Archive for June, 2010

Where Do Supermarket Trolleys Go To Die?

Who says the laws of nature only apply to living creatures like humans and elephants?  Supermarket trolleys have a soul as well – and they certainly suffer a fair amount of abuse during their life span.  The odd supermarket trolley escapes and ends up in front gardens, on motorway berms and up side down in a creek – these are normally the alpha animals, the ones who have the guts to try something different.

The vast and silent majority of supermarket trolleys appears to be herd focused, just like many of us – and of course elephants.

We know what happens to us when we pass on; we are carted off to the cemetery in either a long angular box or a small urn.  We also know that elephants disappear when their time comes and the phenomenon is important enough to justify its very own Wikipedia entry.  But did you ever wonder what happens to shopping trolleys which have passed their ‘use by’ date?  Sauerkraut has been wondering about that for years and the answer can now be revealed.  YES, shopping trolleys whose time has come behave like lemmings and join their mates in the shopping malls’ car parks, where they quietely rust away, in full view of any customer who parks his or her cark within a 200 metre radius. 

Supermarket Gurus may well spend their time talking about the new trends in supermarket shopping – but will supermarkets still be around in a few years time, given the rate at which their trolleys slink away to their car park grave yard?

The Howard Cedric Zingel Motion

I received a letter in the mail from Tony Gibbs today.  Not that I was the only one who was privileged in this way.  Every shareholder of Turners & Growers would have received the same letter.  Yes, you have heard right, Sauerkraut likes to keep his nose close to the wind and therefore invests in produce companies.  Not that you will find my name on the share register – John Key and I both manage our investments through trusts.  There are two significant differences though.  Firstly, John Key has access to a smidgen more capital than Sauerkraut and therefore tends to purchase slightly larger share parcels– and secondly, there is nothing blind about Sauerkraut’s trust!

Bu t I digress.  Anyway, this letter arrived today inviting me to the Turners & Growers AGM.  A couple of proxy forms were also floating around in the envelope and then there was this other letter.  A letter from one Howard Cedric Zingel.  If you now want to know who Howard Cedric Zingel is, you are asking the wrong cabbage head.  A quick Google search reveals that Howard Cedric Zingel lives in Tauranga and seems to be someone who invests in the share market from a position of knowledge, being a longtime member of the NZ Shareowners Association Inc.  So we have to assume Mr. Zingel takes his investing serious.

And serious investor that he is, Mr. Zingel intends to propose a Motion at the 2010 Annual General Meeting of Turners & Growers Ltd on 24 June 2010.  If you are interested in reading the Motion in full, you can satisfy your curiosity here, and if you want to know what Tony Gibbs thinks of the Motion you can check that out here.

The short version goes something like this:

Mr.  Zingel wants Turners & Growers to engage the services of Price Waterhouse Coopers  in order to establish whether shareholder dividends and capital could be maximized if “the growing assets of the Group could be split off and the worth thereof returned to shareholders.”

Alan Gibbs’ letter inviting me to the meeting and advising me that I get to vote on Howard Cedric Zingel’s Motion gets straight to the point.  “The Board,” says Tony Gibbs, “does not support this resolution on the basis that the retention and growing assets is consistent with the long-term strategic objectives of the group.”

So there you have it.  As the Board votes the majority of the stock, Mr Zingel’s Motion will be handsomely defeated.  And this is where this story could stop.
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Has Walmart Become A Respectable Produce Merchant?

Still don’t know how serious consumers take their produce shopping these days?  Can’t get your head around whether organic produce offers work? Well, in the absence of intelligent news reporting in this country, we have to revert to this other place where English is spoken, the good US of A.

When a shopping reporter (or was that reporting shopper?) spends his time inspecting the produce displays of Walmart and compares them with those of his local icon Whole Foods, you know America is on the move. And where America leads (having followed the UK), we in turn follow.  Eventually. To a point.  But nevertheless.

Especially when the themes sound  familiar.  Locally sourced, organically grown, attractively merchandised, survival of the small grower.  Now, where have we heard this before?

China Has Plans. Big Plans!

Mention the concepts of ‘threat’ and ‘opportunity’ to anyone remotely connected with produce industry strategy in this country and China gets a mention.  Both Chinas actually.  Whilst Potatoes New Zealand is busy trying to figure out how to optimise its fledgling export relationship with Taiwan and Summerfruit New Zealand is keen to export more cherries into that part of the world,  the rest of the industry is looking with mixed feelings at Mainland China.  How much of a threat will they be to our domestic industry?  Are we really about to be flooded with Chinese imports?  China is already the largest apple producer in the world.  Will we stand a chance in the international markets once China gets serious about apple exports?  And what about all this counterfeit Zespri kiwifruit which can be found in China with monotonous regularity?

Do I have any answers here?  Of course, not! But may I suggest that in order to understand China better, we need to spend a bit of time on critical evaluation – and that involves learning about Chinese mindsets and strategies.  This article about the Chinese commodities strategy in Africa entitled “The Next Empire”   is a good place to start.  I would pay particular attention to the section about Mozambique allowing 3,000 Chinese settlers in to buy and farm the land.

The article provides a wider historic perspective and is certainly not solely focused on horticulture – but neither are the Chinese.

The West Island Banana Price Slump

The Australian ABC network ran a story on low banana prices in late May, stating that grower returns had dropped to A$5 a carton.  The story was picked up by Fresh Plaza, who being Dutchmen, managed to get their geography wrong and announced the story under the headline, “NZ: Bananas going dirt cheap”.  I have no problems with Australia being mistaken to be a part of New Zealand.  I refer to the Land  of OZ as our West Island quite frequently myself. 

The real news in this story is actually not that the Dutch are geographically challenged, but that Australian growers have discovered what to them seems to be a new revalation altogether.

Far North Queensland grower Doug Phillips is being qoted as saying,  he is “still sending fruit to market, but only the pick of the bunch.  We’re only sending the very best of the bunch, we’re not sending any large or mediums. If there’s any marks on it at all it’s getting thrown out.”

Well fancy that.  Australian fruit growers have discovered that one can maintain prices by “only sending the pick of the bunch” to market.  I wonder how long before they trying to patent that highly exciting bit of new knowledge they have gained  and try to sell it to us?