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    Published on: February 6, 2006

    The Washington Post reported last week that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) “overruled field scientists' recommendation to retest an animal that was suspected of harboring mad cow disease last year because they feared a positive finding would undermine confidence in the agency's testing procedures, the department's inspector general said yesterday.

    “After protests from the inspector general, the specimen was sent to England for retesting and produced the nation's second confirmed case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), also known as mad cow disease.”

    The Post report was based on an internal USDA audit designed top evaluate the agency’s performance in dealing with mad cow disease.

    According to the Post story, “scientists at the National Veterinary Services Laboratories concluded that a sample from a Texas animal should be tested with other techniques following initial inconclusive findings,” but that “top officials at the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) told them not to do the additional tests.

    “When officials from the inspector general's office met with the head of APHIS, they were told that the protocol followed by the agency was the international ‘gold standard’ and nothing more was needed, the report adds. Nonetheless, the sample was later sent to England for a different set of tests and was found to have the mad cow infection.”

    It gets worse. “The report also found that although there was no evidence that infected meat had made it into the human food chain, the USDA surveillance system did not collect the information needed to say whether slaughterhouses were following all mad cow-related regulations,” the Post writes.

    USDA food safety administrator Barbara J. Masters released a statement saying that “officials have taken steps to better enforce the rules and have reached agreement with the inspector general on most issues. ‘FSIS is confident it is successfully carrying out its mission to protect public health by strictly enforcing safeguards,’ she said.

    This is the same Barbara Masters who told MNB recently (in a video interview done for the just-completed CIES International Food Safety Conference):

    “To get to the issue of testing our sister agency who we work closely with, the Animal, Plant Health Inspection Service is the agency responsible for our surveillance program on BSE and I would say that they have done a very outstanding job of the surveillance program for BSE in the United States. And they have tested well over 400,000 samples here in the United States over the last 18 months or so looking for BSE in the United States and they have done an incredible job of finding those animals most at risk for BSE in the United States. And through that testing process I think you’re well aware that here in the United States we have found two animals with BSE. And so I think the criticism has decreased here in the United States because of the enhanced surveillance program and the robust system that our sister agency put in place to ensure that we’re testing all regions of the country and all parts of the country with this very enhanced surveillance program put in place by our sister agency.”
    KC's View:
    We cannot even begin to suggest the outrage we feel at reading the Post story. Somebody ought to get fired…in fact, there are a whole bunch of people who probably should be exiled from ever having a position of public trust again.

    Gold standard of testing protocols? Not likely. In fact, probably not even close.

    This is the best reason that the food industry has to step up and get aggressive on this issue. Don’t trust the government, because it isn’t worried about your customers. And in the end, they are your customers…so you have to look out for them.

    Barbara Masters may be confident that the agency “is successfully carrying out its mission to protect public health by strictly enforcing safeguards.” But she’s full of it.

    By the way, based on our interview with her, we’re fairly confident that she doesn’t even believe it – she seems best at parroting agency talking points, not engaging in any sort of real discussion or debate.

    Not only does this suggest that some of the folks at USDA were more concerned with covering their own butts than preserving the safety of the consumers and taxpayers who pay their salaries and who trust them, but also that there is absolutely no reason they should have any credibility on any other issue. They make lousy decisions, they lie, they cover up. Just what you want from your government.

    Get them the hell out of there. Now. Let someone protect the public health who actually is concerned about the public health.

    One other note.

    In the same video that we produced for the CIES conference, we had Phil Lempert not just questioning government procedures with regard to mad cow (boy, was he right on that one!), but also saying that the media generally hasn’t done a very good job of covering food safety issues.

    He’s right on this one, as well. The Post put this story – which strikes us as being about a clear breach of the public trust - on page A-7.

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    In the UK, the Guardian reports that Andy Bond, CEO of Wal-Mart’s Asda Group, has renewed his company’s criticism of what it calls Tesco’s runaway and anti-competitive growth. Bond said that the country’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) should quickly complete its probe into whether supermarkets should be prevented from further investing in the convenience store category, and instead focus on tightening planning regulations so that Tesco’s efforts are curtailed.

    The goal – which also was addressed recently by Justin King, Sainsbury’s CEO – is to get regulators to take into account how many stores Tesco has in a given area before allowing it to buy land and open new units.

    They are shooting at the wrong target," Bond says. "We want a tightening of planning regulations ... We want choice and competition to be an element of the planning regime."

    Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott made similar complaints about Tesco last year.

    Asda has lost some competitive ground in the UK lately, as Tesco has continued to gain market share and Sainsbury appears to be on the verge of passing Asda to reclaim the number two position. Asda plans to open more Asda Living units (which do not sell food) later this year, as well as open a new format, Asda Essentials, a limited assortment, own-label-driven food store.

    Bond tells the Guardian that he isn’t just looking out for Asda, but also for other local competitors. "We would prefer there to be a Morrisons or a Sainsbury's to another Tesco,” he says. “Where there are Asda-only towns we are ready to give up the chance of getting another Asda outlet.”
    KC's View:
    Bond’s altruism is touching, but we’re not sure that anyone from Wal-Mart should be complaining about other companies having too many stores and too much dominance. The incongruity is just too much to bear.

    We understand that the planning and zoning situation is different in the UK than it is in the US, but it does seem strange that Wal-Mart is seeking governmental interference there because it cannot completely succeed on its own – something it would object to in the US if its competitors there made a similar request.

    Sometimes we think that Wal-Mart needs a chief irony officer, someone who has as their main job not drinking the kool-aid and letting people know when maybe it is saying things that hurt more than help it. (The same thing happened last week when a Wal-Mart spokesperson conceded that may it was having a problem with the prices being charged at checkout being different than those being advertised, but that they were more often in the customer’s favor than not – a statement that, even if true, nobody was going to believe.)

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    We finally caught up with the New York Times story last week about persons who have had radio frequency identification (RFID) chips implanted under their skin – presaging an era in which people actually merge with technology to become, in their view, more efficient and productive people.

    “The tiny silicone chips, which for years have been safely implanted in pets and livestock to identify their owners, come with an encoded string of numbers,” the NYT writes. “They are read by a scanner two to four inches away, much like a bar code except the chips don't need to be visible to be read.”

    The Times notes that this convergence of human being and technology has been speculated about for years, often by novelists and filmmakers who worry that it will result in a cultural nightmare. (Think the Borg from “Star Trek,” assimilating all races into their technology-driven collective that lacks creativity and independent thought and announces to its soon-to-be victims, “Resistance is futile.” This works, of course, until they bump into Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the starship Enterprise…but we digress.)

    Proponents of convergence argue that this is a positive trend because it puts technology to even greater service of mankind, allowing people to do all sorts of tasks – from opening their front doors and cars to informing doctors of their medical history – without having to carry around keys and medical files. They even imagine that this is the next step beyond biometrics – that people could pay for purchases with the simple wave of their hand.

    “Implanting chips in people is not new,” the NYT writes. “Some employees of the Mexican Ministry of Justice are implanted with chips that give them a fast track through their building's security, and a Barcelona dance club offered chips to V.I.P.'s.

    “In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration gave approval in 2004 to a Florida company, Verichip, to implant RFID chips in people as a means to retrieve medical information. The information is not on the chip; it is in a computer database that hospitals gain access to by scanning patients who carry a chip beneath their skin. In the last three years, Verichip says, it has implanted more than 2,000 people around the world and 60 in the United States. Its chips are a proprietary technology and cost about $200 each.”

    But critics of such a system continue to worry that we are becoming a world in which privacy is gradually being taken away and unreasonable demands are being made of individuals. For example, if insurance companies decided that it was far more efficient to have medical information available to doctors in emergencies via an implanted chip, they could conceivably make it a prerequisite for getting insurance – a notion that is alarming to privacy advocates.
    KC's View:
    Not to mention the fact that some people who worry about RFID being a sign of the devil will object to the fact that they will be marked with a small tattoo of the numbers “666”…

    Just kidding.

    We have to admit to sharing the concerns of privacy advocates on this one. Though we can imagine that such implants might make us a more efficient society, we also worry if at some point we will begin losing our essential humanity. The novels and films about such subjects almost always begin with people being sure that they are in control, that such technologies will somehow make us more human. But, of course, they don’t. This way madness lies…

    There is one thing that we are sure of. This is not a technology debate. It is a debate for philosophers and poets and ethicists, not for politicians and scientists. It is a debate about the soul, not the mind…and we don’t use that word in a religious sense. And it is a debate that likely will do much to define our future.

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    (How can you say no to that?)

    Famed economist Dr. William Freund told FMI’s recent Midwinter Conference that successful companies will implement technology solutions that both increase customer satisfaction and store production.

    Gladson Interactive utilizes technology to change a simple strip of paper into a powerful business tool. Carefully executed planograms are converted into QuickSet Image Shelf Strips and Image Back Tags that enable your stock crew or even part time, temporary help to set and restock shelves 60% faster with virtually 100% accuracy. Image Shelf Strips and Image Shelf Tags are proven to attract more shoppers to the center store and increase sales.

    Learn more about Gladson Image Merchandising Solutions by emailing Greg Gates at
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    Stew Leonard’s - the Connecticut-based store chain that has become legendary through its combination of customer service, in-store theatrics, and fresh foods – announced that it will open a new store in Newington, Ct., near Hartford, early next year. The 112,800-square foot unit will be in the former Caldor store given $15 million in renovations.

    The store will be the company’s fourth. The original unit is in Norwalk, Ct., with newer stores in Danbury, Ct., and Yonkers, NY. It has run into delays that have slowed down its building plans on Long Island, NY, and zoning controversies that have postponed its plans for an Orange, CT., unit.
    KC's View:
    We have long been an unabashed fan of Stew Leonard’s, both personally and professionally – we’ve been shopping there for more than two decades, and have admired the company’s ability to turn a limited selection of product (only about 2,000 SKUs) into stores that can generate as much as $2 million a week apiece. Stew’s is a perfect example of how to compete by being something unique and different, rather than becoming preoccupied with fighting fire with fire.

    Stew Leonard’s isn’t a store. It is a powerful brand name. It is a mark of how strong the brand is that when the company was hit with a series of tax and legal problems more than a decade ago, which led to its founder spending time in prison, the brand not only survived but even grew in strength.

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    Advertising Age reports that the Beer Institute is changing the code of advertising that it has used to self-govern marketing efforts by its member companies. Now, for the first time, people will be allowed to actually drink beer and flirt with each other in TV commercials – something that has been to this point discouraged.

    Ad Age notes that it is hard to know what kind of impact the change will have since “the media is the ultimate arbiter of what appears an air and several TV networks, among them Fox, ABC and NBC, have guidelines that still prohibit scenes of drinking in ads.”
    KC's View:
    We don’t take any of this very seriously, for several reasons.

    First of all, we suspect that if you asked the average consumer, he or she would be surprised to find out that people don’t drink or flirt in beer commercials.

    Second, wasn't it a beer commercial just a couple of years ago that had a couple of gorgeous women engaging in a wrestling match while rolling around in a pool of water and wearing only the skimpiest of outfits?

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    For the first time, Krispy Kreme will use television and radio commercials – with the tag line “Share the Love” – to sell doughnuts in selected markets.

    The move comes after several years of reversals for Krispy Kreme, as it went from being a niche brand with limited distribution to being found almost everywhere – which, unfortunately for the company, happened at about the same time as the low-carb craze hit. The company also has had financial problems, and is being investigated by the federal government for cooking the books as well the doughnuts.
    KC's View:
    Well, we guess that “share the love” is marginally better than “share the carbs.”

    All we know is that we’ve pretty much stopped eating doughnuts – any doughnuts. We’re not alone…and it won’t really matter how good the commercials are.

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    • The NY Daily News reports that in a survey of New Yorkers by Quinnipiac University, 51 percent said they would not mind a Wal-Mart opening in the five boroughs, and only 37 percent said they would object. In addition, 47 percent of union households in NY said they’d shop at Wal-Mart if it were convenient.

    However, the study also revealed that 74 percent of New Yorkers believe that Wal-Mart hurts small mom-and-pop businesses, and 57 percent said that they felt Wal-Mart’s employees were underpaid.

    • Wal-Mart announced last week that from now on when it files its financial reports, it will use stores open for 12 calendar months when it calculates same-store sales; previously, it has only factored these stores in once the next fiscal year after their 12-month anniversary had started. The company also said it will exclude Sam’s Club fuel sales from its same-store sales reports.

    The retailer said the new system was more in line with industry standards.

    • Wal-Mart on Friday moved yet again to void the retirement agreement of Tom Coughlin, the company’s former vice chairman who had pleaded guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion charges. It is appealing a previous ruling that left the retirement benefits in place because both parties had agreed not to try and negate it.

    Wal-Mart maintains that the agreement ought not to be enforced because it was unaware of Coughlin’s illegal activities when they signed it.

    • Wal-Mart reportedly has filed for official permission from the Indian government to open an office there to explore the possibility of opening stores in the country. Wal-Mart already has an office in India that buys products to be exported to its operations in other nation.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    • The NY Daily News reports that a controversy in brewing in the Big Apple over the $7.5 million contract that the city signed with Snapple, giving it beverage exclusivity in the city’s schools.

    “Snapple produced three ads starring school coaches alongside the beverage giant's logo and stamped them on hundreds of bus shelters,” the Daily News reports, saying that the Education Department “is billing the ads as public service announcements. But critics call them dicey endorsements for a profit-making soft-drink seller.”

    The company, however, says that it is only trying to promote the accomplishments of ordinary people in the school system.

    • Penn Traffic Co. said last week that it has fired two executives - Les Knox, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, and Linda Jones, vice president of non-perishable merchandising – for violating the company’s promotional allowances policies. Penn Traffic continues to cooperate with a US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into its promotional practices.

    • The National Grocers Association announced that Tom Haggai, chairman/CEO of IGA, will receive its Clarence G. Adamy Great American Award at NGA’s convention in Las Vegas later this week.

    • IGA announced its seven retailers of the year: Howard Dodds of Howard’s IGA, New Carlisle, Ohio; Lawrence McGrogan of Handy Foods IGA, Ottawa, Ill.; Jeff Prindle of Adams Hometown Market, Deep River, Conn.; Jim Shook of Lake Region IGA, Hawley, Pa.; Bill Stehlick of Norman’s IGA, Nebraska City, Neb.; and Peter and Jackie Zipf, of Cooroy Supa IGA in Cooroy, Queensland, Australia.

    • In the UK, The Grocer reports that Whole Foods plans to shutter seven Fresh & Wild stores it bought there two years ago, but only once each has been replaced by a larger Whole Foods Market.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    • Ruddick Corp. reported that that first quarter sales at its Harris Teeter supermarket subsidiary were up 9.3 percent to $716.1 million compared to sales of $655.2 million in the first quarter a year ago, with same-store sales up 4.25 percent. Q1 operating profit at Harris Teeter increased by 14.4 percent to $33.3 million, from $29.1 million in the prior year period.

    • Rite Aid Corp. said that its January sales reached $1.26 billion, down 0.5 percent from the year-ago period, even as same-store sales were up 0.9 percent. Fiscal year-to-date sales are up 2.6 percent to $15.5 billion, with same-store sales up one percent.

    • Family Dollar Stores reported that its January net sales increased to $423.4 million, up 9.7 percent from $385.8 million during the same period a year ago. Same-store sales were up 3.4 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    We wrote last week about an Ad Age story about how Coca-Cola is in trouble with the nation’s truckers over a television commercial for its new Full Throttle energy drink. The ad is supposed to air before Sunday’s Super Bowl, but the American Trucking Association is engineering a letter writing campaign to derail its broadcast. The truckers apparently objected to the stereotypical portrayal of their kind as overly aggressive bullies who drive too fast and put smaller vehicles and their drivers in peril.

    Our comment: We’re shocked by this callous portrayal of the gentle, compassionate and exceedingly polite breed of men known as truckers by those awful folks at the Coca-Cola Co. Driving our little sports car on the open highway, we’ve certainly never had the experience, say, of having some enormous truck ride right up behind us and then blast the horn because 65 or 70 miles an hour just isn’t fast enough for them. We don’t know where these horrible stereotypes come from.

    You’d think that the people at Coke would be more sensitive, since Ad Age also reports that truckers are major consumers of energy drinks, and they clearly manage to down the stuff without ever letting such beverages ramp up their more aggressive tendencies.

    Some will say that these truckers have a thin skin, that they cannot take a joke. But not us. We think they are all fine and upstanding drivers, respectful of others and always precise about obeying the rules of the road.

    Well, we meant these comments to be tongue in cheek…but many MNB users it was more like we’d put foot in mouth.

    MNB user Martin Healy wrote:

    Smarmy sarcasm can be so unbecoming and your broad-stroke portrait of "truckers" seems unfair. I am not a truck driver but do have concerns regarding highway safety. I see too many cars put trucks in precarious situations to suggest one side, or the other, is traditionally negligent.

    How many of your readers, just this morning, sipped coffee while driving, made a cell call, diverted their eyes to change the radio or engaged in conversation with a fellow rider? How many quickly changed lanes when space opened up between an automobile and a truck; regardless of safe distance?

    I believe you share my concerns but went for the cheap humor rather than making a more positive, contributory statement.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Normally I partially agree with your comments. However, you are totally out of line with your trucker comments. A couple of things…

    One, when you are out for your Sunday drive, stay in the right lane, grandma. For these boys(and girls) time is money. And, believe it or not, in all states, the left lane is for PASSING.

    Two, my daddy always told me to treat the big rigs with respect. They are a lot bigger then you and can squash you like a bug.

    Last, we had a trucker sacrifice himself a couple of days ago. Someone cut him off on the freeway (oh, here's my exit) and his choices were to wipe out a bunch of cars, or take the bridge abutment out. He opted for the bridge. Sadly, he was the only fatality in this accident. Not the cell phone talking, latte drinking, sports car driving, mid-life crisis moron that cut him off.

    You owe the truckers an apology.

    Gee, you criticized our phone habits, coffee preferences, car, and age all in one sentence. We have to admire that sort of convergence.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Granted, the commercial is probably harmless, but I think your normally enjoyable sarcasm is a little out of line regarding the truckers vs. Coca-Cola. I've seen too many sporty, zippy cars weaving in and out of traffic, cutting off the big trucks, and causing (or nearly causing) accidents. And usually, the truck driver wrongly gets the blame (at least in the press).

    Not saying all truckers are saints on the road, but car drivers aren't
    all innocents either.

    MNB user Katie Helle wrote:

    I'm writing in regard to the article about Truckers and the Coke commercial. Your view of this article is definitely sarcastic and disturbing. My father is a truck driver and has been for a very long time. Yes, the trucks are intimidating and could seem pushy. But! How would you feel if you were driving a huge truck hauling thousands of pounds and "little sports cars" are driving around you just to go slower than they were before? Most company trucks cannot go over 65 mph because they have a set odometer. I'm not trying to say that truckers are innocent because I'm sure that there are some ignorant drivers out there. My dad has the best sense of humor, can talk to anyone he sees, and is the most intelligent man and probably the smartest driver out there. People give truckers such a bad rap and in most cases it is the person driving your "Little sports car" at fault.

    Before just commenting on something you probably don't have any clue about, talk to someone who drives 18 wheelers and find out what they think about the commercial and not stereotype everyone. Most drivers may find it as amusing or as a joke and not have the attitude you think they might have.

    MNB user Cynthia Sandy wrote:

    As a wife of a "trucker" I can tell you that your little blurb was un-called for.

    Since the retail industry is your bread and butter you should realize that everything is brought in by truck. Though your column may be tongue in cheek it fuels the perception that truck drivers are bad drivers.

    Maybe you should spend the day with one. See what it's like when a car cuts you off and you know that there is no way you can stop in time if something were to happen. What would you do if nobody would let you in on the freeway, because they don't want to be behind you? Try putting chains on in the middle of Winter.

    Our industry depends on product getting to the stores and without truck drivers it doesn't. They may not have a glamorous job, or be able to fly all over the world giving speeches, or have the luxury of working from home. But they do their jobs with a high rate of safety, under very strict government regulations, and with the knowledge that what they do keeps our country moving.

    MNB user Kristi Marie Medeiros wrote:

    My father is a truck driver and I am offended by your sarcasm. Not all truck drivers are how you perceive them to be; hence you should not stereotype anyone for that matter. Oh and just a tip maybe you should have someone edit your article responses I found a few misspelled words.

    Only a few? We were working without a net and on three hours sleep…at the moment, that doesn’t seem too bad. Inexcusable, but not too bad.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Similar to bad or biased writers, a few bad drivers become the stereotype while the good ones get little recognition for all the hard work they do delivering the 'stuff' it takes to keep America going.

    Now you’re hitting us where it hurts when you call us a bad writer…

    Good thing we have a thick skin about this sort of stuff.

    It was a joke, folks…though we understand that maybe we displayed a certain level of ignorance about the trucker’s life.

    Finally, we waxed rhapsodic on Friday about our time in Paris, which annoyed one MNB user:

    After reading your MNB this morning, I have become a bit alarmed in what you bought to your readers this morning.

    I enjoy what you have to say and like to hear the comments of other readers on current topics of discussion within the Grocery business. I even like to hear about the discussion at the different conventions you attend. Perhaps, one day, I may be fortunate to attend a seminar where you actually are and meet you.

    However, to read about your side trip in Paris, and to read "how lucky it is to be you" is almost a slap in every reader's face. I am envious of your lifestyle but know that editorial writing was not my strong suit and that I am better with numbers. I am happy with the job I have and where I am. Nonetheless, I find your description of events in Paris to be somewhat arrogant and not what I would expect to read about in your MNB.

    I think you lost focus on why your readers are reading the MNB and what we like to see from you.

    Now, this email upset us…because we were shocked that anyone would think that we were being arrogant. On the contrary, we think we’re about the luckiest person on the planet because of where we get to go and what we get to do and who we get to meet…there’s always the abiding fear that someone is going to come along and take it all away…

    Frankly, based on our OffBeat history of Friday ramblings,
    We think a lot of folks would have been disappointed if we hadn’t written about our Paris experience. Maybe we were wrong.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 6, 2006

    In an exciting Super Bowl that was even closer than the score would indicate, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks 21-10.

    KC's View: