Retailers' boycott of mushrooms surprises experts

Daniel B. Wheeler dwheeler at ipns.com
Fri Aug 10 02:27:01 EST 2001


>From The Oregonian, Aug. 6, 2001, p E4

Retailers' boycott of mushrooms surprises experts
The ban by Fred Meyer and Safeway shows how some companies are now
willing to take a stand

The Associated Press

	SALEM - The decision by two large supermarket chains to stop buying
Pictsweet mushrooms has surprised retail industry observers, who say
normally stores let consumers decide.
	Fred Meyer Stores and Safeway Stores have stopped stocking the
mushrooms in support of farm workers attempting to unionize the
mushroom plant.
	Grocery industry analysts, public relations experts and others say
Fred Meyer's and Safeway's reasons for stepping into the dispute are
more complex than the terse statements given to the media.
	"That's out of character for Fred Meyer, and it's a big step, a huge
step, and it's a huge statement," said Cheryl Perrin, the former
public relations director for Fred Meyer.
	Perrin led Fred Meyer's public relations efforts for 22 years and is
now a Port of Portland commissioner.
	She routinely took calls from consumers wanting the company to pull a
product, but Fred Meyer seldom agreed, Perrin said.
	However, in the mid-1980s, Fred Meyer decided it would sell tuna
caught only by dolphin-safe methods. For a time, all products made in
Bangladesh were banned because of concerns about child-labor.
	The Northwest Treeplanters and Farmworkers United, better known by
its Spanish acronym PCUN, has demanded better pay and working
conditions for mushroom workers at Pictsweet.
	Workers backing the union say the hard job of harvesting mushrooms in
the dank and smelly Pictsweet plant is made worse by managers
unwilling to listen to their concerns.
	Many Latinos work at the plant.
	The controversy has Salem Mayor Mike Swaim backing the union, at one
point saying the local company treated its workers "like slugs."
	"Successful retailing in the future is going to be a lot more about
picking your sides than trying to be everybody's friend," said Ryan
Mathews of FirstMatter, a consulting group that follows retailing
trends.
	In the Pictsweet example, the plant's largely Latino work force
likely was a component in the grocery chain's thinking, Mathews said.
	One possible explanation: The grocery chains were worried about
offending Latino customers, as well as others sympathetic to farm
workers.
	"If you're an operator of a food store in the Western United States,
the Hispanic community is the single most important community you have
to worry about," Mathews said.
	Even those consumers who object to the mushroom boycott eventually
may come to respect Fred Meyer's and Safeway's integrity for taking a
position, Mathews said.
	Personal values and ethnicity have increasingly entered into the
retailing equation, he added.
	Salem resident Kathleen Adamson, a state hospital employee, said she
thinks the cause of the mushroom workers is just. She has taken the
mushroom boycott a step further: She refuses to shop in any store
carrying Pictsweet.
	"They're being hypocritical," said Doug Fuller, another Salem
resident. The grocery chains are singling Pictsweet when their stores
are filled with imported products harvested by laborers working in
abysmal conditions, he said.
	"Retailers are very sensitive to customer issues, and union matters
is one of those areas where they tread very carefully," said Bob
Vosburgh, an editor at Supermarket News.
	"I was more shocked than anybody," said Rick Sawyer, an official with
United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, which represents retail
clerks at Fred Meyer and Safeway.
	Ralphs Grocery, a California chain also owned by Fred Meyer parent
Kroger Co., is observing a similar boycott against a Pictsweet
mushroom plant in California. So is Vons, a California grocery chain
owned by Safeway. Four years ago, Safeway also endorsed an agreement
that recognized the right of California strawberry pickers to
unionize.

Posted as a courtesy by
Daniel B. Wheeler
www.oregonwhitetruffles.com




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