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A Grocer Speaks Out
Tue, 9 Mar 1999

A Grocer Speaks Out

Dear Folks: Those of you who saw my article about Y2K and the media may recall that I quoted a grocer whose identity I protected by calling him "Ed Baldwin." "Ed" just sent the attached message to Bruce Webster, thanking Bruce for his analysis of the latest Senate Y2K report. I asked "Ed" if I could share this, and he said yes. I believe this deserves widespread circulation and discussion. My hope is that "Ed's" courage will stiffen the spines of others. America and the world are starved for leadership and candor of this type. Now is the time for all of us to stand and deliver. Cheers, Larry Shook

Thank you for your candid review of the Senate report of late. I can appreciate how tough it is to try to make a big difference with so little sleep. Your article finally triggered the powder pent up inside, so I thank you for that.

I am the Y2k Program Manager and Systems Architect for a major northwestern wholesale grocery distributor. I have served in Information Services for 20 years and in the food and agriculture business for the past 15. I grew up surrounded by my father's involvement in and speaking on national food issues as the western regional manager of the American Dairy Association. Our family has been involved in 4-H projects of all kinds and have continually grown produce gardens and canned food. My wife has a MS in Nutrition and is a certified dietitian, and I have an MBA. I provide this data not to brag, but to try to frame my comments.

It is unthinkable that our national food supply could be in jeopardy over such a ridiculous series of man-made events, but I guess that is the natural consequence of man trying to control his own destiny, giving no thought to those forces which are bigger than himself. After a good deal of research into the intricacies (and intrigues) of the complicated food chain, I come to the conclusion that it is not so much the result of an unfortunate series of human blunders, as it is the deliberate methodical efforts of a world few who wish to exercise some form of dominion over the uninformed.

I was the first private company representative to contact Trudy Kareus when she was assigned as the Director of the Food Supply Working Group, and we have had many conversations concerning the lack of support she received in studying this issue. I was much dismayed over the final salacious statements in the Gartner report made by one biased individual in a few days time, which has now been pathetically regurgitated by high officals as if it were the concensus of a great many "think tank" intellectual types. This statement of "needless and frivolous stockpiling" by you and I is propanganda pure and simple, and is being heavily used by government. In this era of turning what's good into what's bad, it is not surprising that what had been the norm for mankind, to store up fall food to last through the lean winter months, has now in the last 50 years been degraded into an anti-social and even anti-American activity.

As I deal with this issue professionally, I can't help but wonder what does the industry care whether I prepare, stockpile, or hoard food. Does anyone care if I buy cases of deodorant? If this were purely a business management issue, I could comprehend that spikes in the demand for a product ripple all through the fairly even consumption patterns established by planners, be they in purchasing, manufacturing, distribution, or accounting. But then from a marketing aspect, what sharp sales representative or CEO wouldn't like to see a boost in profits even for a short time? Why wouldn't the government like to have a more self-sufficient and self-reliant citizenry when faced with an unquantifiable and unqualifiable risk? It did during WWII.

Anyway, who are they to judge that "frivolous stockpiling" is immoral (as if they are capable of judging morality), while frequent extravagant dinners at exotic restaurants are not "needless and frivolous" expenditures of money.

As part of the Y2k email share group at FMI, I am aware of the growing concern of food industry biggies over the "stockpiling" mentality of the masses, and how they should deal with the public. The loudest voices are proposing that "education" of the people is the best approach. I feel that this is a big "cop-out" for those who wish to place the blame for a failure of the food system on the general "they", instead of the specific "we". With such a strategy, how could they ever loose or look like the bad guy? "After all, we did ALL we could to educate you and look what you've done to us," they could say.

I believe that Y2k or any other risk to the continuance of the food supply should be just another task for business in ongoing "risk management", which is a science-art all to itself. Since this viewpoint doesn't appear to be the concensus, I wonder at the motivation behind all the news-making talk. Is there a hidden agenda?

As a mere business mortal now groping for guidence in our uncharted waters of contingency planning, I am still looking for a sea-hardened steady voice in the face of an approaching storm, encouraging me to objectively "batten down the hatches" and "drive 'er into the wind". I don't need to be told that the mice are going to overrun the ship!

:) Bob

Fri, 12 Mar 1999

Cynthia Beal

Subject: Re: A Grocer Speaks Out

You said it very well, Dave! The post from Ed was spot on, and I hope the citizen-folks are paying attention to the set-up here.

What I especially find interesting is the "logic" that if we don't buy food all at once, in a rush, this fall, during the pre-potential-transport crisis (temporary or not), then that non-buying will somehow "help" us to avoid a shortage. This is currently the position held by some of the largest food companies as their "advice" to the public.

I think it's much more a matter of the largest food corporations realizing that if demand suddenly exceeds supply, then that constitutes an opportunity for others who might wish to sell food but haven't been able to break their monopoly market. If the global food corporations can only squeeze so much through their carefully crafted pipeline, with its just in time and precision controlled market machinery, and the pipeline either clogs, breaks, or has folks who want more than can fit in their pipe, then other companies can jump into the game.

Then smaller farmers may be able to recoup the real cost of growing and selling the food locally. Smaller stores and distributors may be able to recoup the cost of actually distributing the food. Smaller makers may be able to make food in this country, and sell it here, without having to compete in an international market where we have no chance to do something in a quality manner, resilient, responsible, and small-scale.

OTOH, I've read industry advice to farmers that suggests that they purchase 2 years of ag chemicals in 1999, due to potential supply interruptions. Ag chemicals are high margin items with emerging alternatives (i.e. organic ag), yet without much serious competition possible in the short term. Foodstuffs are low margin items with few alternatives other than locally or self-produced, with great competition possible in the short term, but only if people/companies are prepared.

Heaven forbid a little healthy competition makes its way into the arena!

Dave wrote:

>"They" say, 'If you buy more of something, then someone else won't be
>able to buy it, so shame on you for depriving that person of his much
>needed medication (or food or money).'

Funny how selective the use of that is, isn't it? I wonder what income percentile the folks who say that are in? Seems to me like a few folks had better go read up on their Marie Antoinette in the next few months...

What I do take comfort in is the knowledge that 99% of all the people I've helped to buy their bulk food can be counted upon to be feeding their family, friends, and neighbors should there ever be a problem. I have absolutely no confidence of that taking place should we as a public decide to leave our food in the granaries and warehouses of international food corporations who *will* sell to the highest bidder. Always and only, the highest bidder. They would be sued by their stock holders if they didn't.

There are also complaints that if
>there is a spike this year in food and pharmaceuticals that profits in
>the first quarter of next year might be down. Heaven forbid that our
>populace should be ready for a potentially major "storm" if it hurts
>investors profits even for a little while.

Great point...


>Are we supposed to be a bunch of dolts who can be manipulated and
>maneuvered by wagging fingers that are being manipulated purely by someone
>else's best interest, obviously not mine.

Yes. And if we ever run into a food problem, I imagine you'll see the lines at McDonald's with the government sponsored food coupons in peoples' hands. McDonald's has never been able to take food stamps - now it's only a short few months away, especially if there's a food crisis that The People can be blamed for. If we all bought what we will need now, and then simply maintain that level whatever problems are going to happen related to the food supply would be lessened.

>Responsibility should be the call of the day, not how do we keep from
>upsetting next year's predictions. Probably no industry, whether it be
>banking, or grocery stores or pharmaceutical can withstand a determined
>run on their product and keep up with short term unexpected heavy demand,
>but a reasonable buildup on the part of the consumer shouldn't break the
>back of the supply line.

A reasonable buildup on the part of the consumer means that the consumer re-gains control of their own granary - their food supply. It means that the consumer stops paying huge corporations and food cartels their hard-earned money just to store the food in countries, ports, and warehouses until the customer is ready to buy a handful for dinner.

In older times, a working person knew they consumed approximately 500 liters of grain per year - now we who are re-learning such things can think of it as 16-20 6 1/2 gallon pails of beans, flour and grains. That takes up a space 5' x 5' to the ceiling in my store room. I don't need to pay anyone to do that any longer, and I promise to become a very predictable a few-times-a-year food buyer in the coming years, so if it's predictability that is wanted, it will be had from me!

To a certain extent the panic buying that may
>occur later this year can be expected and prepared for. It may not be as
>clear and definable as normal to a computer program, but there is very
>likely to be an increased demand on many, many products that will go
>significantly above and beyond normal usage and the system may not be
>programmed to expect it or interpret it correctly..

The absolutely worse thing the marketers could do for their own position would be to delay buying. Every delay simply minimizes the amount of food they can make and sell through their current pipeline, and ensures that more new sources of food will be created during the spike of demands later in the year. Whomever is doing the advising to these corporate food giants is missing the boat for them big time. But then, Y2k was the biggest boat of the decade as far as they'll be concerned, and it left the dock long before their advisors knew it was the boat.




Cynthia Beal Red Barn Natural Grocery Eugene, Oregon

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