Why Industry Relationships Matter

Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thought

What have we learned in publishing Produce‭ ‬Business‭ ‬for more Jim Prevor - The Fruits of Thoughtthan three decades‭? ‬A bunch‭ ‬‮…‬‭ ‬and especially this‭: ‬When all is said and done‭, ‬it is all about people‭. ‬

It was a quarter-century ago that a woman just out of college‭, ‬working for her family business‭, ‬was given the task of promoting‭ ‬a new product innovation‭. ‬The product was Broccoli Cole Slaw‭, ‬and Lorri Nucci‭ (‬now Koster‭) ‬of Mann Packing had been charged with‭ ‬turning this innova­tion into a winner‭. ‬Lorri’s brother‭, ‬Joe Nucci‭, ‬led the development of the project‭, ‬originally imagined as a way to take the broccoli spears‭, ‬which were a‭ ‬byproduct of the company’s successful floret business‭, ‬and turn a cost of disposal into a valuable ingredient‭.‬

Produce‭ ‬Business‭ ‬was one of a very few produce companies to have a booth at FMI‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬mostly because this columnist had the idea that it would help‭ ‬our brand to wave the flag in front of supermarket CEOs‭. ‬Lorri was given the job‭, ‬but not much budget‭, ‬to unveil the product at‭ ‬FMI‭. ‬We weren’t allowed to share a booth‭, ‬but there was no rule about what favors we could give away‭. ‬Some exhibitors gave away pens‭, ‬squeeze‭ ‬balls‭, ‬magnets or made luggage tags‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬we gave away servings of Mann Packing’s new Broccoli Cole Slaw‭!‬

So Lorri and this columnist worked the show‭, ‬giving away a lot of magazines and even more of Mann’s Broccoli Cole Slaw‭. ‬The thing about this arrangement was there was no deal‭, ‬no promise to advertise‭, ‬no charge for booth sharing‭. ‬We did it‭, ‬for the best of all possible reasons‭: ‬friendship‭. ‬We wanted Joe and Lorri to succeed‭, ‬because we were young people‭, ‬just starting our careers‭, ‬and we felt we would find success together‭. ‬Money‭? ‬We just figured if we did the right things with‭ ‬the right people‭, ‬it would all work out‭.‬

Things don’t always work out according to plan‭. ‬There has been heartache too‭. ‬Joe Nucci died while he and his family were on vacation with‭ ‬my family at Disney World in Florida‭. ‬Joe was very successful‭, ‬and about to become chairman of PMA‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬but our expectations were thwarted‭. ‬And that heartbreak stays with us today‭.‬

But there has been joy‭, ‬such as new business ventures and children growing‭. ‬Lorri was to become Chairman and CEO at Mann Packing‭ ‬Company‭, ‬and Joe and Lorri’s sister‭, ‬Gina‭, ‬would run the foodservice end of the business before becoming director of corporate marketing at the company‭. ‬Their sister‭, ‬Dee Dee‭, ‬became a family friend to us‭. ‬One of Joe’s sons interned at Produce‭ ‬Business‭ ‬for a summer‭. ‬I flew to Salinas when Lorri became chairman of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California to give a speech and share in the celebration of her achievement‭. ‬We launched a Product Innovation Award in Joe’s honor‭, ‬which we give out each year at The New York Produce Show and Conference‭. ‬We also have kept track of Lorri’s son’s baseball accomplishments across many years‭.‬

I would be embarrassed to point out the many ways in which the people at Mann Packing Company supported us over the years‭. ‬Most‭ ‬obviously‭, ‬they have been on the page opposite this column for decades‭, ‬but when we launched The New York Produce Show and Conference‭, ‬they were there with not one‭, ‬but two booths‭, ‬showcasing both the firm’s retail and foodservice divisions‭. ‬Although there are not many vegetables that go to the U.K‭., ‬when we needed support most in our overseas expansion‭, ‬Lorri was manning her booth at The London Produce Show and Conference‭.‬

Unfortunately‭, ‬all too many executives in the industry today are focused on immediate returns and‭ >quid pro quos‭. ‬The top executives at many companies often leave decisions in the hands of people whose focus is very narrow‭. ‬For example‭, ‬a retail executive who disregards relationships for the cheapest price or to push a private label program‭; ‬a grower/shipper who dumps a wholesaler that sold its product for 100‭ ‬years‭. ‬In each case‭, ‬the company culture is lacking a mechanism to engage on a broader field and to capture the long-term values inherent in a great relationship‭. ‬

It happens at all levels of decision-making‭, ‬and top executives would do well to focus on how to structure and incentivize their‭ ‬teams to generate responses that will produce the optimal results for the total organization‭. ‬Think about retail‭. ‬Cross-merchandising non-produce items with produce may increase overall sales for the re­tailer‭. ‬However‭, ‬since lemons sold in the seafood department or cheese sold in produce give rings to the departments that are not the one’s giving up space‭, ‬that cross-merchandising won’t happen as often as it should‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬even if it optimizes overall store sales and profits‭. ‬This is because‭, ‬to use just one example‭,‬‭ ‬a seafood director is neither evaluated nor paid based on overall store sales and profits‭. ‬

We see a great deal of problematic decision-making in marketing‭. ‬The person assigned the job of evaluating marketing opportunities often has too narrow a responsibility‭, ‬and often too narrow a range of experience‭, ‬to make decisions that will optimize returns to the company‭. ‬Those with narrow responsibilities make narrow calculations‭. ‬The challenge for companies is to ensure decisions are not made on such narrow grounds‭. ‬We need people capable‭, ‬instructed and incentivized to see the big picture‭.‬

In both our business and personal lives‭, ‬what is the real source of strength‭? ‬Isn’t it having people who you know are always there to back you up‭? ‬In engaging with a customer or a vendor‭, ‬the primary interest should be on the value of the relationship‭. ‬The cost of specific things becomes the ante you pay to have some equity in these relationships‭.‬

There are hundreds of things people do for each other in this business‭: ‬calls made‭, ‬meetings taken‭, ‬deals done‭ ‬‮—‬‭ ‬and the key to‭ ‬success is rarely transactional‭. ‬So on this 25th‭ ‬anniversary of the launch of Broccoli Cole Slaw‭, ‬I’ll remember my friend Joe‭, ‬and I’ll remember Lorri‭, ‬standing next to me engaging at that FMI so long ago‭. ‬I’ll remember how little we 20-somethings expected back then‭, ‬and‭ (‬from the sincerity of that desire to help each other‭) ‬how much‭ ‬has grown‭.‬