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    Published on: March 7, 2006

    The New York Times reports this morning that “under assault as never before, Wal-Mart is increasingly looking beyond the mainstream media and working directly with bloggers, feeding them exclusive nuggets of news, suggesting topics for postings and even inviting them to visit its corporate headquarters.” This is, to be sure, a strategy that is being employed by numerous corporations, but Wal-Mart’s preeminent role in American commerce and its current position as a whipping boy for many activist groups make its embrace of the blogging community noteworthy.

    Now, the Times also notes that Wal-Mart’s wooing of the blogosphere actually raises more issues about the blogs than it does about the retailer. After all, in many cases the bloggers are not admitting that they have any sort of relationship with Wal-Mart; since blogging as an art form is based on the premise of independence, the Times suggests that maybe blogging isn’t everything it is cracked up to be – especially because in some cases, the bloggers are virtually reprinting pieces of Wal-Mart press releases.
    KC's View:
    Much ado about nothing, we think.

    Independence doesn’t mean not taking a position, and bloggers have as much right to be pro-Wal-Mart as anti-Wal-Mart. And since bloggers aren’t being paid by Wal-Mart to take their positions, it is hard to imagine exactly what facets of the relationship need to be disclosed. It is our experience that you can pretty much tell what side of the aisle a blogger is on by reading the first 39 words or so of something he or she has written…and then you decide whether this is a blogger that is going to cater to your biases or challenge them.

    We suspect that maybe there is a little media envy going on at the Times; it is hard for these big media giants to accept the notion that punditry has become far more democratic (small “d”) and decentralized than in the good old days.

    We also think that more companies ought to be embracing the blogosphere. Look to Stonyfield Farms as a good example of how a company can use blogs effectively to create relationships and community.

    Since this is a world that we inhabit to a degree, we think it is worth pointing out that MNB isn’t paid by anyone but its sponsors, who have no control over editorial content. We like to think we have relationships with a lot of people in the industry, based on mutual respect. And, we hope that on a daily basis we are transparent about how we try to reason things out, and that we manage to avoid making knee jerk judgments about issues.

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    In a presentation yesterday to shareholders, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said that the company could more than double its annual sales to $12 billion by 2010, but that this would require the opening of between 25 and 30 new stores a year.

    One of the keys to the company’s growth has been the development of urban stores – in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Austin, and, soon, London – that appeal to more sophisticated shoppers with higher levels of disposable income.

    "We bring so much business to any market we are in that we are one of the most desirable tenants," Mackey said. "In our top markets…we are able to concentrate stores closer and closer together."

    Mackey said that the London store will be a showplace. “When it opens, it will be the finest Whole Foods store to that point," he said. "Whatever we've done in New York and here in Austin, we will do better in London because our culture continues to improve."
    KC's View:
    It is interesting that Mackey would say that the stores get better because the culture improves. Seems to us that one of the things history teaches us is that the bigger companies get, the harder it is to maintain the original culture created by a company’s founders.

    Perhaps Whole Foods will prove to be an exception. But to do so, it will have to make preservation of its culture a top priority.

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    The Boston Business Journal reports on a Massachusetts company that has developed “food labels that change color to signal the freshness of packaged meat in the local supermarket, detecting spoilage right through the wrap.” The technology includes “a polymer wrap that can detect chemical changes from vapors produced by bacteria, and a more primitive system that relies on filter paper stained with beet or cabbage extract.” Each label adds a penny to packaging costs, according to the Journal.

    These labels are just a part of a technology trend designed to keep consumers better informed about the safety of the products they eat. The Journal writes that “St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Co. developed a label that signals if a food package's temperature exceeds a predetermined coolness. Illinois packaging company Crown Holdings Inc. conceived a label with an oxygen-sensitive ink that gives a visible indication when exposed to air for a set length of time.”

    Ironically, this story comes out as there is considerable criticism of the use of carbon monoxide as a “pigment fixative” to keep meat looking pink even as its quality degrades.
    KC's View:
    Our friend Phil Lempert over at says that one of the problems with these technologies – versions of which have existed for years – is that companies often don’t want to use them because they add to shrink. Consumers won’t want to buy products that aren’t of optimum quality, and someone has to pay for them…which creates new pressures on retailers and manufacturers.

    He’s right…even though this is very short-term thinking on the part of retailers and manufacturers. Depending on the ignorance of consumers strikes us as being a foolish approach to marketing.

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    Small errors in measuring product dimensions mean big problems in executing planograms. Comprehensive analysis of product dimensions collected by stores, retail headquarters and brokers reveals dimension inaccuracies averaging a minimum of 70%, or the difference of 8.8 linear inches between calculated and executed planograms. To the retail store, this means overcrowded or partially empty shelves.
    Gladson Interactive measures product dimensions to 1/100th of an inch using the most technically advanced methods available. Multiple quality assurance checks ensure Gladson’s dimensions meet the industry standard of excellence as defined by the Product Technical Requirements Group and the Global Data Synchronization Network of the GS1.

    Gladson’s approach assures properly executed planograms not just on paper, but on your shelf too.

    For more information please email:
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    The Asbury Park Press reports that a three-member committee of directors from Foodarama Supermarkets has recommended that shareholders accept an offer made by an investor group to take the 26-store company private.

    The investor group is led by the Saker family, which already owns 51 percent of the company. The price being offered is $53 per share.

    Even if shareholders approve the deal, it still needs the imprimatur from Wakefern Food Corp., the retailer-owned cooperative.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    The Grand Rapids Press reports on Spartan Stores’ “two-year, $15 million renovation effort to meld D&W into its network of Family Fare groceries.” Six D&W units will be converted to the Family Fare banner, four stores will be closed, and ten units will be called D&W Fresh Markets.

    "We are committed to making improvements in all of the D&W stores and to be sure every store under the D&W banner is the same," Craig Sturken, Spartan's CEO, tells the Press. "The six stores being changed to Family Fares just don't have the depth and breadth to live up to that banner, but clearly what we're doing will enhance and improve those stores."

    Sturken also promised that the company “will not discard the D&W name, and that is cast in stone. It has tremendous equity in this market, and it will always be here. We feel very strongly about that.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    • Kroger Co. announced that it is in the process of restating earnings for statements as of Jan. 29, 2005, and Jan. 31, 2004, and for the three years ended Jan. 29, 2005, Jan. 31, 2004, and Feb. 1, 2003, and interim statements as of and for the quarters and year-to-date periods ended Nov. 5, 2005, Aug. 13, 2005, and May 21, 2005,
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    MSNBC writes that “in reports to be published in science journals this week, two groups of researchers hope to add evidence to the theory that soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks don’t just go hand-in-hand with obesity, but actually cause it. Not that these drinks are the only cause — genetics, exercise and other factors are involved — but that they are one cause, perhaps the leading cause.”

    If these studies gain currency, it is possible that there could be public support for warning labels on sugared soft drinks that are similar to those put on cigarette packaging.

    Scripps Howard reports on a US department of Agriculture (USDA) study saying that Americans are eating four times as much Mexican food today than they were 20 years ago, with products such as salsa and tortillas achieving mainstream status. The growth is such that some experts say that Mexican cuisine could pass Italian and Chinese foods as Americans’ favorite ethnic cuisine.

    • Pfizer reportedly has filed suit against Procter & Gamble, charging it with false advertising for its Crest Pro Health mouthwash. The suit alleges that P&G made false claims saying that four out of five dentists recommend Crest Pro Health, and that the claims helped P&G gain an unfair advantage over Pfizer’s Listerine mouthwash.

    Pfizer is asking the court to stop the ads as well as for financial damages.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    • Wal-Mart reportedly has hired Dennis Alpert, a former Clinton administration staffer who worked for former Vice President Al Gore, to be its senior manager for public affairs in Tennessee. His chief role will be to oppose a proposed health care mandate bill that would force Wal-Mart to pay eight percent of its labor costs in health benefits.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    Not surprisingly, we got a number of emails in response to yesterday’s story about Wal-Mart saying that it will begin carrying “Plan B” morning-after contraceptive pills in all its pharmacies, though it said that pharmacists who feel uncomfortable with dispensing the morning-after pill could refer consumers either to another pharmacist or another pharmacy.

    The move was in response to moves by states such as Massachusetts, Illinois and Connecticut to force Wal-Mart to carry the legal pills in their state-licensed pharmacies. "We expect more states to require us to sell emergency contraceptives in the months ahead," Ron Chomiuk, vice president of pharmacy for Wal-Mart, said. "Because of this, and the fact that this is an FDA-approved product, we feel it is difficult to justify being the country's only major pharmacy chain not selling it.”

    The company was never specific about its reticence about carrying the pills, only saying that it was for business reasons.

    Our comment: We find this story troubling on several levels…

    Exactly why won’t Wal-Mart be specific about its decision not to carry the morning-after pills? We would assume that it was a decision that can be traced back to a concern that it would offend the members of its constituency that are against abortion or even contraception, but why wouldn’t the company come right out and say it was making what it viewed as a moral decision? And was there a major outcry against the morning-after pill that somehow we missed, and to which Wal-Mart felt obliged to respond – even though it didn’t want to be out front with the rationale behind its response?

    And should consumers be comfortable with the notion that individual pharmacists now can make decisions about what they will or will not dispense?

    Our reaction to this story has been that while companies certainly have the right to make decisions about what they will and will not carry, maybe they shouldn’t have quite so much latitude when it comes to legally prescribed products sold out of state-licensed facilities such as pharmacies.

    We’ll stand by that. But we are mostly troubled by the fact that this whole scenario has too much back-story about which people are not talking.

    Now, we have to admit that we are a little leery about this ongoing conversation…mostly because we’re getting into some fairly controversial territory. But we’re going to facilitate it, if only because if you’re going to talk, you might as well talk about important stuff.

    One MNB user wrote:

    If I was a pharmacist who didn't want to sell this pill, I'd see that my pharmacy was out-of-stock on it all the time.

    Now, what would be wrong with that......

    One pill out of hundreds, maybe thousands, that "we" couldn't keep in stock.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I am troubled only by the fact that government of any kind is forcing a for-profit company to make decisions based on something other than profitability and individual business strategy. I’m waiting now for local governments seeking for simpler means to acquire real estate besides eminent domain to institute constrictive laws on mom-and-pops stores that, since they may not be based on the business’s profitability, could drive them out completely.

    Still another MNB user wrote:

    To the heart of the matter for me…………… If I was a pharmacist, I would not fill this script because I believe it would be the (potential) murder of an unborn. Having said that, I guess I would rather get fired than go back on my principles. Don’t you feel that Pharmacists with my view should be protected against a mandate to dispense this pill? After all, performing an abortion is a choice for Physicians is it not?

    And, another MNB user wrote:

    You suggest that pharmacists shouldn't have the right to refuse to dispense the Plan B medication, but you don't really address why many people find it morally objectionable. Please allow this explanation: Since this medication is often used to prevent a post-conception being from implanting in the uterine wall, if life begins at conception, then Plan B involves the destruction of innocent human being.

    If a government or a company wants to get objecting pharmacists to dispense Plan B, they can do one of two things. One, they could muster up whatever scientific evidence they can find that demonstrates that life begins at some point later than conception (good luck), and attempt to persuade them that there's no risk of killing an innocent. Or two, they can simply refuse to engage in rational debate on the subject and impose their values on the pharmacists under the threat of law and/or termination. You appear to have put yourself in line with the second approach.

    Do you really think it's a good idea that pharmacists should be threatened with being fired or imprisoned if they don't dispense a product that they expect will kill an innocent person?

    And since it's relevant to the ethics of the discussion, may I ask you: when do you think human life begins? If you are not sure, why have you set yourself in opposition to those pharmacists who want to be as protective as they can of life (which is presumably one of the reasons they became pharmacists in the first place)?

    First of all, we hope that we have suggested that we think this is a black and white issue. Actually, we think it is anything but.

    We actually are sympathetic to Wal-Mart’s view….if indeed its view is that the morning-after bill is tantamount to abortion, and therefore it does not wish to dispense such a medication. And we are sympathetic to pharmacists who may feel the same way.

    But Wal-Mart hasn’t said that. It almost seems that Wal-Mart wants to have it both ways – it wants to hold a position without making a statement…and we’re not sure that’s fair.

    A basic question needs to be asked. Does a consumer have a reasonable right to expect that all legal medications will be carried by a state-licensed facility? (We will be harsh about one response – spare us the nonsense about how companies ought to say, “gosh, we’re out of stock…” It is a silly and irresponsible approach to a serious debate in which both sides have a legitimate argument.)

    The problem is that this is a dangerous precedent. What happens if a pharmacist is a devout Catholic who believes that all contraception is a sin? Should that pharmacist be permitted to not dispense birth control pills?

    Where does the line get drawn?

    What happens in small communities where Wal-Mart may have the only pharmacy in town? (Probably an unlikely scenario, but it could happen.) Should the rules be different there?

    We concede that this is a complicated argument, which is why we tend to think that what is legal ought to be where the line is drawn.

    As for our position on when life begins, it is irrelevant to this discussion. We’re just trying to figure out the best way to navigate the rough shoals that run between commerce and culture.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 7, 2006

    • Dana Reeve, the widow of actor Christopher Reeve, has died of lung cancer at age 44. A non-smoker, Reeve became a very public advocate for scientific research to aid patients suffering from paralysis after her husband’s accident and subsequent death.

    • Kirby Puckett, the Hall of Fame baseball player who took the Minnesota Twins to two World Series victories before having his career cut short by glaucoma, died yesterday after suffering a stroke. He was 45.

    KC's View: