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    Published on: June 14, 2005

    The Oregonian reports that supermarket shoppers “have locked into new habits, rolling their carts into an ever wider array of food stores at either side of the retailing spectrum. At one end, they steer toward lower prices at big-box discounters: Costco Warehouse, WinCo Foods, Wal-Mart Supercenter, SuperTarget. At the other, they search out upscale and organic offerings at specialty stores, from Portland based Zupan's Markets and New Seasons Market to national chains - Trader Joe's and Whole Foods Markets.

    “Trapped in the middle, the national one-size-fits-all chains can't afford across-the-board discounts or to reserve space for shelves full of balsamic vinegars, such as Zupan's $149.99 cask of a 30-year-old varietal. But in recent months, the middle-of-the-road operators are mounting their strongest, most visible counteroffensive.

    “Boise-based Albertsons is spawning a line of no-frills, cut-rate, bag-it yourself stores called Super Saver, not yet rolled out in Oregon. Safeway has aimed upscale, adding wood floors and subdued lighting, along with European cheese tables and ready-made meals of crab cakes and rack of lamb.”

    The dichotomy of the modern shopper works against the mindset that always has been the specialty of the chains – a one-stop shopping approach that is relentlessly mainstream. They are finding out that being in the mainstream often means being adrift – and that they have to make a choice as to which shore they find more appealing and profitable.

    The goal is to shore up eroding numbers indicating that consumers are visiting supermarkets less often than ever before, and spending their money at so-called “alternative formats.”
    KC's View:
    We actually think that the term “alternative formats” ought to be retired. Everybody ought to want to be the better alternative.

    The hard part for some national chains is that they are used to marketing to the masses, but the mass tastes have moved away from them. On the one hand, discounters have taught them that there always is a lower price on commodities, a lesson that was more valuable during the uncertain economic climate of the past few years. And they’ve also become more educated, at least in a superficial sense, because of the influence of the Food Network and all the various magazines and cookbooks that have hit the market. This education means they are looking for products that differentiate them from their friends and neighbors…and are looking for stores that are themselves differentiated.

    We were in a wonderful Pick ‘n Save Metro Market last night here in Milwaukee that we thought was doing a terrific job of communicating its differences to consumers – a great décor package with a tasteful Tuscan influence, expansive fresh food departments that were colorful and well-staffed with apparently friendly people engaged in customer conversations, and a nicely laid-out grocery section that seemed to do a nice job of emphasizing some of the different products available in-aisle. We liked it a lot – our only complaint would have been that more sampling would have been appropriate, especially at the dinner hour when there seemed to be a lot of customers hunting for the evening meal. (They were sampling some wonderful salmon croquettes, but there could have been a lot more.)

    This Pick ‘n Save Metro Market struck us as being a store that has the balance right – it is a supermarket in the traditional sense, but is reaching for an approach that does not condescend or settle.

    That’s an achievement.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    The Washington Post reports on the increasing importance of premium beef products to retailers trying to differentiate themselves from the herd.

    Among them: Target, which is “launching its own line of high-end beef. Sutton & Dodge Steakhouse Quality Angus Beef, named after a fictitious butcher and an equally mythical restaurateur, hits stores this summer, with cuts ranging from rib-eye and T-bone to tenderloin and New York strip. Food Lion LLC, the no-frills supermarket chain, just introduced a line of premium beef called Butcher's Brand. Moderately priced Safeway Inc. is finishing its rollout of Rancher's Reserve, another all-Angus beef brand. Even Wal-Mart Stores Inc., better known for cheap clothes than fine meats, is getting into the business, with a line of premium deli meats dubbed Prima Della.”

    There are several reasons for the shifts. One is that despite the diminishing interest in low-carb diets such as Atklns, there remains considerable interest in beef as a source of nutrition and protein; while faithful adherence to one or another low-carb diet may not be as popular as a year or so ago, there is much residual interest in the tenets established by these programs.

    This dovetails with another trend – the increased interest in private label products, which allow retailers to sell proprietary items not available elsewhere.
    KC's View:
    Of course, there’s an irony that so many retailers are using the same technique to be different. But that’s fairly typical, and not just of the supermarket industry. It’s what trends are made of.

    But we think that chains need to do a better job not just of offering premium cuts of beef, but also of explaining why they are better for consumers, how they should be cooked, what people need to know about food safety and storage. We’d love to see some real marketing excitement in this category – a retailer that, for example, decided to have Saturday afternoon barbecue lessons in its parking lots, helping novice cooks to learn grilling techniques. This could be done in concert with a produce festival, a wine/beer tasting – a real summer festival. Not only would it drive sales, but it also would create theater and establish the retailer as more than just a source of product, but also as a resource for information.

    Or, how about a manned Saturday hotline for outdoor chefs with burning questions? Or a class in grilling vegetables? Or partnering with a local barbecue restaurant for some sort of local “king of the BBQ” contest?

    This is all about competition – and making sure that you are one step ahead of everybody else, being aggressive and innovative and unusual.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    The New York Times reports on an unusual alliance of labor unions calling itself the Change To Win Coalition that is being formed to offer employees an alternative to the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which leaders of the new group feel is being too timid about organizing non-unionized employees.

    According to the NYT, “this new coalition will be formed by the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters, the laborers, the food and commercial workers and Unite Here, which represents hotel, restaurant and apparel workers.”

    Organizers are careful to say that they are not trying to replace the A.F.L.-C.I.O., but rather supplement its activities. But A.F.L.-C.I.O executive express some concern that the move will fragment an already hurting labor movement, and ask, in the words of the Times, “how effective the coalition would be in unionizing workers, considering that four of the five unions, except for the service employees, have been losing members.”
    KC's View:
    It seems to us that rather than concentrating on growing membership, a higher priority would be to focus on how to reinvent the labor movement for the 21st century. The old-world contentiousness and distrust that characterized labor-management relations in the 20th century can’t be allowed to persist…it doesn’t work for either side, and certainly doesn’t work for the consumer.

    The two sides need to find a way to create a new world partnership. Otherwise, the labor movement will die, but will drag unionized businesses into the morass even as it goes through its death throes.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    MSNBC reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that the cow suspected to have been infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy [BSE], also known as mad cow disease, was born before 1997, when a ban was imposed on the use of cattle remains in animal feed.

    “It is significant to note that this animal was born prior to the implementation of the 1997 feed ban — another example our safeguards are working,” the USDA said.

    As reported yesterday on MNB, the new cow – which was slaughtered and apparently did not enter the food chain – generated a “weak positive” in one test and now is having additional tests done. USDA is unable to say at this time whether the cow currently under suspicion was imported or was native to the US.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    • UK trade magazine The Grocer has named Wal-Mart’s Asda Group as the nation’s least expensive retailer for the eighth year in a row.

      Asda was judged to be 1.8 percent cheaper than Tesco, which, according to the magazine, disputes the results. But Tesco can take some solace in the fact that despite the conclusions of the Grocer survey, its UK market share is growing, and Asda’s is not.

      Equally interesting, according to Reuters is the fact that Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury all are cutting prices to such an extent that they are getting into new businesses, such as financial services, in order to bolster their profitability.

    • Published reports say that lawyers representing hourly employees at some Kentucky Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores have asked a judge there to grant class action status to a lawsuit charging that store management did not allow them to take breaks and forced them to work off the clock.

      The judge has not yet ruled on the request.

      The case is similar to other suits that have been filed around the country against Wal-Mart.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “Wal-Mart has been completely underestimated when it comes to the Web, and its low profile is by design. The company refuses to break out any financial data on its Web operations, so there's no easy way to really compare its online revenue with Web-based retailers such as Amazon and eBay. Nonetheless, it's bigger than you think. And getting bigger.”

      According to the WSJ, Wal-Mart looks “at the Web less as a way to attract new customers than as a tool to better serve its existing base.” John Fleming, the president/CEO of, tells the paper that the goal was to "give Wal-Mart customers more choices for how they want to shop at Wal-Mart. A lot of stuff in our stores now requires more information than you can get from an aisle end-cap display."

      So, the WSJ notes, “the Web site contains buyers' guides for pricey goods such as digital cameras and plasma televisions. It also offers a greater amount of choice, with more than one million items for sale on the Web, compared with 125,000 at the retailer's stores.

      “Wal-Mart has taken some innovative steps to leverage the Web to drive people to its stores. For example, Mr. Fleming explains, you can buy tires online, then pick them up and have them mounted at a Wal-Mart tire center near your home. You can order prescription refills for delivery by mail or collect them in person at the in-store pharmacy. Using the online photo service, you can send digital pictures to be printed in a Wal-Mart store of your choice, with a one-hour turnaround.”

      Some of the impetus for this on-line aggression, according to the paper, came when’s founder/CEO, Jeff Bezos, started saying that he wanted his company to the Wal-Mart of the Internet…which led Wal-Mart management to decide that if any company was going to be the Wal-Mart of the Internet, it ought to be Wal-Mart.

    • The Sunday Business Post in Ireland reports that Wal-Mart’s Asda Group in the UK, having already purchased 12 Safeway Plc stores in Northern Ireland, plans a broader assault on the Irish market – it already has made an unsuccessful offer to buy one unnamed Irish chain, and reportedly plans to expand there sooner rather than later.

    • America apparently has a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart.

      Advertising Age reports on the curiously diverse results of a new survey done by the American Demographics Perception Study, saying that “Wal-Mart has the most believable advertising of any company in America,” scoring first in retail customer service and ranking as the second-most trustworthy corporation in the nation (behind only General Electric), and that Wal-Mart simultaneously “has the least believable advertising of any company in America,” scoring worst in customer service and ranking “as the second least-trustworthy company in America -- right behind Enron.”

    KC's View:
    We suspect that Wal-Mart doesn’t care whether you love it or hate it, as long as you shop there.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    The Indianapolis Star reports on how “a growing number of convenience outlets…are changing their look, merchandise and services to attract new customers and reclaim others from competitors such as Wal-Mart, Kroger and Sam's Club.”

    As some of these major competitors have made inroads by selling gasoline at cut-rate prices, convenience stores have had to fight back – getting creative in terms of design and décor, broadening their appeal through expanded product lines, and offering products such as gourmet coffee and Web surfing.
    KC's View:
    The key, of course, is for c-store operators to find ways to differentiate themselves effectively, and for the entire industry to find ways to raise its game. The problem is that great c-stores stand head and shoulders above the crowd, while mediocre c-stores simply reinforce previous biases against the segment. That’s not at all unusual in any business, where the lowest common denominator often defines the category.

    We wonder if real progress can be defined as when the lowest common denominator gets raised.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    Interesting confluence of stories yesterday about “wi-fi,” the technology that makes wireless Internet access available – either for free or for a fee – in an expanding number of places, ranging from hotels and coffee shops to airport terminals and convenience stores.

    On the one hand, T-Mobile USA reporting that 450,000 customers had paid it for wireless high-speed Internet access in the last three months. This year, according to the company, “T-Mobile Hotspot users were staying online an average of 64 minutes per log-on…up from 45 minutes last year and 23 minutes in 2003. The total number of log-ons totaled 3 million in the last three months, compared with about 8 million in all of 2004.” (Some log-ons are paid, and others are free.)

    At the same time, the New York Times reported that at the Victrola Café & Art in Seattle, management has had to amend its policy of offering free wi-fi access to patrons – in part because so many people were coming in with their laptops and taking up space without actually buying anything…or just the bare minimum to justify their presence.

    The store originally offered the service to encourage people to spend more time there and buy more coffee and food. But it ends up that at least in some cases, all that people were spending there was time.

    The solution: charge for Internet access on weekends. The result: more people are coming to the café and spending more money.

    Not every retailer, according to the Times is having the same problem and reaching the same conclusions; for many retailers, offering wi-fi access is one way of competing with Starbucks, which offers it in almost all its stores.
    KC's View:
    Speaking as someone who spends an awful lot of time on the road, we have to say that high-speed Internet is the most important part of any trip – more important than the bed in the hotel, more important than the food we eat and the wine we drink. (Okay, maybe that’s an overstatement - but it is almost as important as the wine.) Free wireless Internet is like discovering gold…but whether or not a business charges for it is not the determining factor. Whether or not is offers wi-fi usually is.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    June 18 is the date set for the scheduled grand opening of the first Sears Essentials store, developed after the merger of Sears and Kmart.

    The store is a converted Kmart in Palatine, Il. The 100,000 sq. ft. unit includes an enlarged "Pantry" section (no produce, meats or bakery), and a large inventory of Craftsman tools and garden equipment, Sears' brand paints, and major appliances, though the home improvement section is tucked away in the far right corner.

    The store’s color scheme is said to be light blue and orange, signs that are bi-lingual - English and Spanish – and has just seven checkouts, sources told MNB.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    Retail Forward, the management consulting and market research firm, has released a new report saying that “despite fast-changing customer expectations, shortened product and retail life cycles and rapid technological advancements, many retailers have not taken advantage of opportunities to innovate. By applying new perspectives to established ways of doing business, a retailer can strengthen its competitive and financial position, improve the customer experience and create a new life cycle of growth.”

    The company has come up with what it calls “10 innovation opportunities” for retailers to take advantage of and that will create both consumer benefit and stakeholder value. Among them, as detailed by Retail Forward:

    • Retailers that apply innovative thinking to a growth market opportunity created by demographic, societal, economic and technological trends can generate significant growth and financial performance. The needs of an aging population, ethnic consumers and the pursuit of a healthy lifestyle provide fertile ground for innovative solutions.

    • A consumer-centric approach creates opportunities to add value to the shopping experience. This requires adding services, information and support to the product mix to provide a complete solution for task-oriented shoppers. Presenting products in context and bundling products and services retailers create consumer value and competitive differentiation.

    • Demographic shifts and lifestyle changes are driving former DIY consumers into the do-it-for-me (DIFM) market. Retailers are responding to consumers’ increasing demands with innovative services and conveniences. Installation services from home improvement and consumer electronics retailers and home meal replacement options are fast-growing examples of do-it-for-me innovations.

    • Information overload, too many choices, more complex products and a lack of knowledgeable sales assistance create opportunities for retailers to develop innovative solutions for consumers. Allowing shoppers to sample the merchandise before buying, utilizing on-demand information kiosks, partnering with celebrities to provide a seal of approval and creating online communities provide consumers the help they need.

    • New distribution models are allowing retailers to connect with consumers wherever they are—at home, at work or in the car. Mobile retailing and target marketing are gaining in popularity as time-pressed consumers seek greater convenience. New-style direct-to-consumer rental concepts also are serving an important consumer niche.

    • Retailers increasingly will differentiate themselves by using experiences to sell the dream—as well as the product—and bring the brand to life. By making stores “super-immersive” and integrating branding into entertainment and other customer experiences, retailers are exploring ways to create memorable brand interactions that resonate with their target consumer.

    • Innovative process, service and design solutions that are simple, intuitive and in tune with shoppers’ needs—along with new technology tools—can save consumers time and effort. Retailers that implement easier and more rewarding customer experiences will realize sales growth and enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

    • As shopping becomes increasingly individualistic, innovative retailers will seek ways to provide more unexpected gratification to shoppers and allow them to express themselves in unique ways. In addition to mass customization and personalization, retailers are offering opportunities for customers to participate in the development of new products and services.

    • Social networking fosters community among consumers who share a common interest. Retailers are forging stronger relationships with consumers and earning their patronage by helping them to connect in ways that are important to them and by responding to their emotional and physical needs.

    • Consumers want it fast; they want it now; and, they want it first. The need for speed in the shopping process will continue to drive changes in store concepts, design, location, merchandising, transaction processing and payment.

    “Going forward, retailers will address the unique needs and desires of individual consumers and provide a more rewarding and memorable shopping experience,” said Tom Rubel, president of Retail Forward. “They will innovate around new formats and distribution models, product and service offers, marketing and customer communications and other components of the retail business model.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    The Seattle Times reports that Starbucks has decided to close the Torrefazione Italia cafes it acquired in July 2003 as part of its purchase of Seattle’s Best Coffee. There are 17 of the units in the Pacific Northwest, California, Chicago and Boston, but Starbucks said that the brand would be better utilized if it were sold exclusively through supermarkets and foodservice locations.

    The units reportedly were not performing to expectations. Starbucks has not decided when to close the stores, but they will not necessarily be converted to the Starbucks or Seattle’s Best Coffee formats.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    • Trader Joe’s reportedly will open its first New York City store near Manhattan’s Union Square, not far from where Whole Foods opened a new and highly successful flagship store.

    • The Detroit Free Press reports this morning that “five former Food Basics and Farmer Jack stores are up and running under different names including one in Detroit.” The former A&P stores are now owned by independent retailers that have supply agreements with Spartan Stores; A&P plans to sell 71 other Farmer Jack units u=in the marketplace.

    • Published reports say that in an effort to reduce waste, the Japanese government plans to ban free plastic bags, forcing retailers to charge consumers for them. The government also reportedly plans to impose tariffs on businesses to pay for national and local recycling efforts.

    • The Nutrition Business Journal reports that the sales of sports nutrition and weight loss products in the US grew last year by 14 percent over the year before, becoming a $15.6 billion business. It is suggested that the category will maintain average annual growth rates of between five and seven percent over the next eight years, eventually becoming a nearly $23 billion industry by 2013.

    • The Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) elected Rick Wolford, chairman, president and CEO of Del Monte Foods, to serve as chairman of the Industry Affairs Council (IAC), and Doug Conant, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company, to be chairman of the GMA Government Affairs Council (GAC).

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    • UK retailer Marks & Spencer reportedly is considering expanding its online grocery service from its current offering of gift baskets and “event hampers” to a full line of groceries. However, CEO Stuart Rose said that no final decision has been made.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    • 7-Eleven Inc. reported that its total May sales rose 5.5 percent to $1.15 billion, with US same-store sales up 3.4 percent.

    • Krispy Kreme Doughnuts said yesterday that it will not file its quarterly reports with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on time, blaming in part the time and money being spent dealing with regulatory and legal issues. The company said that first quarter revenue would be “about” $153 million, compared to $184.4 million during the same period a year ago.

    • Foodarama Supermarkets reported second quarter net income of $54,000, down 94 percent from the same period a year ago. Sales for the quarter were up 4.8 percent to $292 million.

    • Ahold reported first quarter net profit that was the equivalent of $177.4 million, down from $370.1 million during the same period a year ago. Sales were down one percent for the quarter to $17.2 billion.

      CEO Anders Moberg, who has been promoting his “Road to Recovery” agenda for the company, said that “the year has only just begun” and that “"I am happy with where we are at this point in time.”

    KC's View:
    Reading Anders Moberg’s comments about Ahold’s first quarter performance made us wonder when he became such a big Carpenters fan.

    Published on: June 14, 2005

    Got the following email from MNB user Tim Pacey:

    Used to work for Dominick's until Safeway centralized Pricing and laid the whole department off. Have read your column for a while and a recurring theme is making the shopping experience exciting. Always wondered how you make a grocery shopping experience exciting but just couldn't come up with anything--maybe that's why I'm in Pricing and not in Ops. Anyway, had a flash of that kind of excitement, although it was more the experience and not sure how the actual experience could directly be applied…

    I'm half Okinawan and my Obaa (Japanese for "grandmother" although she's my mom) shops at Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights. IL. Growing up in a mixed household I know what a lot of the products at Mitsuwa are, but there's many I look at and just think "What the...?"

    Which piques my interest. Then there're all the other things I'm familiar with that are a delight to go in and purchase because you can't easily get them anywhere else--mochi covered with black sesame seeds for a buck in the refrigerated section being number one. And Mitsuwa has produce, meat, dairy, fresh seafood, a food court with three or four vendors, a bakery, fresh sushi case, a small dollar type store, book and video shop, travel agency, dinnerware shop, all skewed to the Asian market. Walking in there is FUN. Took a friend of mine there and she had a good time. Got her hooked on mochi too.

    Again, the actual experience may not be translatable to American grocers, but the feeling of wonder, curiosity, pleasure, may be in principle something to work with. Perhaps that's the clue. When you shop where you do, be cognizant of why you shop there, how you feel, why you continue to patronize those places. Remember those feelings and try to create them in terms of your own stores. If you don't feel that way when you walk into your own store, make it so you do. Your customers will feel it too.

    Following up on the discussion about the Wharton study on consumer behavior, one MNB user wrote:

    It's incredible to me the number of people out there reading and responding to your web site who have nothing but insults for modern supermarkets. I thought that overall these were industry-related readers...don't they understand the very basics of the business that supports them? Or are all of these people complaining Mr/Mrs/Ms Smith the average shopper (in which case they are forgiven their lack of understanding). I am not saying that supermarkets are perfect, but let's give them a little credit for what they manage to do...and that is to carry an average of 60,000 items. Not to mention that about 5,000 items come in and out every year. Where are they supposed to put all that stuff?

    It's great to think that in an ideal world, supermarkets could hold the hand of every shopper and show them where things are located, provide meal solutions as well as know their names and how their kids are doing in school all at super-low prices. However, the reality of the situation is that the same consumer that demands the hand-holding, also demands immense variety and reasonable prices for the very food they need to survive.

    The simple truth, is that the response to endless consumer demands is what has created the very "nightmare" people describe. They want variety...add items, now the stores are too cumbersome to shop quickly. They want speed...add self-check-out and move additional cases to the front of the store, now the stores are crowed and impersonal. They want low prices...create hot customers cherry-pick and complain about the lack of service because pay-roll has to be cut back to cover narrower margins. And on and on the cycle goes...

    Retailers have to survive somehow. Supermarkets operate on razor-thin is it possible that a supermarket overall sells the carbonated beverage category at break-even or a loss, while Coke and Pepsi have a 25% NET profit? How is it that an average Category Manager covers 5,000 items with a staff of 5, when Kimberly Clark has a sales rep that calls on one chain JUST for diapers? Or P&G may have a team of 15 people calling on an average retailer? I'll tell you how, because no matter what consumers say they want, there is an intuitive understanding by supermarkets that if you gave them everything they demand, consumers would die of starvation because they can't afford the food anymore.

    Until retailers decide that they are going find a niche and perfect it, us poor consumers just have to hang in there. Overall, supermarkets do a great job of getting the food on the table at a price we can afford. It's not perfect, but a little planning and a positive attitude when going to the store can help a lot. Instead of going to the store 3-4 times a week, take one of those 20 minute trips and sit down with a cookbook and plan 3 meals at once, then shop once or twice a week. It's easy for me to say that, I'm one of those Gen-X people who's apple hasn't fallen far from the mom worked 50 hours a week, but she cooked dinner almost every night and we all sat down to a family dinner. By the way, she only shopped once a week, so there was time to cook.

    And MNB user Brendan Haslam wrote:

    It seems to me you have a slight bias against Wharton and/or academia (particularly the ivy kind).

    Don’t you always say that for the most part the Supermarket Industry doesn’t know what they are doing and don’t have a great understanding of the consumer? I’d say that’s basically my take on your feelings a lot of the time regarding supermarkets. It seemed like your editorial on the Wharton study was in direct conflict with what you have written in the past.

    Also, why do academics with computers differ from MNB and its author and his computer?

    That may be a fair criticism. However, the only academics we think we have a bias against are the ones who believe that they are the smartest guys in any room they walk into. They may actually be that, but we’ve always felt that the best way to be smart is to assume that you can learn something from everyone. Some academics are professional teachers, and some are professional students; you can learn a lot more from the latter.

    By the way, we don’t believe that the supermarket industry doesn’t know what it is doing. We think that sometimes the industry is misguided, or has the wrong priorities. But we think that most executives are very smart and work extremely hard.

    We have two advantages. One is the perspective that you get from distance. The other is that we don’t actually have to do any of the stuff we write about.

    Regarding the financial/legal dispute between Wal-Mart and its former vice chairman, Tom Coughlin, MNB user Michael F. Parker wrote:

    If Coughlin is guilty of taking the money then he is also guilty of being an idiot. His compensation would suggest that the amount claimed to have been taken would make no sense given his compensation and net worth. This situation doesn’t pass the smell test.

    MNB user David Staverman wrote:

    As an owner of stock, I am glad (even if it is Wal-Mart) that a company is holding its board of directors accountable. Many companies failed in the late 90’s because their boards of directors failed to serve their role as a check and balance in the interest of shareholders.

    And MNB user David J. Livingston wrote:

    My gut feel on this is that Coughlin is telling the truth about using the money to pay informants. First, someone who is making millions over the years does not need to steal a few thousand dollars. Second, there is no easy way to pay informants. It can be an accounting nightmare. Technically they should be invoicing Wal-Mart for "consulting" services and then Wal-Mart sends them a 1099 at the end of the year. It’s no different when companies hire private investigators to spy on or go work for their competitors. The problem you get sometimes is that many informants want cash and no paper trail. The president of the company should be aware of the information the company is getting and simply agree to pay the executive a higher salary to cover the cost of the payoffs. Submitting personal use invoices was sloppy. Coughlin may have been a bit overzealous in trying to protect his company from union organizers and too cheap to absorb the cost personally. Overall, paying off some informants probably had no material affect on preventing union organizing. Believe it or not, some people just like the thrill of being a CIA cowboy for their company.

    We have a simple test for this.

    People who are whistle-blowers because of principle are generally worthy of admiration, if only because they’re not looking to grease their palms.

    But people who get paid to inform on their friends and colleagues are something else. Because it has nothing to do with principle, and everything to do with greed.

    MNB user Al Kober had the following observation about Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat:

    COOL as it now stands is not a safety issue or a program to provide "reassurance" it is a marketing program at best ,and not much else.

    No argument. For the moment, it is a marketing concept. But if there is a problem down the road, it’ll end up being a lot more.

    MNB user Randy J. Misener spoke to the issue of why the USDA cannot tell where the cow currently under suspicion for having mad cow disease came from:

    I find it very interesting that the US Government cannot track illegal immigrants and terrorists, but know the exact family tree and blood lines of cows. Maybe we should attach a cow to every terrorist so the government will be able to track them and add significant value to our country.
    KC's View: