Do you love your produce manager? Do you even know him or her? If not, I suggest you introduce yourself.

Many of us in the produce industry have gotten into the habit of befriending our produce managers. After all, a lot of first-hand information on consumer trends and the best tasting, seasonal produce items can be discussed in a conversation. And sometimes I have received feedback on our products or other produce items that has helped me in my business.

But, on a personal level, I think it’s great to get to know your produce manager, and actually the whole produce team at your store. Ever since my daughters were young, I’ve taken them shopping with me. I showed them how to pick a banana (for now or for later in the week), when a pineapple will taste good (smell its aroma at room temperature for a clue), which cantaloupes will taste “melon-y” (again, smell at room temperature and inspect the stem end for a dent–there should be no stem there!) and, of course, how to pick a good Asian Pear, a wrinkled Passion Fruit, and a Jicama.

And we always said “hi” to our produce manager. I loved to tell my kids why I think produce managers are so important.

Back in 1962, a consumer went into a Salt Lake City supermarket and asked the produce manager for a fruit she had tried while on a mission in New Zealand. That produce manager contacted the company’s produce buyer to look for the fruit which was called a “Chinese Gooseberry.”

Fortunately, that buyer called my mother, Frieda, and she was able to locate the fruit a few months later. And the rest is legendary marketing history.

That Chinese Gooseberry was renamed to Kiwifruit, and my mother is credited with introducing the Kiwifruit to American consumers and launching an entire specialty produce category.

But Frieda actually gives credit to that single produce manager. If he had not responded to the request of a single shopper, we may not have had a Kiwifruit industry!

So in honor of ALL produce managers, our company created a national holiday! Yes, that’s right. Two years ago, we registered the name “Love Your Produce Manager Day,” and it will always be on April 2, which happens to be our company anniversary.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - Love Your Produce Manager Day 2014

We are actually running a little contest on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this year, and I invite you to join us. Go to your supermarket and introduce yourself to your produce manager. Give a shout-out or post a selfie of you and your produce manager on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram, tagging #LYPM. We’ll randomly choose three winners, one each from the three social media channels, by the end of April 2, to receive $25 gift cards for themselves AND for their produce managers!

And you’ll have a new friend, a new resource for what’s new, what’s in season, and what’s tasting good.

Join me in loving your produce manager!

Karen

P.S. A little side note about what’s happening in the Kiwifruit world right now. Due to cold weather in Chile and a bacterial vine disease in New Zealand called PSA, there will be a significant shortage in the global supply of Kiwifruit for the next six months. So, don’t be surprised if prices at your local market are significantly higher and displays are smaller through November.

When my youngest daughter, Sophia, was in high school, each week she insisted that I buy a box of Cuties® Tangerines at my local market. They were her favorite snack. She would consume two or three Cuties® a day until they were gone.

And, if the quality of the fruit I purchased was not up to par, she let me know it. Sophia has a unique ability to quickly taste if something is “not right” or past its peak, so I became very good at inspecting fruit at the grocery store so I wouldn’t get a rejection at home.

Well, now that Sophia is in college, I purchase citrus fruit for my own palate and I have two new favorites.

SUMO® Citrus is a cross between a mandarin and a California navel orange. These fruits have a distinctive “bump” on the top of the orange, almost like the hairstyle of a sumo wrestler. I’m guessing that’s where the name originates (very clever, don’t you think?).

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Sumo Citrus

Sumos have a long history, starting in Japan. (You can read here more about it here.) During my travels around to different growing areas, I really enjoyed visiting Sumo growers. They are family farmers who are passionate about growing. When they discovered this one particular tree at the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection almost a decade ago, they recognized they had a winner.

Many upscale and natural markets across the U.S. now have Sumos. I’ve seen them in Wegman’s in New York, Gelson’s in Southern California, Central Markets in Texas and Whole Foods everywhere. The season is short, so get them now.

I like them for two reasons: one, they are easy to peel; and two, and most important, they are juicy and sweet. Don’t be put off if the bright orange rind looks old, bumpy or has a pebbly look to it. That’s all part of the Sumos’ distinctive appearance. Even when the outside skin looks old, they still taste fantastic.

My second favorite citrus fruit looks completely normal compared to the Sumo. The mini tangerine, called the “Ojai Pixie,” has a unique, super sweet flavor, contributed partially by the area in which it is grown, the Ojai Valley, about 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. This small valley nestles between avocado and citrus groves, with Central Coast wineries just a few miles up the road.

I had the great fortune to meet Jim and Lisa Churchill, who are Ojai Pixie growers on a relatively small ranch. Jim calls himself “Tangerine Man.” I remember sitting with Jim and Lisa a few years ago on folding chairs in their orchard as they told me stories of their Pixies and the other fruits they grow. When I walked through their orchard, I noticed a few trees appeared to be missing.

“Why are the trees missing?” I asked.

They both looked at each other, and chuckled. Then they whispered to me, “We have bears.”

OMG – I remember my heart started beating very quickly and I looked around. They assured me that while their bear loved the citrus trees, it only came out at night. Whew!

It’s easy to understand why a bear would come out for some late night snacking. The outside skin of Ojai Pixies may be super pebbly, bumpy and a bit unattractive, but they are easy to peel and absolutely the sweetest (and cutest) tangerine you’ll ever taste!

Pixies come from other growing areas now, and their outside skin is rather smooth. But I’d recommend that you seek out the Ojai Pixies when they come into their short season in about a week.

So, even with the freeze that destroyed millions of pounds of California citrus fruit during the last two months, there are still some delicious (but expensive) citrus fruits to enjoy. I hope you will make a point to try both of these, and soon, as their season comes and goes rather quickly.

Enjoy!

Karen

If you’ve ever bought shoes online, it’s quite possible that you have heard about Zappos. It’s well known for its quirky company culture as well as its legendary customer service. The company’s founder Tony Hsieh wrote an amazing book, “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” in 2010, soon after he sold his company to Amazon for $1.2 billion.  Many of us wondered if Amazon would try to change the company’s culture or its systems and processes.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Zappos

Well, I have firsthand evidence that Zappos’ culture and commitment to customer service are alive and well. And I think there is something meaningful that we can learn from this company.

Here’s the back story: My eldest daughter Alex buys shoes from Zappos. She was sitting at home one night, thinking about buying shoes and what a hassle it is to go to the mall. (Like daughter, like mother, I have to say!) So she went to Zappos where she can order as many pairs of shoes as she wants, in any or multiple sizes, with no hassle whatsoever because you get FREE SHIPPING to have the shoes come to you and when you return the ones you don’t want!

A few months ago, Alex ordered a pair of running shoes. Apparently, they were delivered to her house, but she never received them. So she emailed Zappos with her predicament and they promised to put a UPS tracer on the shipment.

But Zappos dropped the ball. She did not hear back from them at all, and she had already been charged for the shoes.

So, last week, Alex contacted them again, by sending them this email:

Hi there!

About 6 weeks ago I contacted Zappos about how my order never arrived to my house. The person filed a claim with UPS, and UPS followed up with me. I confirmed with UPS that I never received my shoes, and UPS said they would work with Zappos to resolve the issue. Well, the issue has still not been resolved and I am out $90 without shoes. I went to the Brooks website directly to buy shoes because I couldn’t wait any longer for Zappos to get back to me.

Please let me know what the status of this is, and when I can expect my $90 to be refunded to me.

I have heard great things about Zappos’ customer service and hope you all live up to the great things your loyal customers are saying.

Thank you,

Alex

Within four hours, she heard back from customer service:

Greetings Alex!

I, the Amazing Magician James, would be happy to help you!

You have my honest apologies that it has taken us this long to get back to you. I’m not sure what happened to cause the delay, but I’m more than happy to make sure this gets fixed right this instant.

As of right now, your card has just been refunded $97.15, which should show up in 2-10 days, depending on your bank. On top of that, I’ve also issued a $20 coupon, which should be arriving in an email after this one with the code number to use on our site. It’s a one-use coupon, but can be used on anything at all at Zappos.com.
Past that, I’ve sent an email with your admission to the VIP program in it. From now on, anything you order is going Next Business Day Air for free. All you need to do is go to VIP.Zappos.com in the future, and you should only see the option of Next Business Day Air for your orders. It’s a magically fast speed for a customer we certainly dropped the ball with!

If there is anything else at all we can do to help, please don’t hesitate to call, chat, email, send a magical owl, or even a messenger ferret. Your best bet will be with the first three though. The ferrets keep attacking the owls. Really delays the messages.

Magically yours,

The Amazing James!

Zappos Customer Loyalty Team

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Zappos
A picture of the inspiration wall at Zappos HQ. Source: Zappos Insight

What did I learn about customer service?

1. All organizations make mistakes when serving their customers. Amazing and Empowered organizations have people who admit when they flub it up and are empowered to make it right with their customers.

2. When you are trying to make it right with a customer, just giving a refund or apologizing is not enough. The best organizations go the extra mile to show their commitment to customer service.

3. Sometimes it’s good to be a bit silly and even outrageous (thus the owls and messenger ferret). That email sure made me smile. And it kind of defused any anger anyone may have been feeling.

4. Please note that The Amazing James’ department is Zappos Customer Loyalty Team. Not, customer service.

In this age when standing out from the crowd is key to business success, maybe it’s not so bad to make a mistake…if you are empowered (or empower your team) to remedy a problem situation and make lemonade out of lemons.

What do you want to accomplish with your clients. Service or Loyalty?

Karen

P.S. Zappos offers a free Zappos Tour Experience to show off its legendary customer service office at its headquarters in Las Vegas. You just have to make a reservation. For a fee, you can sign up for special Q&A after the tour. The company also offers corporate training programs.

Earlier this week, I spent three days with nearly 100 fellow agriculture-related business owners, bankers, ranchers, farmers and interesting speakers to study a few companies in the agricultural sector. Every two years, I attend the UC Davis Agribusiness Executive Seminar which focuses specifically on agricultural issues and enterprises in California.

Besides the usual business issues of marketing, technology, big data, strategy and future planning, there was really only one thing on everyone’s mind.

Water.

As we Californians all know, even with last weekend’s rain, we are in a serious drought that will affect growers of fresh fruits and vegetables, not only this year, but likely for many years to come. Plus, as I learned, the number one crop by acreage grown in California is hay! And that hay goes to feed beef and dairy cattle.

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - California Drought

So, in fact, our entire food chain in California has already been seriously affected by the lack of water and the odd temperature cycle. (Did you know that many fruit trees require a minimum number of chilling hours?).

I have read many articles on the situation; you can read some of them here and here. And just yesterday, I read that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is visiting California right now, offered to help our state’s water situation with conservation and desalination techniques pioneered by his country’s scientists. Having just returned from Israel, I have seen those systems at work. It would be amazing to have the help. After all, we can use all the help we can get.

I am by no means an expert on water, or what farmers can do. But I am a consumer, a constituent, just like you. And I learned some new information and perspectives while talking with my farmer friends that I want to share.

First: Water is really all about water rights. It’s not just about availability.

For example, one of the conference attendees who is a large almond grower raised the issue that homeowners in the Sacramento area do not have water meters at their homes, and thus have no economic disincentive to save water. She asked, “What if meters were put on all the houses, and this caused consumers to save water? Wouldn’t that saved water go to local farmers?”

Surprisingly, the answer was not yes. The answer was, “It depends on who is next in line for water rights.” Your proximity does not guarantee your rights.

Honestly, I never paid much attention to water board elections, or the California Environmental Protection Agency, but I will now. A great resource to find out about water rights, how decisions are made, etc., is the State Water Resources Control Board. Many fellow attendees were wondering about the constant battle between the three main constituents of water: agriculture, environmentalists and urban consumers. It’s a hard choice.

Second: All of us can do our part to conserve water whether it is reducing our consumption at home or work, or educating others around us about conservation methods. An interesting source of information is this National Geographic article.

Third: Did you know that on average, a vegan, a person who eats no animal products whatsoever, indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day LESS than a person who eats the average American diet? So the idea of adopting a Meatless Monday eating style, or limiting how many times a week you eat meat or poultry, will actually contribute to saving water.

And most importantly: Be an active citizen. It’s important to voice your opinion and be informed about the issues. Pay attention to the views of your elected officials. If you are intrigued and concerned, check out this great website, WaterEducation.org, and its monthly magazine, “Western Water.”

Frieda's Specialty Produce - What's on Karen's Plate? - Western Water

Finally, if you have children and grandchildren, start educating them early about conserving water and educating them on the issues related to water. California water is our legacy and their future.

Karen