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    Published on: May 25, 2007

    It is an announcement that has been made with increased frequency by a variety of food and drug retailers: New York City chain drug store Duane Reade announced this week that it has established a partnership with Consumer Health Services to launch DR Walk-in Medical Care, which will result in the opening of three in-store health clinics offering urgent and non-emergency medical care to shoppers.

    Similar announcements have been made by companies that include Wal-Mart, Walgreen and CVS; the latter two, in fact, have gone so far as to acquire companies creating such clinics as a way of controlling the operations and their costs.

    But as the Financial Times reports, Illinois is leading the way in fighting the trend. “The state could be the first to impose stricter regulation on the new generation of walk-in clinics, where nurse-practitioners can examine patients, conduct basic procedures such as inoculation and prescribe for minor illnesses, while charging less than a doctor's practice,” FT writes. “Massachusetts is also considering whether to license the state's first retail clinics, proposed by drugstore group CVS and its MinuteClinics unit. And the industry expects more challenges ahead.”

    The debate is simple. Advocates say that the clinics make basic health care both affordable and accessible, while opponents say that patients could be putting themselves at risk by depending on such operations.

    “On a national level, the American Medical Association, the doctors' lobby group, has taken a cautious tone, issuing guidelines last year for clinics,” FT writes. “They call for a well-defined scope of services, standardized medical protocols and clear definitions of medical qualifications. They also call for closer doctor oversight, and emphasize the importance of referrals to doctors, which the leading clinics promise.”
    KC's View:
    There’s always a risk with these sorts of innovations. The question we’d ask is how many people will get immunizations and flu shots and basic medical care because these clinics make these options both affordable and accessible. Close watch has to be kept to assure that they are behaving in a responsible and credible way…but to simply oppose them strikes us as perhaps some doctors trying to protect their fees more than their patients.

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    Published reports say that a computer error at Meijer Inc. gave some customers in virtually all its stores a 50 percent discount on almost everything they bought. The snafu happened between 10 and 11 pm last Saturday night.

    Some customers who noticed the mistake called the company to offer to pay the proper amount, but the chain has decided to simply write off the losses.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    Advertising Age reports that Anheuser-Busch CEO August Busch IV has said that he believes that the company’s fledgling – and so far, underwhelming – Bud.TV online television network to “fade” as the year progresses, though he did not say whether it would be shut down completely.

    The site, which represents an investment upwards of $30 million, could see some of its components migrated into other properties owned by the brewer.

    "Anheuser-Busch believes in the digital space, and Bud.TV is a part of that,” Busch said. “Bud.TV is the first of its kind and it will continue to develop. Its current structure might fade away as we learn more about consumer connectivity and building a social network. But we are eager to evolve Bud.TV as part of a broader digital future for our brands to reach today's consumer.”
    KC's View:
    We wonder if A-B simply didn’t do enough to encourage community. It is our sense that maybe too much time was spent on the technology and the bells and whistles, and not enough on figuring out how to have differentiated content that would have attracted target consumers.

    Now, to be honest, this is a common complaint for us…and it comes from having been on the content side of things for a long time. We could tell you plenty of stories about web sites that burned through investment dollars by spending it on techies and buttons and gizmos, while ignoring the fact that it is only because of compelling content that people will read or watch anything. Retailers should take this warning to heart – if your websites are being managed just by IT folks, you could be making a big and perhaps costly mistake.

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    Supervalu CEO Jeff Noddle told the company’s annual meeting yesterday that it will open between 25 and 30 new stores during the next fiscal year, and will invest in the remodeling of between 100 and 110 existing units.

    Noddle said that Supervalu’s capital expenditure budget would increase to $1.2 billion next year, up from $900 million during the current fiscal year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    • The Dallas Morning News reports that in a speech to business leaders in that city, Wal-Mart vice president Tom Emerick said that the chain’s emphasis on high-deductible health plans are working for the company, and could be the solution for other businesses faced with increasing health care costs.

    “Raising the deductibles that employees must pay out of pocket makes them more aware of their health care spending, he said. In return, the company can provide health plans with smaller deductions from their paychecks, Mr. Emerick said. The retailer that employs 1.3 million in the U.S. offers workers plans with deductibles ranging from $350 to $1,000, as well as ultra-high deductible plans of up to $6,000.

    “’The greatest incentive for health and wellness is high deductibles,’ Mr. Emerick said in an interview. ‘We'll tell anybody in America how we did it and how it works.’”

    • The Associated Press reports that Rhode Island state treasurer Frank T. Caprio has asked the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate whether Wal-Mart violated securities laws by not disclosing in its filings that CEO Lee Scott’s son works for a company that does business with the retailer.

    Wal-Mart responded to the charge by saying that the law has no such requirement and that it is a “non-issue.”

    Working Mother magazine announced that Wal-Mart Stores is a 2007 Best Company for Multicultural Women. Now in its fifth year, the Working Mother Best Companies for Multicultural Women initiative “celebrates employers that are establishing groundbreaking diversity policies and programs to encourage the hiring and advancement of African-American, Hispanic, Asian-American and Native-American women, according to a statement released by the magazine.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    The European Union has decided to give California’s Napa Valley what is called “geographic indicator” protection, which means that wineries from other locales will not be able to use the word “Napa” on their labels.

    The protection is similar to that granted by the EU to items like champagne from Champagne, France, and parma ham from Parma, Italy. It is, however, the first time that the Napa name has been protected outside California, and wineries from that fabled region of Northern California have expressed relief at the EU decision.
    KC's View:
    Excellent news, and it points to how seriously wines from Northern California are being taken on the world stage.

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    The Los Angeles Times reports that a California company that imports frozen fish from China is recalling a number of items because of concerns that it may have been mislabeled and actually contains pufferfish.

    According to the story, “the Food and Drug Administration confirmed Thursday that its tests of the fish had found potentially lethal amounts of tetrodotoxin, a substance usually associated with the skin and certain organs of the pufferfish.”

    This story breaks as the Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to ban all imports of Chinese toothpaste because of toxic chemicals found in some products sent to Panama, the Dominican Republic and Australia.

    However, FDA says that there is no evidence that such items have been exported to the US, and both Procter & Gamble and Colgate said they did not source any of their toothpastes from China.

    Meanwhile, there remain concerns about toxic compounds found in pet food made from ingredients imported from China, which apparently has killed dozens of pets.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    • Belgium-based Delhaize Group has implemented what is called “cross guarantees of debt” with Delhaize America, its US subsidiary. The deal means that the two companies will guarantee each other’s debt obligations.

    "The implementation of cross guarantees will improve Delhaize Group's access to the capital markets and increase our financial flexibility," said Delhaize CEO Pierre-Olivier Beckers.

    • Earth Fare, which operates 13 natural food supermarkets in the southeast US, reportedly is testing a meal assembly program called Gourmet 2 Go in one of its locations, in Asheville, NC.

    • As expected, Coca-Cola’s board of directors reportedly have approved the acquisition Vitaminwater manufacturer Glaceau for $4.2 billion in cash and stock. The deal is expected to be announced by the companies today.

    • The Seattle Times reports that Coca-Cola has lost in its bid to be the exclusive soft drink purveyor at Qwest Field in Seattle, but it got beaten out by an unexpected competitor – Jones Soda, which makes specialty soft drinks and has phased out the usage of high fructose corn syrup in favor of cane sugar.

    According to the paper, Jones Soda will inaugurate the five-year contract with several new products, including a special Seattle Seahawks drink.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    • Supervalu Inc. announced the promotion of Pete Van Helden to executive vice president and president, Retail West. Van Helden most recently served as senior vice president and president, Retail West. He is responsible for Supervalu’s retail operations in Southern California, Nevada and Intermountain West.

    • New York-based Price Chopper/Golub Corporation has announced a number of staffing changes:

    Jay Ropietski, a Zone Director with the company, has been promoted to the position of Regional Vice President reporting directly to David Golub, Vice President of Store Operations.

    Dan Koch, the chain’s Senior Category Manager/Bakery, has been promoted to the position of Director of Bakery Operations reporting directly to Mark Brown, Vice President of Perishables.

    Jim Mizeur, Vice President of Grocery and General Merchandise, has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Strategic Initiatives reporting directly to Jerry Golub, Senior Vice President of Sales and Merchandising.

    Mark Brown, Vice President of Bakery Operations, has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Perishables reporting directly to Joe Kelley, Vice President of Merchandising.

    Joe Kelley, Vice President of Perishable Merchandising, has been promoted to the position of Vice President of Merchandising reporting directly to Jerry Golub.

    Keith A. Frosceno, Senior Category Manager/Produce, has been promoted to the position of Vice President, Produce Merchandising reporting directly to Joe Kelley.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    • Long Drug Stores reported $16 million in earnings for its first quarter, a 1.9 percent decline from the same period last year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    There have been some questions raised about an interview we ran the other day about Wal-Mart with William H. Marquard, who, as a consultant with Ernst & Young, established and ran Wal-Mart's first-ever strategic planning process. But Marquard also was at Fleming, and some think that his role in that company’s demise disqualifies him from having a credible opinion about anything.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I think a lot of ex-Fleming folks missed your interview....probably about 30,000 of them, their families and their communities. You would probably have had more emails.

    He was a much bigger part than you realize. Even after all this time there are still a lot of hard feelings. I was one of the lucky ones that was able to move on. I didn't lose my house, didn't get a divorce (of course I am not married), didn't have to pull child or children out of college or see a friend so depressed that they are no longer with us.

    Of course Bill and Mark Hansen still have no clue. Many of the ex-Fleming execs fail to put Fleming on any of their resume.

    Lot of passion and bitterness out there.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    On your commentary relating to Bill Marquardt, as a past Division President of Fleming (who departed before the meltdown) I agree with your observation that the demise of Fleming wasn’t done by one person.

    Three’s the accurate number.

    We suspect that Marquard is going to get smacked around quite a bit by MNB users in the next few days. If he’d like to respond, he’s welcome to. Because it is a good question – if he has culpability in Fleming’s demise, does he forfeit any and all credibility as an author and consultant?

    That’s certainly a debate we’re willing to entertain in this space.

    We’ve also had some emails about Albertsons and the new approach being taken to its management by Supervalu and its CEO, Jeff Noddle.

    One MNB user had some thoughts about the good old days:

    I work for a company that has supplied Albertson's for over 20 years. In one of the stores we supplied, a long time ago, we had a store manager who was a GOD! Joe Albertson actually came to his store when it opened.

    This guy made total decisions for his store. We could literally sell anything into his store if we could convince him it would sell. And I am talking big sales.

    This store manager ran a register for some time every single day. He knew his customers, including me, by name.

    And his store was one of the single highest grossing Albertson's in the whole country while he was manager.

    Hardly anything written above applies in any way to how supermarkets are run today.

    We’re also getting a ton of email about our radio commentary about Marriott’s decision to test the notion of a women-only floor in one of its hotels.

    MNB user Lee Ann Lehner wrote:

    I enjoyed your article on whether it’s discrimination to provide women travelers with their own hotel floor. As stated by Marriott, this is for the safety and security of women. As a woman who has traveled not only for business, but for pleasure, I have to say, I don’t see this as discriminatory to have a floor only for women. Men do not need to worry so much for their safety when they’re alone as women do. Women, whether we want to admit it or not, need to be more careful than men when we are alone. The reality is there are men in this world who are a threat to women and not to other men. Suffice it to say that there are enough men who are uncomfortable being in the company of a gay man because they’re afraid they may approach them, yet they likely have the ability to physically match or overcome the gay man so their safety is likely not in jeopardy. It’s rare you hear about a gay man forcing himself on a “straight” man, yet it’s common to hear that a woman was victimized by a man. The reality of today is what makes it necessary for hotels like the Marriott to provide more security to a woman and I applaud them for it. When women stop being victimized by a minority number of men in the world, maybe we can stop feeling we need to take extra measures to be and feel safe.

    Being concerned that this may lead to class and religious and gender discrimination, we must remember the reason for it – for the safety and security of the women. If the reason was to keep men or certain ethnic or religions out for the pure reason that they are different would be an entirely different story. As far as women being given a room on “their” secure floor to sit and have a drink or snack “without men”, it’s not so much that we don’t want men around, it’s that it’s the only way to know you can walk down the hall and have a drink and then return to your room in a safe environment, without worry that someone in the room/bar, will push himself on you or follow you to your room and harass you. I have been harassed and followed a couple of times out biking on a public path by men and it’s very uncomfortable and scary. All most women are asking for is not to be harassed when we prefer not to. Unfortunately, innocent men are impacted by this, but at least the impact to them is not life threatening. To decide between one gender being safe from bodily harm and fear while the other is “forced” to stay on the other many floors of a hotel or to sit in a bar without many women; I think anyone would choose the safety and security of one gender over the convenience of the other. But I’m sure it’s harder to take when you’re a man. I hope men will understand our plight instead of looking at it as a strike against them.

    I do think, however, that the Marriott should offer EVERYONE the same pampering they’re offering the women on the secure floor. In my business travels, it was my experience that the men I spent time with out of town, enjoyed going out to dinner after working all day. It seems there are many women who prefer to just go back to the hotel and relax for the evening and the pampering that’s waiting for them at the hotel would be just one more luxury besides coming back to an empty hotel room where the evening is totally yours and you can order in dinner and maybe go for a swim or exercise – my idea of heaven when I’m traveling.

    One MNB user asked:

    How can it be "discrimination" when the consumer is the one who decides to participate or not participate?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I read the piece about the women-only floor with mixed emotions. Part of me wants to cheer that Marriott finally gets it. Part of me is disgusted.

    I've spend the last two decades in hardware and building materials -- so I'm no stranger to working with men, and am normally the only woman in the room, although that's changing. I don't generally give much time to the "women-only" organizations, as I generally find that if they spent as much time being really good at what they do as they spend trying to fit in with "the guys", there wouldn't be any issues. I've learned to swear fluently, laugh at filthy jokes, and how to stand up for myself when I think I'm getting a raw deal -- without forgetting how to act like a lady when the situation calls for it. It's been a good career, so far, and I've found that I get almost no harassment from the guys in the industry (and that's customers, suppliers, and colleagues, by the way) -- with only one or two exceptions in that 20 years, these guys are decent and have treated me as an equal, whether on a construction site, on a factory floor, or in a boardroom.

    But. (there's always one of those, isn't there?) That does not apply to fellow travelers.

    I learned very early in my career that I cannot go to the bar and have a drink -- either at the bar or at a table -- whether that bar is in the hotel or down the street. Evolution has not progressed far enough that I, as an unaccompanied woman, can go unwind after a miserable day (or celebrate after a good one). There is, without fail, some lunkhead (I almost said Neanderthal, but I think even the Geico caveman would have better manners) who thinks that I am looking for a good time and refuses to leave me alone, even when I have my nose buried in a book/newspaper/magazine, I tell him I'm not interested, I turn down the drink brought over by the bartender, and often even after I tell him flat out to go away and leave me alone. I just gave up and quit going to the bar years ago.

    I could tell you all sorts of stories about despicable behavior from men who simply cannot fathom that an unaccompanied woman is not by definition lonely and in need of companionship (knocks on the door of my calls...etc., etc) ...but it's not the point.

    It would be really nice to have a floor of a hotel where I wouldn't have to worry about who's in the elevator with me....who's in the hallway watching what room I enter...and where I could just go, sit down and relax with a drink without anybody chatting me up.

    What's disgusting is that in 2007 that's still an issue.

    By the way -- I'm not paranoid nor overly sensitive -- I've traveled all over the world by myself, without any sense of danger -- and these issues are far worse in the US than in most parts of the world (but not all, I'm quick to add). I'm also not so conceited as to think I'm that irresistible -- I'm attractive, but dismissed the whole beauty queen concept long ago.

    Just some thoughts from the other side of this issue.

    Thanks again for all the great insight -- I still find things regularly that make me say "Aha" -- or remind of things that are important to keep in mind about dealing with consumers -- concepts that far transcend the particularly industry one is working in.

    Our pleasure.

    We noted that while we thought women need to be safe, we might be annoyed if we got to a hotel, had a reservation, but were denied a room because the only rooms left were on the women-only floor.

    MNB user Carrie McDonald wrote:

    I'm not so sure this is a discrimination issue as much as a safety issue. The reality is that women tend to be targets for various reasons that don't need to be rehashed. As a female frequent traveler I would appreciate the efforts of Marriott to be aware and concerned for my safety. The added benefit of specific amenities tailored towards women's a nice touch.

    As for room availability, I'm guessing you would rather know that your wife/mother/daughter/sister etc. has a safe place to stay while away from home. I am sure Marriott would do their best to accommodate you at another of their facilities.

    Irritating, probably. Worth it, I would think so.

    And MNB user Steve Sullivan chimed in:

    What to do if there is only 'women only' rooms left? You could always go the "Bosom Buddies" route (Reference Tom Hanks/Peter Scolari). But I don't know if you should use the Buffy or Hildy outfit.

    Geez. Now I can't get the picture of KC in a blonde bob wig out of my head.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    AMSTERDAM -- I’ve been in this city for about four days and most of it, I’m afraid, has been spent work. I expect no sympathy; better to be working in Amsterdam than a lot of other places in the world. But I did have the chance on Thursday to spend a bit of time wandering this absolutely beautiful city.

    The Anne Frank House was, as one would expect, both sobering and heartbreaking. Though I have to admit to feeling uplifted in a way I didn’t expect. Throughout the visit, there are words from Ann Frank’s diary placed in strategic corners of the house, and I found it heartening that such a young person could have such a clear vision and voice about what was going on around her. And yet, she always was a little girl; in one entry, she says about her spice-making father, “If you’re going to be in the food business, why not make candy?”

    Good question, and one of many from her experience and ultimate death that go unanswered. Human butchery hasn’t changed all that much. It’s just gotten more sophisticated.

    I also very much enjoyed the Van Gogh museum, seeing both paintings I was familiar with and quite a few that I was not; I know precious little about art, but there is something exciting about being able to see the slightly raised paint from a brush stroke, to know that art has both tangible and intangible value. And, there was the Heineken brewery, a must-see when one goes to Amsterdam…not a great museum, but there’s more than enough beer served to make up for it.

    The food here has been wonderful. The other night, I had the opportunity to join a number of Spar executives at Vermeer Restaurant, where the food and wine was just breathtakingly good. We started with a salted codfish mousse drizzled with olive oil, then had a mussel served with goat cheese, a cherry tomato and basil. Our next course was skate (the fish) served on a bed of crab, peas and gnocchi, and then the main course was Spanish pork loin served with pureed red peppers. It was just unbelievable…as were the wines that accompanied the meal. We started with 2005 Chateau Saint Roseline from Provence, which was mostly from a grape I didn’t know called La Rolle (so the sommelier told me), and then the pork was served with 1999 Chateau Musar, which was utterly delicious and perfect – robust without being too heavy. Dessert (yes, it kept coming) was this amazing pumpkin crème mousse served with meringue…which doesn’t sound like it should work, but let me assure you, it did.

    Almost as good, by the way, have been the pancakes that are far less expensive and available, it seems, on almost every street corner. They’re not like the pancakes we’re used to at home – they’re sort of like a cross between a crepe and a flat crust pizza. But I had one with apple that was really good, and another made with cheese, mushrooms, onions and tomatoes that was even better.

    I also have to say that I really, really like this city. The light rail system that moves people around the city seems extremely effective and ought to be adapted by other cities facing overcrowding issues. The bike paths are wonderful, the canals are picturesque, and the people, best I could tell, seemed extremely friendly. And there was just a relaxed feel about things, with people hanging out on stoops and at tables bordering the canals, reading the paper, chatting up friends, having a glass of wine or a beer. Just lovely.

    Let’s see. What else can I tell you about Amsterdam?

    Oh yeah. The Red Light district.

    It is, to say the least, unusual. For one thing, it is integrated right into the city – bordered on one side by what looks like Chinatown, and on the other by perfectly nice-looking apartment buildings. My hotel, which is very nice, is just a block and a half away. And there it is, several blocks featuring windows and glass doors behind which are women offering themselves for carnal purposes at a price. (How’s that for being euphemistic?)

    Now, I have to tell you. I’d estimate that about 50 percent of the women are pretty repulsive looking, and another 40 percent are somewhere between not-so-repulsive and halfway decent. The other 10 percent, to be honest, actually are cute.

    Depraved, somehow, seems like the wrong word to describe it all. Sad, maybe. Tawdry. Depressing. I don’t know. Maybe depraved is the right word. But to be fair about it, the gangs of guys who were walking the streets, stalking the windows, seemed a lot more depraved.

    I will tell you this. Some of the girls really seemed to understand marketing, though many did not. The latter were easy to spot – they be hanging out, smoking, talking on a cell phone, not really making eye contact. But the smart ones – and the ones who seemed to be making all the money – were the ones who…let’s see, what’s the best way to put this…”worked it” a little bit. I particularly enjoyed watching the ones who would wash their windows to make sure they could be seen clearly. That’s smart merchandising.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sanctioning either the lifestyle or the career choice. But an Amsterdam hooker who washes her windows to make sure she can be seen clearly? That strikes me as someone who, given other choices, might be good at a lot of other things.

    One other note. This must be a good city in which to operate a food store. Because it is the only place I can remember where, having walked down certain streets and breathed in certain aromas, I got back to my hotel with a case of the munchies.

    I’m probably in all sorts of trouble now with all sorts of readers, so I’m just going to stop and move onto other subjects…

    I don’t know why, but I was fascinated by the story this week about how scientists have discovered a breed of female shark that can breed without the help of a male shark.

    Maybe because it reminded me of a girl I dated in college.

    And maybe because it seems like a good reminder for all of us guys that we’re expendable. First, women start getting hotel floors all for themselves. Before you know it, they won’t even need us to propagate the species.

    If we’re not nice to them, they’re going to turn on us. It’s going to be all over, and it isn’t going to be pretty.

    Could it be? “Star Wars” premiered 30 years ago today.

    I remember exactly where I saw it on that first weekend – in Westwood, California, where the lines snaked around the block.

    The funny thing is, I could’ve seen a preview. I was working as the film critic for the Loyola Marymount University newspaper, and I was invited to an advance screening. I remember looking at the invitation and wondering what the hell Alec Guinness was doing in what clearly looked like a cheesy science fiction flick.

    Boy, did I get that one wrong.

    I had a chance to read “The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel,” by Robert Crais, on the plane, and liked it enough to recommend it to folks who have enjoyed Crais’ Elvis Cole mysteries. Pike is Cole’s quiet sidekick in those books (think Hawk from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels), and in this one, Crais has decided to flesh out what makes him tick. It works in some ways, but it also diminishes some of Pike’s aura of invincibility. Cole fans will like the book, but newcomers to the series may not get it. (Go back instead and read the Cole series from the beginning. It’s good stuff.)

    That’s it for this week…
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 25, 2007

    Monday is celebrated as Memorial Day here in the US, the de facto beginning of summer and a day that seems to take on a great deal more meaning at a time when so many American soldiers are putting their lives at risk on foreign soil. It also is a holiday – which means that I’ll be taking the day off to spend some time with the family, attend the local parade, cook a few burgers on the Weber, and maybe catch up on some sleep.

    MNB will be back Tuesday morning, May 28.

    Have a great weekend.

    KC's View: