The Republicans have trotted out their "Contract With America" lately with conspicuous results. Such grand results prompt a couple of questions: Do developments in Washington have parallels in current food-distribution trends, and is there any way to apply the "contract" notion to the industry?
The answer to both questions is yes, according to the head of one of America's largest branded-goods companies. Wayne Calloway, PepsiCo.'s chairman and chief executive officer, is proposing that retailers and manufacturers forge their own contract with consumers. Such a contract should be "a declaration to sweep away anything that keeps us from giving consumers the greatest value, variety, quality and convenience."
His appeal to cater to consumers -- and to work toward a more cooperative spirit in trade relations -- came during last month's Food Marketing Institute's Midwinter Executive Conference in Orlando, Fla.
Actually, since Wayne Calloway is also chairman of the Grocery Manufacturers of America, the very fact that he spoke to a general session of the FMI conference was a nice trade-relations gesture.
Wayne Calloway's view is that industry segments have a lot to learn from political events, and that lessons learned have ready applications for the industry. Here's a short version of his views on politics and packaged goods:
"First we witnessed America turning George Bush out [of office] in favor of a very liberal Bill Clinton and then, to everyone's surprise, dumping, just two years later, a well-established Democratic Congress in favor of a bunch of conservative newcomers.
"Now, what's going on here? What is it that America is telling us?
"It's not clear that [Americans] care about liberals or conservatives. What they want is results and solutions. They're telling all of us to forget political labels; to find solutions.
"Well, isn't that what consumers have been telling us in the grocery industry for the last few years? They want solutions.
"Consumers really don't know what goes into the price of a bar of soap and, furthermore, they really don't care. But they do know that they want lower prices, they want higher quality, they want more variety and they want more convenience.
"It's been said that none of us are as smart as all of us . . . and we'll have to work together in ways that were unheard of before to make what is already the best [grocery-distribution] system in the world even better. "It's probably fair to ask the age-old question: What's in it for [us]? After all, for consumers there'll be greater value, more variety and greater convenience. But what's in it for the retailer or the manufacturer?
"The real point has to be growth. The money we save, and the efficiency we build into the system, has to be used for growth.
"The implications of that are enormous. For America, growth means jobs, opportunity and investment. For the industry, growth means strength, flexibility, vitality, profit and a lot of fun as well.