Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Turning the Corner

I feel pretty good about the prospect that we are turning the corner in the Salmonella incident. We have been since March 28 without a product recall press release on the FDA Website and that is an eternity considering what we have been through since the recall started.

I feel a bit for the Pistachio folks who are in the midst of a new Salmonella recall. Unfortunately all the press reports start with something like "on the heels of the Salmonella recall on Peanuts" and then tell of the problem in Pistachio nuts. I don't wish them the same misery as we had but selfishly, it does give us someone else to share the spotlight with.

We are seriously looking now at more effort toward rebuilding and less toward responding. That is good news. I knew this time would come but it sure has been a long time getting here.

I feel that there is an air of optimism in the industry and consumers seem to be less ill at ease since the recall is obviously winding down.

In April we have two consumer shows and the Georgia School Nutrition Council at which to exhibit. We are going to have to be diligent and remember what got us here in the first place...peanuts and peanut butter are good and good for you.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Leadership Class

We had another class for our young leaders this week. It is hard to believe we are in to the sixth class. We had them in to Cordele and did team building, how to conduct a meeting, a who's who in the industry, and more. We also toured a shelling plant and Tara foods which is owned by Kroger and makes peanut butter. They do a really good job with peanut butter and make a good product. That is refreshing after the problems we had recently with PCA.

Part of the team building was a snag golf tournament. We had everyone pair up and then divided them in to two teams. It was buddy against buddy. It mixes folks and gets them to associate with others. Snag golf is not real golf. You have clubs with short shafts and big heads and hit a ball like a tennis ball to a target made of something kin to Velcro. The losers had to cook supper which was another team building exercise.

We have growers from Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi in this class. It is sponsored by Syngenta and the American Peanut Shellers Association. This class we also included two sheller employees who have been a nice addition to help expand our the leaders vision.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Washington Last Week

Last week we had a big week in Washington.

Early in the week the Peanut Foundation reviewed and then funded research projects, many of which are in Georgia.

Wednesday started with my giving testimony to a subcommittee of the House Small Business Committee on the impact of the recent peanut recall on our farmers and industry. I suggested two immediate things they could do; get USDA to set the posted price properly and get USDA to beef up government purchases of peanuts and peanut butter for feeding programs. I pointed out the value of peanut butter for those programs. I also pointed out the economic disaster to our industry if something is not done. For our industry the number could be upward of a billion dollars and the grower impact could be from $225 to $450 million in lost sales. Those numbers came from the National Center for Peanut Competitiveness. They got a lot of attention in the press.

At the same US Peanut growers banded together through their State Checkoff boards, with the peanut shellers joining in and gave 8500 jars of peanut butter to Martha's Table in DC. The peanut butter is used to feed at risk children. Southern Ag Carriers hauled the peanut butter from Albany to Washington for free and Tara Foods (Kroger) discounted the peanut butter heavily. A press conference was held to highlight the value of peanut butter in use at soup kitchens. Everywhere we went we pointed out that jarred peanut butter is totally safe.

The American Peanut Council had a meeting where the outbreak and recall were a large part of the discussion. We studied other groups who had had similar situations and reviewed what we had done as an industry. I was amazed at how similar our situation was to the spinach recall except ours has been far more extensive.

As I look back and see everything that has been done I have to give credit to the experts and their advice. The industry has been responsible in its actions. Had we not been cautious and calculated we might have just done as some wish and sent folks back in the water with the sharks circling, so to speak. Had a bad action on our part caused someone to get ill or die we would have been just as guilty as the PCA. We never approached that. The recall nor the outbreak has yet ended and we cannot force that. It is up to USDA and FDA to indicate that. It amazes me that yesterday we still had products being recalled. Today we will see what CDC reports on the outbreak. I pray for a week when no new illness is reported.

Yesterday Armond and I did interviews with WALB for a story which will run on March 26 on the outbreak and recall. We have to keep telling the story of one bad actor in a good industry.

My best advice to consumers is if you have a question about a product you want to eat call 1-800-CDC-INFO.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Kobalt Tools 500 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway

About ten days ago we were approached by the Atlanta Motor Speedway about doing a peanut farmer appreciation day at the race this past Sunday. Ten days is not a lot of time to put something together like this but I have a magnificent Staff and somehow it was pulled off. I cannot say enough good about Joy Carter who took the lead in putting the event together and making it a total success. That said I appreciate all my staff's efforts in the success of the event.

I also have to commend my board and their families for helping to staff the event which was a monumental task.

We handed out 60,000 souvenir packs of Georgia Peanuts to race fans in attendance.

The reason the AMS offered this opportunity was because they knew farmers were struggling with the current Salmonella outbreak and recall of peanut products processed by the Peanut Corporation of America. Had they not given us pretty much the "keys to the kingdom" we could not have done what we did. They gave us a billboard if we paid production cost. That was a $60,000 value for $2500. They discounted tickets to peanut farmers and their families. A $105 ticket for $30 brought out our farmers, too. I was proud of how tall Georgia's Peanut farmers are standing.

They invited the farmers down to the track for the driver introductions as added recognition.

On Friday before the race Marcie Scott who is the media person for the track took Joy Carter and me around to meet some of the broadcast folks and let us occupy space in the media center. While there Kurt Bush was there doing a question/answer time with the media. As he was leaving I gave him a pack of Georgia Peanuts and told him they would give him what he needed to win the race. Guess what...he won.

Between the billboard, display area and being able to hand out peanut packs at each gate in the grandstands along with the PA announcements and the media mentions on TV and radio This was well over a $100,000 promotion.

Thanks to the guys at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ed Clark, the President and General Manager, Ted Austad who was our main logistical contact, Marcie and what she did with the media, and track owner Bruton Smith, a million thanks are in order.