February, 2015

Opinion

Initiating A New Path For Industry Improvement

It was just short of 30 years ago – after putting in in a full shift in the Hunts Point Market headquarters of my family’s long-established produce firm – that I rushed to the airport and boarded a plane headed to the Produce Marketing Association convention in San Francisco. The year was 1985. The purpose of the trip was to launch PRODUCE BUSINESS magazine.

In time this enterprise, which started with a piece of paper and a dream, would grow to become the largest produce magazine in the world. It would give birth to magazines in related fields, such as DELI BUSINESS and CHEESE CONNOISSEUR.

Web portals would spring forth, such as Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit and PerishableNews.com. Live events of all shapes and sizes were created, from small meetings of peers in a multitude of executive share groups to The London Produce Show and Conference and The New York Produce Show and Conference.

More important than size, we have uniquely served the industry with our corporate motto of Initiating Industry Improvement guiding our direction in all we do.

Fast forward to 2015 and I am, once again, preparing to board another plane -– this one to the United Kingdom (UK) and then on to Fruit Logistica in Berlin, Germany, – to celebrate the launch of PRODUCE BUSINESS UK, a digital publication designed to offer the industry a new perspective on the conversation, innovation, insight and analysis that paves the way for industry improvement. Building on the launch last year of The London Produce Show and Conference, this new publication grows in rich soil.

Our success in America has many roots. Not least that we, ourselves, are deeply rooted in the industry. After countless generations active in the produce trade not far from Kiev in the Ukraine, my great-grandfather, Jacob Prevor, immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, where he set up a wholesale produce business in the old Wallabout Produce Market – then the second largest market in all of America.

Later, my grandfather, Harry Prevor, moved the business to the old Washington Market in downtown Manhattan – then the largest wholesale produce market in America – where he became both a wholesaler and auction buyer. My father, Michael Prevor, was an original tenant in the brand new Hunts Point Market and became not only a wholesaler but the largest independent exporter of American produce to the UK and Europe.

This means that even before I went to work in the family business, I drank the produce industry in with every dinner conversation.

In time I fell to journalism. And my life has become a unique blend as I have strived to combine the real world experience of buying, trading and operating in the produce industry with the analytical perspective of an editor, lecturer, author and commentator.

Another important element to our success has been that we have built this business from scratch, and so have experienced all the real world challenges that businesses face. We’ve sweated out the payroll, made that lonely walk to speak with the banker, pitched the investors, hired and fired, and felt the burden of family honor on the line with every transaction.

So our pieces have carried a weight of experience that is rare.

In that very first issue of PRODUCE BUSINESS, this editor, in his salad days, green in judgment, wrote a note to the industry… it was long but we got more than a few things right:

  • Great institutions are not created by an act of will; they must grow organically by serving the needs of their community…

  • Our goal is to tell the truth. What every industry member needs is an honest explanation of what is happening in the industry now, what has happened in the past and what may happen in the future…

  • We shall not be intimidated into silence…

  • Too often, those who do not truly understand the industry have been called upon to tell the story to produce professionals.

  • …national borders can no longer serve as moats separating the domestic from foreign markets…

  • …we will fail in our responsibilities if we do not tell the truth with the empathy that comes from a genuine understanding of the complexities of context and situation.

  • We shall endeavor to have the content that only true inside knowledge of the business can make possible.

These are watchwords for all time but, now, in a UK market in flux, there is a special need for new ideas and new perspectives. There is a retail scene fracturing, with Aldi and Lidl on the discount-side and Waitrose and Marks & Spencer on the experiential-side, teaming with American interlopers such as Costco and Whole Foods to challenge the Big Four to find new ways of being.

We have a foodservice scene that has put to rest the reputation that British menus are plain, and we have a vibrant wholesale sector that itself may be revolutionized as the storied market that still carries Covent Garden in its name finds its future in flux.

My father visited the UK often. He sold apples and grapefruit, carrots and more. Then the UK entered the European Union, and the opportunities for trade decreased.

Now we see opportunities for a new type of trade, an intellectual exchange that can leave Britain and the world in better standing. This issue of PRODUCE BUSINESS UK is the very first step in sharing ideas to help all do their jobs or run their businesses better as we help the industry advance.

That one open letter I wrote so long ago closed with words that still ring true:

The real genesis of this publication goes back to when I was a boy reading the trade papers that my father, Michael Prevor, brought home. It was through discussing the contents of these papers with my father that I came to know and love this industry. If this publication, or if I, should ever amount to anything, it is surely due to my father’s wisdom, guidance and encouragement. It is to him that this enterprise is dedicated.

My father was there to read those words when written. He has passed now, a victim of pancreatic cancer. Yet, perhaps, somehow, somewhere he might smile knowing that three decades later as we launch PRODUCE BUSINESS UK, his son would not change a word.