How to beat the world

I have a real beef with the modern Caesar salad, and upon that hangs a tale about economic success.

The Caesar salad commonly served these days typically uses iceberg lettuce, has a mayonnaise or ranch style dressing, and often comes with chicken (or sometimes shrimp).

The original Caesar salad was made from romaine not iceberg lettuce. The dressing was made from an egg yolk, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, Worcester sauce, perhaps a crushed anchovy, croutons and parmesan cheese. (It was invented by Caesar Cardini, an Italian-Mexican in Tijuana in 1924)

I had a modern Caesar in a cafe in a franchise chain that came with some vile mixture approximating vinaigrette. The croutons were uncooked pieces of stale bread. Is this a problem; perhaps not?  Just don't go back; there are clearly cafes that do a better Caesar than this one.

But rephrase the question. Does authenticity matter?  Does good execution matter?

Michael Porter, the international guru on competition, writes that one reason Japan became so good at exporting (and therefore very prosperous) was highly demanding domestic customers. Japanese consumers wanted only the very best, and would not accept goods that were flawed, imperfect, or didn't work properly or easily. Tomatoes had to be without a blemish; electronic goods had always to work instantly.

Sony, Panasonic, Mitsubishi and the other leading Japanese brands prospered by making goods that satisfied a highly demanding  domestic market that would not accept the mediocre. In New Zealand our market is much smaller and we are also, perhaps by nature, less demanding. We will accept a Caesar salad that is not authentic and not very good because we don't think it matters - and to the ordinary salad eater perhaps it doesn't. My point is that wanting the best makes our domestic companies produce the best or fall by the wayside.

I think it is a sad irony that many of the New Zealand companies that are competitive internationally do not have a domestic base, and don't depend upon domestic demand for their success. Think Rakon, 4RF, Marine Air Systems and Jack Yan's Lucire magazine.

Their domestic sales are a fraction of total sales; they succeed because they are internationally competitive, not because domestic consumers have made them so. That's a direct contrast to the Japanese experience.

And as Professor Sir Paul Callaghan has pointed out, the companies I have cited above don't need to be based in New Zealand. They are not using our natural resources (unlike Fonterra), and they don't use the 'green and pleasant land" theme in their marketing. There is nothing particularly Kiwi about them at all. However they are producing high value goods, paying high wages and are prospering. Contrast that with tourism which employs lots of people, but is generally a low wage, low skill industry.

So how do we beat the world? Not serving unauthentic poor quality food would be a start. But the real trick is to demand good authentic products and badger the producers to supply only the best they can produce.