I had the chance to chat on June 29 and July 7 with Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.
1:00 p.m. Tom Karst: What is your reaction to the news of the signing of the memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Mexico on the cross-border trucking issue and the 50% reduction in tariffs on apples, pears and cherries?
1:01 p.m. Roger Pepperl: It is a real positive for the state of Washington, Stemilt and the consumer in Mexico. Once you tack on a tariff on to any piece of fruit, regardless of the reason, you can talk about it all you want, it ends up reflecting in the retail price and it affects the delivered price of the product. The positive (with the reduction of the tariff) is that, if economics hold true, it should mean better f.o.b. pricing for the growers and better retail prices for the consumers, That will mean more movement overall. That doesn’t happen overnight but it usually ends up playing out. The tariff won’t necessarily be split even, but it ends up in the wash, with a little better retail price, a little better f.o.b. and a little better movement. Everybody should win.
1:03 p.m. Karst: This should be good timing then for the apple season, for the rest of this year and the start of the new season?
1:03 p.m. Pepperl: We have a nice crop coming, it is not going to be a monster, but it will be very, very manageable so I think it bodes well for the coming season. We have ea nice pear crop coming, a trifle bit larger and I think it bodes well for that also.
1:04 p.m. Karst: This is a big cherry time right now, but a little late.
1:05 p.m. Pepperl: Yes. It was so slow to come. This is the historical latest we have ever been. They should have named the holiday the “Eleventh of July,” it would have made it a better holiday for cherries. Normally we make it blindfolded. The quality is beautiful though. With this moderate weather, the cherries are nice and firm when they ripen.
We are largest cherry shipper in America, but the real key is that August time frame. We are huge in August. Last year we finished about the first of September but we have a few trees that we are figuring on finishing Sept. 9 this year. That’s late. We plan on hitting Labor Day every year from now on, but this year it will be blindfolded. We’ll have the Fourth of July cherries on Labor Day – ha ha.
1:08 p.m. Karst: You are the chairman of the Produce for Better Health Foundation. What are your thoughts on the MyPlate icon and how PBH could use that in its marketing?
1:09 p.m. Pepperl: I believe in what PBH does so much. When (MyPlate) came out, we talked about what it meant for PBH. In my humble opinion we finally a food pyramid that somebody can understand. How do I go to the grocery store and look at the food pyramid to help me? This new food icon, MyPlate, is something we all can understand a lot more. I think that’s really great direction because it gives you a vision of what you have to do it. But all it is in the end is a food pyramid you don’t need a scientist next to you to understand.
Like we discussed at PBH, we still have that mission to be marketing increasing consumption. Increasing consumption is really what our mission is and I feel really good about that. I think the icon is going to raise awareness and I think it will give us an easy thing to attach to. I’ve talked to some consumer affairs directors and they felt that “More Matters”: is more relevant than it has ever been with this destination in mind. We have a whole lot to be thankful for and I think More Matters will escalate this year.
1:11 p.m. Karst: Can the plate and the PBH logo co-exist in the market place?
1:12 p.m. Pepperl: That’s a great question. The plate does not denote action. The plate does a great job of painting the pyramid and when the pyramid existed we needed PBH’s logo and message more than ever and I feel the same way now. The icon is the score at the end of the game, but the PBH message is the play-calling. Most retailers see that and see that we have a strong PBH brand. This is the action step for consumers.
1:13 p.m. Karst: The media coverage of the Dirty Dozen has died down, but what do you think of what the controversy caused by the Environmental Working Group?
1:14 p.m. Pepperl: I think the interesting thing is that consumers have a fair amount of trust in where they buy their food and the supermarkets they shop. If you look at studies of consumer food safety concerns for our category, it is single digit.
`The EWG talks to a person that is a heavier organic shopper, it is a little more on the edge type of consumer. After this all blows over, depending the survey you look at, the number ends up being between four and seven percent (of consumers) who have any retention of this type of thing at all. In my opinion, when you get criticism, you got to take what you can out of the criticism and try to make sure that your side of the facts is where it should be and then you have to just keep doing the right thing. I think that is what we do as an industry and I think we win overall.
I’ve heard a lot of people say we should fight (the Dirty Dozen) but to me the best thing to do is let time go by and it is not very impactful in the end.