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    Published on: July 8, 2005

    A brief personal note from the Content Guy…

    We were going to start off this morning by calling for a moment of silence to remember the people who lost their lives and family members during yesterday’s terrorist attack in London.

    It was all too familiar scenes playing out on television screens yesterday, reminding us of the days and weeks following 9/11 here in the US.

    But it occurred to us that silence is the wrong response to these kinds of attacks on innocent people and on cultures and civilizations that promote and cherish freedom of speech and thought and movement.

    We all need to be loud in our condemnation of any such behavior, and in labeling these barbarians for who and what they are.

    No silence.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that the California Department of Food and Agriculture has launched an investigation into allegations that Kroger-owned Ralphs and Food-4-Less stores advertised grapes grown in Mexico has coming from California farms.

    The company said that it had made an honest mistake and has corrected the mislabeling.

    However, if the state finds that Ralphs and Food-4-Less are guilty of something other than an honest mistake, the result could be fines as high as $3,000 for every mis-advertised bag of fruit sold.
    KC's View:
    Could this also be turned into yet another argument for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislation?

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    The Chicago Tribune reports that as 400 Walgreen drug stores there deal with a strike by some 1,200 of its pharmacists, Jewel-Osco is taking advantage of the labor strife to heavily advertise and promote its pharmacies.

    Ads will include addresses and phone numbers of Jewel-Osco’s pharmacies.

    The key issues identified by the pharmacists are working conditions and staffing levels at Walgreen’s pharmacies, which the union says could have a negative impact on customers.

    However, there apparently are some malcontents in the union – between 120 and 200 of Walgreen pharmacists, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, have resigned from the union rather than strike, and have charged that there is an “alarming disconnect” between union leadership and the rank-and-file.
    KC's View:
    We are reminded of the words that David Mamet put into the mouth of Chicago cop Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery) in “The Untouchables”:

    You want to get Capone? Here's how you get him: he pulls a knife, you pull a gun, he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. It's the Chicago way and that's how you get Capone.

    Of course, these days this isn’t just how to conduct business in Chicago. It ought to be the mantra for any retailer looking to compete in a tough world.

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    Interesting piece by Forbes keyed to the announcement that the Walt Disney Co. will launch a new wireless phone network designed to be family-friendly, complete with “mobile service, custom handsets and premium phone content, like ringtones and games featuring Disney characters. The launch won't require an extensive deployment of infrastructure and new cell towers, since all the calls will go over Sprint's national cellular network. That means Disney will gain access to a dedicated, direct marketing channel to kids, benefiting both from network revenue and from selling its content in a new medium.”

    The question posed by Forbes: if Disney can do it, why not other companies?

    And one of the companies most prominently mentioned: Wal-Mart.

    Indeed, analysts say that Wal-Mart could be a big player in the wireless business, simply by promoting itself as the most value-oriented mobile service and even focusing on credit-challenged customers who want a pre-paid option.
    KC's View:
    The fact is that there is practically no business that you can’t suggest wouldn’t be impacted by Wal-Mart deciding to take the plunge.

    The big question for Wal-Mart will be whether there are real possibilities for profits and expanded brand equity in any of these options. If there are, and Wal-Mart sees a natural fit with its existing businesses, then the plunge may be seen as worthwhile and logical.

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    Good piece in the Los Angeles Times about the newest consumer-oriented innovation at some Apple Stores around the country – a “Studio” counter that complements the “Genius” bar.

    When Apple Computer began operating its own retail stores around the country, one of the most heralded features was a Genius Bar that provided free advice for consumers trying to fix problems or figure out how certain functions work. Whether the shopper had a problem with iPod battery life or the hard drive of a Mac laptop, black-shirted experts were on hand to help out. (The biggest problem has been the queues.)

    But at the San Francisco Apple Store, it was noticed that the Genius Bar was being used to get advice about how certain multimedia programs worked – so the store created a Studio counter designed specifically so experts in digital media could “dole out advice on such topics as how to make slide shows with digital photos, edit video and burn DVDs of the projects,” according to the Times, staffed by “Creatives” who have “varied backgrounds: sound engineering, film, video art, photography, Web design.”
    KC's View:
    We recently were in the San Francisco Apple Store and noticed the Studio counter. When we asked an employee how it differed from the Genius Bar, she said that “one was for people who have problems while the other was for people who want to explore possibilities.”

    What a great line. And what a great approach to customer service.

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    Local press reports around the country say that:

    • An Ohio man has been awarded $490,000 in damages by a jury that found that he had been discriminated against by his former employer, McDonald’s, because he had AIDS. The award was considerably less than the $5 million he won in 2001 but that was overturned on appeal by the fast feeder.

      The man’s attorney said she would appeal the award and ask for more money, saying that the judge erred when charging the jury.

      And McDonald’s said it might appeal as well, maintaining that it didn’t discriminate against the man.

    • The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) is threatening actions against Albertsons for converting one of its unionized Southern California stores to the non-union Bristol Farms format…even though Albertsons has said that nobody at the store – located in the Westchester section of the city – has lost their job.

    • Kroger has put 20 stores in Northern California on the market. Five are Ralphs units, and the others operate as either Cala Foods or Bell Markets.

    • Tidyman’s is closing two Montana units – more than 10 percent of its fleet. The Missoulan reports that the employee-owned company will close a Tidyman’s Northwest Fresh store and a County Market because of declining sales and market share.

    • In Texas, Minyard’s has decided to convert 11 stores currently operating either as Minyard Food Stores or as Sack n’ Save to its Hispanic-themed Carnival format.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    • Wal-Mart reported June net sales of $29.99 billion, an increase of 11.2 percent over net sales of $26.97 billion in June 2004. Same-store sales were up 4.5 percent.

    • BJ's Wholesale Club reported June sales of $796.1 million, up 8.9 percent from the same period a year ago. Same-store sales for the month were up 4.3 percent.

    • Target Corp. reported that total June sales grew 16 percent compared to a year ago, to $4.58 billion from $3.94 billion in June 2004. Same-store sales were up nine percent.

    • Family Dollar Stores reported that its June sales rose 8.6 percent compared to a year ago, to $566.9 million. Same-store sales were up just 1.4 percent.

    • CVS announced that its total sales for June increased 31.4 percent to $3.5 billion, compared to $2.7 billion in the prior year period. Same-store sales for the month increased 5.8 percent.

      For the second quarter, total sales increased 31.4 percent to $9.1 billion, compared to $6.9 billion in the prior year period. Same-store sales for the quarter increased 5.6 percent over the prior year period.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    We had a story yesterday about how the food industry seems to feel it has avoided the litigation problems that plagued the tobacco industry, even though it wasn’t that long ago that some were suggesting that food companies might be held legally and financially responsible for the nation’s obesity problems.

    We commented:

    Clearly, it makes more sense for consumers to take full and complete responsibility for their own health and eating habits. Litigation does very little other than make lawyers rich, and that is never a good thing.

    That said, we have to say that the tobacco litigation has been a positive thing for the nation’s health. It has been proven that those companies were knowingly marketing products that both addicted and killed people, and their feet should have been held to the fire; there is a special section of hell reserved for tobacco executives.

    We’re not sure that the same standard exists for the food industry. But we are certain that the food industry can be a positive force if it embraces the obesity crisis as something it can help fight, can help inform consumers about.

    “Commonsense consumption laws” don’t solve the problem. What they should do is create a climate in which common sense approaches to fighting the obesity problem can be crafted and implemented.

    To which MNB user Paul Rupple responded:

    You seem to be speaking from both sides of your mouth on this issue. Either this type of litigation is bad in that it accomplishes little other than to make lawyers rich, or it has a positive social effect. I don’t believe that the tobacco litigation has had the type of positive impact that you believe that it has. The monetary rewards have gone predominantly into state general funds, with very little being used to change behavior or aid those suffering under the effects of smoking.

    Tobacco companies have not made major changes in the way that they make or market their products because of the litigation either. All in all, the lawyers got rich, states got a short-term infusion into their coffers and the tobacco companies suffered a hit to their bottom lines; yet teenagers continue to pick up the habit and adult smokers continue in their ways.

    As for the food industry, have the executives at the fast food companies really changed their approaches? Didn’t Hardee’s and Burger King recently announce new products with skyrocketing calorie and fat gram counts? I believe the Hardee’s Monster Thickburger tips the scales at over 1400 calories and 107 grams of fat; while the BK Enormous Omelet Sandwich weighs in at 740 calories and 46 grams of fat. Again, I don’t’ think that we need to sue them into submission or reward the consumers of those products with lawsuit settlements for the effects of consuming products which they knew would have negative consequences. People have known that smoking is dangerous for a long time, and people also know that consuming too much fast food can be a dangerous decision; however, ultimately we need to let people know of the dangers and then allow them to make their decisions and live with the consequences.

    That’s a fair criticism.

    We are conflicted about this. We hate these lawsuits, and you make a good case for how they often don’t work. But we also think that there is no way that, say, McDonald’s would have improved its menu if it had not been for the threat of litigation.

    If they say otherwise, it is a crock.

    Over on, Phil Lempert makes a good point about all this – that the food industry may be deluding itself if it thinks there is no problem simply because it has dodged a bullet.

    There’s a line from “Three Days of the Condor” that seems appropriate. It is when Robert Redford looks at his CIA handler and says: “You think that not getting caught in a lie is the same thing as telling the truth.”

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Legal plagues from people like Banzhaf won't be stopped by reason, commonsense or appeals to human decency anymore than sharks in bloody water will be deterred by a few drops of perfume. Our tort system is beyond being a forum for injured parties to seek relief; it has become a vein of money to be mined by 'legal capitalists' disinterested in the issue they claim to champion. Where I grew up we used to call these types carpetbaggers and they could always find a patsy to front their so-called compassionate efforts, a person who was usually discarded like the trash immediately after the scoundrel vacuumed out a few wallets. These self-proclaimed consumer activists boldly state they will continue chipping away at any law passed to encourage personal responsibility. What's the motivation for a person to claim as a virtue constant efforts to undermine individual accountability?

    If saving people from dying as a result of food is their goal, why don't they bring their focus on corrupt regimes around the world that intentionally starve people simply to advance their personal power? Certainly the number of people dying from starvation or the results of malnutrition around the world exceed the numbers in this country Banzhaf and his ilk claim will benefit from their legal actions. Is it this class of people don't fit into the carpetbaggers' strategic plans?

    Regardless of the action and outcomes I predict we'll see the same results as tobacco consumers did - higher prices to cover payoffs. I guess it can only be called racketeering when you're not a lawyer...

    One caution, if we may.

    Don’t assume or suggest that all consumer activists are fraudulent.

    There are a lot of good folks out there who have nothing but consumers’ best interests at heart…whether you agree with their approach and goals or not.

    Sure, there are scam artists.

    But guess what? There are supermarket executives and food manufacturers and even industry writers/pundits (gasp!) who are frauds as well.

    On the use of the political operatives by the UFCW to fight Wal-Mart, MNB user Glenn Cantor observed:

    Note to the UFCW; both Howard Dean and Wesley Clark lost soundly in the presidential election.

    One would have to think that most of the American shopping population now knows that Wal-Mart products are made cheaply, overseas. They know, too, about the perceived substandard health benefits. And, the shopping public knows that the old, friendly local stores at which they shopped in the past are closing because they cannot compete with Wal-Mart. People are generally smarter than the perceived experts and media give them credit.

    And still, Wal-Mart stores attract a majority of the American shopping public on a regular basis. All of their stores are busy and crowded. Anytime a new Wal-Mart opens after winning a battle against local opposition, it is busy and successful from the get-go.

    This means that the battle, as it is currently being fought by the UFCW, is destined for failure. The only way to succeed is to convince the American shopping public that it is good for them to pay higher prices, consistently and regularly. That will only happen when the alternative, with the higher prices, offers a worthwhile, widely desired trade-off. Right now, it is not happening. (And as long as we have to pay $2.25 for a gallon of gas, it's not going to happen.)

    On the subject of mad cow disease, one MNB user wrote:

    You commented (regarding mad cow) that you don't think that consumers are more educated -- I think that that's exactly true. The consumers in this country are insulated quite well from news about BSE and CJD. Those of us who live and/or travel in the international arena, however, have seen headlines, read articles, and watched television programs about this disease. Go to BBC News online ( and type in one of the relevant terms...but be prepared for what you will see.

    I will accept that yes, vCJD (the human variation) is very rare.

    I will not accept, however, that there is an "acceptable risk" associated with eating beef. Like you, I don't believe for a second that there is only one cow in this country. The testing ratios are not statistically high enough to catch it -- and what's more frightening is the possibility of cows that have already entered the food chain who were not tested (to be fair, even before testing was begun). ANY risk is too high with this particular disease.

    I sat next to a couple on a Virgin Atlantic flight to London – their son's fiancée' had recently died of vCJD. It was heartbreaking to hear them tell about how a sparkling, vibrant young woman (they had obviously adored her) within a year and a half withered and died. (The subject came up because it was early January, just after they found the Canadian cow in the Northwest, and it was on the headlines of the paper I was reading.)

    It is fatal -- 100% of the time. It is a slow, excruciating death -- 100% of the time. The only salvation, they said, was that her mind was gone long before the worst of the physical decline began.

    I cannot imagine watching a loved one die this way...and since I do not believe that the beef supply is really, truly safe, I will not serve my family beef. (Because of the testing and the general awareness, I've occasionally had beef in Europe, but haven't eaten American beef in a year and a half.) The upside is the amount of duck and lamb we've been eating...!

    I'm sorry that the Beef Council will be angry with me...and pray that they never have to watch one of their own become a victim of vCJD.

    Finally, we continue to get loads of email about our objections to wine in boxes and in screw-top bottles. Our favorite:

    Slowly Slowly Slowly
    You can crawl out of the dark ages.
    Have you tried one of the best Pinots around???

    Argyle from Oregon...

    Oops.... Has a screw top.......
    I guess I get to enjoy it all by myself....
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 8, 2005

    By now, you may have read that Hollywood is having its worst summer in recent memory, with no week so far having higher box office receipts than last year. It is almost unprecedented, but I cannot say that I am surprised.

    A perfect example of why this is happening came during my recent week off, when it was hard to find a movie to see with my 11-year-old daughter. The middle of summer, and there were very few kids movies in the marketplace!

    We ended up seeing “Herbie: Fully Loaded,” which is a sequel to the old Disney “Love Bug” movies of decades ago, and was both mindless and unentertaining – not a good combination. (I dodged the bullet on “Bewitched” – one of the neighbors took my daughter to that one.)

    Maybe hoping that a Disney remake would be good was setting my expectations too high. But I also was disappointed by “War of the Worlds,” the new Steven Spielberg/Tom Cruise movie that is an adaptation of the old H.G. Wells novel.

    It isn’t that the movie doesn’t look good. It does. Spielberg is incapable of making a movie that doesn’t have stirring, remarkable sequences, and this one has a ton of them. But the problem is that his other alien movies – “ET” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – had a lot more joy and wonder, and that this one seems mired in the midlife crisis of a deadbeat dad. Maybe that’s because we live in a world that is very different from the world where those older movies were made, but there’s no context, no sophistication about the alien attacks in “War of the Worlds.” It is just a high-tech excuse for Tom Cruise’s character to reconnect with his kids…and it seems kind of empty.

    I also think that there are plot holes in “War of the Worlds” that I could drive a truck – or even a space ship – through. And that doesn’t help.

    I will tell you one thing about the ending, though. Trust me, it won’t ruin it for you…

    It isn’t aliens trying to take over the planet.

    It is Scientologists.

    Better you should stay home, have a glass of wine or a beer and read a book.

    Try the Kenwood 2004 Sauvignon Blanc or the Coppola Diamond Series 2003 Sauvignon Blanc…both crisp and cool for a hot summer day.

    Or, as I recommended earlier this week, a bottle of Anchor Summer Beer, which is just great.

    And then settle down with Robert B. Parker’s terrific new western, Appaloosa.” Set in the old west and in the fictional town of Appaloosa, it follows the exploits of itinerant lawmen Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch as they try to rescue a town from the exploitive and criminal behavior of wealthy rancher Randall Bragg. In doing so, they face moral and physical challenges, and Cole and Hitch serve to the illustrate the same kinds of ethical themes that Parker explores when he writes about Spenser and Hawk and Jesse Stone – the meaning of honor, the responsibilities of friendship, and the demands of love.

    And best of all, it has horses and saloons and gunfights – all the things that defined and made the old west great.

    When you’re done, if you’re in the mood to saddle up for some great western movies, pop “The Searchers” or “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” or “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” or “Unforgiven” or “Silverado” into the DVD player.


    Have a great weekend.

    KC's View: