Protect Your Bottom Line ...

Published in CSP Daily News

... and maybe your waistline; FARE speaker Berman warns of government overreach

By  Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Obesity, high-fructose corn syrup, soda, menu labeling. To many citizens, these are the buzzwords of concern, causes and federal remedies. To scores of foodservice manufacturers and retailers, this litany yields thoughts of trumped-up causes and simplistic villains to satisfy the thirst from some quarters for government solutions to America's sometimes wayward food choices.

And to Rick Berman, they are warning bells to government overreach and unseemly incursions into a free-market system built on informed choice.

The beltway conservative public [image-nocss] affairs specialist spoke last week in Scottsdale, Ariz., to hundreds of nontraditional foodservice retailers across the convenience store, university and grocery channels at the fourth annual Foodservice at Retail Exchange (FARE) produced by CSP Information Group.

Berman's message was clear, if not urgent. Be proactive, not reactive. When soda and snack taxes spring up, you're already steps behind, forced to adopt a defensive strategy.

Don't wait for activist groups to pounce and set the agenda, he charged, and don't grant them self-righteous status of moral purists. Frequently, they're not.

Berman cited several examples of what on the surface appears noble, but in actuality, are specious claims and campaigns. The key is to debunk and take these groups down hard.
Take, for instance, today's campaign to ban high-fructose sugar.

The truth, he said, is that high-fructose sugar is no more harmful than table sugar. Yet, it has been labeled as a colossal threat to good health. To combat what he calls misinformation, his company, Berman & Co., helped launched www.sweetscam.com, a website that blends humor and scientific data aimed at debunking what it considers health myths. This doesn't mean that high-fructose sugar is healthy, rather, Berman explained, it is being singularly and wrongfully targeted as the primary source for obesity and other health concerns.

There are numerous other examples of dubious claims, he added. Consider the recently enacted federal menu labeling requirements, which are being finalized by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and are expected to run businesses thousands of dollars to post calorie counts on food items.

"Warning labels will follow calorie counts on menu boards," Berman said. "We'll basically have a red light, green light system and government soon will have a moral authority" to further restrict the foods we eat based on the national healthcare reform.

Berman has been confronting the so-called left wing agenda for nearly three decades, asserting that many hot-button issues are constructed on faulty science and moral braggadocio that businesses and other opponents are too afraid to confront.

One of Berman's most successful campaigns was his efforts against PETA, the radical nonprofit People for Ethical Treatment of Animals. In the mid 2000s, the organization enjoyed more than 70% public support for its efforts to change meat production and other activities it considered animal abuses. Today, it's support has fallen below 50%.

Berman's firm ran a commercial in 2004 on behalf of the Center for Consumer Freedom that would change PETA's popularity. The spot spurred a new website called www.petakillsanimals.com, which continues to report on the number of abandoned dogs and cats PETA kills annually instead of placing them in new homes.

Berman's critics counter that his company represents tobacco companies, poultry giants and beverage giants and receives millions of dollars to run smear campaigns. He acknowledged his tactics aren't for the fainthearted. "Quite frankly, it's hardball, it's edgy."

And referring to those who are attacking food products, Berman urged the audience to stand up, to reframe the debate before their businesses are undercut.

"Are you prepared to go after them? Do you want to defend your product or not? You're in a war, an economic war."

Rick Berman is speaking at CSP's Outlook Leadership 2011 conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., August 20-23. Click here for more information.

By Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor
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