retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    One day after a federal judge in Montana granted a request for a temporary injunction blocking the reopening of the US border to Canadian cattle under the age of 30 months, and said he would consider making the injunction permanent, the US Senate voted 52-46 to order the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to abandon its plans to drop restrictions on Canadian cattle.

    The cattlemen who got the injunctive relief objected to the opening of the border because of fears that the Canadian cattle would expose their own cows to mad cow disease, which has been diagnosed in four Canadian cows over the past two years.

    However, the Senate move is by no means the last word. The bill still has to go the House of Representatives, and if it were to be passed there, President Bush has said he would veto it.

    Meanwhile, the CBC reports that a beef supplier in New Brunswick is calling on the Canadian government to fight back against the US government attitude by restrict the export of US products to Canada.

    "If they're going to close their border to our cattle, we should close the border to some of the products that they ship across here," said Robert Acton of the Atlantic Beef Producers Co-op. "Make a stand as a Canadian government. I don't think we've done that forcefully enough."
    KC's View:
    Ironically, one of the sub-plots on Wednesday night’s edition of “The West Wing” on NBC had some American hunters under siege by some Canadians after they ventured into a no-hunting zone on the Canadian side of the border. There even was a reference to the US military proposing an invasion of Canada by the US if the government there wouldn’t do things our way.

    It was funny. And just a coincidence, we’re sure.

    But the thing is, we have to go back to Canada twice over the next two weeks. And we’re just hoping they let us in.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    • Wal-Mart continues to have problems in California.

      The Sacramento Bee reports that a citizens group, Citrus Heights Citizens for a Better Community, is filing suit to prevent the construction of a new, 155,000 square foot Wal-Mart Supercenter in its community. The suit specifically charges that city officials, in approving the plan for the new Wal-Mart, did not adequately address "impacts from traffic, air quality and urban decay."

      Despite the suit, Wal-Mart reportedly plans to go ahead with preliminary steps such as seeking building permits and grading the store site.

    • Connecticut Senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman reportedly have sent a letter to US Labor Secretary Elaine Chao asking for an explanation for what they see as an inappropriate fine and plea agreement with Wal-Mart in a case in which the retailer was accused of violating child labor laws.

      The settlement with the government had Wal-Mart admitting nothing and paying a $135,540 fine. Plus, the government agreed to give Wal-Mart 15 days notice before launching any future investigations into its compliance with child labor laws.

      "On the surface, this would appear to be an entirely ineffective means to ensure enforcement of our labor laws intended to protect U.S. workers," the lawmakers said in the letter.

    KC's View:
    On the surface. In the middle. And down deep.

    The government tries to say it won the case, but its behavior reminds us of Roberto Duran proving he was about as good a boxer as Duran Duran in a fight against Sugar Ray Leonard, where he quit, saying, "No mas, no mas.”

    Talk about rolling over. Geez.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    General Mills announced yesterday that it will create two new vitamin lines in conjunction with Leiner Health Products that are tied to two of its longtime cereal brands.

    Wheaties Multivitamins and Total Multivitamins are set to debut this week, are and targeted at baby boomers looking for a quick fix – or at least the illusion of a quick fix.

    USA Today notes that the notion of branding vitamins with better-known names could shake up the supplement industry. Prevention magazine also plans a line of vitamins, and Procter & Gamble’s Olay brand vitamins has generated $35 million in sales since being launched in September 2003.
    KC's View:
    Next up: Tony the Tiger vitamins for kids. Just watch.

    Not that this would be a terrible idea.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    • Which?, a British consumer publication, has come out with a study saying that more than 25 percent of all the wine sold in the UK comes from 11 major brands – and in almost all cases, a “worryingly high number” of them were below average, poor performers and overpriced.

      “Shoppers would get better value and higher quality by looking at less well-known labels,” according to a report by a panel of experts used by Which? to evaluate more than 40 different varieties of wine.

      Malcolm Coles, editor of Which?, said, "People often feel that unless they know about wine, it's probably a safer bet to plump for a big name they recognise. The majority of big-brand wines we tasted were mediocre though.”

      And Victoria Moore, wine critic for The Guardian, said, "Brands are so successful because they are innocuous, they aren't going to offend. They are created to be easy drinking. For the most part it's Mc-wine produced in vast quantities, on an industrial scale, with the primary aim of being as fruity, bland and as inoffensive as possible.”

    KC's View:
    Depending on what kind of circulation this study gets in the UK, it could have an interesting impact on consumers’ wine shopping habits.

    While we tend not to discriminate against any wine because it comes from a big or a small label, we have to admit that sometimes the pleasure of discovery that comes from tasting a wine from a unknown vineyard is part of the pleasure.

    In fact, that pretty much describes the way we feel about tasting any beer or food. The magic of discovery can be enormously satisfying.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    Retail Forward’s Future Spending Index for March suggests stronger consumer buying for the month, as its rose to 102.7 from 100.9 in February

    “The improvement in spending plans this month is concentrated among Up and Down Market households, who cited stronger job security and rising incomes for the greater willingness to part with their dollars,” said Steve Spiwak, an economist with Retail Forward. “Consequently, retailers that target either of these ends of the income spectrum, namely high-end and discount retailers, should benefit most from an increase in spending.”

    Wal-Mart and dollar stores are expected to be prime beneficiaries of the improved consumer attitude.

    Interestingly, only middle market households showed slightly lessened confidence, apparently because of concerns about higher debt loads and job instability.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    Published reports say that Whole Foods plans to sign a lease for its first flagship London store sometime in the next few months.

    Whole Foods already owns a small seven-store chain in the UK, which it bought about a year ago, but this would be its first ground-up unit there.

    Analysts say that the British market could be a natural for Whole Foods, since none of the major chains there have made as big a push in this lucrative category as Whole Foods will.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a change in how meat and poultry recalls take place, publicizing the names of retailers that have received the potentially tainted products.

    At present, the rules say that USDA cannot disclose the names of retailers, which are informed of any problems by meat or poultry producers.

    USDA has sent the proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which has not ruled on it.
    KC's View:
    Our general rule – one not universally popular in the MNB community – is that the more disclosure the better.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    A new study from Cornell University suggests that women who eat an apple a day may reduce their chances of contracting breast cancer, probably because of the phytochemicals – antioxidants in fresh apples – that inhibit human liver and colon cancer cell growth.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    7-Eleven announced that it will begin selling a black Slurpee next month, tied to the April premiere of the next and final “Star Wars” movie: Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

    It will be called Darth Dew, will be made by Pepsi, and will taste like the limited-edition Mountain Dew Pitch Black flavor.

    You can even order a Darth Vader head to drink it out of.

    It isn’t the only move tie-in that 7-Eleven has this year. The company also plans an Under-the-Sea Pineapple Slurpee, tied to the March DVD release of SpongeBob SquarePants The Movie.
    KC's View:
    No word on whether there will be protests of the Sponge Bob Slurpee because of allegations that the fictional sponge is gay.

    He isn't, by the way.

    Just really, really absorbent.

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    • Wal-Mart reported that its February retail sales were up 11 percent to $22.37 billion from $20.16 billion a year earlier, with Wal-Mart sales up 11.1 percent to $15.13 billion and Sam's Club business increasing 5.4 percent to $2.82 billion. International sales grew 14.4 percent to reach $4.41 billion.

      Same-store sales were up 4.1 percent.

    • Target Corp. reported that its February sales rose 16.1 percent to $3.38 billion from $2.91 billion during the same month a year ago. Same-store sales were up nine percent.

    • CVS Corp. reported that its February total sales jumped 35.9 percent to $2.89 billion, with same-store sales up 9.2 percent.

    • Family Dollar Stores said that its February sales rose 13.3 percent compared to a year ago, to $458.1 million. Same-store sales were up 4.9 percent.

    • Dollar General Corp. reported that February total sales rose 13.9 percent to $607.9 million from $533.9 million in the year-earlier period, with same-store sales up 5.5 percent.

    • Roundy’s announced that its net sales and service fees were $1.2 billion for the fourth quarter, down nine percent from the same period a year ago. Net income was $16.7 million for the fourth quarter, an increase of $4.9 million from $11.8 million for the fourth quarter 2003.

      Roundy’s also reported that its annual net sales and service fees totaled $4.8 billion for the year ended January 1, 2005, an increase of 10.0 percent from $4.4 billion for the year ended January 3, 2004.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    Martha Stewart is out of jail today, completing a five-month term that resulted from her lying to federal investigators about a stock trade. While she remains under house arrest, unable to leave her home for a number of months, Stewart will be free to bring her considerable skills to her multimedia empire, which has suffered of late both from competition and from her public relations troubles.
    KC's View:
    We actually hope that she revives the company, defrosts her image a little bit, and comes out of all this looking like a better person.

    There’s nothing like a comeback.

    It’d be a great story.

    And we ought to get at least a few jokes from the process…

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    MNB reported yesterday that Bubba, a 22-pound lobster recently pulled out of the waters off Nantucket, Massachusetts, and shipped to a Pittsburgh fish market, was being sent to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

    Unfortunately, no sooner had we posted our story than the news broke that Bubba died, apparently from the stress of his various moves.

    No word what will be done with the body. But if they send it out for an autopsy, and the vet doing the post-mortem is wearing a bib…well, we’d ask questions.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    The story this week that seems to be capturing people’s attention is the Brown & Cole story, probably because it encapsulates so many of the issues facing the industry – big vs. small, the future of independent retailing, the impact of Wal-Mart on dozens of levels, and how Craig Cole can best create a vision for a viable future.

    MNB user Ted File wrote:

    This is where Craig gets on the tube and media and tell his story....people, store locations, quality and variety in perishables, health and nutrition, "we fulfill all of your shopping needs and keep you family healthy." Local owned, a family enterprise, etc. Not to plead his case to the public but to PLEASE and SATISFY their food needs." And don't talk about WM as the big guy with all the bucks.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I read your commentary about Brown and Cole, and could not agree with you more. You defined the task very well – retailers need to go beyond “do things better” and achieve “doing things differently”. The real issue is that if it is hard for Craig Cole, with 21 stores, years of experience, and a committed team, how hard is it for Brunos/BiLo, which has 400 stores, and is now leveraged and being run by numbers guys, and for Winn-Dixie, which has 800 stores, a new CEO, and ownership committed to the past?

    MNB user Brenda Strombeck wrote:

    I could not agree more with your debate or article and discussion regarding Wal-Mart. The average or mass market consumer really do not understand the ramifications of Wal-Mart and that if and when they purchase products of any kind at Wal-Mart, they just do not realize the ramifications and/or affects on independent businesses.

    Recently, I was in an independent pet store here in Canada. The owner was interested in showing me photographs that reflected his beautiful work he does with aquariums. However, what I noticed most was "where" the photos were developed, Wal-Mart, which startled me somewhat due to the fact that this pet store owner had no thought about HOW this purchase actually could affect his small pet store business. He just did not realize how he was shooting himself in the business foot by deciding to be a Wal-Mart consumer regardless of his purchase. And how in the near future, Wal-Mart business could close the doors of his little neighborhood pet store. Where is the awareness and when will the consumer understand?

    But one MNB user pointed to what the real problem may have been:

    I live in Yakima and have shopped at the Brown and Cole store here ( Food Pavillion) and if you would have shopped there you would understand why it is closing. This store did not differentiate itself from any other market in this valley. You had to use a card to get the advertised specials. This store knew Wal-Mart was expanding to a Superstore format and yet chose not to change. I can't think of one reason to shop there , they didn't have the best meat dept. , the produce was average, they didn't offer home meals like Safeway does, their wine section was well below par unlike Wray's or Rosauers great wine sections, I can go on and on about this store. Brown and Cole choose not to compete in this valley. They ran their same ad here as in the other 34 stores they own. This store became irrelevant, and the same thing will happen to the rest of their stores if they choose to market the same way they did here. Don't blame Wal-Mart, health care, or Yakima’s values. Your current business model must change and just closing stores won't keep this company in business much longer.

    MNB user Dan Raftery wrote:

    Unfortunately, we will probably see more store closings as retailers finally cast off facilities that have outlived their ability to generate excitement. One reason Wal-Mart is kicking butt in new areas is the simple fact that their stores are new. Someone should do a study of the effects of ingrained migratory behavior in modern society.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I have some knowledge of the Pacific Northwest and there are some great independents that operate profitably in the wake of Wal-Mart.. Why? They are tough-minded marketers/merchandisers. Hop onto a flight and go see. In fact, I believe that Winco still operates quite effectively there (they only have what 40 stores, and Haggens, and Town and Country. Be an independent, know your customers personally, quit making it so hard to shop.

    And another MNB user suggested that it is the statement of values that Publix uses that would be the best guidebook for any company looking to survive:

    What is Publix's mission statement?

    A: Our mission at Publix is to be the premier quality food retailer in the world. To that end we commit to be:

    Passionately focused on customer value.

    Intolerant of waste.

    Dedicated to the dignity, value and employment security of our associates.

    Devoted to the highest standards of stewardship for our stockholders.

    Involved as responsible citizens in our communities.

    Works for us.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 4, 2005

    Spenser is back in Robert B. Parker’s new novel, “Cold Service,” available next week.

    But this time, it isn’t just a Spenser story. “Cold Service” (Putnam - $24.95) is as much about Hawk, his longtime friend who has shared many of his adventures. Hawk starts off the book in a hospital room, having been terribly injured while serving as a bodyguard. The skeleton on which the book is constructed is how Hawk and Spenser will exact revenge once Hawk returns to health – which, if you are a Parker fan, also sounds like the plot of “Small Vices,” in which Spenser was severely wounded and needed to come back from tough circumstances.

    But “Cold Service” is different, and a very good addition to the Spenser series. Because it is told from Spenser’s perspective, it is less about the act of rebuilding a body and mind than it is about the consequences and responsibility of friendship, and the role of honor in a modern life.

    The best modern detective novels are about protagonists who try and make things as they “ought to be,” even if the definition of “ought” does not always meet with socially acceptable norms. Parker has been an “ought” kind of writer since he began…and he always is entertaining as he asks serious questions within the framework of detective fiction.

    Good stuff. Especially if you love Spenser.

    One of our favorite stories this week – but one that we couldn’t figure out how to work into MNB until now – was in the Wall Street Journal, which reported that University of Pennsylvania researchers are developing what, in essence, is a cloaking device…which will finally give earth parity with the Klingons and Romulans.

    How great is that.

    Even better was the WSJ comment that the obvious next step would be the development of warp drive.

    Though we think that the transporter would be a better next step.

    Looking through the magazine stand in an airport a few days ago, we found proof positive that the apocalypse is at hand: a magazine called Sly.

    Sly features a cover photo of Sylvester Stallone, has Stallone as its editorial director, and mostly seems to be him and his friends pontificating how what it is like for men to get older, along with ads that seem mostly to be selling vitamins and supplements endorsed by Stallone.

    We’ve read a lot of crap in our life. But this is crap on a whole new level.

    We’ve never seen narcissism and pomposity honed to such a fine point before.

    The only thing entertaining is an excerpt from Stallone’s script for Rocky 6, a movie that we can only hope will never be produced.

    The script is utterly ludicrous and misguided, and serves to cheapen the original film, which was so sweet. But sometimes even a good train wreck is entertaining…

    When we first came to Las Vegas, maybe 15 years ago, we have to admit that we hated it. We don’t gamble, and the restaurants were mostly lousy.

    Well, that’s changed…and while we’ve been in Vegas this week (we’ve been giving a series of speeches, and so have been almost constantly on the road) we’ve had several great meals.

    One, at Emeril Lagasse’s Delmonico Steakhouse, was just amazing. We started off with some of the best seafood gumbo we’ve ever had, and then enjoyed pork medallions served with a chorizo risotto and an adobo paste…which was just melt-in-your-mouth delicious. We washed it all down with a delicious Fess Parker 2001 Pinot Noir. Mmmmmm….

    Then, because we’ve been there before and have loved it, we also went to Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House…where we enjoyed a just incredible Blue Nose Bass with Andouille Mashed Potatoes and a Louisiana Crawfish cram sauce that was just bursting with tomatoes. The wine: a 2001 Lynman Pinot Noir from Quail Hill Vineyard, which started off sharp and then mellowed out wonderfully.

    Yes, we make a living doing this.

    Which is why we never complain. Well, rarely.

    But never over dinner.

    Have a great weekend.

    KC's View: