Rising to the Challenge of Transparency

A Letter from the President and CEO
Leslie G. Sarasin
For food retailers to provide their customers with the bank of information today's shoppers seek, they must be in lockstep communication with those who raised it and produced it.

Watching the world's athletes compete in the Rio Olympics this year, I became fascinated with studying how these disciplined competitors approached their challengers as well as how they treated each other in both victory and defeat. Some let their frustration get the best of them and trashed those who had challenged them. Others spoke respectfully of their challengers, identifying them as sharing similar goals and love of the sport, whose performance had pushed the field to greater excellence. I found myself somewhat repelled by those who belittled their challengers and strangely drawn to those with the maturity to recognize that without a worthy challenger, they would not have risen to the occasion.

I am reminded that futurist and social chronicler Alvin Toffler characterized the three waves of societal development on the basis of the primary commodity of exchange. The agricultural age was defined by an exchange of foodstuffs; the industrial age was characterized by trading mass-produced goods; and today's technological age holds information as its primary commodity of exchange. Success in each age meant effectively dealing in the currency of the day. For those of us living in the information age, this means that regardless of the commodity being produced, it must be translated, transferred or encased in the currency of information. Just as those vocationally based in agricultural had to learn industrial applications to remain current, all of us wishing to remain relevant must be fluent in the language of information. That requires those of us who deal primarily in agricultural products to understand that our job now transcends raising and/or selling food; it now requires providing information about that food and creating an experience surrounding the enjoyment of the food. Simply put, we are being challenged to think, act and approach our work differently.

For food retailers to provide their customers with the bank of information today's shoppers seek, they must be in lockstep communication with those who raised it and produced it. They must be aware of all the issues the farmer had to resolve in growing this crop and the challenges the producer had to address to provide this product. The information-hungry consumer wants to know the rationale governing decisions made at each stage of production. In the vernacular of the day, shoppers are demanding greater transparency in the supply chain. They are challenging us to better interact in the information currency of the day or risk becoming obsolete. They are challenging us to work more collaboratively and to make our decisions more apparent and open to scrutiny. They are challenging us to prove our trustworthiness in new ways every day.

And that brings us back to the issue of how we define and treat those who challenge us to greater transparency.

We have options. We can consider them with respect, viewing their demands as an invitation to improve our performance and use their insights to better engage in the game as it is currently being played. Or our resistance to change can take the shape of belittling the efforts of those who challenge us to provide more information about our food products.

In short, we can demonstrate the maturity and vision to lean positively into the challenge of transparency, or we can emulate the poor sports whose juvenile recourse is to diminish those who challenge us to do our jobs differently. From where I sit, we all suffer setbacks, but the only true losers are those who lower themselves to unbecoming levels and refuse to both learn from their defeats and to respectfully rise to the challenges presented by others.