business news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get email about the farmed salmon issue, sent to us after Kroger and Albertsons decided to change the labels to say "color added."

One MNB user wrote:

"It does sound like Kroger and Albertsons might attract legal sharks by changing their policies. Of course, it's a lose/lose proposition for them anyway. Show weakness - get attacked. Don't change policy - get attacked. But if NOBODY gave in to the sleazy lawyer, he would be powerless...this really looks like a case with nothing to stand on.

"I want to know how the heck consumers have been "damaged" by the practice of giving farm-raised salmon supplements. No matter why it's done, how can improving their diets to be close as possible to nature damage anybody?

"Too bad those two chains have caved when it looks so much like this lawyer is just angling for cash."

We don’t know enough about the legal culpability issue to make an informed judgment about this, but we do think that there's an argument to be made for truth in labeling. As a frequent salmon eater, we think that the larger and more important issue is that of nutrition. The question is whether a difference in color reflects a difference in nutritional value.

Another MNB user wrote:

"Given that other stores, e.g. Costco and others, have been labeling the salmon as such for quite some time, I'm sure Kroger and Albertsons not only know they should have but were taking the 'wait until I'm told' mode to make the change."

Another MNB user chimed in:

"Initial reports inferred that color was being added to the salmon, which, of course, would require labeling. Influencing the attributes of animal products by what the animals eat is different and really not uncommon. Grain fed beef is different than grass fed beef. There is a brand of eggs that is higher in Vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids due to the feed the chickens are fed. At least so far the government has not required labeling beef, chickens, eggs etc. with the ingredients of the feed fed to the producing animals. Will the next suit target Perdue for their yellow chickens?"

And MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

"I certainly wouldn't defend retailers or manufacturers not properly labeling any food additive used as that can conceivably be important for individuals suffering from food allergies. But in light of quick retailer action to correct this problem, continuing the lawsuits seems to indicate this is less about protecting consumers and more about the money.

"I don't recall ever seeing a reported case of allergic reaction credited to salmon (I admit it is quite possible I missed it) so absent the "public health be damned" type of memo that sunk the tobacco industry it would seem rather hard to show anyone has been harmed by the mislabeling. Similarly, I have purchased and eaten quite a bit of salmon (of both origins) over the years and enjoyed both kinds equally. Still, I suppose others may have had radically different experiences and upon reading this report exclaimed "Aha, I knew something was wrong!".

"But if you will excuse my cynicism on this topic, really, beyond generating a nice payday for the lawyers involved, what is the point of continuing this lawsuit?"

We share your cynicism.

We got some email about the new Toys R Us format that includes groceries and other services, designed to broaden the chain's appeal so that it is not so dependent on holidays for sales and profits.

MNB user Lynda Gutierrez wrote:

"While I'm sure Toys R Us' new design excites designers and retailers (most likely men who rarely have to shop with or for children) to no end, I have contended from the start that the new prototype is far more difficult from a consumer point of view than the original (albeit boring) aisles. Not only do all those pinwheel shaped displays make it VERY easy to lose sight of kids very quickly, but they are designed for the convenience of retailers and manufacturers...not shoppers.

"Case in point, my three year old daughter loves to play dress up but, under the new system, I need to search through the Imaginarium section for a few, scattered "occupational" dress-ups (like veterinarian or police officer), a sequins-heavy "girly" section several aisles -- sorry, several angled fixtures and pinwheels away -- and bounce all the way around another several cogs and wheels to the back of the "boy" section for more "active" dress-ups like cowboys or knights. Seems needlessly complicated and even sexist.

"So, given the tunnel vision the retailer seems to have shown in selecting this design, I somehow doubt that any grocery selection will be based on anything resembling nutrition or health. Get ready, instead, for loads of cartoon-branded overprocessed junk food merchandised alongside the plastic versions of the toys."

All excellent points, and they reflect the need for retailers to see things through the consumer's eyes.

Another MNB user offered the following opinion:

"I can remember years ago when Toys R Us got into the disposable diaper business and reduced gross profit in neighboring supermarkets to next to nothing... they need a hook to attract business, but I can't imagine what categories they will focus on other than drinks, snacks or candies, ...these items are already being sold at your "friendly" Do-it-yourself Home Improvement box stores and some lumber yards."

Last week, we reported that Boots PLC, the UK HBC retailer, named Wal-Mart’s Asda group COO Richard Baker to be its new CEO.

One MNB user responded:

"Wal-Mart sends out another soldier. Keep an eye on Boots. Boots is n old company with the best HBC brand in the U.K."

On the subject of Wal-Mart's sale of its McLane distribution unit to Berkshire Hathaway, we got a number of emails:

MNB user Richard Lowe speculated:

"I would imagine they could see the hand writing on the wall that down the road there would be some legal problems on restraint of trade issues. They would become too much like a monopoly."

Another MNB user wrote:

"I am totally shocked by this and I honestly don't buy the reason of focusing totally on retailing. Just a hunch but I think (and I really have no basis for this other than my opinion) is that Wal-Mart might have been on the verge of the wholesaling business being unionized and we all know Wal-Mart is not going to deal with unions. I doubt they sold this piece of the business because they needed cash. Just my opinion."
KC's View: