, if you haven’t seen the new Philly market, you are not fully up to date on the produce scene in the United States, so consider this as the option for your tour.

For those traveling out right after, we always arrange for special limos to take attendees directly from the market to either the Philadelphia Airport or to the Amtrak station nearby. If you would like to take advantage of this complimentary limo service, just let us know here.

If you haven’t registered for the show yet, you can sign up for the show and all the tours right here.

If you have already registered and would like to add a tour, you can simply e-mail us here.

Hotel reservations can be gotten here.

Lots of travel discounts have been negotiated here.

And there are still opportunities for a few last minute exhibitors and sponsors. Just let us know of your interest right here.

Well, it is The New York Produce Show and Conference, but Ronald Reagan when shot was asked by a nurse how he was feeling. He paraphrased W.C. Fields, who proposed that his epitaph should read, “On the whole, I would rather be in Philadelphia,” by saying “All in all, I would rather be in Philadelphia.”

Which is pretty much the exact feeling that the Philadelphia tour attendees expressed the past two years.

Come join us on December 6th, 2012.

Many thanks to John Vena for updating us on things in Philadelphia. 

A Global Produce Industry Perspective Part I

Sun World, Tali Grapes And Marks and Spencer Explore A Globally Aligned Supply Chain At The Global Trade Symposium During The New York Produce Show And Conference

Success in the 21st century depends not only on what an individual company does but, crucially, on how a company interacts with other members of the supply chain. Delighting consumers, ensuring food safety, having sustainable values that inform the development, growth and marketing of a given product and, of course, knowing that traceability is intrinsic in the supply chain all depends on a variety of players who handle their jobs with integrity and support other members of the supply chain.

Success in the 21st century also depends on utilizing modern technology to transform our businesses.

Finally, success in the 21st century depends on innovation — on doing what others have not yet done.

One of our goals at the Global Trade Symposium, the “Ideation Fresh” Foodservice Forum and The New York Produce Show And Conference is to help attendees position themselves for success by reorienting their businesses to capitalize on modern technology, by helping them to see how alliances across the supply chain can be crucial to succeeding and by exposing them to new ideas and new people who can serve as a font for innovation — all these things serve as a kind of toolbox for success in this highly competitive world.

David Marguleas, Executive Vice President at Sun World, has lived his career at the locus of these trends — high-tech breeding programs, proprietary varieties, brand-building, global outreach and more — so when he offered to put together a panel that would provide a kind of case study as to how to do business effectively on a global scale, utilizing modern tools, we leapt at the opportunity.

We asked Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor Mira Slott to find out more:

David Marguleas
Executive Vice President
Sun World International
Bakersfield, California

Q: It is great news that you will be leading a panel at this year’s Global Trade Symposium, co-located with The New York Produce Show and Conference. You will be sharing the stage with Dudu Ivri, Chief Executive Officer of Tali Grapes in Moshav Lachish, Israel, and Zeina Orfali, Buying Manager-Fruit at Marks & Spencer, headquartered in London, UK.

Are you working on a collective venture? What is the genesis that brings you together at this international forum?

A: Describing how the relationships between Sun World, Tali Grapes and Marks and Spencer came to be represents a jumping off point for a much broader panel discussion, which we’ve agreed to title, “Innovation As A Business Driver: A Global Produce Industry Perspective.”

I wanted to help create a panel furthering the enlightening discussion that arose at last year’s Global Trade Symposium exploring the complexities and successes of a program built on a globally aligned supply chain. [Editor’s note: you can read more about that panel session here]

Q: In that context, could you provide a preview from Sun World’s perspective…

A: Just as a starting point, Sun World’s main business is farming, packing and marketing table grapes and a number of other products. We develop new table grape varieties, which we plant and farm on our own vineyards in California. Then we sell and market those grapes under different brands to U.S. retailers and export clients around the world.

Q: Isn’t Sun World rooted in a rich family history going back generations?

A: My family was one of the founders in the mid-1970s. Prior to that, my grandfather ran a produce distribution system in the business, so I’m a third-generation member in the produce industry. My family is no longer involved in Sun World, but the business is similar to how it started out. It is owned by a private equity company on the East Coast of the U.S., as part of a business model to innovate and offer customers ground-breaking products.

Q: In a commodity-heavy, non-branded business, did Sun World take this avenue to separate itself from the fray? What strategies need to be employed to balance the risks of developing a steady stream of both atypical and saleable products in the produce industry?

A: Sun World started a breeding program in the 1980s and 1990s, which launched seedless watermelons, seedless grape varieties, the DiVine Ripe tomato, sweet-colored peppers, a line of specialty stone fruit with unique flavor profiles, fresh market apricots, and peach, nectarine and plum varieties with distinctive flavor profiles as well.

All these examples were an effort to differentiate Sun World and its customers and to offer consumers something unique.

Q: What are the proprietary components of such endeavors?

A: We set out 15 years ago to share unique varietal development with other growers and marketers around the world. This lead to development of a robust licensing business in the mid to late 1990s, where by we send our table grape and stone fruit varieties to growers in South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, throughout the Mediterranean countries, Brazil and Mexico, etc. So growers in those 10 or 11 countries produce Sun World varieties and are also licensed to use brand trademarks to market those fruits.

The process involves forming multiple partnerships. For example, we work with Capespan and Dole in the grape region of South Africa. Those are exporters that are traditional marketers of a number of fresh fruit types, and they are licensed to market Sun World varieties that are grown in South Africa and exported to the United Kingdom and other markets around the world.

For the Global Trade Symposium panel, I reached out to one of the retailers particularly innovative and supportive of introducing new fruit varieties in the UK, and that is Marks and Spencer, and one of our more aggressive and innovative licensees, Tali Grapes from Israel. Tali Grapes grows Sun World grape varieties in Israel and also happens to sell a number of varieties to Marks and Spencer, as do we in California and as do other licensees in other countries as I mentioned.

We’ve done the same with Wal-Mart, Dairy Farm, Carrefour, Safeway and Kroger, among others, working to make sure they have access to our unique varieties from both the northern and southern hemispheres and from countries that are both able to grow quality fruit and are located in a geographically favorable location to supply when needed.

So I identified a couple of grape varieties that we market under specific brands, which we grow in California, and Marks and Spencer has championed as top varieties. A black seedless grape, called Sable Seedless, has a very unusual tropical profile and is grown in the southern hemisphere December through April, the northern hemisphere the first of June through September, and in Brazil October and November -- almost year round.

Q: Is year-round availability an important component? And how challenging is it to provide consistent product and manage your extensive network?

A: This is an integral part of our strategy, not only to offer unique varieties for retailers, but also the ability to source on a year-round consistent basis; growers having the same common specifications and marketers bringing fruit to market under common brand names.

Another brand featured at Marks and Spencer is Scarlotta Seedless, a late-ripening red seedless grape, with a beautiful flavor profile, and high brix with high natural sugar levels. This impressive berry and bunch size is currently being featured at Marks and Spencer from Israel. It is a good example of innovations Sun World brought to commercial industry.

Q: Would you categorize Sun World as a pioneer in this respect? Do you face heady competition? How common are companies with missions like yours?

A: Companies like ours are becoming more common, but we’ve been breeding seedless grape varieties for 20 years.

There are certainly other efforts to introduce new varieties and there are exceptional grape and other fruit varieties that others have produced. The concept of sharing these varieties with others is a serious commitment for us.

We reasoned for us to produce two to three months a year gives us a competitive advantage in California but to take our business to the next level, we need to ensure product is available on a year-round basis, produced by leading growers and sold to leading marketers on different continents.

Q: Where are you in reaching this goal?

A: Now you can find our products about 10 months a year, in some 40 licensed markets in six continents. This global licensing platform has changed the way grapes are grown and marketed and certainly the availably for progressive retailers around the globe.

Q: Could you tell us more about the panel platform?

A: Joining me are Zeina Orfali, buying manager-fruit at Marks and Spencer in the UK, and Dudu Iviri, CEO at Tali Grapes in Israel. Dudu will talk about how he has produced innovation from an export perspective in a fairly non-traditional part of the world where table grapes are grown and marketed.

Marks and Spencer is one of the more innovative supermarket companies, known for introducing unusual, high flavor varieties. Zeina will share the approach as a retailer in bringing these varieties to consumers.

Q: How vital are these varieties in boosting overall sales in the produce department? Are these generally specialty in nature that appeal to targeted niche markets? What is the range?

A: Hopefully, these are enhanced and improved versions of varieties. They are not niche items in the case of the black grape variety Midnight Beauty. We have another variety, Sophia Seedless, sold under the Sophia brand, a green seedless grape with Muscat flavor particularly appreciated on the continent of Europe. Italia is a seeded grape with Muscat flavor and aroma, and we introduced the seedless version.

The flavor traits and other characteristics of these varieties are the easy part. The real challenge is taking varieties grown in California and adapting them to other growing environments and regions.

Q: How complex is the process and how long does it take from seed development to retail shelf?

A: We have a full team of tech advisors who develop practices to insure the same taste, flavor and texture. It’s an incredibly long-term and expensive process that takes about 10 years; from a grape variety with one trait we find desirable and another variety of a certain color characteristic or size, resulting in crosses of hundreds of offspring. We cross tens of thousands of seedless options and produce tens of thousands of offsprings, and then we identify a few varieties from there…

Q: A lot can change in 10 years…Doesn’t this require great consumer trend forecasting, as well as a leap of faith?

A: We have to have a bit of a crystal ball and imagination of what consumers will like in 10 years. It takes five to seven additional years to introduce a new variety to other countries, with the phytosanitary issues and other trading and logistics hurdles that may exist. So a variety a grape grower in Chile might see on one of our experimental farms in 2012 won’t make it to Chile for production for many, many years.

Q: So a company bent on the idea of entering this field will require more than an entrepreneurial spirit as Sun World continues to build on its international stronghold with its well-established expertise...

A: Fortunately, we got started in this work many years ago, so varieties we developed 10 years ago are being produced now in many countries around the world. There are sizable risks to entry, complexities and uncertainly as to a lot of costs.

Q: Could you provide a better understanding of the financial investments required?

A: We’ve spent many tens of millions of dollars developing fruit varieties for our customers, retailers and consumers around the world. Our aim is to provide consumers with better tasting table grapes. There is all of this work to develop new varieties and distribute around the world and assign brand names that resonate with consumers, but at the end of the day, if the flavor and quality profiles don’t meet consumer desires, we haven’t accomplished anything.

Q: With such widespread distribution, are there issues with protecting your property rights? Do you find many instances of copycats or counterfeiting?

A: We have plant patents and trademarks. You could copy one of our patents, but you would have to appropriate plant material. In today’s world, growers have a healthy respect for rights. We’re seeing less and less infringement and more embracing of intellectual property and the novel traits these varieties bring to the marketplace.

Q: How important is the marketing aspect?

A: It’s critical. Several steps back from marketing phases, we have to understand what consumers like today and make judgments on what they will like a decade from now.

We do extensive research and consumer focus group work, and a good deal of retail evaluation with U.S. and British supermarkets in particular to get feedback. We collect weekly evaluations of varieties in California and send those to retailers in other countries, and we take their feedback and use that to help guide our priorities in channeling new varieties. We work closely, for instance, with Marks and Spencer to identify characteristics and traits.

The real heavy lifting comes after we develop the varieties identified with traits for customers in the U.S. and Europe and Asia… designate brand names and seek protection. Then we deal with the tough reality of introducing the products to retailers and the marketing, packaging and promotions to help with the launch. We provide graphics, photography, and marketing materials so we can have similar, consecutive launches of products.

Q: Aren’t there different cultural nuances that necessitate adaptation in marketing concepts and promotional campaigns? For instance, in the case of the Cotton Candy grape program, the variety was appropriately named for its uncanny flavor similarity to the kid-friendly, sugary carnival or circus treat in the U.S. However, it turned out that British consumers wouldn’t be familiar with the term Cotton Candy because their equivalent product is called Candy Floss. To accommodate, Cotton Candy grapes were marketed in the UK as Candy Floss-flavored.

A: There are definitely cultural distinctions to consider. We rely on our international partners and marketers for introductions as they are a lot more sensitive to cultural differences than we might be on the West Coast of the U.S.

Tali Grapes has a very keen understanding of Israeli consumers. Dudu Ivri knows what consumers are looking for in grape varieties and what marketing efforts will work. We provide the tools and then Tali Grapes customizes its programs.

Q: Where do you consider the biggest areas of growth going forward?

A: Certain varieties have more potential depending on what part of the world. We have a tremendous presence in South Africa where growers have embraced innovation and work extensively in planting our varieties. We see strong growth in countries like Chile, Brazil and Australia. We already have numerous licenses in Australia and are introducing brands throughout the Far East. And then, of course, we are planting a number of grape and stone fruit varieties in our own farms in California.



This is just the first of three pieces we will be publishing on this important panel. Look forward to interviews with Dudu Ivri and Zeina Orfali in the days to come.

And make sure you come to the Global Trade Symposium at The New York Produce Show and Conference so you can be a part of this intriguing and business-building workshop.

You can register for the Global Trade Symposium and the broader New York Produce Show and Conference right here.

Don’t forget to sign up for a tour right here.

The hotel block at the Sheraton New York and the Manhattan Times Square Hotel is sold out, but we can still get you a discounted room or special amenity. If you need help just e-mail us here.

Travel discounts are here.

And remember, we wrote earlier about the Spouse/Companion Program. You can register at this link.

Plus we still have a few opportunities to exhibit or sponsor an event. Let us know your interest here.

Come to New York, where the whole industry will be Celebrating Fresh!

Pundit’s Mailbag — United Fresh And Others Weigh In On Booth Babes

When there is great interest in seemingly small matters, it is often a sign that something larger is at stake. So it may be with our discussion of “booth babes.”

We’ve run three pieces in this conversation so far:

1) Pundit’s Mailbag — Booth Babes And The Disconnect With PMA’s Position On Women’s Careers

2) Pundit’s Mailbag — Nothing Wrong With Booth Babes!

3) Pundit’s Mailbag — “Booth Babes”, Professionalism and Hypocrisy: What Should PMA’s Policy Be?

They continue to bring interesting responses. Some question the practicality of any “solution” and even whether the end result would be what those focused on the subject are looking for:

By all means, a dress code for all booth workers at agricultural trade shows. I would like to see how the wording of such regulations would read!

Such regulations surely would not offend the sensibilities of produce professionals, and women who might be offended by the presence of “booth babes” would be saved the trouble of actually speaking up in protest to the offending vendors.

I suppose this means that industry fixtures like the National Watermelon Queen will no longer be welcomed at PMA functions.

Doug Stoiber
Vice President, Produce Transportation Operations
L&M Transportation Services, Inc.
Raleigh, North Carolina

Though no less a luminary than the CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association points out that United already requires professional dress at the United event:

Just reading your recent discussion on booth personnel: Thought you’d be interested in United’s policy on this. We include the following clause in our exhibitor contract.

29. EXHIBITOR DISCUSSIONS; COSTUMES; PROMOTION: Exhibitor's representatives may conduct discussions, answer questions, explain their products or services, or engage in sales or order taking, but such activities shall not be conducted in any manner, which is inconsistent with, or derogates from, the Principal Purpose of the Exhibition. Exhibitor shall cease any activity determined to be inconsistent with the Principal Purpose of Exhibition immediately upon notification by Management to do so. Exhibitor shall not engage in any activities in the aisles or in booths other than its own. No signs shall be displayed nor shall public announcements be made concerning sales, prices or conditions of sale. Exhibitor's representatives wearing distinctive costumes, or carrying banners or signs separately or as part of their apparel must remain in their own booths. Booth representatives may not wear clothing that Management deems scanty or excessively revealing.

We welcome attractive men and women working in trade show booths; whether serving food, handing out materials, etc. The key is good taste in attire that is suited to the professional occasion. We’ll be reminding our exhibitors in San Diego this May of these standards.

— Tom Stenzel
President and CEO
United Fresh Produce Association
Washington, DC

Of course, the very question is what is “good taste in attire that is suited to the professional occasion”? The issue was raised in the context of Daisy Duke-type lookalikes for Texas Town — call it the Texas version of aboriginal dances. Does that constitute clothing that is “scanty or excessively revealing”? Who knows?

Others question whether this isn’t all a kind of ethnocentrism emphasizing America’s puritanical history. They point out that other cultures are not as concerned about these issues:

Let me get this straight. The grape shipper that has the “Pretty Lady” label can have all kinds of Pretty Lady promotional materials, and he’s OK. He just cannot have an actual pretty lady at his booth in Anaheim.

Meanwhile, over at Fruit Logistica, one of the online European publications takes pictures and then has its readers voting on the favorite booth attendants from last year. The winners make the 2013 calendar to be given out at the show in February. Lots of pretty ladies in Berlin.

— John Pandol
Vice President Special Projects
Pandol Bros.
Delano, California

Still others think the very question is a distraction from Job #1:

I recently received your newsletter and this one struck a chord with me.

The idea that you need a "Booth Babe" to promote yourself is probably the lowest you can go without being an outright bad shipper. Bad shipper covers a lot of areas. We all know who is and who isn't. We may not always agree, but the general perception is out there about who you go to and who you don't.

Can't a salesman do the selling anymore? Does the salesman know his own product? Does the salesman know more about the industry than his product? Does the salesman have to say bad things about other shippers to be noticed? 

It's hard work and it is the integrity of the salesmen who take responsibility for their actions that customers respond to, not a good looking girl. I feel that if you have to do that, take your favorite customers after the show and treat them at a strip club. There's really no place for this in this industry.

If some think that it will give them a leg up on their competitors, then they are not doing a good enough job at what they are supposed to do. Service a customer. Look up the word “service” in Webster's and you will understand. It's almost your duty. It's mine. Anyone can call me at any time and I will do the same. Service.

Michael deRensis
Fresh Veg Distributing
Spartanburg, South Carolina

And our vituperative correspondent is back for more:

I see my defense of personal freedom of expression has brought a few naysayers.

Yes, I have a wife and two daughters and a female secretary, but they do not get uptight about these things.

I see I am blacklisted from selling certain companies now. That also is their choice. I don't tell them what they should do; maybe you do.

Maybe there are some people out there who do believe in these freedoms other than me.

The two girls in question were showing no cleavage (can't say that about a lot of women there), and their butts were not hanging out of their shorts.

They did have on makeup. I guess that's OK. Why do most women wear makeup anyway? What is the purpose of it?

There are some feminist women who are appalled that women wear makeup.

Those girls were going to look good in anything they wear. So I am unsure what new rules or regulations you would like to see the PMA institute. 

As to the women who were/are so offend by this: The models were never intended or implied to demean anybody. That was not their purpose there.

I never look at the produce or any other business professional women as underclass or to not be taken seriously. You make the same decisions as we do everyday.

It is a shame you are "mortified" at seeing models at a produce trade show, a professional’s self-confidence should easily overcome seeing something like that.

I would not be mortified, insulted, or demeaned if I saw Chippendale men handing out products at your booth.

I was on a flight this weekend, and I couldn't help but notice the number of ads in the plane magazines that showed beautiful women showing a great deal of skin in what one could easily say was a provocative, sexy, and a flirtatious pose pitching whatever it was they were selling. Do you boycott all these products also or do the same retailers listed not carry them?? I always thought the term for it was "Marketing".

Back in the 60's & 70's, women in parts of the middle east could wear bikinis or whatever they wanted to the beach. Then there were some naysayers who were offended.....

I hope you had a Happy Thanksgiving and didn’t  get uptight if the turkey was not "dressed" just the way you like it. We all need to be more Thankful that we live in this country.

—Ward Thomas
Majestic Produce
McAllen, Texas

Mr. Thomas seems to think this is a free-speech matter, but he is incorrect. PMA is a private organization, and it can impose any dress standards it would like — requiring a suit and tie or banning bikinis.

Now if someone started saying that there “ought to be a law,” then censorship issues would come into play.

This discussion brings up many issues:

First — Why do they do it?

It is easy to say that sex sells and that people do these things to attract buyers. We have our doubts. The problem is that the downside is so great — one offended buyer at a big chain — that it is hard to make a case for this as a sales-driven strategy.

We suspect that in many cases, this is self-referential marketing. We used to visit a printer in rural Wisconsin and get up before dawn to go do press checks. When we would turn on the TV before dawn, we often saw commercials promoting dairy consumption.

Was this effective marketing to consumers? We doubt it. But the dairy farmers were up at that hour in rural Wisconsin and they probably liked seeing the commercials — although their interests should have led them to be outraged their money was being spent on such advertising.

The particular picture Dan’l Mackey Almy used to illustrate her post on this issue was taken at Texas Town at PMA.

What buyers will enjoy and value is difficult to assess. But it might be quite easy to see what the shippers will enjoy.

Maybe the whole issue is really about effective marketing and a misguided focus not on the buyer, but on oneself.

Second —You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The industry has major outreach going on to college students. One wonders what a 20-year-old upcoming professional female thinks of the industry when she walks the floor and sees these types of displays. Maybe she thinks the industry isn’t for her. That is a high price for the industry to pay.

Third — What is the response of professional executives to the “booth babes”?

Female executives in the industry know very well how to mentor a younger colleague, and if they saw her wearing excessively revealing clothes they would counsel her to be professional, to sell her mind, her tenacity, not her physical attributes.

It is not so clear to us that the same female executives would have much to say to the “Daisy Duke” women in the photo. These women are trying to make a living; they may not be interested in the long-haul of professional development and reputation-building.


Somewhere in this contretemps is a societal struggle for how men and women get along and how different classes of women get along.

Although executive women clearly want a professional environment, it is not at all clear that they want men in their personal lives to be just as horrified at the unprofessional nature of sexually suggestive women on the floor. And, of course, most men on the floor are, or will be, in some woman’s personal life.

It is also clear that executive women want to mentor and further the careers of younger professional women, but how this professional class will get along with women who have different values and priorities is not very clear.


What is clear, as we reflected when we sat down to Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend, is that one of the most wonderful things about this country is that we are forever striving to create a more perfect union. There is no particular answer, but the process goes on.

Many thanks to Doug Stoiber, Tom Stenzel, John Pandol, Michael deRensis and Ward Thomas. We hope that everyone found something to be thankful for during Thanksgiving dinner.

Pundit’s Mailbag – The Hypocrisy Of Proposition 37, What The Industry Should Do And The Trouble With Statewide Initiatives 

We’ve run a series pieces on GMOs, including most recently, DECISIONS FOR ELECTION DAY: From California’s Proposition 37 (GMO Labeling) To The Presidential Election Coming Down To Maine’s Potato Growers, and Prop 37, GMO’s, Labeling And the Nature Of Rights.

These pieces brought a range of responses. Some, such as this note, focused on the issue of self-proclaimed “rights” and the reality that most of the world’s population does not have the luxury to view this issue from the perspective of upper-class residents of highly developed nations:

Thanks for pointing out the false logic of the "rights" crowd. The dishonesty on both sides of the Proposition 37 debate was something to behold even in a state where mendacity among the political class is rampant. 

As people here drive their SUVs from the farmer's market to Whole Foods, spending more on a basket of groceries than most of the world's poor spend on food in a year, they are oblivious to the countless lives in the developing countries saved by GMO staples. 

Their ignorance is shocking and the hypocrisy appalling. 

— Steve Allen
Chairman of Screening Committee
Nutrition Capital Network
San Diego, California

While an up-and-comer, who we first met at last year’s edition of The New York Produce Show and Conference, and who now is a contributing editor at Pundit sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, felt the industry still has work to do:

I fully agree with the criticisms of Proposition 37 expressed in your piece titled, Prop 37, GMOs, Labeling And The Nature Of Rights, but looking forward, I feel that the industry must do a better job to recapture consumer trust.

One of the few accurate points the “Pro”-37 camp makes is that the food industry failed to win a vocal consumer base anywhere near commensurate with the amount of money poured into the “No” on 37 campaign. Despite commanding only about 15% of total campaign funding, “Yes” on Proposition 37 won 47% of the vote.

Given their resources, the proponents of Prop 37 did a far better job of leveraging the holy grail of marketing: word of mouth. Much to the delight of Pro-37 backers and lawyers, their flawed messaging was eagerly parroted in the name of consumer safety and environmentalism, among other causes.

Earlier this year, I saw former Stonyfield CEO Gary Hershberg present at a Columbia University seminar. Unfortunately, he gave New Yorkers a mostly awful impression of agriculture, and they probably didn't fact-check with their neighborhood agronomist the next day.

Attendees came in search of perspective and information on sustainable agriculture; they trusted Columbia, their colleagues, "expert" bloggers, and a credentialed industry veteran who charismatically shared tales of Agent Orange corn and super-weeds hardy enough to stall a combine. His stories were highly memorable, but he did a very poor job of explaining how rational people of goodwill could disagree with him.

Apart from writing, I'll be working in malls through the holiday season, managing a team of product specialists who educate consumers about Microsoft's new phones. The value of such experiential marketing is hinged on the principle that a rich interaction with another human being can trump the influence of any ad in the middle of your favorite TV show. 

Granted, the potential volume of impressions we can make in the mall is nowhere near the reach of ads and social media, but the depth and memorability of our interactions can't be matched. By year's end, many consumers will still want iPhones – though relatively few will be able to articulate precisely why – but thanks to my team, a lot will buy Windows Phones and boast the features to their friends and family.

Citing specs on individual phone components is somewhat analogous to discussing pesticides and biotechnology in the sense that a lot of consumers don't care — they simply want a high quality product. For the ultra-critical tech geek or the influential electronics reviewer, all of the specs can be found on manufacturers' websites, yet I can readily name few consumer-oriented industry resources that provide sufficient information on how and why pesticides and biotechnology are used.

The consumers who seemingly obsess over this information and sometimes decry the ag industry aren't all zombified sheep. Many are highly educated and inquisitive, but scientifically semiliterate. That is, they don't fully understand the frameworks for investigating these issues (e.g., relative toxicity, application rate, residue levels, sample size, etc., in the case of chemicals) and carelessly accept flawed insight as truth. We know that as a result, they sometimes perpetuate misinformation like a nightmarish game of Telephone.

With this in mind, investing in reactive campaigns may not be the most sustainable strategy for the industry to recapture food-fervor and counter the viral misrepresentation of “conventional” agriculture; as it pertains to produce industry PR, social media seems more a pulse monitor than a miracle pill.

No channel for education should be left untapped, but the industry should diversify its approach for bridging the ag-consumer disconnect to include more calculated high-level interaction, especially targeting grassroots influencers. Among others, Dr. Steve Savage does an exceptional job of demonstrating how possible it is to address contentious ag issues with accessible language. 

However valid, promising safety and harping on the consumer impacts of misguided legislation — apparent key strategies of the “No” On 37 crowd — are no substitute for education. With the absence of more substantial public dialogue, I fear that the industry allows groups like California Right to Know and EWG to maintain too much credibility as noble stewards of consumer information. In the so-called Information Age, platitudes shouldn't be expected to win consumer mind-share indefinitely. 

As a young guy, I've yet to find another industry with more collective passion. I assume most readers would agree that unfiltered stories of food can be at least as emotionally compelling as activist propaganda, yet these stories remain under-shared. Of course, some people will never adjust their views, but it's within reason to expect that many who are slightly skeptical or indifferent can be brought to trust and appreciate agriculture more if they're equipped with the right knowledge.

— Michael Femia
Contributing Editor
Brooklyn, New York

Both Steve Allen and Michael Femia’s letters deal with a significant problem — a kind of categorical illiteracy that makes the population vulnerable to bad decision-making. In the case of “rights,” most people haven’t reflected on the nature of rights nor have they read or been instructed on the subject. Equally the science of GMOs is a mystery to most.

As Michael points out, education and marketing are surely useful tools in enhancing literacy on GMOs.

Still, it seems unlikely that the food industry can make up the gaps in the moral and scientific education of the populous.

Although a baseline of funds may be necessary to be credible, there is no absolute relationship between spending money and success in politics. Ask Linda McMahon, who just failed in her second run for the senate in Connecticut, despite spending $50 million the first time around and another $44 on her second go-round.

One reason California is in trouble is that the initiative process allows for individual issues to be dealt with in isolation. So, back in 2008, the population approved Proposition 1A, the high-speed rail act. There are lots of things being noted now — the fare estimate has doubled; there are massive dividers that will obstruct the view; ridership estimates are being questioned; cost estimates are ballooning and the initial plan is a train to nowhere.

But beyond all these specifics, there are a lot of tradeoffs. Money spent on a train is not available for other uses; labeling GMOs has implications for interstate commerce and feeding the poor and the rights of others that are difficult to focus on within a vote for one initiative.

Initiatives can be a useful tool, a “pressure-valve release” when democracy gets arteriosclerosis, but used too frequently, initiatives ask the population to become experts in things in which they cannot be experts. In Florida, where the Pundit resides, the ballots are interminable and it is impossible to believe that even 5% of the population really understands all the initiatives and amendments.

Representative democracy is superior to direct democracy in no small part because, properly understood, the role of a representative is not to mindlessly vote for whatever is superficially popular. Representatives owe their constituents both industry and judgment, so they are supposed to study these issues, identify who in the legislative body is most expert in these matters and vote in accordance with the interests of the nation and the district.

In our system, we specifically set things up so that the transient passions of the people are tempered. The House turns over every two years, the presidency, four, and the senate takes a full six years — this is specifically so that the exuberance of the people at any given time should be tested. Let it be sustained and the public’s will shall, ultimately, be done. Let it falter and the system stops momentary passion from gaining the force of law.

Nobody can fault Michael’s suggestions, and it is always joyful to see the faith of the young in the power of education to change the future. Yet we wonder if the real message here is that the initiative process is just the wrong way to deal with these issues.

Many thanks to Steve Allen and Michael Femia for giving us a chance to think through these important issues.

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