The Word: The Map Is Not The Territory

By Tim James

As elected officials and staff attempt to create new laws to achieve what are mostly laudable goals, they are often positioning themselves to regulate industries with which they have little real-world experience and with obvious pitfalls.

Based on some of the recent ordinances we have seen, you could rightly assume politicians believe the grocery business is a simple one. We put goods on shelves, people put said goods into their basket or cart and money is transacted in exchange for the goods. Grocers make the difficult process of retailing food look too easy. 

The most recent case of this faulty logic can be seen in the case of Manhattan Beach, where city officials and staff sought to force grocers to repackage every raw meat product within a two-week timeframe. Thankfully, a combination of straight talk and retail education from CGA and member companies operating in the area changed the Council’s thought process. As a result, the ordinance moved from allowing virtually no implementation time to almost a full year and the ability to seek waivers.

Nevertheless, cities across California are pushing grocers to remove polystyrene foam from their food packaging. And we know the challenges to implement this type of change — while maintaining food safety and quality — are immense. What’s worse, many fail to understand that packaging food products is different than packaging food for restaurant delivery.

Making grocery operations look easy is smart for consumers and their shopping experience, but we should also show how much time, energy and thought goes into ensuring food is safe and high quality. If we don’t, elected officials will continue to create mental representations of the grocery business that are far too simple.