In the course of our discussions with buyers who didn’t elect to sign onto the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, we heard from those who wanted to keep the media buzz down and those who felt it was the government’s job to establish food safety regulations.
Some buyers thought there was a lot of ulterior motives in all these proposals and still others cautioned that there may be unintended consequences to the buyer-led plan.
Some of the buyers also weren’t thrilled with the Western Growers Association’s proposal. Several objected to the two-stage method of the proposal; first a California Marketing Order and then some time in the future, a Federal Marketing Order. One buyer put it this way:
With regards to the suggestion of a California Marketing order, I really struggle with that! What we say in that case is that now, California spinach has some value over and above Colorado spinach, New York spinach, Texas spinach, or any other growing region. And when they place that thought process in front of the consumer, we now ask the consumer to discriminate between growing regions!
Well, asking consumers to discriminate between growing regions isn’t so rare. One could argue it is the exact purpose of most of the state departments of ag-based programs — Jersey Fresh, Georgia Grown, etc. — and of the state-based marketing promotion programs, such as the Idaho Potato Commission.
Safety may be different, but I hear Momma Pundit whispering in my ear: “Don’t let the best be the enemy of the good.”
The WGA has expressed its hope that buyers will insist on all product meeting California standards until the Federal law can be passed. Yet it is realistic enough to know it will take several years to get Federal legislation passed.
If you believe in mandatory regulation, but oppose a state level solution, you are really suggesting several years with no regulation.
In fact, the most likely route to federal regulation is a successful state program.
To the Pundit the more serious issue regarding the WGA’s proposal is the possibility that the marketing order will not be a tool to create and enforce the most rigorous standards but, instead, will codify mediocrity or worse.
If we assume that excellence in food safety practices follows a normal distribution or bell curve, then only a small percentage of growers are doing world class work. What would make us believe that growers will vote to make their own practices illegal?
WGA deserves kudos for quickly stepping up to the plate and accepting the need for a mandatory standard. But the tool that WGA has in its arsenal may not be adequate for the job at hand.
The recent news that Yum Brands’ quick-serve Mexican concept Taco Bell was implicated in an E. coli outbreak was, of course, distressing. Although, so far, they have not identified the dangerous E. coli H0157:H7 strain found during the spinach crisis, many people have been hospitalized with some developing the hemolytic uremic syndrome that could lead to permanent kidney damage.
Although initially discovered in central New Jersey, the outbreak was found in Long Island restaurants as well.
Although chopped meat is a conduit for E. coli, Taco Bell uses only pre-cooked meat. This is leading food safety experts to speculate that the cause of this problem may be an infected employee or employees. However, the fact that it has been linked to outlets in two states indicates it wouldn’t be a store-level employee.
Tacos also contain shredded lettuce, which could be a route of contamination. We could do without that particular problem this week.
The Pundit is sitting here munching on some Dole brand Tibetan Sun-Dried Goji Berries. The label says they are “Provided by Extreme Health USA,” and the pitch is that one should “Compare Antioxidants.” The label shows an amount of antioxidants more than twice that of blueberries.
As the ever politique Karen Caplan from Frieda’s explains below, gojis are an “acquired taste,” but those looking for them are more interested in health and longevity than in flavor.
Here at the Pundit, we’ve received an astonishing number of inquiries about goji berries — some from consumers looking for where to buy them, a few from retailers looking for where to buy them, and many just looking for information.
Goji berries are not enterable as a fresh product but both juice and dried versions are sold in the U.S. It is hard to get much good information on the item as it seems as most who write about it also want to sell you some, but the “health food” circuit just overflows with praise for the product:
Taking goji for health has been done for centuries in Asia and in recent years has been discovered by the western world. Goji berry extract has been found to boost energy, reverse the aging process, and facilitate weight loss. It is a great idea to purchase and consume goji because its medicinal and nutritional properties are beyond compare. The truth about goji is that it can improve your quality of life. Best of all, it can make you blissfully happy!
Blissful happiness is quite a claim for dried fruit, but Hollywood at least seems to be buying it. Some vendor bought a suite at the Emmy Awards and claims it got stars such as Paula Abdul and Ben Kingsley to “Enjoy Goji Juice.” You can see the photos here.
What really interested us was the fact that Dole had put its brand on the item. The Dole brand opens the door to generalized retail distribution.
We sent Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, out to learn more. Dole wasn’t saying much about its dried goji berry venture. “We are in the trial stages and not able to discuss the goji berry project in detail at this time,” according to spokesperson Marianne Duong. “We can not elaborate on the information you already know.” You can read details about the Dole Goji project here and a release from its supplier, Extreme Health USA right here.
Dole’s website does list gojis as a new product with the following description: “Dole all-natural Tibetan sun-dried goji berries are a convenient way to add an antioxidant superfood to your diet. Goji berries have over twice as many antioxidants as blueberries! Sourced in Tibet and Tibetan regions, Dole goji berries are grown in wild crafted conditions, beyond organic.”
With Dole not talking, we went out to see what else Mira could learn about this new phenom, and we spoke to various people involved in some way with goji:
Michele Payne-Salomon, president and founder, Extreme Health, Walnut Creek, California
Q: Can you describe your partnership with Dole Foods?
A: Dole’s Chairman and CEO, David Murdock, is dedicated to targeting serious health issues with natural products. He is very progressive and hands on. I understand that at one of the company board meetings, David Murdock, tasted the goji berries himself to make the determination personally and selected ours.
Q: Are their real differences between the varieties?
A: Yes. Dole did their homework when they called us. We import the berries directly from Tibet. They are all wild, natural, sun-dried, and not processed or artificially sweetened. We test for higher ORAC values (oxygen radical absorbance capacity scale), a measure of antioxidant levels, microbials and nutritional density. The Himalayan or Tibetan berry is noted for its purity, grown in soils free of pollutants or pesticides. At times it is mistaken for the Chinese Wolfberry, which can be loaded with pesticides and can be highly sulfured and irradiated.
We have a goji concentrate too. Two or three teaspoons extremely high in antioxidants gives you amazing energy like coffee without the jitters and curb appetite.
Q: Is Dole brand product out in the market?
A: Dole is in the pilot stages. It is negotiating with retailers now. Dole is approaching everyone. The goal is to put them right next to the bananas. We test-marketed our Extreme Health brand goji berries in 160 stores about 9 months ago, and 83 percent have reordered directly.
Q: What stores?
A: A long list of regional natural food stores and high end full grocery stores, such as Draeger’s Supermarket and Lunardi’s Market in California, as well as larger specialty chains like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and Wild Oats.
Robert Schueller, Director of Public Relations,
Melissa’s/World Variety, Los Angeles, California
Q: How widespread is interest for goji berries?
A: The company has been distributing Himalania dry goji berries since January of this year. Fresh gojis are not legally permitted to enter the U.S. Melissa’s goji customers include stores such as Price Chopper, Wegman’s, Raley’s, Nash Finch, Kroger, AJ’s… a good representation around the country.
The trend started in natural food stores about two years ago. Gojis have legally been in the U.S. less than three years, first in medication application and more recently in dry berry form.
Q: What type of products do you offer?
A: Melissa’s offers three-ounce packages of Himalania organic goji berries, retailing between $5 and $6 each. We were pioneers in distributing gojis to mainstream supermarkets. Natural retailers started the campaign. The dried goji berry has a harder consistency than a raisin. I prefer it in granola or in mixed fruit form.
Q: How are sales? Is demand increasing?
A: Because of the consumer press attention to super fruits and vegetables and the media circulation about the powerful antioxidant properties of goji’s, Melissa’s has experienced an increased retail interest leading to wider mainstream distribution, especially since mid-summer.
Karen Caplan, President and CEO of Frieda’s, Los Alamitos, California
Q: Do you carry goji berries?
A: We do gojis on special order. Goji berries are an acquired taste. Like the acai from the Amazon, it’s on the fringe of healthy foods. If it claims to cure cancer or be the fountain of youth, people don’t care what it tastes like. Gojis would fall into the category of the next pomegranate. I’d be surprised if mainstream consumers would eat dried gojis in snack form out of a bag. They work better disguised in drinks. Gojis are still hard to find outside of health/natural food stores, and only in selective mainstream supermarket stores.
Frank Padilla, Senior Buyer Produce, Costco, Issaquah, Washington
Q: I understand Costco is bringing in dried goji berries. Are you the buyer?
A: I’m not the buyer, but I can tell you what we’re doing. We have just started selling dried goji berries. It’s new for us. At Costco, the dried grocery buyers handle that product line. It’s being bought regionally as opposed to what we do corporately. It’s not handled like a corporate buying program or private label. Gojis would be regionally bought like a chocolate or a jam or a salsa. I couldn’t tell you specific product attributes because the regional buyers are free to buy as they like. It is not a mainstream item by any means. What the future brings, you never know.
Q: Do you know if dried gojis will be cross merchandised with fresh produce?
A: There is an effort to buy some dried. It’s handled in dry grocery and offered in the dry aisles. It is not merchandised in the fresh produce department.
It will be interesting to see how the product sells. Pom Wonderful, which we dealt with here, brought a dead product back to life with medical research, product development and marketing.
The Pundit is a capitalist and believes that, generally speaking, people should be able to make their own decisions about what items to buy. So, with there being obvious demand, we are glad to see this product getting out there.
UNSUPPORTED HEALTH CLAIMS
Here at the Pundit, though, we are often pitched products that claim to be the Fountain of Youth. When all the research is done, these promises don’t often pan out.
We tried to find good peer-reviewed double-blind studies indicating the product will help people, but can’t seem to dig anything up. Even Andrew Weil, M.D., generally perceived as a promoter of alternative and natural medicine, seems a little skeptical on his website:
Goji berries and the juice made from them seem to be the latest rage among those who think a single food can accomplish nutritional miracles. Goji berries are being promoted as the most nutritionally dense food on earth, packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. The health claims being made for them and their juice are wide-ranging: anti-aging effects; implied benefits in the prevention and treatment of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, digestive problems; and, of course, they’re being touted as a means of weight loss and weight control, always a sure-fire way to attract customers.
Although promoters mention ‘studies’ that supposedly support these effects, no specific scientific studies were cited on any of the several websites I visited to learn more about goji berries. In a search of peer-reviewed medical literature, I found no studies at all on goji berries.
I’ve heard similar health claims, many times before, for other products, none of which has proved over the years to be the great secret to good health and longevity. Goji juice is expensive — about $30 per half liter (18 ounces). If you follow recommendations to drink four ounces a day, a month’s supply will cost you about $200, a high price to pay for an unproven product.
In addition to my doubts about the unsupported health claims, I am prejudiced against the multi-level marketing through which goji juice and goji berries are sold — you can buy them only through distributors who make money not only through their own sales but those of the people they recruit. My advice? Save your money and bank on proven nutritional strategies to optimize your health.
The good thing is that with companies such as Dole and Costco in the business, the multi-level marketing and exorbitant pricing is on the way out. So that is a good thing.
The Pundit is about one ounce through the four-ounce bag and wondering if goji berries infused with organically grown pure cane sugar wouldn’t also be healthy?
Our piece, Hormel, Wal-Mart And The Meaning Of Upscale, brought a number of comments. The piece began by dissecting an article about Hormel and, specifically, the difficulties the maker of Spam experienced in trying to broaden its market to upscale and ethnic foods. The article detailed how Hormel used various brands to market various ethnic lines.
The Pundit tried to apply some of these lessons to Wal-Mart and pointed out the difficulties of attracting more upscale consumers:
Wal-Mart doesn’t need a branding consultant. It needs a sociologist who will explain that what upscale consumers want most in their life is the one thing Wal-Mart can never deliver: To NOT be associated with the people who shop at Wal-Mart.
It is snobbery but it is also human nature. Throughout history, the affluent have adopted modes of dress and comportment to distinguish themselves from those less fortunate.
Instead, we urged Wal-Mart to try a completely different approach:
The big opportunity, though, is to not look at the issue in terms of how Wal-Mart can get more people in its stores. Its opportunity is to serve more people through more concepts…If it feels its growth is constrained because it has saturated the market in many places for consumers who live paycheck to paycheck, it shouldn’t knock its head against the wall trying to convince upscale consumers to buy amidst their downscale brethren. It should develop a separate store concept.
And we summed up as follows:
It is often said at Wal-Mart headquarters that this is their problem: If they sell diamonds of better quality and at a better price than your typical mall jeweler, they still don’t get the business because no guy wants to tell his girl that he got her an engagement ring at Wal-Mart. No girl wants to tell her friends that her ring came from Wal-Mart.
To change this dynamic is certainly difficult and probably impossible. Wal-Mart needs to get back to its roots of Every Day Low Prices and start an upscale concept under a different name to capture more affluent consumers.
And by the way, the definition of upscale has changed. In the 70s, it might have meant little jars from Europe filled with interesting stuff. Today it means fresh. A commitment to an upscale product would be a commitment to a substantially expanded fresh food and floral effort.
An experienced producer of the kinds of products that are not fruits and vegetables but are typically sold in the produce department as accompaniments sent us this note:
Your article on Hormel, Wal Mart and Upscale was very interesting. Your definition of “upscale” is not complete. We have been an “upscale” brand for close to 30 years and the concept of “upscale” is in a continuous state of change as styles, tastes and ideas change. While fresh is a component of upscale, that is not enough. Today, flavor, freshness, convenience, quality, perceived value, uniqueness, relevance, pricing, packaging and availability all enter into the mix.
Consumers have difficulty with the thought process of a retailer or a manufacturer noted for every day low pricing selling unique, higher quality, higher priced, better flavored, better packaged cutting edge and stylish products. To many it is a bifurcated thought process. A classic example of a brand that has spent years upscaling its brand and image is Gallo wines. To move from one end of the scale to the other takes time, commitment, creativity, an ability to be ahead of the trends and vigilance. To be able to do both is much more difficult as the thought processes are so divergent.
In retailing, it is going to be interesting to see how the purchase of Bristol Farms by Albertson’s plays out as Bristol Farms is a very high end retailer. Your articles are very interesting and thought provoking.
We thank our correspondent for the letter and appreciate being called “interesting and thought provoking.” Our correspondent makes five separate points:
That fresh is not sufficient to define upscale.
Consumers tend to have silo thinking at retail. You are either upscale or downscale or midscale or something else, but not many things.
Brands can change their image but it is difficult.
To be two things at one time is difficult both for consumers to perceive and for businesses to execute.
It is uncertain how it will work for retailers to own wildly divergent concepts such as Albertson’s with Bristol Farms.
The points are all well taken.
Point one is certainly true. Fresh is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to be perceived as upscale. But, certainly, there has been a shift in the food business and consumer perception. Specialty foods started out in the U.S. as being a lot of European imports, typically jarred or canned. Now the feeling of walking into an upscale store is that you are going to be surrounded by bakery and produce, floral, foodservice operations, a broad assortment of olives and artisanal cheeses. These are the cues that tell a consumer that this is an upscale venue. It is very difficult to imagine an upscale emporium that doesn’t do fresh.
Point two confirms our point. It is going to be very difficult to get consumers comfortable with the idea that Wal-Mart is the place to go for values when you live paycheck to paycheck but that it is also a great place for people with money to burn to buy their fashion-forward clothes.
Point three, with its reference to Gallo wines — an effort that has taken decades — points out that what Wal-Mart wants to do may be theoretically possible but is fraught with difficulties.
Point four reminds us that being two things at once isn’t only difficult for consumers to perceive. It is difficult for an organization to execute. If you know your job is to offer “Every Day Low Prices” to people who live paycheck to paycheck, you have a benchmark against which to evaluate your decisions. But if sometimes you are doing that and sometimes you are selling upscale people who are attracted to the store by a sale on hot toys, you lose any basis for deciding what products to carry, how to price things and, in general, lose focus.
Point five reminds us that many times retailers mess up the ownership of multiple concepts. This is typically because they lose sight of the consumer and are focused on logistics and supply chain management.
A&P got in trouble years ago after buying Waldbaum’s when it wanted to buy more efficiently and changed many specs to A&P specs. Business fell off and old-timers found themselves being called out of retirement to reinstitute old ways as the Waldbaum’s clientele rejected the A&P specs.
More recently, Safeway got in trouble as it purchased strong regional chains such as Dominick’s in Chicago, Randall’s in Texas and Genuardi’s in Pennsylvania — then proceeded to abandon much of the brand equity it purchased as it looked to gain production efficiencies by putting Safeway private label items in stores, even if consumers preferred the old stores’ private label brand.
Ownership doesn’t destroy a banner. It is owners who do.
Speaking of owners, we also received this note in regard to the same article:
Indeed they do. Publicly held companies probably wouldn’t have the time horizon or willingness to pay the price to do what Gallo has done. Of course, I am not sure they should. What Gallo did was important to Earnest Gallo and worth it to him, because it was his name on the bottle.
A normal company would say it is not worth the effort to rehabilitate a name. It is cheaper and easier to just grab a new one. Which was our suggestion to Wal-Mart.
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.”
On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action. in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “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)… 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.”
On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”
On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis. which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:
- Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
- James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
- Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
- Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
- Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
- Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
- Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
- Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
- Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”
On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.
We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:
Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.
On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again. in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.
On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation.We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”
On December 1, 2006, we published Spinach And The Consequences Of Buyers’ Action. in which buyers who hadn’t signed on to the buyer-led food safety initiative pointed out that rigorous food safety systems will restrict supply and raise prices.
As we explained: “It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.”
Also on December 1, 2006, we responded to industry feedback claiming that foodservice did a better job than retail when it came to food safety by beginning a series of Pundit Pulses focused on foodservice. The first two, Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins. dealt with how smaller buyers deal with these issues.
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.
The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.
Spinach Crisis Summary
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 Industry in 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 Farming explores 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 Grower that 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.
November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.
On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.
November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.
On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.
November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.
On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Award to Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holiday and you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find it here.
November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006, we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors, which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.
On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.
On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.
On December 1, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers elected not to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative with Spinach And The Consequence Of Buyers’ Actions, a piece that looked at how food safety might impact prices and public health. Read it here.
Also on December 1, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Del Taco’s Janet Erickson and Notre Dame’s Dan Crimmins, which explored how smaller foodservice operators were looking at food safety. Catch it right here.
Additionally on December 1, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sprout Lessons Echo Food Safety Dilemma, which pointed out what the broader produce industry can learn from the food safety woes of the sprout industry. You can find the piece here.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
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.
November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.
On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. Read it here.
November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.
On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here.
Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.
On December 1, 2006, we ran Speaking Of Produce Washes, which revealed a study that found that washes and water are all about the same. Read 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.