They Don't Know The Code

Seasoned cashiers at Giant Food stores take pride in their speed. They distinguish themselves by memorizing the codes for pears, broccoli and other produce items while the greenies turn to cheat sheets.

But even the old-timers were leafing through the plastic-covered sheets last week, grumbling and looking a bit humble. That's because Giant, the Washington area's largest grocer, changed all of its produce codes.

So if you look for the veteran cashiers to get through a line quickly, don't expect speed for the next week or so.

"It doesn't matter which line you get in now," said a longtime cashier at an Alexandria Giant store as she fumbled through the new list of codes. "I don't know what's going to happen on weekends and holidays."

A Giant spokesman said the chain, owned by Dutch grocery conglomerate Royal Ahold NV, switched its codes to conform with industry standards. The Produce Marketing Association sets codes on thousands of produce items so both suppliers and retailers are using the same system for labeling fruits and vegetables.

Although most of the nation's grocery chains use the codes, Giant had been a holdout until last week. Ahold's other chains, including Stop & Shop, also use the association's numbers.

-- Stephanie Stoughton (stoughtons@washpost.com)

Thinking Hispanic

Luis Vasquez-Ajmac has spent his career reminding people -- especially in the mainstream business community and consumer marketing industry -- that they ignore the Latino community in the United States at their peril.

The head of D.C.-based Maya Advertising & Communications, Vasquez-Ajmac today will take a big step in that mission, putting on his fourth annual Nuestra Gente, a one-day conference for businesses that want to market to and do business with the Latino community.

"We want to create a road map for businesses," Vasquez-Ajmac said. "My strategy has always been to go to the top, the CEO, to make sure companies are aware of the opportunities."

For instance, he said, the D.C. area is home to the third-most affluent Latino community in the country. Nationally, 41 percent of Latinos can be classified as middle class, and more than 1 million Latinos own their own homes in United States.

The conference is at the Ronald Reagan Building/International Trade Center downtown.

-- Terence O'Hara

(oharat@washpost.com)

Premature Burial

Joe Duffus, president and CEO of Models Inc., a Vienna company that specializes in interior design of model homes, reads the bankruptcy listings in this publication every week, keeping an eye out for friends and business acquaintances who might have gone belly up.

But he wasn't prepared for what he saw in the bankruptcy listing last week. A company with a strikingly similar name, Model 1 Inc., listing its address as 8501 Tyco Rd., filed for Chapter 11 protection in late October. His own company resides at both 8500 and 8502 Tyco Rd.

When the Model 1 listing was published, the calls -- from vendors, customers, friends, relatives -- came pouring in, expressing everything from condolences to anger to anxiety.

Model 1 isn't even in the same business, being a model search agency that has been the subject of a Federal Trade Commission probe. Its real address is miles away on Leesburg Pike. It stopped operating in July.

So, for the record, Models Inc. is alive and well, as it has been for 10 years.

-- T.O.

DID YOU HEAR? . . .

"The parents are multi-tasking, they're cutting deals. You see people from AOL, UUNet, they're all out there."

-- Harry Glazer, tech lawyer and Great Falls resident, on the sideline conversations of parents watching their children play in the Great Falls Soccer Association.