John Griffin, 82; chronicled the food industry unsparingly

John Griffin said he wanted “to report what’s going on, good, bad, or indifferent.”
John Griffin said he wanted “to report what’s going on, good, bad, or indifferent.”

Anyone who read John Griffin’s columns knew he was not engaging in overstatement when he attributed the success of The Griffin Report of Food Marketing, which he founded in 1966, to “a provocative editorial approach.”

The obligation of his trade publication, he told the Globe in 1977, was “to report what’s going on, good, bad, or indifferent.” Allowing himself perhaps a smidgen of understatement, he added that “we’re critical very often and are accused of biting the hand that feeds us.”

In a manner of speaking, Mr. Griffin did not nibble so much as sit down to a five-course meal. Over the years, his trade publication took on the supermarket and food industry in ways that many other journals avoid, for fear of alienating advertisers.


“There’s never been a trade paper quite like John Griffin’s,” said Thomas Stemberg, a former Star Market and Finast executive who founded the Staples office supply chain. “You had to read it because you were always worried your name would be in it for something you did. If there were a given operator who was doing bad things, unethical or just bad form, he was never scared to point it out. If it was an advertiser or a nonadvertiser, he just didn’t care. He was direct, brutally honest.”

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Mr. Griffin, who also taught himself woodworking and built pieces of furniture that were as elegant as the pithy sentences he crafted, died of complications of vascular dementia Monday in McLean Hospital in Belmont. He was 82 and previously lived for many years in Dennis.

In his “Nothing Personal” column, which was at times quite personal, Mr. Griffin once upbraided a New England frozen food association for holding its convention at an upstate New York hotel that those who attended found less than hospitable.

“I’ve been on the convention beat for 20 years now, and I can safely say that I’ve never been to anything as bad,” he wrote, listing a litany of failings that included dirty dishes, soiled rugs, a leaky lobby roof, and food that “was positively disgraceful.” Lest readers miss his point, he added that “it’s just plain stupid to take our New England conventions out of New England,” and he bade farewell to the resort by saying there was “nothing wrong with that place a good fire wouldn’t fix.”

His son Kevin of Duxbury, publisher of The Griffin Report, said Mr. Griffin “was known for his tenacity in the business and his no-nonsense reporting on what was going on in the food industry. He’d say, ‘Some people like us, some people hate us, but everybody reads us.’ ”


Mr. Griffin, whose father had been editor in chief of The Boston Post when it was a top newspaper, “was a real journalist” who used the principles of news reporting in his trade publications, his son said.

“He was never scared of controversy,” Stemberg said. “As a matter of fact, he waded knee-deep into it.”

One of six siblings, John H. Griffin grew up in Watertown and graduated from St. Sebastian’s School, then located i n Brighton. He studied journalism at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, graduating in 1955, and married Mary Rose McCarty of Waltham the following year.

After serving in the US Army with the intelligence corps, Mr. Griffin returned home and was a reporter at The Boston Post before covering the food industry for Shamie Publications in Boston, New York, and Detroit.

“He was very frustrated with what they didn’t do, and all the things he thought they should do, and that led him to start his own publication,” his son said.


In 1979, the Globe said The Griffin Report was “considered the ‘bible of the industry’ in supermarketing in New England and upstate New York, and is looked to as the authority on the market shares of supermarket chains and stores in New England.”

‘If there were a given operator who was doing bad things . . . he was never scared to point it out. ’

Mr. Griffin used a variety of approaches to build The Griffin Report, along with AdEast and Yankee Food Service, other publications he ran.

“He loved photography,” his son said. “He told me, ‘The trick to this is that when I go into an event, no one ever brought their camera in before. I brought my camera in and started taking pictures of important people and next thing you know, things started lighting up.’ ”

Mr. Griffin also compiled data on grocery stores and chains across the region and ranked retailers by sales and market share, all the while presenting material memorably.

Stemberg recalled “one of his greatest lines, which I still plagiarize to this day: ‘Revenues are ego, profit is intellect.’ A great line and so true.” Mr. Griffin’s death, he added, is “the passing of a legend.”

Mr. Griffin moved a number of times and in 1969 chose Dennis as the place to raise his family. He gardened, learned woodworking, and “was a superb cabinetmaker,” said Tom Saltonstall, a friend on the Cape.

Donating some of his work to charities to auction for fund-raisers, Mr. Griffin also made furniture as gifts, including a two-drawer cherry writing table as a wedding present for Saltonstall’s daughter a few years ago.

“He made some of the most beautiful cherry furniture I’ve ever seen, including most of the furniture in his house,” said Saltonstall. “Boy, he had a lot of talent.”

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Griffin leaves three daughters, Lisa of South Yarmouth, Carolyn Cleary of Ellicott City, Md., and Mary Ellen of Leominster; two other sons, Jack of Greenwich, Conn., and Tom of Naples, Fla.; three brothers, Richard of Cambridge, Kevin of North Andover, and Gerald of Mount Vernon, N.H.; two sisters, Maureen of Melrose and Carol of Medford; and 13 grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Pius X Church in South Yarmouth.

While living on the Cape, Mr. Griffin served on the Board of Selectmen in Dennis. Even though his work brought him daily north toward Boston, he was also involved with his church and with softball and hockey leagues.

“He was like the Energizer Bunny in many ways,” said his friend Joel G. Crowell, who served with Mr. Griffin as a selectman. “It was go, go, go, go, go.”

Wherever Mr. Griffin went, he “was always bold in his verbal presentations,” said Crowell, chief executive of the Cooperative Bank of Cape Cod. “No matter what the issue, if he thought it, he said it. That’s the way he lived life. He didn’t do anything halfway. What he did, he did boldly.”

Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@