Roads not taken: ITT’s offer of frozen meals for the Soviet school lunch program
14 June 1978, Moscow
2.30-3.45 Meeting at the Ministry of Meat and Dairy with Deputy Minister Kroha presiding, Savchenko from the Meat Institute, the director of the experimental frozen food factory in Moscow (with production of 20,000 meals per shift or one-quarter of the Morton plant in Crozet, Virginia , plus protocol officers Syroezhkin and Bessonov. For ITT: Georges, Herbert, Luigi. After a word of introduction by Georges, I do the entire presentation: film slides and brief talk.
There are a number of technical questions – we discuss plate/tunnel freezers, temperature of storage, freezing time, whether ordinary gas ovens or some special oven like infrared or microwave is necessary. They show considerable interest in the production speed– see the film twice for this purpose. Are really convinced that given this speed the work is truly highly automated, and are very impressed when I say that direct labor costs in production are only 7%.
They ask about the school lunch program – particularly like the idea of feeding 500 persons this way. Kroha sees application for long distance trains, Aeroflot, shops, for major cities like Moscow, Leningrad, etc. Says that they are less interested in chickens, more interested in meatballs, ground meat, combination meat products, hot dogs. I mention that the patties are extended to 25% with soy and they seek more information – is this isolate? (yes, Purina 500E).
Kroha and Savchenko are especially warm to me; Tsygalnitzky generously tosses bouquet, explaining that the food plant was outside their area of activity, at the same time makes it clear that the point of contact for the future is their Country Manager, Luigi.
We ask their impressions of the Morton food samples I delivered. Kroha says very good products – that they were especially impressed by the doughnuts, pastries which were so fresh and tasty upon defrosting.
We ask about seminar – Kroha agrees to October/November schedule, says they can have 100 present (how many do you wish?). Evidently prefer to use the Trade Council as venue. Says they will take it upon themselves to bring the Food Ministry people to participate. Says to work closely with Syroezhkin ‘who reports directly to me.’
Feeling upon leaving very positive: clear what is to be done now. It is incumbent on the company to bring to the seminar not only a technical presentation but rudimentary commercial proposal which should be twofold: 1) sample project including separate pricing school lunch, dinner and confectionary (donut) lines. This either cut to suit Russians or reproducing exactly what they have in Crozet or Russelville. Show price for equipment and technology – all just for orientation. Not to include building, training, freight, supervision or installation – just price to do it as if in the USA. 2) project sales of product – to test market acceptance, e.g. to supply school or hospital in Moscow for 1 year. Technical presentations: might focus on product development, considerations underlying the food technology; also nutritional considerations in US school lunch program; some information on school lunch implementation. Should tell of company’s projects abroad: Nigeria licensing of bakeries, Egypt, school lunch sales in Mideast and Japan, supply to US Army, etc.
Georges seems satisfied with the results. Herbert had hoped for request on proposal. All see great deal of work ahead that Morton staff is ill-prepared to do and that exceeds their usual role.
In the evening I join Luigi and Herbert for dinner at George’s apartment, 3rd floor of the Metropole Hotel. Marvelous museum piece, with 4 plaster/marble columns, large formal dining table at center of the room, television and lounging alcove to the left and sleeping alcove behind curtains to the right. Unretouched mid-19th century, only concession to our era being a Japanese air conditioner and color television.
The occasion of our repast is the transmission of the FRG/Italy soccer match from Argentina, where World Cup match is proceeding. Dinner chat affable, roams. Georges calls himself insistently French, while probing the background of others. Luigi is an Italian stationed in Austria. Herbert is of Czech descent; though he speaks 5 languages, Czech is not among them. He grew up in Italy, moved to Sweden in childhood. All share lively humor, zest for life, politically acute minds. Take great pleasure in the very international status of the company and personal lives. The game is a marvelous excuse for national jokes, for venting their hyperactive wits.
I leave with a feeling of well-being and fraternity that has overcome even the depression of two days ago over the arrest of the International Harvester representative. This good-humored sophistication is a real delight – camaraderie that leaves the feeling it’s very good to be alive; all the while the chain of authority is not forgotten.
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2020
[Memoirs of Russianist, Volume I: From the Ground Up in now in print and available on all national websites of Amazon.com, as well as from other leading online retailers including Barnes & Noble, and http://www.bol.com.]