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    Published on: June 15, 2006

    Consumers are continuing their pathway toward greater involvement with health and wellness. This means that consumers are searching for, and purchasing, more and more products to meet their wellness goals.

    What are consumers spending their money on? The Hartman Group has a unique analysis of this important subject…

    Click on the “Consumer Pulse” tile ad on the right hand side of the page, or go to:
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    Next week, CIES – The Food Business Forum will convene its World Food Business Summit in Paris, an annual event that moves among the great cities of the world (Budapest, Rome, Stockholm, Barcelona and Dublin have been among the outstanding venues of the last few years) and offers provocative presentations both by industry leaders and outsiders with a unique perspective on business and its role in culture and society.

    This year’s conference, using the theme “Flying High In The Face Of Competition,” is taking place at the Carrousel du Louvre, promises to live up to past editions, with an intriguing list of speakers that includes the CEOs of such companies as Ahold, Food Lion, Carrefour, Procter & Gamble, L'Oréal Group, Kraft and Unilever…not to mention the vice chairman of Wal-Mart.

    As usual, MNB will be on location in Paris at CIES next week, offering exclusive reports and commentary on what is said and what it means. To get a preview of what we might hear next week, and an informed assessment of the global retailing business environment, we engaged in this exclusive e-interview with Alan McClay, CEO of CIES..

    MNB: From your vantage point as CEO of an international food industry organization, do you think the world is a more fractious place in which to do business than it was, say, five years ago? Or is it a place where, despite governmental disagreements, doing business on a global scale is actually easier. And why?

    Alan McClay: The global economy has been growing strongly, despite the serious conflicts that exist in today's world. Over the past five years, China, India and Russia have continued to emerge as economic powers, while the EU has expanded to include much of Central and Eastern Europe.

    Obviously, this economic growth is good news for retail and consumer goods, since it opens up new markets and raises consumer spending. This change has been most dramatic in Asia: according to ACNielsen estimates, the share of modern retail formats in dry-grocery sales increased from a third in 1999 to half last year. For individual companies, this global growth has had a huge impact: among retailers, Carrefour and Metro now generate over half of their sales abroad, while among leading manufacturers, P&G is shifting heavily towards emerging countries, and French group Danone last year generated nearly 40% of its sales outside Europe in 2005.

    Companies deserve credit for their global growth: it is never easy to enter a new country and the growth of L'Oréal in China or Tesco in Korea have been built on careful research and local partnerships, as well as global scale of course. At the same time, the learning curve has been quite steep, and after a ‘gold rush’ in Asia and Eastern Europe in the 1990s, we have seen quite a lot of companies pull out of certain markets. But on balance international expansion makes sense for retail companies that are operating in mature markets, and will bring increasing knowledge and financial returns over time.

    Looking more widely at global risks, there are grave challenges to this positive picture of global growth. Energy is both a long-term problem and a short-term pressure, especially for retail companies that are highly sensitive to supply chain costs and shifts in consumer spending. Another major concern is avian influenza. While too little is known about the current outbreak, it seems clear that growth in population, consumption and trade have created new risks in the food chain, especially in Asia. A related problem is the threat to the environment, which is under strain from the rapid global growth I described. But the issue that is demanding the most attention from our sector is nutrition, as society tries to work out solutions to record levels of obesity.

    MNB: Here in the US, the issue of business ethics and values has gained enormous currency because of the travails of companies like Enron. Are you seeing the same sort of attention paid to the issue on the global stage, and how do you see companies adjusting to changing consumer demands in this area?

    Alan McClay: The issues I mentioned above have contributed to pressure on companies around the world to be good corporate citizens. Issues like Enron have put the business world on the defensive. There is room for the whole private sector to be much more pro-active rather than reactive.

    Many retailers and manufacturers have taken constructive positions on all areas like energy efficiency, product choice and labeling, or sustainable farming:

    • CIES members Wal-Mart and Tesco, favourite targets for corporate critics in the US and the UK, have committed themselves to major community and environment programmes. These initiatives will have a positive impact in the future.

    • Leading manufacturers like Nestle have joined together in the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative that provides training for farmers in developing countries.

    • Regarding nutrition, US drink manufacturers have agreed to withdraw high-sugar sodas from schools in a voluntary agreement, while food makers have developed 100-calorie packs (e.g. Kraft's mini-packs of Oreos).

    I quote these examples because they are the most visible tip of the iceberg, but there are many others.

    Given the global nature of these issues, the CIES role is to support and facilitate coordinated action when it is appropriate. CIES began first in food safety through the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). In recent months, our members have also been working hard behind the scenes on a similar issue, which we will present to our Board of Directors next week.

    So in fact there is a straight line from Enron to sustainability.

    MNB: Every year CIES organises a Future Leaders Conference. We’re curious - when you look at and speak to the people who will be leading the industry in the next few years, what are the traits and characteristics that stand out that you think could change the way the business operates?

    Alan McClay: Let me give you five concrete examples of things which may change when Future Leaders become senior management:

    • They have the capacity for positive detachment, i.e. "smart thinking" in their view is considering what they want from their professional environment and what they get from it or don't get from it and why. The company is certainly not just a job, but it is not a religion either. This detachment may in turn have a positive impact on the individual's capacity to integrate ethics, values and social standards into the way they think about the business.

    • They do not see all of the bigger management issues that impact the company, but their intense operational focus means that they have a potentially deeper understanding and hands-on experience of the importance of being closer to customers.

    • The use of technology provides flexibility and choice in their lives, and many are early adopters. They are therefore more in tune with the impact technology will have on their customers’ lives and purchasing habits.

    • They can think broadly and innovatively about the capacity and value of developing new strategic partnerships outside of the immediate business (‘share of wallet’ mentality).

    • They embrace globalisation.

    MNB: Food safety clearly remains an enormous issue on a global scale, with mad cow disease, avian flu and other, similar concerns always seemingly in the headlines. What's your sense of how industries and governments are coping - what are the obstacles and the opportunities that exist at the moment?

    Alan McClay: Public authorities around the world are following very closely what food companies are doing in terms of managing the risks. CIES is working closely with its members to ensure that both parties have a shared and common understanding. We are therefore in contact with the authorities of the European Union for example to share our knowledge and to cooperate with them. The largest obstacle at this point in time is in my opinion the lack of common understanding and vision. CIES has created a retailer food safety platform that is only a starting point, not a final goal.

    But as Chris Anstey from Tesco said at the CIES Food Safety conference in Paris earlier this year, "Six years ago retailers did not collaborate on non competitive issues like food safety and now they do." This collaborative approach is essential in today's world of open borders and is our biggest opportunity to ensure safe food for our consumers.

    Clearly a priority is to share best practises and know-how with brand manufacturers, and GFSI is actively building a dialogue between retail and manufacturing. Beyond that there are many stakeholders in this aspect of the value chain, and bringing them all together, which is what the GFSI does at the annual CIES Food Safety conference, is the first opportunity.

    MNB: This year's CIES Summit in Paris features as speakers a list of CEOs from some of the world's biggest and best retailers and manufacturers. Why was having a lineup of those kinds of speakers appropriate for 2006?

    Alan McClay: The Summit is THE event for the leaders of the global food business. The event is for CEOs, by CEOs. This positioning is extremely important for the Summit and it was important to underline it in bright letters for our 50th. But having top level CEOs is nothing new for the Summit and we plan to continue with this top level participation as you will see from the speakers already confirmed for the Shanghai event in 2007. Our equally golden lineup currently includes Hans Joachim Körber (Metro), José Luis Duran (Carrefour), Roger Corbett (Woolworths) Sir Martin Sorrell (WPP Group), Mike White (Pepsico), Maudrice Levy (Publicis) and will of course include some of the very major Asian players in the modern retailing arena.

    MNB: Finally, when we all leave the CIES Summit, what is the central message you'd like us all to take with us?

    Alan McClay: • That the most relevant and even the most difficult issues were put on the table and moved forward through pragmatic and tough debate.

    • Despite a particularly difficult time for our industry characterised by many casualties, much creativity, innovation and new thinking has emerged in the process as witnessed at the Paris Summit. We hope the programme will have reflected the optimism that emerges through the passage of difficult times.

    • That our 50th was a great celebration! A celebration of and by our industry, thanks to the heritage that our members have left us in building the Summit over 50 years, thanks to the top level speakers who shared their thought leadership, thanks to our Summit sponsors without whom we could not count on such a great experience.

    • That CIES as an organisation is "Flying very high in the face of competition".

    • That they absolutely must attend the 2007 Shanghai Summit - that CIES will provide them with an unparalleled and relevant "China experience" necessary for all players in modern retail regardless of whether they do business in China or not.
    KC's View:
    The global view that comes into focus at CIES is one that, we must admit, we find extremely helpful in our work – and we think that more US retailers should avail themselves of the remarkable resource that is CIES. We trust that much of this will come into focus with our exclusive coverage next week…but in some sense, there is no substitute for actually being there. (For those of you who can’t make it, we’re willing to make the sacrifice of enduring Paris in the spring. Tough work, but someone has to do it…)

    By the way, the CIES Future Leaders Conference that we chatted with Alan McClay about in the interview is one that is an excellent networking and learning opportunity for up and coming executives of almost any organization; we also can recommend, based on our past experiences, the Supply Chain/IT conference and Food Safety Conference held each year.

    We live in a global world, and one of the valuable roles that CIES plays is that it enables, even demands, retailers to look outward as well as inward.

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    The US District Court for the Northern District of California has upheld a 2005 jury decision that found News America Marketing FSI, Inc., a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, guilty of antitrust violations and of engaging in unfair competition. The sit had been brought against News America by San Francisco-based Theme Co-op Promotions, which charged that Murdoch’s $55 billion company was signing and enforcing exclusivity contracts for free standing inserts with consumer packaged companies, contracts that were designed essentially to put Theme out of business. The suit charged that these moves by Murdoch’s company were in violation of California antitrust and competition laws, and the jury agreed.

    The court, however, declined to issue a permanent injunction against News America. Theme Co-op was awarded damages, as well as its attorneys’ fees and costs of suit.

    “We are gratified that the Court has upheld our position that the ROFR provisions of News America’s FSI agreements are unlawful. Packaged goods marketing people should now have the freedom to participate in Theme Co-op’s programs without the threat of further interference by News America,” said Kim De Jesus, Theme Co-op’s senior vice resident, Corporate Services.

    It is unknown at this time whether News America plans to appeal.
    KC's View:
    From everything we’ve read, News America is made up of a bunch of bullies, and we’re glad to see that it is getting what it deserves in court.

    That said, if we were in a business that competed with News America, we think we’d try and find something else to do, some other angle on the business that it doesn’t have.

    Differentiation isn’t always just a smart marketing ploy. Sometimes, it is the only way to survive.

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Pepsi-Cola North America’s chief marketing officer, Cie Nicholson, offers an evaluation of US beverage consumption trends. Some excerpts:

    • “We are definitely seeing people trying and experimenting with a bunch of different noncarbonated beverages, so you are seeing occasions go to some noncarbs that in the past they haven't tried. By far people are still drinking more carbonated soft drinks than any other beverage, and we think as long as we continue with good marketing campaigns and promotions we have no reason to think there won't be robust growth with carbonated soft drinks.”

    • “People are using energy drinks at all times of day. This is not just a been out-partying phenomenon. There is a lot of use before lunch and mid-afternoon. It's about 60% to 40% male-female but in people's minds they might think it's more male skewed. It's becoming more balanced. It's all times of the day and it's broader than you think.”
    KC's View:
    We don’t mean to sound like Chicken Little here, but we would be concerned about long-term strategies tied to the long-term performance of energy drinks. We would be wrong, but it just feels like a category that is ripe for a ton of bad press and questioning scientific studies.

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Dollar General plans to carry a greater number of national brands in its stores, hoping that the quality message associated with recognized brand names will help it turn around stagnant sales and declining profits.

    At present, about a third of Dollar General’s inventory would be considered to be national brands, but management reportedly feels it doesn’t get credit from consumers for even those products. Hence, the company also plans a more aggressive marketing campaign focused on its branded products.
    KC's View:
    Doesn’t this violate the whole concept of a dollar store?

    And doesn’t this sound ever so slightly desperate, as if management doesn’t have faith in its core concept anymore?

    Just asking…

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    The Houston Chronicle reports that the nation’s growing Hispanic population is the center of the target for US beef producers, who feel that this demographic group has a greater loyalty to its products than non-Hispanics. Hoping to capitalize on this affinity, the Chronicle writes, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association “is developing a Web site aimed at Hispanic consumers, and other sales campaigns are under way in Texas, Colorado and Minnesota.”

    There is, however, a catch. As the Hispanic population grows, it also gets more affluent. The more affluent it gets, the more educated it tends to get about health and nutrition issues that could move them away from high-fat products such as beef. Thus, beef marketers “trying to hold on to as much business as possible as consumption declines,” according to the Chronicle.
    KC's View:
    Maybe we’re reading into this story, but there seems to be something slightly unsavory about it.

    Like the beef producers are trying to rope in Hispanics before they smarten up.

    Which probably is not what they mean, but that is sort of how it sounds.

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    • The Syracuse Post-Standard reports that a new Wal-Mart Supercenter opened in upstate New York’s Onondaga County yesterday, and that it is a store quite unlike the smaller unit it is replacing:

    “This store looks kind of . . . Targety. And a little less . . . Wal-Martish. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    “The 205,000-square-foot store plus a 35,000-square-foot garden center is 124,000-square-feet larger than the Fairmount store, and most of that picked-up space is covered by the full-line supermarket. This store moves beyond typical Wal-Mart Supercenters by bringing out behind-the-scenes stuff, such as baking and other food preparation services.”

    The store also features less clutter, wider aisles, lower shelves, more natural light, and floor treatments that hint at elegance in all the right places.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the UK Competition Commission has set the parameters for its current investigation into Britain’s supermarket industry, saying that it will focus exclusively on sales of food products and whether the relationships between major retailers and suppliers are having a detrimental impact on consumers. Specifically, the probe will look at whether the structure and intricacies of the supply chain actually results in reduced selection and higher prices.

    In addition the commission will look at whether Tesco has been stockpiling real estate for the express purpose of keeping the competition from gaining locations and market share.

    British law requires that the commission publish a final report by May 2008, but it reportedly is aiming for an October 2007 completion of its duties.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    • The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. has announced its intention to expand its e-grocery service later this year, offering free delivery on all orders of more than $40 and working with doctors to develop interactive shopping lists keyed to shoppers’ weight-and-nutrition needs. A&P is using a store-pick formula that reportedly has worked well when tested at some Food Emporium and Waldbaum’s stores.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    • As expected and previously reported by MNB this week, the American Medical Association (AMA) this week voted to adopt a set of principles to govern how in-store health clinics provide care for patients, and to ask food manufacturers and foodservice suppliers to voluntarily reduce the amount of sodium in prepared foods.

    • British researchers suggest that whether or not children like meat and fish is largely a matter of genetics – they inherit their taste for such things from their parents.

    However, Cancer Research UK also found that a taste for foods such as vegetables and pudding is largely a matter of environment and what kids’ parents feed them as they grow up.

    One of the researchers, Professor Jane Wardle, said it was not immediately apparent why genetics played into some food preferences and not others.

    • Hain Celestial Group Inc. has reached a deal to acquire the Linda McCartney brand frozen vegetarian foods unit from H.J. Heinz Co. terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that ConAgra Foods has decided to play hardball in new ads for its Hebrew National beef hot dogs, using a slogan that says “No Ifs, Ands or Butts," which the Journal notes is “a reference to its assurance that its kosher dogs, prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary law, contain nothing from the rear portion of the bovine anatomy.”

    The paper reports that “ConAgra, based in Omaha, Neb., is betting that Hebrew National's customers -- many of whom aren't Jewish -- view its kosher designation as an affirmation of the product's purity relative to other hot dogs, which are often pieced together from low-quality pork, beef, chicken or turkey.”

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) has given its annual Donald H. MacManus Association Executive Award to Oregon Grocery Association President Joe Gilliam, in recognition of what it called “Gilliam’s extraordinary leadership in public affairs.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    • Tesco PLC reported that its first quarter sales were up 10 percent, with Q1 UK sales up nine percent and international sales up 15 percent.

    Same-store UK sales, excluding fuel, were up 4.5 percent.

    Tesco is the largest retailer in the UK, and with more than 2,500 stores in the UK, Ireland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Turkey, China, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand, Tesco has moved up one place to become the fifth largest retailer in the world. Its entry into the US is expected to commence in early 2007.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2006

    We reported yesterday that Albertsons LLC, the company stores now owned by an investment team headed up by investment firm Cerberus Management, has announced that it will close 25 Super Saver stores, or all but two of the deep-discount units that were created as a stand-alone unit of the company back in 2004. The closing units are in addition to the 100 other closings that were announced by company management about a week ago.

    Our comment: It doesn’t sound…that a lot of value is being ascribed to the Super Saver employees.

    Though, when you think about it, it also doesn’t sound like a lot of value is seen in the whole Super Saver experience, which now stands as yet another Larry Johnston mess that has to be cleaned up by the company. We suppose that the message here is that just calling a store “Super Saver” doesn’t make it either super or a place where you can save a lot of money compared to the competition.

    One MNB user took issue with our analysis:

    I enjoy your comments normally, but when it comes to Super Saver stores it is better to not comment on something you know nothing about. These stores were created out of fact worse than nothing. ABS had run these stores into the ground. Now two years later they are showing double digit sales increases, and are moving quickly towards profitable. Was it the right idea...absolutely. The problem was and is the short term fix complex in this industry. This format was designed to go head to head with Wal-Mart and has done something no one else has done. Delivered sales increases. Instead of closing these stores, the smart money would take the team that put this together and learn from them. Can you compete with Wal-Mart? Super Saver is proof that not only can you survive can compete and grow your business. Wal-Mart is still trying to figure out how Super Saver can deliver great prices (in perishables much lower than Wal-Mart).

    Kevin, look closer as Super Saver and you will find a dedicated, talented group from store level all the way to the top. Wal-Mart is applauding Cerberus' short term vision. It takes conviction and time to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

    However, MNB user David J. Livingston disagreed:

    This really comes as no surprise to those who are familiar with the Super Saver stores. What really irritates me is that just a few months ago, Albertsons executives where describing these stores has huge successes and they were performing above expectations. They were also touting big plans to expand the concept across the country through conversions, acquisitions and new store development. I also read reviews by consultants and analysts talking about how successful these stores were as well, however I could tell their only information was from what Albertsons told them. Albertsons is not alone when it comes to exaggerating the success of new concepts. Remember how Nash Finch bragged endlessly about their new Hispanic Avanza format and then closed them down? Or how A&P said their Food Basics format would be successful in Detroit - and them closed them down? Now we have Safeway using a new buzz word called "Lifestyles" which is nothing more than a plain vanilla grocery store with some wood floors and gourmet coffee. They are spending millions of dollars just to get their stores to improve 23% which would still put them below average compared to their competitors. And lets not forget Marsh with all of their new concepts. Or Fresh Brands with their new pricing policy. Many times these companies have bragged about the success of these concepts while at the same time were negotiating the sale of these assets because they were failing. Since Safeway is the latest to be bragging, my gut feel is they are probably going to be the next big grocery failure.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I've seen this way too many times in my time in the grocery industry. A chain sells, a bunch of stores get closed. A lot of people with the same skills get dumped on the market where they are competing for the same jobs. In this case, they are being encouraged to not apply with stores that are being left open. Meanwhile, the people at the top, they walk away with millions. Is it any wonder there is no such thing as loyalty anymore?

    If the first writer is correct in his assessment, we are surprised that a retailer as canny as Bob Miller, the CEO of Albertsons LLC, is closing stores as viable as he describes.

    Regarding the estate tax, MNB user Tim Kosty wrote:

    I am surprised about your comment lamenting the loss of tax revenue if the Estate Tax is repealed. You seem to imply that Congress is spending the tax money in a prudent and responsible fashion, which couldn’t be further from the truth. As the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page recently pointed out, the problem is not tax revenues which are up approximately 10%, but the uncontrolled spending that is the real problem.

    We think that using the words “politicians” and “prudent” in the same sentence is always a mistake, no matter who is running the government. We certainly didn’t mean to imply that any branch of the government was behaving in a fiscally responsible fashion, only that any discussion of tax revenues almost certainly has to take deficits into account.

    MNB user Rodger Rinebold wrote:

    The inheritance tax is a tax on tax. It was taxed when earned and should not be taxed again. The remaining family that inherits the deceased assets should enjoy their rewards without being penalized. The real tragedy is the United State Government inability to control spending and balance the budget. The benefits of inheriting money would not be a subject of debate if the government was not in such a desperate situation from poor governing. They need to get additional money and want to tax everything in sight. Next they will want to tax the air we breath.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    Just a point of clarification for the member who wrote "If the owner of the estate was still alive and wished to give you a gift, there would be no tax associated with it." Actually, any gift in excess of $11,000 in 2005 and $12,000 in 2006 would be taxable. One of the strategies for insulating your estate from taxes is giving gifts just below the amount allowable in the tax code. So limit your kids to $11,999 in Christmas gifts each year and you will be OK.

    And still another MNB user wrote:

    I must take exception with your comment on the death tax - “It is unfortunate that this debate has to take place in an atmosphere of spiraling budget deficits, because it becomes harder to justify the loss of tax revenue.” First of all, you may have missed the bit of news over the weekend that the budget deficit went DOWN in the most recent period, and tax revenues are UP, which generally happens when the economy is growing. You need to consider the impact on tax revenue that the inheritance tax reinvested would have – my money is on a better outcome for the government, revenue wise!

    Additionally, that comment is indicative of how our elected officials think on both sides of the aisle and so out of touch with what most of America is thinking – reduce unnecessary spending in the form of earmarks (perhaps you heard what one Democratic congressman from Virginia said about their intentions if they regain the house – it has to do with earmarks and excrement), give the president line item veto power over the budget, and adopt a zero base budget each year based on justifiable needs and RESULTS. Of course, eliminating the current tax code and the IRS would also be helpful and have either a 18% flat tax or a 20% VAT on goods and services would be much more efficient and fair. At any rate, the inheritance/death tax is indeed something that takes private funds that are more effective and efficient in the free market (investment capital, philanthropy, savings) and places them in the hands of a Congress (again Republicans and Democrats alike) that is disabling as many in society as they can to remain in power – which is sad, very sad.

    We got the following email from MNB user Christine Rasmussen about our story regarding the consumer trend toward buying local food:

    It is great to see the interest by residents in investing in their local communities. Here in Eastern MA if an additional five percent of the residents would spend $7.25 a week on local food during the twelve week growing season, we could raise the net farm income 50%, which is important when half of our farmers reported losing money in the last Census. One of the big challenges though is getting our state government to recognize the value of small farms in suburban areas. Presently MA promotional funding is directed to other areas of the state. This makes it more difficult to get the word out about what is happening with farms in our area and how residents can support them. We lost 120 farms in five years and for the remaining 400 farms the high cost energy and loss of sales during the first six weeks of this growing season (due to the rain), age of the operators, and willingness of developers to pay top dollar for farmland indicate that the loss will continue. When each farm leaves, it is a quiet loss of access to fresh food and jobs as well as the cultural and historical heritage, wildlife habitats, and scenic working landscapes. However, since each loss is only a single operation and no one addresses the cumulative losses that are occurring, it does not generate the media attention that the loss of other businesses receive.

    Finally, MNB user Andy Casey had a thought about the study saying that coffee may help fight liver disease caused by the overconsumption of alcohol:

    Finally, some good news from the health industry. Does this mean we can now deduct money spent at Starbucks as a medical expense?

    Now, there’s a concept…
    KC's View: