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    Published on: January 23, 2007

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    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    Notes & Comment From FMI Midwinter (Day One) Kevin Coupe

    ORLANDO – The chronic inability or unwillingness of the supermarket industry to make the best use of its people and to attract the best people to its companies was very much the top-of-mind issue during the opening day’s sessions at the annual Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference here.

    In addressing the first piece of the human puzzle, Rajiv Lal, senior professor of retailing at Harvard Business School, told the assembled executives that “the most important challenge facing this industry is nurturing management talent,” noting that this problem infects companies at store level, middle management, and senior management. Lal posed two basic questions for the audience: “How much money do you invest in training and developing your employees? How much of your time to you devote to training your senior management?”

    Of course, Lal undermined his case just a bit when he referred to the fact that Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, was passionate about developing talent and spent as much as 40 percent of his time on this priority. Lal noted that when Welch retired, the GE executives who didn’t succeed him were so well thought of that they were able to land other CEO positions as companies that saw their market capitalization jump enormously upon their hiring. Lal did not note that two of those executives – Robert Nardelli, who went to Home Depot, and Larry Johnston, who went to Albertsons – no longer hold those positions at least in part because of perceived arrogance and an inability to translate their GE experience to the retailing environment. Perhaps inadvertently, Lal said that executives like these two left GE “for greener pastures,” but he probably wasn’t talking about inflated pay packages and golden parachutes.

    Lal suggested to the audience that they needed to think of personnel development as a kind of R&D (though he noted that most retailers tend not to spend a lot of money in this category as well). “It is about unlocking the potential of human capital,” he said, urging the executives to “get away from the simplistic idea that when the economy is weak you don’t have the resources to invest in people, and that when the economy is strong you don’t have the time to invest in people.”

    One top executive that Lal appropriately characterized as being expert at focusing on employees was Tesco CEO Terry Leahy, who he said had reorganized that company so that cooperation and conversation with employees is of paramount importance, and who recognized that “the good will of the staff is the main productivity lever.”

    It was the defining of productivity as a direct result of employee happiness that was most intriguing, especially because Lal connected it to the quality of the in-store experience. ‘It’s not about what you sell, but how you sell it,” he said, emphasizing that “how you sell it” is very much a matter of the people who are doing the selling.

    The second piece of the human puzzle was put into place during an afternoon session that featured five industry executives on stage talking about how they translate their own shopping experiences into their professional responses and initiatives. The kicker was that all five were women – and as panel moderator Wendy Liebman, president of WSL Strategic retail, said, most male executives don’t have to deal with shepherding children and making healthy meals in the same way that women do, and therefore cannot have the same elemental understanding of the problems and opportunities.

    One of the panelists, Food Lion COO Cathy Green, said that her experience as a mom trying to find and buy healthy, convenience-sized snacks for her children has led the company toward creating a “Just For Kids” section in its produce departments. The panel agreed that “shopability” is what is required, and Green noted that “the only thing we can exclusively own is our relationship with the customer.” The general agreement was that “shopability” is what defines that relationship, and that women executives have the kind of personal experiences that need to be leveraged if retailers are to offer any sort of differential advantage.

    It was an observation that seemed to hit home. As Supervalu CEO and FMI chairman Jeff Noddle asked at one point, “How much of the population of this room today looks like our customers?” The answer – not much.

    Other notes and commentary from the FMI Midwinter Executive Conference…

    • In opening remarks Monday morning, Hy-Vee CEO Ric Jurgens, who also served as chairman of the conference, urged attendees to embrace health and wellness as a defining issue for the industry. “In the food industry, we have a responsibility to make a difference in the health and wellness of our employees and our customers,” he said.

    • Irene Rosenfeld, CEO of Kraft Foods, called for industry companies “to look beyond the confined of our individual organizations” and “consolidate the cacophony of information” in such a way that consumers would be better served.

    The dilemma for consumers “comes from the sheer volume of information available to them,” Rosenfeld said. “And so much of what they read about is a moving target.”
    She stressed the need for industry cooperation in helping customers make better-informed health choices. “The more we collaborate the better we can help consumers navigate the labyrinth of information available to them.”

    Two of the moves urged by Rosenfeld: simplified icons and graphics on packaging (“Some of our packages are beginning to look like NASCAR entries,” she joked) and a greater customer focus that would result in “an in-store experience that shows we understand the shoppers’ health and wellness needs.”

    • There was a wonderful presentation by Gareth Ackerman, chairman of South Africa’s Pick ‘n Pay, in which he described the company’s longtime commitment to social responsibility – a commitment that has required much in that troubled nation. Pick ‘n Pay has always believed that the company’s business is like a table with four legs – administration, people, merchandising, and social responsibility – and that if any of these were to be eliminated, the table would cease standing. (We had the opportunity to travel to Capetown and Johannesburg a number of years ago to meet and interview Raymond Ackerman, Gareth Ackerman’s father and the founder of the company; it was shortly after the end of apartheid, and we learned then how the company had been promoting black men into management positions even while apartheid was the government’s official policy.)

    In addition to describing the company’s social and cultural investments, Ackerman also explained to the conference audience how every full time staff member with five years experience has equity in the business – a policy that cements the company’s connection to its people.

    • Craig Schnuck of Schnuck Markets was given the Sydney R. Rabb Award for excellence in serving the consumer, the community and the industry. Boyd L. George of Alex Lee Inc. was given the Herbert Hoover Award for humanitarian service. Safeway CEO Steve Burd was honored with the Glen P. Woodard Jr. Public Affairs Award for outstanding work with the government on behalf of the industry. And C. Manly Molpus, the retired president/CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association received the William H. Albers Award, given annually to a person in the supplier community who has significant achievements in the area of improving trading partner relationships.

    • Steve Smith, CEO of K-VA-T Food Stores in Virginia, was revealed to be the next chairman of FMI. He will succeed Noddle at the annual May convention.

    • Finally, Kraft Foods, which sponsored the annual Clarence Francis Leadership Lecture, ought to ask for its money back from this year’s speaker, Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff during the first six years of the current Bush administration. Card was supposed to “serve up incisive analysis and astute observations of all the leading issues, including the economy, energy, ethics, immigration and world trouble spots.” It would not be an exaggeration to say that he talked about none of these, but instead opted to deliver a meandering civics lesson about the three branches of the US government, the history of the writing of the US Constitution, and a few select reminiscences from his White House service that resulted in the startling revelation that the presidency is a hard and lonely job.

    We actually were looking forward to Card’s speech, coming one day before President Bush’s State of the Union address, which is to be delivered tonight before a sharply divided Congress and an American public that from all reports is hostile to his foreign policy. Tonight’s address could have moments of high drama, especially for political junkies, and Card’s presence on the FMI agenda seemed to promise at least some juicy insights and at most a passionate defense of administration policy and an outlining of how Bush plans to make his case during his final two years in office.

    But nope.

    Which is why Kraft should ask for a refund.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    The Dallas Business Journal reports that “Germany-based Aldi and Wild Oats Natural Marketplace of Colorado -- both better known outside of Texas -- may be the next grocers to jump into what's considered one of the most competitive and saturated grocery markets in the nation,” the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

    In each case, the new entrant is seen as a direct competitor to an existing player.

    “Aldi, a worldwide grocery chain targeting budget-conscious shoppers, will likely go head-to-head with Wal-Mart when it enters the market with its small, low-price format,” the Journal writes. It is scheduled to open its first store there in 2009, according to reports.

    Wild Oats doesn’t have any sites picked out yet, according to the Journal, but it is actively seeking locations and also is looking at a likely 2009 opening. If this happens, it will pit Wild Oats against both Whole Foods, which has six stores there, and Wal-Mart, which has expanded its organic offerings there to attract a new customer base.

    Wild Oats reportedly is also considering opening in the Houston marketplace.
    KC's View:
    Interesting that Wal-Mart is perceived as being a target of both new entrants.

    That speaks to the Bentonville Behemoth’s scope, but also to some of its problems, that it is trying to be too much to too many.

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    The Financial Times reports that Tesco has joined Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Metro to create a coalition of the world's four largest supermarket groups “in endorsing a new global initiative to encourage a unified approach to promoting good working conditions in the supply chain.”

    The goal would be to both prevent labor abuses in foreign factories such as the hiring of underage workers and the lack of appropriate safety measures, and to avoid the public relations disasters that often result when such conditions are made public. The approach would go beyond the simple monitoring of conditions and look to establish basic rules for vendor-retailer relationships, educating overseas managers and workers about basic standards to which they must adhere.
    KC's View:
    The challenge, of course, is that if these companies are going to insist on better working conditions in these foreign factories, they are also going to have to face the inevitability of higher costs…which is what they were trying to avoid when they outsourced to those foreign locations to begin with.

    The reality, though, is that in today’s world, any violations of human safety and/or human dignity can be immediately captured on video by a cell phone, and then instantly made available to the entire world. Which means that Wal-Mart, Carrefour, Metro and Tesco can’t really afford not to be vigilant about how their vendors operate.

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged 13 former vendor employees or representatives with participating in the financial fraud at Ahold-owned US Foodservice in 2001 and 2002, in which US Foodservice inflated its promotional allowance income by more than $700 million as a way of increasing its apparent bottom line and stock price. The men are charged with knowingly signing false audit confirmations.

    Carl Allen, Gary Bell, Donald Childers, John Crowder, Joseph Grendys, Anthony Holohan, Chris Jakubek, John King, Steve LeBarron, Patrick Penderghast, Frank Riggio, Michael Smith and Richard Vecchia have all been charged in the case, while Allen, Childers, Crowder, Jakubek, King, LeBarron, Penderghast, Riggio and Vecchia have settled the charges by agreeing to pay a $25,000 fine, though they did not admit to any wrongdoing.

    The SEC plans to litigate against Bell, Grendys, Holohan, and Smith, who did not come to a settlement agreement.

    In other US Foodservice news, there are reports out of the UK and the Netherlands that Ahold is close to selling the division to private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, though Ahold executives are denying that they are close to making a deal.
    KC's View:
    We’re sure that Ahold can’t wait to get rid of US Foodservice, if for no other reason that people like us will have to stop using the words “financial fraud” and “Ahold-owned US Foodservice” in the same sentence. Of course, we’ll still have to point out that US Foodservice used to be owned by Ahold, and that the then-CEO of the company, Cees van der Hoeven, created a culture of arrogance and greed within the company that led to the fraud taking place.

    Even though that’s all water under the bridge.

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending that voluntary standards be established for the first time covering the gluten-free sector of the food business.

    According to the WSJ, the first draft of the FDA proposal suggests that “companies may label foods ‘gluten-free’ if they don't contain wheat, barley, rye or their hybrids, or if they contain fewer than 20 parts per million gluten. Currently, some companies use the label to describe products that are naturally gluten-free, such as fruits or meat. Under the FDA's proposal, that would be misbranding.”

    This is an issue that could affect some three million Americans who suffer from celiac disease, which essentially is an inability to properly digest gluten. In addition, gluten-free products have become popular among some consumers who see them as a way of controlling or losing weight.

    Wal-Mart, which sells more than nine hundred gluten-free products under its private label, says that it will support the FDA proposal.

    Robert Earl, senior director for nutrition policy at Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association, tells the Journal that GMA’s membership supports the FDA's effort to establish a voluntary standard, though he wanted to evaluate the proposed definitions.

    Jane Andrews, a registered dietitian at Wegmans Food Markets Inc., tells the journal that “she's surprised the FDA proposed to make it misbranding if companies label naturally gluten-free products gluten free. Wegmans has done that with products such as pasta sauce because many consumers demand to know, she said.”

    The WSJ also reports that “some consumer groups welcomed the FDA's recommendation, but they questioned its proposal to limit the threshold to 20 parts per million and exclude oats, which cause adverse reactions in some people suffering from celiac disease.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    The Times of London reports this morning that the UK Competition Commission has released what is called an “Emerging Thinking” report that offers a limited view of its findings in an ongoing study of the country’s retailers and their competitive policies.

    However, the study is not over, with reports that the commission plans to drill down further into the industry’s competitive practices.

    “Eight months into an investigation of the big four UK supermarkets, and the Competition Commission is yet to find strong evidence on a number of contentious issues laid out in today’s progress report, including, Tesco’s ownership of land banks and whether larger retailers are damaging supplier terms for smaller shops,” the Times writes.

    The commission notes that while Tesco indeed is banking properties for future development, so are other retailers in the marketplace. It also says that there seems to be no clear connection between the size of a retailer and the ability to get preferred buying terms from vendors.

    Finally, the commission notes that top this point, it has not been able to come up with any evidence that the presence of four enormous retailers in the UK is decreasing competition and therefore is bad for the consumer.

    The Wall Street Journal this morning g reports that the commission plans “to focus its attention on local markets across the U.K. as the next stage in its investigation into the market for the supply of groceries.”

    Peter Freeman, Chairman of the CC and Inquiry Group Chairman, is quoted as saying: "Our principal concern now is to focus on competition between retailers at the local level, where it most matters to consumers, as this is where many of the potential concerns we have would be evident. We have now gathered a large amount of evidence about the overall picture in this market, and having gathered this information, we can now look in detail at the situation locally.

    "We need to see what choices shoppers have in particular areas and how competition works between retailers of different sizes. We know about the extent of retailers' land holdings, but it's how these are used at local level, and the related effect of the planning system, that matters. It would be a cause for concern if supermarkets, either individually or collectively, were in a position to increase prices or lower their offer in any particular locality or region because of lack of effective competition.

    "We are not here to punish success or individual retailers but we are concerned with whether Tesco, or any other supermarket, can get into such a strong position, either nationally or locally, that no other retailer can compete effectively."
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    Business Week looks at Wal-Mart’s sustainability strategies, which, it notes, the company initially adopted in self defense: “Surveys showed that the retail giant's image had taken such a beating that some customers were staying away. So (CEO Lee) Scott huddled with environmentalists, hired consultants, and came up with goals that astonished even some activists. He vowed to use 100% renewable energy, drastically reduce waste through recycling, and sell ‘sustainable’ products that are more environmentally friendly.”

    While the initial impulse had more to do with public relations than public policy, Business Week suggests that this began to change when it became clear that these efforts also could cut costs for the frugally minded retailer.

    For example: “Cutting energy use is saving money, and consumers appreciate Wal-Mart's forays into organic cotton products and coffee certified to have earned farm workers a decent wage. Switching stores to more efficient bulbs and adding skylights for natural light has trimmed Wal-Mart's electricity bill by 17% since 2002. Using less packaging on house brand toys will save $2.4 million annually in shipping costs. Even Wal-Mart's push to slash America's electricity use - and thus greenhouse gas emissions - by selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs a year has a bottom-line benefit.”

    • Wal-Mart Stores has announced its support of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership (US-CAP), which has called for strong national policies and market-based programs for greenhouse gas reductions.

    "We support US-CAP's leadership on this important issue,” said Linda Dillman, Wal-Mart Executive Vice President of Risk Management, Benefits and Sustainability. “We look forward to working with US-CAP, Congress and the White House to enact meaningful legislation to slow, stop and reverse the growth of greenhouse gas

    • The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Wal-Mart, “in an ongoing effort to tailor its merchandise to the taste of each store's clientele, this year will stop selling cut fabric in some of its stores in favor of offering crafts and party-planning supplies.”

    This is a cultural shift that almost approaches the company’s decision last year to phase out layaway plans, long a staple of its operations. “Wal-Mart's fabric departments, which offer bolts of cloth that are cut to order by store employees, harken back to the Bentonville, Ark., retailer's roots serving primarily rural shoppers with tight budgets,” the Journal writes. “But Wal-Mart now operates roughly 4,000 U.S. stores, with most of its new stores opening in urban and suburban locales.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    Advertising Age offers a report card looking at Sears Holdings two years after Sears merged with Kmart and hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert promised to turn both companies around by cross-marketing and cross-merchandising their brands.

    It hasn’t happened, according to Ad Age. “The company has rolled out the Sears Craftsman brand at Kmart’s 1,416 stores and brought DieHard to Kmart,”
    Ad Age writes. “But it took 18 months following the merger to accomplish the former and 21 months the latter. Only 178 Kmart stores carry Sears’ private-label brand Kenmore. The only Kmart brand introduced into Sears will be Joe Boxer, and not until the second half of 2007.”

    While Sears Holdings is profitable, the gains have come at a heavy cost: underinvestment in stores, loss of marketing talent and uneven ad spending. Sears reported same-store sales during the 2006 end-of-year holiday period declined 5.6 percent, while Kmart’s same-store sales fell 1.2 percent.

    Three quotes of particular interest:

    • “The behavior is not what you would see of a retailer trying to turn around two brands,” Kim Picciola, a retail analyst at Morningstar, tells Ad Age. “There has been some integration, but certainly not what we thought we might see in terms of bringing the two brands together.”

    • “These companies are no longer being run by retail executives, but by businessmen, and they are managing it as a portfolio investment,” says Will Ander, a consultant at McMillan Doolittle. “Over time the brands are being destroyed as retail entities.”

    • And Britt Beemer, a retail analyst at American Research Group, tells Ad Age, “How can you merge two mediocre companies and end up with anything but a mediocre company?”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    • Published reports say that Pennsylvania-based Giant Eagle plans to open a new 13,000 square foot hybrid store – called Giant Eagle Express - this summer that will include a range of fresh foods (meat, bakery, produce and dairy) as well as a drive-through pharmacy and gasoline pumps.

    • IGA announced that eight conventional supermarkets in the San Francisco Bay area will be converting to the IGA Banner. The stores - five Cala Foods and three Bell Markets - were acquired from Ralphs Grocery Co. by DeLano Retail Partners in 2006. They are located in San Francisco (three stores), Tiburon (two stores), Fairfax, Mill Valley and Novato.

    The Sacramento division of C & S Wholesale Grocers, Inc., will be the primary supplier of each of the supermarkets, which will be known as DeLano IGA Markets.

    • The Bradenton Herald reports on the growing number of Florida “farmers and ranchers who seek to supply a rapidly growing population of health-conscious consumers. These customers want meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products that are – at the very least - produced without antibiotics or added hormones, or are not fed animal byproducts.” At the same time, there is expanded interest on the part of grocers to carry these products; Publix, for example, “began carrying Greenwise brand naturally raised chicken several months ago. The stores also sell naturally raised pork, buffalo and beef. The meat is sold packaged in the meat case and is unfrozen.” And, the chain reportedly is about to introduce a private label organic milk to its stores.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    • CVS announced that Larry Merlo has been promoted to president of CVS/pharmacy, retail. He previously was CVS executive vice president of stores.

    CVS also said that Chris Bodine has been promoted to the new position of president of CVS Health Services. He previously was vice president of merchandising and marketing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    The Academy Award nominations were announced this morning, and the major categories break out as follows:

    Best Picture
    • BABEL

    Best Actor
    • Leonardo DiCaprio - BLOOD DIAMOND
    • Ryan Gosling - HALF NELSON
    • Peter O'Toole - VENUS
    • Forest Whitaker - THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND

    Best Actress
    • Penélope Cruz - VOLVER
    • Judi Dench - NOTES ON A SCANDAL
    • Helen Mirren - THE QUEEN
    • Meryl Streep - THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA
    • Kate Winslet - LITTLE CHILDREN

    Best Supporting Actress
    • Adriana Barraza - BABEL
    • Cate Blanchett - NOTES ON A SCANDAL
    • Abigail Breslin - LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
    • Jennifer Hudson - DREAMGIRLS
    • Rinko Kikuchi - BABEL

    Best Supporting Actor
    • Jackie Earle Haley - LITTLE CHILDREN
    • Djimon Hounsou - BLOOD DIAMOND
    • Eddie Murphy - DREAMGIRLS
    • Mark Wahlberg - THE DEPARTED

    Best Director
    • BABEL
    • UNITED 93

    Best Original Screenplay
    • BABEL

    Best Adapted Screenplay

    Best Documentary

    The Oscars will be handed out on Sunday, February 25.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 23, 2007

    Responding to yesterday’s story about Albertsons LLC closing more stores in Colorado, one MNB user who asked not to be identified wrote:

    Yep. That is true and I got hit this time around. We all were told we had 2 years to turn things around...not 5 months from their takeover. Over 700 employees with about 30 stores left here in Colorado. They will try to transfer people over to the remaining stores…If you are a Union store your radius of going to another store is with in 25 miles one way, non union is 50 miles one way, with a 20 hour work week from 40. They will avoid severance pay as much as they can by placing non union workers first (never been in union stores) in union with the hope that they will get bumped right out. ..Get out while you can (because) in about one year all will be gone.

    We get the sense that maybe Albertsons has a little morale problem in Colorado.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Don't be shocked to see their store count to continue to go down. Aldi and Wild Oats announced an entry into Dallas-Ft. Worth, further putting the squeeze on the vanilla grocers like Albertsons, Minyards, and Tom Thumb. I definitively see Albertsons as the first one blink in this three-way game of chicken to see who will leave the market first. Keep in mind Cerberus bought the worst of the worst Albertsons and all the competition is ganging up on them. As of yet I have not heard of any success stories on how Cerberus has turned any stores around. All we are hearing is how they keep closing stores. So unless they can find a way to make a profit while sales keep falling, I don't expect them to be around for long.

    On the subject of the UFCW in California using consumers’ loyalty cards to try and enlist their support in upcoming labor negotiations, MNB user Amy Buttery had a thought about our observation that most consumers actually carry three or four loyalty cards, and therefore the union might not be able to prove that the consumers it enlists are actually loyal shoppers:

    Isn't that all the more reason for the store management to listen to the union? I may not be a typical shopper, but I have one major supermarket I frequent regularly, and two others I go to either for certain things or because sometimes they're just more convenient (or smaller so easier to get in and out). I have loyalty cards for them all, but if my primary store were to really tick me off, it'd be easy to find another primary store because I know them. My loyalty to my first choice is there, it's just not very deep in such a competitive market.

    Another MNB user observed:

    Very interesting approach by the UFCW. Yes, the numbers will show that the people are real shoppers, but as we know all shoppers are not created equal. First thing that’ll happen is the retailer will run the list to determine how valuable these customers are---a fact they are unlikely to share with the Union.

    It’s possible this tactic could produce the opposite effect by showing that the customers who sympathize the most with the Union are those that represent the least value to the store’s bottom line.

    In our story yesterday about Tesco’s US HQ being hard to reach, about which we wrote, “Sometimes we think that the folks at Tesco USA are just doing everything they can to keep everybody guessing about their plans…and are having a great time doing so,” and that “this same sense of innovation and playfulness is going to infect the stores that Tesco eventually opens.”

    MNB user Michael F. Parker disagreed:

    Annoying potential, customers, vendors and the press is not being playful, it’s being stupid!

    A legitimate argument.

    We can tell you that since Tesco announced its US plans – a story we’ve paid a lot of attention to here on MNB because we’re so impressed by Tesco and its management – we’ve gotten dozens of emails asking us for contact info for Tesco’s US HQ. So you’re right – Tesco was annoying a lot of people.

    Maybe they were just being British. (Being a bit of an Anglophile, it doesn’t bother us.)

    We had a piece yesterday about how Kleenex is introducing a new tissue “laced with a mild pesticide” designed to help fight the flu.

    One MNB user wrote:

    ,B>Did the Journal actually say "laced with a mild pesticide"? Do you think they meant germicide? I doubt consumers want a pesticide on their nose if they don't want it on their food anymore.

    The WSJ may have meant germicide. But it wrote “pesticide.”

    And MNB user Lois Bredow wrote:

    A mild PESTICIDE? Just give me the plain stuff, folks. Pesticides are toxic and would be absorbed quite quickly from the nasal blood supply. NO, THANK YOU.

    On the subject of the growing popularity of milk from cows not given the controversial recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH, one MNB user wrote:

    It has always been my understanding that the milk from dairy cows receiving rBGH is no different from the milk that comes from cows that do not receive the synthetic supplement. How then, can Safeway know for sure other than to trust the word of hundreds of producers? The last I heard, there is no test that can confirm or deny its use... the growth hormone (natural and/or synthetic) would be present in all milk in the same quantities.

    The use of rBGH is a choice made by the farmer and is based on production considerations. It surprised me, then, that you would imply that milk from cows that might have received the synthetic hormone is "inferior" or "at best, questionable". We need to be careful not to confuse science and food safety with what might really amount to production decisions based on marketing preferences.

    Having said that, I also believe that when science declares food safe, there should be no hesitation to inform the consumer of the facts of production. If more education needs to take place, so be it, but the food should be labeled as much as possible. Let the consumer make the choice but let them make informed choices on both sides of any perceived issue.

    And MNB user Rosemary Fifield wrote:

    You mention that public demand for non-rBGH milk seems to be localized in the Northwest at the moment. Interestingly enough, H. P. Hood Dairy, here in New England, began maintaining a processing plant in Vermont in 1994 that puts out only rBGH-free milk to meet the demand of Vermont and New Hampshire consumers...

    As an educator on food production issues since 1993, I have been monitoring the acceptance of bovine growth hormone by consumers and by our local dairy producers, and this is an issue that has never gone away in our area. Ben & Jerry's recognized it back when they were still a Vermont-based company. Cabot Creamery came out with their Family Farms brand of butter to provide an rBGH-free alternative to their Cabot brand, which they could not assure local consumers was free of the hormone due to mixing of fluid milk at their Massachusetts plant. (I don't believe it is rBGH-free any more.)

    I have to admit, I don't understand your comparison to being anti-trans fat as a means of understanding the objections to rBGH. For many people, it is about the effects the artificial hormone has on the cows. For others, it is concern about the unknowns surrounding artificial manipulation of hormones, what ends up in the milk, and what its long-term effect may be on the consumer of that milk. At the same time, one can understand the dilemma of the small local dairy farmer who must be competitive in a market that does not allow for inefficiency.

    To answer your question, the only comparison we were drawing was that both have to do with increased health concerns on the part of consumers…and industry must take notice. And respond.

    MNB user Richard Thorpe wrote:

    Recently in Ode magazine, Jan/Feb 2007, an article regarding the early sexual development of American children appears to be caused in part by the chemicals we are putting in food. Specifically mentioned was growth hormones is milk. It seems our children have higher levels of hormones than they should. Milk was not the only reason for these chemicals in food. The article was not “hysterical” and stated that only about 10% (should be none) of the girls referred because of early puberty actually needed treatment. Ode magazine is an international magazine that highlights “good” works going on in the world. The magazine’s articles are generally one to two pages per. This article, as with most in the magazine, merely reported some findings. Good for SAFEWAY et al who would clean up the food they sell.

    In a story yesterday about trans fat consumption possibly causing infertility in women, we speculated that this might cause an increased birth rate in places banning trans fats…but conceded that this might just be the ravings of our occasionally depraved mind.

    To which MNB user Jackie Lembke responded:

    Depraved minds must thing alike, because the first thing I thought of was, great, a new form of birth control. No longer do you have to remember to take a pill everyday, just eat a Twinkie. After all there are risks with most forms of birth control, heart disease would just be another risk.

    Finally, in writing yesterday about the defeat of the New England Patriots over the weekend, we wrote: “We know this is petty of us, but we think that anything teaches Patriots coach Bill Belichick a little humility is a good thing. Because he has to be one of the most misanthropic, miserable people in professional sports.”

    A number of vocal MNB users agreed – they thought it was petty of us.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, Please, Bill Belichick “Misanthropic” ? Webster’s states: n “Hater of Mankind”, “One who has no faith in his fellow man” Your comments are a little extreme and misplaced. People that are “Misanthropic” do not build Championship sports teams, nor would Bob Kraft have anyone like that working for him.

    You must be a New York sports fan.

    MNB user Doug Campbell concluded:

    OOOOOOOO, KC, you must be a Jets fan!!!


    MNB user Chris Silk wrote:

    It's a free country and one of the things we all love about MNB is that you express your freedom of speech. Now I am going to express mine. I am not even a Patriots fan (For the record I am a Giants fan), but I must that there is no maybe about it, it is petty of you to say Bill Belichick is not humble. Maybe he is not Mr. Personality - but that does not make him misanthropic (Please Kevin! Isn't that a little dramatic!) or miserable. He is one of the greatest football coaches of all time - a master of his craft. That should be enough. Over the past 6 years the New England Patriots under Bill Belichick have performed to a standard of excellence not seen since the Green Bay Packers under Vince Lombardi (who won 5 World Championships in 9 years). What is more impressive is that the Patriots did this in the Salary Cap Era. Through it all I would say that Belichick appears to me to be the same hardworking guy he was when he took over the Patriots job (call me crazy - but that sounds like a description of someone who is humble to me).

    The Patriots provide an example of teamwork, humility (yes - humility. No superstar egos on the Patriots), flexibility and fiscal prudence that all businesses can learn from.

    America loves to build up heroes and take them down - I detect that sentiment in your comments.

    Except that he never was a hero of ours.

    We just don’t like him.

    At least MNB user Dale Tillotson agreed:

    Could not agree with you more. But he fits in nicely with other sports personalities. corporate CEO's, politicians, and a great number of average citizens.

    And one more MNB user wrote:

    As a Rams fan, I couldn't agree with you more. Even if I don't know what the heck misanthropic means.
    KC's View: