RICHMOND, Va. -- Jim Ukrop wants his customers to think of his company as their personal advocate, so he's making sure they know he's on their side when it comes to poultry labeling.
A campaign to oppose current rules about what can be labeled "fresh" has culminated in an ad in the local newspaper as well as a letter in the chain's December Valued Customer newsletter. Through these two mediums, the vice chairman and chief executive officer of Ukrop's Super Markets here hopes to have made his position on the fresh/frozen poultry labeling rulings clear.
"Is 1 degree Fahrenheit Fresh?" asks the ad, which ran twice in two successive weeks in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "The Government Says Yes. At Ukrop's 1 degree Fahrenheit is FROZEN!" it proclaims. The ad then goes on to explain that "All Ukrop's Fresh Turkeys ARE 100% Fresh -- Never Frozen," and includes an excerpt from a U.S. Department of Agriculture policy memo on the use of the term "fresh" on meat and poultry products.
"You know, I've been threatening to run that ad since 1990 or 1991, when I first discovered that we were selling frozen turkeys," Ukrop told SN.
"One day I walked into one of our stores and right where we had the fresh turkey sign, they were all frozen. So I inquired as to how this might have come about, and was told that the temperature 'might have come down.' "
After researching government regulations on the matter, Ukrop was incensed.
"I couldn't believe it -- so I wrote to the processors and the Secretary of Agriculture, saying I thought this was a 60-minute issue, that if our customers discover [what's happening] I think they'll consider that deception."
Customers were approaching store staff and inquiring as to why the birds were frozen, he said, and they were given the explanation that the products had simply not thawed in time to be soft. "If people want a fresh turkey, I think they should get a fresh turkey, not one that's been frozen and thawed."
In the letter that appeared in the December Valued Customer newsletter, signed by Jim Ukrop as well as Robert Ukrop, the company's president and chief operating officer, customers were assured that the supermarket is still looking out for them: "We want to promise you that, in 1996, we'll continue to be your advocate in the marketplace. One way we'll do this is by fighting for truth in food labeling, particularly when it comes to fresh turkeys," the letter said.
"We think it's time the government ruled that if a turkey is labeled fresh, it should have never been frozen."
The letter went on to pledge that in spite of the Senate's negative vote on the new poultry labeling ruling this year, Ukrop's is dedicated to this particular struggle.
It also got in a final dig at the Senate's decision: "Our customers don't have to settle for government standards. Because our standards are much higher."
Although there has been sparse response from customers, Ukrop is pleased to have made his view known.
"Maybe it's not a big deal, but if we sell products in our stores that have been previously frozen, I think we owe it to our customers to let them know that."