“It Was the Best of Times”

Don Harris - Retail Perspective

Originally printed in the October 2020 issue of Produce Business.

The time was Fall 1985. The place was San Francisco. The event was the annual PMA Convention. For me, personally, it was the very first PMA Convention I had ever attended. Upper management in my company had long been skeptical of any contacts or participation in industry organizations, but it was only recently beginning to loosen up. This reluctance was long-standing from problems encountered in the 1950s with the FTC concerning perceived conduct that could be in violation of FTC law.

My company began to soften its stance by allowing our Vice President of Produce to participate in this industry activity. In fact, he was the chairman of the 1985 PMA Convention. Because of this lessening of control, I was allowed to attend. It would still take many years for management to fully grasp the benefits of industry participation, so even back then it was shown that management “just doesn’t get it!”

Personally, I was very honored to be allowed to attend some of the activities and gather a greater understanding of the inner working relationships within the industry. One of the assignments that was given to me by my boss during the convention was to meet with a new publication within the industry and report back on what their potential impact and needs might be.

Previously the majority of publications in the industry were newspapers reporting market information, crop updates, and some news stories. It was at this time that I first met Jim Prevor and Ken Whitacre. After the introductions, I was struck by the substance of the conversation as it was unique compared to any other interviews I had experienced. Previously, most discussions with the industry press seemed like a battleground of questions designed to try to uncover “company secrets” or policies that might be of value to competitors.

It seemed to me that both Jim and Ken were more curious about the retail experience and the challenges facing retail in the current environment. The conversation seemed to be more centered on what can be done to help not only the retail section, but the entire industry as well. I was pleasantly surprised at this new approach and happily participated in the discussion.

The magazine’s thought-provoking articles, expert columns and discussions of industry direction were exactly what the industry needed to help it find its new direction.

During this time frame, beginning in the early 80s, the produce industry was going through what could be called a major “Renaissance.” New products, new concepts, new companies and new procedures were advancing at an accelerating rate. After years of static execution, Produce was reinventing and improving itself and seemed to be creating new standards of operation each month.

Everyone in the industry was receptive to new ideas and new procedures along with anything else that could improve their operation and take it to the next level. With all this rapid expansion, a new produce publication was needed to help disseminate this volume of new information and assist in providing a sustainable direction for this growth so as to not “overheat” the industry.

Stepping into that void came Produce Business magazine. Its thought-provoking articles, expert columns and discussions of industry direction were exactly what the industry needed to help it find its new direction.

The “Renaissance” continued throughout the late 80s and the 90s. Produce Business continued to meet the challenges of all the new aspects of the industry, including the explosion of products and services from around the world. New features, such as descriptions of emerging markets, introductions of new items, profiles of new, emerging production areas, and profiles of new and influential members of the world-wide industry highlighted new opportunities and provided new horizons. Jim Prevor’s popular column, “The Fruits of Thought,” was another addition to the industry that offered a different and provocative perspective for the industry to examine emerging opportunities and provide new direction.

Jim’s monthly commentary eventually evolved into the Perishable Pundit website, which began as a daily dispatch, providing important and timely content on the heavier issues of the day, especially food safety. The “Pundit” turned into a forum that the industry looked to in times of challenge and stress. Through all the trials and tribulations of the 90s and early 2000’s, especially on the food safety front, Produce Business and “the Pundit” continued to provide timely, factual information and sage advice to the industry. The retail sector greatly benefited from this influx of concepts and ideas, but the benefits were felt across the entire produce Industry.

As the industry moves into this new time of uncertainty and stress, it is comforting to know that Produce Business is on the scene to help navigate through these troubled waters. For 35 years, it has been a beacon of knowledge and advice to all members and parts of the industry and has helped guide and promote its growth and success. Let’s hope Produce Business will continue for another 35 years (and beyond) and will continue to assist in promoting and driving the produce industry to even higher levels.

Don Harris is a 41-year veteran of the produce industry, with most of that time spent in retail. He worked in every aspect of the industry, from “field-to-fork” in both the conventional and organic arenas. Harris is presently consulting. Comments can be directed to editor@producebusiness.com.