Business Monday

Maximizing revenues: Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish

As part of the Fair Food Program, the participating tomato growers agree to improve working conditions and participating retail sellers agree to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes. That penny gets passed on to the farm workers and can amount to an extra $30 to $50 a week.
As part of the Fair Food Program, the participating tomato growers agree to improve working conditions and participating retail sellers agree to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes. That penny gets passed on to the farm workers and can amount to an extra $30 to $50 a week.

There’s an old British adage against being “penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

It warns against safeguarding pennies while risking pounds, referring to British pounds sterling which are worth $1.46 at current exchange rates.

It’s good advice.

And I’ve been thinking about it in the context of corporate social responsibility while shopping in the produce sections and while at the checkout counters of my two local grocery stores.

You see, I recently became aware of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. They’re a human-rights organization that protects the Florida farm-worker community. A few years ago, the group launched the Fair Food Program to create partnerships among farm workers, Florida tomato growers and participating retail buyers.

As part of the Fair Food Program, the participating tomato growers agree to improve working conditions and participating retail sellers agree to pay an extra penny per pound of tomatoes. That penny gets passed on to the farm workers and can amount to an extra $30 to $50 a week.

The improved working conditions and the extra pay make a real difference.

I’ve been a loyal Publix shopper for decades.

But Publix doesn’t participate in the Fair Food Program.

So I decided to launch my own private boycott.

I know that sounds quixotic, but it’s not uncommon. According to a recent study, 55 percent of consumers have refused to purchase a company’s products due to concerns about corporate social responsibility.

As part of my personal protest, instead of buying tomatoes at Publix, I decided to run down the street to Fresh Market, which does participate in the Fair Food Program, and buy my tomatoes there.

“So what,” I figured. I was willing to spend extra on Fresh Market tomatoes if it meant channeling a few more pennies to the Fair Food Program.

But then something unexpected happened. I learned that Fresh Market’s tomatoes are not more expensive than Publix’s tomatoes.

The beautiful, red, vine-ripened, organic tomatoes were $3.99 per pound at both stores. The sweet, little grape tomatoes were also $3.99 per pound at both stores. Publix’s plum tomatoes and Fresh Market’s roma tomatoes were both $1.69 per pound. And the big beefsteak tomatoes were $2.99 per pound at Publix and only $1.99 per pound at Fresh Market.

So it turned out that I could support the farm workers while paying the same or less for tomatoes.

But then something else unexpected happened. As I spent more time in Fresh Market, I realized that the prices are not so out of line. And the produce looks great.

So while I was at Fresh Market, I bought parsley, Brussels sprouts, mangoes, blackberries and avocados.

And last week, my Publix was out of the boneless, skinless chicken thighs we love, and the low-carb pasta we prefer, and the gluten-free crackers we keep for company. So I picked those up at Fresh Market, as long as I was there to buy tomatoes.

Last week, my Fresh Market bill came to $62.37. The week before that, it was $55.43. Three months ago, it was zero.

According to the company website, Publix doesn’t participate in the Fair Food Program because it views wages and working conditions as an internal matter between Florida farmers and Florida farm workers, and compliance with labor laws is best left to the U.S. Department of Labor to enforce.

Perhaps. But because Publix doesn’t pay a penny per pound of tomatoes into the Fair Food Program, I’m on a pace to shift $3,000 of food spending per year to Fresh Market.

That’s what the British meant when they warned against being penny-wise and pound-foolish. My advice: Don’t let that happen at your business.

Adam Snitzer is a revenue strategy expert and president of Peak Revenue Performance. adam@peakrevenuperformance.com or PeakRevenuePerformance.com.

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