SAN DIEGO — Reggie Griffin may have been the most influential and knowledgeable man in the produce industry.
For the last 10 years, he was corporate vice president of produce and floral merchandising and procurement for Cincinnati-based Kroger Co., the largest traditional retail chain in the U.S.
He’s been involved in and led some of the biggest industry issues from food safety to traceability to consumption.
He’s a past chairman of the Produce For Better Health Foundation, current chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association and former board member of the Produce Marketing Association.
No doubt his buying decisions have made and broken careers and companies.
But that’s all over now.
He retired from Kroger at the end of October. He can no longer create winners and losers with his words and handshakes, right?
The Jan. 23 Salute to Reggie Griffin Golf Tournament and Dinner supporting the United Fresh Foundation Center for Leadership Excellence in San Diego had the potential for a produce industry roast.
While it wasn’t boring, those wanting to see Griffin “get his” were disappointed.
Honestly, I don’t think anyone in attendance expected a roast, and it would have felt awkward.
I don’t get the feeling that many in the produce industry dealt with Griffin out of fear, like some retail organizations and leaders command.
It was a celebration of respect and thanks, fitting a man of Griffin’s character.
Former United Fresh chairman Jim Lemke, senior vice president of produce for C.H. Robinson; and immediate past chairwoman Steffanie Smith, chief executive officer of Riverpoint Farms, had no trouble highlighting Griffin’s contributions to their careers, the association and the industry.
But both struggled with ingredients for a good roast.
Smith said Griffin had a way of imparting wisdom when you didn’t realize it. Lemke said despite his pedigree, Griffin is a normal person.
About the only things either could pick on Griffin about is that he loosens up after a drink and he hates public speaking, which places him with 99% of people.
Anyone who has spent time with him knows Griffin does not like attention, but he knows it’s his responsibility as a leader.
The industry will have to wait for another icon to roast.
More cantaloupe criticism:
Being the target of an unflattering editorial in the country’s widest read daily newspaper is not a happy place to be.
It compared the system to the one contributing to the 2008 financial meltdown, where credit-rating agencies gave high ratings to toxic mortgage bonds.
While PMA’s chief science and technology officer Bob Whitaker gave a well-reasoned rebuttal — which in part said third-party audits are only a part of food safety — the damage was done.
This isn’t the first time USA Today posed tough questions on produce audits.
Back in mid-October in a Food and Drug Administration telephone press conference on the listeria outbreak, a USA Today reporter said she had a copy of Jensen Farms’ third-party inspection, and the results were near perfect.
She noted to FDA deputy commissioner of foods Mike Taylor, for all the media to hear, that if Jensen Farms received total compliance on specific details that were later identified as culprits in the deadly listeria outbreak, how are audits relevant?
All Taylor could do is agree it was a valid point, and the FDA was working on a system where audits would be standardized and more useful in keeping food safe.
In our coverage after the Jan. 11 cantaloupe food safety meeting organized by the Center for Produce Safety, Markon’s Tim York expressed frustration that the cantaloupe industry wasn’t moving as quickly as the spinach industry did in 2006 after its deadly outbreak, in establishing clear reforms and then publicizing them to rebuild consumer confidence.
While many cantaloupe shippers bristled at the comments, York is right.
Members of the cantaloupe industry would be in much better shape if they had some clear changes in place so Whitaker could have promoted them, rather than be on the defensive in the USA Today.
All the consumer sees is inaction and negative mainstream news coverage.
What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.