February, 1988

Fruits of Thought

Boosting Fresh

Given the rapid growth of foodservice as a percentage of the nation’s food consumption, one key factor that could boost sales of fresh produce is to convince restaurateurs that carrying fresh rather than canned or frozen produce will pay off in increased sales and profits. The problem is that most consumers have no way of knowing if a restaurant uses fresh produce until they are sitting down eating.

What the produce industry needs is for the trade associations to develop a stylish “FRESH” logo. This symbol could be used in ads by restaurants that feature fresh produce. It could also be used on menus next to items that are prepared using only fresh produce. If backed by a proper public relations and advertising campaign, this “FRESH” logo could become a powerful reason for restaurants to use fresh produce. If people start looking for this logo before they eat in a restaurant, the logo could be responsible for many millions of dollars of increased sales of fresh produce. The dairy industry has already started a similar program with its “REAL” logo — symbolizing that a product has been prepared using real dairy products. Many pizzerias have started displaying this logo to show they use real cheese. McDonald’s has advertised that its milkshakes are made with real milk. Surely the produce industry should seize an opportunity to make it pay for restaurants to carry FRESH!

FIGHTING PROTECTIONISM

Under pressure from domestic apple growers reeling under the effects of this year’s depressed apple prices, the government of Taiwan has banned the import of apples. One exception has been made: U.S. apples are permitted though Canadian apples remain banned. It is only a fear (quite justified, I might add) of U.S. retaliation that kept this market open to the U.S., and there is much discussion of possible quota systems and other methods of restricting apple imports further. Steven Leung, the only Far East agent for B.C. Tree Fruits Limited, suggests that the government of Taiwan might set an import quota and then hold an auction for the right to import apples. The money raised would be used to subsidize commercial orchards in Taiwan.

Talk about counterproductive thinking! The current system is just dumb. Apples are a fairly fungible commodity. The fact that Taiwan permits the entry of U.S. apples and bans Canadian imports is likely to mean only that Washington will sell more apples in Taiwan than would have been the case without import restrictions. And Canada will seize a share of some other markets where Washington would have shipped more apples had they not been diverted to Taiwan.

Talking about quotas and auctions is a dangerous thing for a society like Taiwan, which is so highly dependent on access to export markets. But the thing to keep in mind is that the real losers from any Taiwanese import restrictions are the people of Taiwan. After all, it is the people of Taiwan who are denied access to fruit they want to eat. It is the people of Taiwan who are forced to give up their hard-earned money to the people who control apple production in Taiwan. Our commodity promotion groups and produce trade associations should consider spending some money to speak directly to the people of Taiwan, Japan and other countries where governments restrict their peoples’ right to buy produce.

Let the people of Taiwan know what the government restrictions could cost and the produce industry will start to build allies within Taiwan. This is the key. Most import restrictions are implemented not in order to hurt outside countries, but simply as a result of internal political pressures. Usually these pressures, as in Taiwan, come from domestic producers who want a protected market. The only long-term solution is to encourage the development of another political force, a force that will speak out for the consumers of these countries. Encouraging the development of this type of “consumer lobby” in Taiwan, Japan and other countries should be the top priority.

FROM HOUSTON TO CANADA

As I shuttle bus around Houston for the United Convention, I will remember the many Canadian conventions I’ve been to, and that they are always held in one or two hotels. I think more Americans should try to make the time to attend the Canadian conventions. For one thing, Canada is both a big customer for U.S. produce and a big source of supply for many commodities. This big market right next door is too often neglected by the trade in the United States. Second, the Canadian conventions are a pleasant and different experience for those who have attended only United and PMA. Since they are much smaller than the U.S. conventions, in just a few days it is really possible to get to know a lot of people. After a year or two, the get-togethers are a lot like gatherings of old friends.

In January 1989, the Canadians will hold their annual meeting in Toronto. Paul Catania of M.L. Catania Company, Ltd. is currently president of the association. I urge those who can to really try to attend. It is always a pleasant experience. If you need information on the Canadian Association’s convention, just call their office at 613-226-4187. Or drop us a card here at PRODUCE BUSINESS. We’ll be glad to pass on your name.  pb