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    Published on: April 22, 2005

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Bush administration is considering revising the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was signed into law in 1993 by President Bill Clinton and that supporters say has provided employees with the necessary flexibility to take care of sick relatives without fearing for the jobs.

    Revisions would be linked to concerns expressed by employers about abuses of the law’s provisions. The paper reports that “a study released this week by the Employment Policy Foundation, which is partially funded by corporations, found that the federal leave law cost businesses about $21 billion last year. The survey analyzed businesses with more than 500,000 workers. The foundation also noted that the number of workers taking multiple leaves has grown 50 percent since 2000.”

    The Journal-Constitution puts at 81 percent the number of US employers who say that intermittent leave has no impact on productivity.
    KC's View:
    This strikes us as an enormous political hot potato, and that changes in the FMLA could create heightened tensions between management and labor in this country – not a positive trend when a number of industries already could be accused of viewing workers as costs as opposed to assets.

    At a time when companies are trying to roll back health care benefits because of the associated costs, employees would likely to bridle at the notion of cutting back on the flexibility of taking care of loved ones.

    Now, if the changes mean that employees would have to get a doctor’s note in order to take leave – which some believe would be the extent of any revisions – that certainly doesn’t seem to be onerous.

    But this will be a tough one for a lot of people to swallow.

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    Late news this morning that Anna Ayala, the woman who said that she found a finger in her bowl of Wendy’s chili, has been arrested in Las Vegas. However, as of this posting there are no further details about the facts leading to her arrest.

    There have been questions raised about Ayala’s intentions, and she in fact did hire an attorney and file a lawsuit against the Wendy’s franchise owner – though she withdrew the suit because she said it would create too much emotional distress.

    Ironically, the New York Times reports this morning on Wendy’s continuing problems linked to the case. The story has become a public relations nightmare. At this point, nobody seems to know who the finger used to belong to, nor where it came from, nor how it got into the chili – though some of these questions may be resolved when forensics tests are completed. (Hence the story’s priceless headline: “CSI: Wendy’s.”)

    “Unless investigators solve the mystery, the case threatens to put Wendy's in the same unenviable category as Tylenol and Jack in the Box, two other brand names that were tainted by gruesome discoveries that set off a national panic,” the NYT reports.

    Of course, not only is the finger in the news almost daily, but it also is the subject of jokes on the late night talk shows. One line, from Tonight Show” host Jay Leno: “Now we know what they did with Dave Thomas…”

    “Investigations so far have failed to turn up much about the finger,” the Times writes. “What is known is that the tissue is most of a fingertip and is now in two pieces. Put together, the total length is one and a half inches, and the finger is preserved enough to draw a sample of DNA and fingerprints. It is suspected to be from a woman because of its long, manicured nail.

    “But investigators still do not know whether the finger came from a dead or live person. They do not know if the finger's DNA has a match in any existing database. A search for the fingerprint in the FBI's database of about 50 million prints came up negative. More important for Wendy's, it is still not known whether the finger was cooked, and if so, for how long. A thoroughly cooked finger might indicate that it came through Wendy's food supply chain. If the tissue is uncooked, that might indicate that it was added to the chili after the fact.”
    KC's View:
    We’re an enormous fan of the “CSI” shows, especially the Las Vegas version…but this is almost too much information. (You know that this plotline is going to find its way into one of these shows next season…)

    Still, we could help sharing it. After all, if we were going to read about partially cooked finger tissue while we drank our morning coffee, we wanted to make sure you enjoyed the same experience.

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    The Cincinnati Post reports that Kroger, which sells gasoline at 20 percent of its supermarkets, believes that “gasoline is a commodity consumers are willing to drive out of their way to get a good deal on,” and can be used to “entice customers inside to buy other items.”

    "I think you'd find that Kroger is consistently among the lowest-priced gas retailers in any market," Kroger spokesman Gary Rhodes tells the Post. "We don't lead the market lower, but we're right there to quickly respond to anything our competitors do."

    Kroger dominates the field from this perspective in the Cincinnati market, offering 34 gas stations while Meijer has six, Sam’s Club has five, and Costco and Wal-Mart each has two.
    KC's View:
    Of course, Kroger is more comfortable with the gasoline business because it has long been smart enough to be in the convenience store business…which in the current environment, is a good format to have in your stable.

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Publix, which banned the use of Internet-generated coupons in its stores because of a nationwide scam that created coupons with altered expiration dates and values, has decided to accept some of them.

    “Cents off” coupons will be accepted, according to Publix, but “free product” coupons will not.

    The Journal-Constitution reports that Kroger also plans to lift the ban, but has not yet set a date for the shift.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    • The Canadian Press reports that one of the employees at the Quebec-area Wal-Mart store that the company announced that it will close because of the unionization of its workforce has requested that a class-action suit be filed against the retailer, “asking for $10,000 in damages for himself and about 180 store employees for stress inflicted since the closure was announced.”

      The suit also claims that the closing is illegal under Canadian law.

      Wal-Mart announced that it would close the unit after the store’s employees voted for unionization, saying that the costs of negotiating a collective bargaining agreement would drive the store into red ink.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Cadbury Schweppes plans to reformulate Diet 7 Up with Splenda, hoping that a change of formula can revive the brand’s sagging sales.

    Cadbury already uses Splenda in its Diet Rite Cola, as well as in its new 7 UP Plus soda. The WSJ notes that Diet Rite’s volume was up 28 percent last year, concurrent with the switch to Splenda.

    Coca-Cola reportedly plans to introduce a new version of Diet Coke with Splenda next month, and Pepsi has reformulated Pepsi One with Splenda.

    In fact, Splenda has gotten so popular that shortages have been rumored…though there seems to be no shortage of companies introducing products with the artificial sweetener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    The Boston Globe this morning reports that when the $14 billion (US) acquisition of Allied Domecq by Pernod Ricard is completed, one likely result will be the sale of Dunkin’ Donuts, which is owned by Allied but does not really fit into Pernod’s liquor-based strategy.

    One analyst suggests that a likely purchaser is Yum Brands Inc., which operates KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    • McDonald’s said that its first quarter net income rose 42 percent to $727.9 million, from $511.5 million during the same period a year ago. Revenue rose nine percent to $4.8 billion, with same-store sales up 4.5 percent.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    Reacting to Wal-Mart stories that ran yesterday, MNB user Randall L. Meyer wrote:

    What is up with the continuous Wal-Mart bashing?? What about the fact that Wal-Mart has saved consumers Billions of dollars by keeping their prices low and suppliers honest? They have also contributed to keeping inflation low by setting a precedent that their shoppers deserve the very best price and quality possible. This has also forced the competition to keep their costs down and prices competitive.

    I am an upper middle class professional and do 90% of my grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. Their prices are 10-20% below any competition in this area. No one is forcing people to work at Wal-Mart so if they do not like the pay, go work somewhere else.

    Your articles continuously emphasize new and innovative strategies for retailers to attract customers and limit the "Wal-Mart" affect. If Wal-Mart is so evil, why is everyone trying to copy them?

    Think about it MNB, you are one of the biggest Wal-Mart bashers! Must be jealousy…

    You haven’t been reading very carefully.

    In fact, if MNB “bashes” anyone, it is the retailers who don’t compete effectively with Wal-Mart because of lack of innovation and lack of imagination. We have never suggested that Wal-Mart is evil (not seriously anyway…though we’ve certainly made our share of jokes about the Bentonville Behemoth). We have suggested that it doesn’t make sense for retailers to imitate Wal-Mart, and that it seems far more sensible to find another angle on the business with which to attract consumers.

    That said, Wal-Mart certainly isn’t beyond being questioned. One of the reasons that questions are raised about its employment practices is that sometimes, because of its overwhelming dominance, there is no other place to work…

    We can be accused of a lot of things, but not, we think, jealousy.

    MNB user Ken Ferrera offers one perspective:

    It is disappointing to read daily about the many shortcomings of Wal-Mart. I know what they do to communities and retailer competitors. They certainly are heavy handed with employees and take hard lines with unions. While we (and the MorningNewsBeat) cannot ignore these issues, I still admit to being a little bit torn.

    In the world economy of today United States businesses are being purchased left and right by foreign companies. The food industry being just one. Many of those behemoths have ghosts in their closets and questionable business practices as well.

    Wal-Mart despite its many flaws is one a few United States born and bred companies that has grown internationally and brings dollars back to this country. On occasion, without offering forgiveness, we should balance the "warts" with a little pride in the success of this (our American) enterprise. In looking at the big picture contribution, maybe the negatives are not quite so bad.

    One MNB user had some thoughts about our interview yesterday with Harold Lloyd about his FMI Super Session on freshness:

    Unfortunately supermarket operators shouldn't need a Harold Lloyd to explain freshness, nor should he have to educate what should be on the shelf and pulled off.

    When I was a store manager I had a simple rule, if it isn't good enough for me to feed to my family, I wouldn't expect anyone else to purchase it. I wouldn't tolerate the meat manager trying to extend the shelf life of the meats by changing the paper or wrap, nor tolerate the bad side down. I wanted the exposed side to be as good as the bottom so when my customer went home to cook, she wouldn't find any surprises.

    My store developed a reputation of having the best meats in town, without sacrificing margins, sales increased, as did customer traffic. The same was true for all the perishable departments.

    Those departments are your reputation and ambassadors to success. Mrs. Shopper isn't going home to brag about the great can of peas she bought today, but she sure will brag about her roasts, steaks, seafood and produce. Package that up with a smile at the register-that is your solution to success and freshness. It isn't a capital investment until you realize that your employees, and their training to deliver the "freshness attitude" are your best assets! And, if anyone needed to find me, I was usually walking the perishable departments during the peak business hours-chatting it up and looking for a "fresh date"!

    Finally, responding to our piece about the award-winning Fat Duck restaurant in the UK, which offers such specialties as “Sardine on Toast Sorbet, and meals that can run upwards of $300 (wine included), one MNB user wrote:

    I may sound biased, but for the equivalent of about $15 (US) I'll stick with a cheese steak and some crab fries from Chickie & Pete's, washed down with a cold Yeungling Lager or two.

    Hold the mango and fir puree...

    This may be a character flaw on our part, but the fact is that we can be equally happy eating “sardine on toast sorbet” for lunch and then a cheese steak and crab fries for dinner. Though maybe it makes more sense to eat them on successive days instead…

    Where is Chickie & Pete’s? (The very notion of crab fries is making us hungry…)
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 22, 2005

    If you want to read an interesting book about corporate dysfunction – one that has nothing to do with the food business, though everything to do with understanding the customer – check out “Disney War” by James B. Stewart.

    Fun reading because Disney is such a public company, this book shows in compelling detail how the company’s CEO, Michael Eisner, originally saved Disney by bringing a new attitude to what was then a moribund company…but then lost touch with what made the company special. What is really remarkable is how a man can become a CEO and still have a completely tin ear in terms of employee relationships – Eisner is shown to be a congenital liar, with virtually no people skills. Which is remarkable in a business that depends, perhaps more than any other, on people.

    If nothing else, “Disney War” may make you feel better about your organization. Because it can’t possibly be this bad.

    Funny piece by Paul Rudnick in the April 25 issue of The New Yorker in which he lays out 22 components of his living will. Our favorites:

      #4. “If I am unable to feed, clean or dress myself, I would like to be referred to as ‘Mr. Trump.’

      #13. “If I remain unconscious during a painful, lingering illness, I would like the following life lessons to be published in a book entitled ‘Tuesdays with Paul’: 1) Treasure every moment, 2) Love everyone, and 3) If you bought this book in hardcover, you’re an idiot.”

    Yes, The New Yorker.

    Many of us who have seen fitness expert/aerobics guru Kenneth Cooper speak at industry events – he’s been making the rounds because of his relationship with Frito-Lay – have found him to be utterly humorless and, quite frankly, a little hard to take. I run four or five times a week, try to be careful about what I eat, and this guy always makes me feel like a total slug. Who needs it?

    But the New York Times had a great piece yesterday had a great piece yesterday about Steven N. Blair, who happens to be the CEO of the Cooper Institute - and is a self-described “short fat guy who runs every day” and is five-feet-five-inches and 195 pounds. Blair ought to be the guy making the rounds – a seemingly real guy who has run tens of thousands of miles over the past four decades and still has gained 30 pounds. Blair had one the great lines about fitness: People who are skinny and don’t exercise, he told the NYT, “are going straight to hell, because they’re living in paradise now.”

    Forget guys like Lance Armstrong and Bill Rodgers. Steven Blair ought to be the face – and body - of American athleticism.

    Hey, don’t forget…

    AT FMI in Chicago, on Sunday, May 1, we will be hanging out at the bar at one of our favorite Chicago bistros, Bin 36, from 6-7:30 p.m. If any members of the MNB community would like to stop by, say hello, and chat for a bit…well, the first couple of bottles of wine will be on us.

    It’ll be a great opportunity for all of us to put faces and voices with the names and words that appear on MNB plus an excuse to drink good wine. (Not that we need an excuse…)

    (Bin 36 is located at 339 N Dearborn on the west side of Marina City, between the river and Kinzie.)

    We’ll see you in Chicago.

    Have a good weekend.

    KC's View: