Several supermarket industry leaders named to President-elect George W. Bush's transition advisory team last week told SN they were optimistic that they would help the incoming administration tackle industry concerns ranging from international trade to the estate tax.
John Block, president and chief executive officer of the Food Distributors International; Manly Molpus, president and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers of America; Food Marketing Institute CEO Tim Hammonds and Jill Hollingsworth, vice president for food safety; and Tom Stenzel, president, United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association were named to the 31-member advisory team to incoming Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman.
Though the committee had yet to meet formally late last week, members of the team said they were preparing to advise the new administration on issues of importance to the supermarket business and on strategies to effect those changes.
They also expressed confidence in Veneman, whom they said excels in the area of international trade.
"I think she will will be an excellent secretary," Molpus said of Veneman, a former deputy undersecretary of agriculture under President Bush and more recently head of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "She has lots of experience in foreign trade issues and that's important to us at GMA.
"We think there's a tremendous opportunity to reduce tariffs and open world trade of processed foods."
Block said he would also stress the importance of the governmental agencies overseeing food to work together on issues, and would call for less governmental intervention in the food business in general. He added he was confident the industry can attain such autonomy during the new administration.
"I think our next president will have a significant impact on the food industry by allowing us to be innovative -- and that's best with minimal government intervention," Block said. "I think [Bush] appreciates the role of the private sector and does not want to saddle it with costly or unnecessary regulations."
Block, who served as secretary of agriculture under President Reagan, told SN he also felt the incoming administration would stem what he called a "flood of regulations" against which the industry has battled during the Clinton administration. These include land-use regulations, taxes and the recently proposed ergonomics standards.
"I cannot underestimate the relief I feel not to have to fight heavy-handed government intrusion on our businesses," Block said. "Now we'll able to concentrate on getting things done. Instead of being on the defense like we were for eight years, we've got the ball and we're going to run an offense."
Block said he would recommend USDA staff candidates for the incoming secretary.
"The Department of Agriculture is a huge entity that oversees many different areas," he said.
"In my judgment, one of the most important things I can do as an advisor is help pick the team. I definitely have some thoughts on that," he added.
Stenzel commented, "It's an honor for our association and our members to be selected as the fruit and vegetable industry's representative to assist with the transition.
"I'll work hard to make sure that produce concerns are front and center as new United States Department of Agriculture staff appointments are made and early policy positions are drafted and debated."
Several major supermarket executives and an industry association official also attended a private meeting of corporate leaders with Bush in Austin, Texas, last week.
Bush said he held the economic forum to discuss his economic agenda and the current economy.
Representatives from the supermarket industry included Robert E. Rich, chairman, Grocery Manufacturers Association; H. Lee Scott, president and CEO, Wal-Mart Stores; and Mike Wright, chairman, president and CEO, Supervalu.