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    Published on: March 28, 2006

    Can a simple strip of paper really reduce labor costs? It can when it’s a Gladson QuickSet® Image Strip.

    In this age of expensive technology and software solutions, QuickSet® Image Strips and Image Back Tags significantly cut costs associated with new store set-ups, remodels and category resets. QuickSet Strips and Tags are built directly from the electronic planogram file. Images on the strips show set crews exactly where products are supposed to go on the shelf.

    “The tool is so intuitive, our customers find they save as much as 60% of the labor time with 100% shelf set accuracy versus using planogram outputs alone,” says Greg Gates, Director of Image Merchandising Solutions. “When the employee sees the picture, they are less likely to place the item in the wrong position on the shelf.”

    Contact Greg Gates at today to start saving money on your next set.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    The Christian Science Monitor reports that “eating morally, as some describe it, is becoming a priority for teenagers as well as adults in their early 20s. What began a decade ago as a concern on college campuses to shun clothing made in overseas sweatshops has given birth to a parallel phenomenon in the food and beverage industries. Here, youthful shoppers are leveraging their dollars in a bid to reduce pesticide usage, limit deforestation, and make sure farmers aren't left with a pittance on payday.”

    Coffee is the first line of demarcation for these students in their desire for ethical consumption. The Monitor reports that “students at 30 colleges have helped persuade administrators to make sure all cafeteria coffee comes with a ‘Fair Trade’ label, which means bean pickers in Latin America and Africa were paid higher than the going rates. Their peers on another 300 campuses are pushing to follow suit, according to Students United for Fair Trade in Washington, D.C.”

    The same kind of socially conscious approach is be used in categories that include fresh produce and cocoa, with young people looking for a level of social responsibility from the companies that distribute these product categories.

    However, the Monitor notes that these aren’t modern-day bleeding heart hippies making these demands on big business: “Concerns of today's youthful food shoppers seem to reflect in some ways the idealism that inspired prior generations to join boycotts in solidarity with farm workers. But today's efforts are distinct in that youthful consumers say they don't want to make sacrifices. They want high-quality, competitively priced goods that don't require exploitation of workers or the environment. They'll gladly reward companies that deliver.”
    KC's View:
    And the really good news is that they don’t have to wear tie-dyed t-shirts and bell-bottoms…though they can if they want to. They can even listen to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album on an eight-track player while they debate philosophy…

    Money, get away.
    Get a good job with good pay and you’re okay.
    Money, it’s a gas.
    Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.
    New car, caviar, four star daydream,
    Think I’ll buy me a football team….

    It will be interesting to see how these young people feel about ethical consumption when they join the business world and have to see it from the other side. Will they believe as passionately in capitalism with a conscience? Or will they lose their passions as they become devoured by the monster of middle-class desire?

    (Cancel that last question. We were having a brief flashback to the seventies. We were gone for a moment but we’re back now…)

    Seriously, we hope that some of the idealism survives. The world is better for it.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    The Chicago Sun-Times reports this morning that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided not to scale back its testing for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease. The reason, according to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns, is that he won’t be able to persuade Japan to reopen its borders to US beef if he is simultaneously reducing the US surveillance effort. “We would like to see if we can get things straightened out with Japan and some of our other trading partners,” he said at a press conference yesterday.

    USDA had announced the reduction in testing just a week after a third case of BSE was found in the US. The increased surveillance program was begun after the first case of mad cow was found in Washington State in December 2003, and the second was discovered last year in Texas. The latest case was in Alabama, and officials say the infected cow did not enter the food supply.

    While some consumer groups have called for even greater testing – with some believing that the US should follow the Japanese model and test every cow – the beef industry has called such proposals costly and unrealistic.

    Before the expanded testing went into effect, about 55 cows were tested each day, and that the enhanced program tested about 1,000. When the cutbacks take place, it will reduce the number of cattle being tested each day to roughly 110.

    Japan has been firm about its policy, saying that no US beef will be allowed into that country until American regulators have eliminated all concerns about the spread of BSE. Its border were closed when the first case of mad cow was found in the US in December 2003, and then reopened late last year, only to be closed again early this year when beef containing spinal matter – specifically banned by the agreement reopening the border – was found in a Japan-bound shipment.
    KC's View:
    There’s just one word to describe the USDA approach to mad cow disease.


    Actually, there are two words. And “bull” ends up being a modifier.

    But the other one we can’t use on a generally family-friendly site.

    You know how you can tell when not to trust what a USDA official is saying?

    His lips move.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    Published reports say that SignStorey Inc., which provides instore video programming for more than a thousand supermarkets including Price Chopper, Pathmark, and a number of Albertsons’ banners, has signed a deal with the CBS Television Network to provide semi-original content – meaning that it generally will have been seen on broadcast television.

    According to a statement released by the company, the content will include “branded segments from CBS Entertainment, CBS News and Sports as well as from the diverse slate of properties offered by CBS Paramount and King World. The clips will be interspersed with the existing programming in a specific retailer's lineup.”
    KC's View:
    We can only hope that they don’t show scenes from a “CSI” autopsy on the SignStorey screens over at the butcher counter…

    Actually, we certainly can understand why this is good for CBS, which gets to find new uses for existing footage, and SignStorey, which gets a seemingly inexhaustible supply of content to run on the stores’ video monitors.

    Our only reservation is what the stores get out of it. If the footage is health and food related, then we see the connection – it might actually be able to sell merchandise (though we wonder if it will be quite that targeted). But if they’re running sports scores or an Andy Rooney commentary from “60 Minutes” or a segment from the “CBS Evening News,” we’re not sure how that helps the store sell stuff – except to create more noise that isn’t really relevant to the shopping experience.

    In the official CBS statement, the company describes it as “an exciting advertising platform that connects with our viewers and the stores' customers.” And in its statement, SignStorey said that the arrangement would provide “tangible value for retailers, advertisers and content providers.”

    An “advertising platform” that provides “tangible value” – that’s what the stores get out of it. In addition, of course, to revenue. Because they must be making money from the advertising being sold by SignStorey. Which is good for them.

    But again, we just hope that the content being supported by that advertising is relevant to the shopping experience. If it isn’t, it will just be more noise that doesn’t provide real value to the shopper.

    Which is really the last thing the average American supermarket needs.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    Video Business reports that the American Family Association, a Christian political action group, is coordinating a letter-writing campaign to protest the fact that Wal-Mart plans to carry the DVD edition of “Brokeback Mountain,” the Academy Award-winning movie about two gay cowboys.

    According to the group, Wal-Mart is abandoning its family-friendly principles by carrying the DVD.

    According to Video Business, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Jolanda Stewart responded to the complaint by saying, “Wal-Mart provides movie selections in our stores and online, recognizing that a broad segment of our customer base wants to buy the latest titles. The sale of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is in no way an endorsement of any specific lifestyle or belief.”
    KC's View:
    We have to admit that we sort of feel sorry for Wal-Mart.

    On the one hand, it doesn’t want to carry the Plan B “morning after” contraceptive pill because of unnamed “business reasons” that seem almost certainly connected to a philosophical opposition to the prescription drug. And then, when it is forced to carry Plan B, it announces that its individual pharmacists will have the right not to dispense it if they choose not to for moral reasons…and then in at least one state, Connecticut, authorities react to that policy by threatening to exclude all Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club pharmacies from the state’s medical insurance programs that cover more than 180,000 state employees and their dependents.

    Now, when it decides to carry a mainstream, Oscar-winning movie – albeit one that has a somewhat controversial storyline – it gets grief from the other political direction for not being family-friendly.

    Come on, folks! Can’t we all get along…?

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    The New York Times reports that researchers seem to have identified a way to clone pigs in a way that will allow them to generate omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to lower the incidence of heart disease in humans.

    In other words, they think they may have stumbled on a way to create pork that is good for your heart.

    Good for you or not, if the theory is proven the NYT suggests that “government approval for such genetically modified foods is certain to face monumental opposition from some consumer groups.”
    KC's View:
    We know this is simplistic, but to us the solution is simple.

    If the theory proves out, let the pigs be cloned and sold for food. The food just has to be labeled clearly and unambiguously. People can then make their own choices about whether they want to eat a cloned pig.

    Problem solved.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    The Boston Globe this morning reports that while the last few years have seen a leveling off of interest in and sales by the craft beer industry, it may now be enjoying a resurgence of sorts.

    “Production of craft beer -- specialty brews typically made in small regional or local breweries -- grew by 9 percent last year, the biggest jump since 1996, when the microbrewery fad of the '90s was still going full tilt,” the Globe reports. “Mainstream beer sales, meanwhile, fell slightly.”

    One example: Maine’s Gritty McDuff, where product actually increased by 30 percent last year. Co-owner Ed Stebbins tells the Globe that “consumers are demanding more varied and full-flavored beers. At the same time, small breweries are putting out more consistent beers and are more business-savvy than a decade ago, learning how better to market and distribute their products.”
    KC's View:
    Once again, MNB is ahead of the game.

    On 11/11/05, we wrote in our OffBeat column:

    Was in Portland, Maine, earlier this week and found out that brewpubs are alive and well…and apparently flourishing in that city, which seemed to have them on almost every corner.

    Went to one of them – Gritty McDuff’s. The Original Pub Style Beer was terrific. The hamburger was big and juicy and roughly the size of a Frisbee. (Not that we’re complaining.) And the sweet potato fries were wonderful.

    And last night, we were at a reception at the annual Western Michigan University Food Marketing Conference, and felt compelled to have an Arcadia Amber Ale, brewed by a Battle Creek brewery.

    There’s something happening here, folks.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    • The Washington Times reports that two new supermarket chains are planning to enter the DC-Baltimore marketplace. The Fresh Market has signed a lease for one Baltimore unit and has plans to open at least four units in the DC metro area, while “Ellwood Thompson's Natural Market, an organic grocery store in Richmond, is eyeing Northern Virginia for its second location.”

    • Spartan Stores announced yesterday that “it has completed the acquisition of certain operating assets of D&W Food Centers, Inc., and will assume operations of 16 D&W Food Center retail stores in west Michigan. As previously announced, the transaction is expected to increase the Company's retail segment sales by approximately $200 million annually and, excluding unusual charges, be accretive to earnings within the first 12 months.”

    The Grand Rapids Press reports that Spartan is engaging in a remodel of all 16 stores, with all of them to be reopened by the end of the week.

    • Wisconsin’s Capital Times reports that Baraboo-based Pierce's Supermarkets has opened its first store in Madison, offering the north side community organic produce, sushi and deli specialties.

    The opening is noteworthy, according to the paper, because the community has been without a supermarket for some time – when Roundy’s bought seven Kohl's food stores and converted them to the Copps banner – except for one on the north side that was said to be too close to an existing store. Even though Roundy’s funded a bus shuttle to the existing unit, many residents were irate, and they seem to have welcomed the new Pierce’s store with open arms.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    The Chicago Sun Times reports that since its Sears Essentials format has essentially failed, company chairman Edward Lampert is pinning his hopes on a smaller version of the company’s Sears Grand format, which now includes “an Internet cafe, an electronic-games play area for children, and mock-ups of rooms outfitted with Sears products,” as well as “selling everything from toys to convenience foods to TVs, and offering a pharmacy under the same roof as tools, electronics and clothing.”

    However, the paper notes that “analysts remain skeptical and expect that Lampert, a billionaire hedge-fund manager, will find a profitable exit for himself and his hedge-fund friends who have bought up stock in the new Sears.”

    Some of this skepticism seems to be rooted in a feeling that the company didn’t give the Essentials format enough time to know whether it could be a long-term success, pulling the plug way too prematurely.

    KC's View:
    Since it has everything else, it is amazing that the Grand stores don’t offer real estate sales…since most people seem to think that’s essentially the grand plan in the back of Fast Eddie Lampert’s mind.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    The Chicago Sun Times reports that “a federal judge in Chicago has given the green light to plaintiffs who charge that Sears Chairman Edward S. Lampert and former Sears CEO Alan Lacy failed to tell shareholders they were plotting Kmart's takeover of Sears Roebuck and Co.

    “The plaintiffs making the complaint sold their Sears stock between Sept. 19 and Nov. 16, 2004, and lost out on a spike in Sears' share price that occurred when Kmart and Sears announced Nov. 17, 2004, that Kmart would acquire Sears. Kmart's $12.3 billion buy of Sears Roebuck won shareholders' approval on March 24, 2005.”

    The suit alleges that “while Lampert and Lacy were talking Kmart's takeover of Sears, Sears was issuing press releases telling investors it had bought 54 Kmart stores,” thus misleading investors even while management made stock moves that indicated inside knowledge of the real scenario.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    • Walgreen Co. reported an 11 percent increase in second quarter revenue, from $10.99 billion to $12.16 billion, with earnings up seven percent to $523.5 million from $490.9 million a year ago.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    It has been announced that Universal Pictures will produce a new movie entitled “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Gus Van Sant.

    According to published reports, Hanks plays an advertising executive who loses his job and his family and ends up as a Starbucks barista, where he learns life lessons from a younger manager.

    Hanks’ current project is a little independent film based on a little-known novel that is scheduled to open on May 19 – something called “The Da Vinci Code.”
    KC's View:
    This isn’t the first time that Hanks has dealt with the charms of Starbucks onscreen.

    In Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail,” his aggressive book chain executive, Joe Fox, explains to independent bookstore owner Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) why Starbucks is important in life:

    “The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non fat, etc. So people who don't know what the hell they're doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    Jon Stewart did a brief piece about the new, upscale Wal-Mart store in Plano, Texas, last evening on the satirical “Daily Show” on Comedy Central. He noted that the store is so nice that even poor illegal immigrants who work on cleanup crews wouldn’t mind being locked in there overnight, and said that the store’s many features include an “espresso bar, a sushi bar, and bathrooms that don’t reek of elderly greeters’ urine and tears.”
    KC's View:
    Probably didn’t get a lot of laughs in Plano and Bentonville, but the studio audience seemed to enjoy it.

    Published on: March 28, 2006

    …will return.
    KC's View: