Archive for July, 2011

If It Cost More, Would It Get More Respect?


Growing is a mug’s game – or so one of my team members often says.  Growers are at the mercy of so many things, 75% of which are completely beyond their control!  There’s the weather, the market, transport and fuel costs, compliance, staff, pests…and that’s not the complete list. So really, why would you be a grower?

Thing is, we – human beings – need food.  And food comes from the land, from growers.  So to eat, we have to have someone to grow it.

Sure, in an ideal world we can keep a chicken or two, a goat, an apple tree and a vege garden in our own back yard.  Problem is, very few countries, New Zealand included, have the luxury of sufficient arable land to give every family the quarter acre that such a utopia requires – never mind having the necessary favourable climate, let alone the skill set…
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A Better Life

Whilst in mainland China, I had the opportunity to catch up with an old work colleague and boss from my days in the supermarket trade at Foodtown here in New Zealand. He kindly took me around several of the many stores under his aegis.










They are part of the BuBu Gao (Better Life) Company, which has over 140 stores in the Hunan and Jiangxi provinces. They have a diverse range of retail interests, including both supermarkets and hypermarkets. For those who have noticed the ubiquitous Golden Arches in the photos, yes – BuBuGao have a working relationship with McDonald’s. They are one of the few wholly Chinese owned supermarket chains operating in China.











Chairman Mao might have been gone for a while but he is omnipresent in the BuBu Gao entrance foyer.

Another Day, Another Continent


Whilst at Hong Kong airport, waiting to board my first ever flight into mainland China, I took the time to look around.
Things looked reassuringly normal…
This could be any plane, at any airport.


But then I noticed this industrious person.
I suppose this is one way to ensure a clear view for the pilot!




Then I noticed this guy…
Not sure I would  want to sit there for my break, given how luggage trains and the like can whiz around the tarmac.



While boarding, I noticed this.
Not that unusual to have economy separated from business class by a curtain, but I’d never seen it signposted so clearly before!
Definite class distinction going on here.
There was also nothing subtle about how the Chinese leave  a plane: the minute the plane stops after landing, the people seated at the back are out of their seats and pushing towards the exit.  No patient waiting in the aisle here.  For obvious reasons though, no photo of the exit strategy!

Cavemen and Calculus

I have a team member with a propensity for out of left field utterances.  A recent one got me thinking, especially as it matched a theme I’d been exploring for that presentation at Peking University I mentioned in the previous post.  It went something like this:

“We’re still cavemen trying to live in a 21st century world”

And one of my themes in myPeking speech was about the rate of change in my lifetime, how it is accelerating and methods of learning to cope with the problems this causes.

Whilst I don’t consider myself a caveman, there are times when the rapid rate of change happening everywhere I look does make me wonder if we, homo sapiens, are ready for it from an evolutionary standpoint.  Let’s face it, the human body is not built to withstand travelling above a certain speed.  We are soft flesh over a breakable skeleton.  Yet here we are, able to buy and drive cars that can travel well in excess of that certain speed.

Much of what we do, a caveman would recognise: we live in caves, albeit called houses and with air conditioning; we wear furs, although the clothes we wear come from mammoth stores, as opposed to a woolly mammoth; and we still eat nuts, berries, fruits and vegetables – although what Mrs Cro Magnon’s opinion of supermarkets would be, I dread to think.  So we’re still doing all the same things the cavemen did, we’re just more sophisticated in how we go about it.  We can devise changes in technology far faster than Mother Nature can in humans by evolution, so it’s no wonder the two are increasingly out of step.

How has this rate of change affected our food?
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China – Where Knowledge Is Valued

My travels took me to China a couple of weeks ago. Initially to Hunan Province and then on to Beijing.  There will be a few entries relating to food retailing in China here over the coming weeks as well as a commentary or three on the Forbidden City and the Great Wall.  So, watch this space.   But, I would like to kick off with a few thoughts  about the other reason for the trip – which was to give a key note address on the role of Action Learning within the context of organisational development at a symposium on that topic at Peking University.  And no, I have not accidentally reverted to Beijing’s previous ‘label’ here, I did this deliberately.  The university went back to the original ‘Peking’ version of its name when it discovered that its brand image was severely impacted through the politically correct name change. 

My Mandarin Was Not Good Enough To Cope Without A Translator

So, here I was, the only Laowai amongst three hundred Chinese – and I have to say, I felt very comfortable.  One of my hosts had recently completed a Masters Degree  in Horticultural Extension at Wageningen University in Holland so it was easy to find common ground.  It was fascinating to see how the horticultural value chain has advanced in China anyhow – but the opportunity to gain an insight into how learning is being managed in this economy full of superlatives was something else altogether.   

Learning is being taken very serious in this country – and the appreciation for knowledge runs through the Chinese social fabric regardless of the century one lives in and the prevailing politcal system of the moment.