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    Published on: January 25, 2008

    Supported by the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and Consumers Union (CU), California
    State Senator Carol Migden has introduced a bill that would require all food products from cloned animals and their offspring to display clear and prominent labeling.

    The legislation is a direct response to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruling earlier this month that milk and meat from cloned animals or their progeny are indistinguishable from traditionally meat and milk, and therefore safe for human consumption and do not need to be labeled as such.

    “The federal agency charged with protecting our food supply has failed us,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director of the Center for Food Safety. “Consumers have the right to know that the meat and milk they feed their children is safe. Since FDA refuses to wait for science to show what's really happening with cloned animals, it is now up to individual states to protect consumers and their families. The Senator’s labeling bill will protect Californians through labeling, which restores consumer confidence and choice.”

    Last year Senator Migden authored a similar bill that was passed by the entire California legislature but vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. “It is our hope that the legislature will stand behind this bill. Its passage is needed now more than ever since the FDA has cleared the way for food from cloned animals to enter the market unlabeled,” said Elisa Odabashian, director of Consumers Union’s West Coast office. “We also hope that when this bill arrives on the Governor’s desk he will show his commitment to consumer choice and sign the bill.”

    KC's View:
    Agree with this bill or not, it seems to me that the broader implication of this suit is the erosion of consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply…just as I believe that resistance to complete and transparent labeling serves only as a message to consumers that food producers have something to hide.

    If this bill becomes law in California, expect the FDA to work overtime to prevent it being implemented.

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    The Yakima Herald-Republic has a piece about how “Washington fresh fruit growers have some new things to worry about: the type of seat that packing-line sorters sit on, how to protect plants and wetlands, and what to do when their pet dog poops in the orchard.” Such things have to be attended to, the paper notes, if farmers and producers are to have access to many markets.

    “European and U.S. retailers increasingly are making these types of demands as part of the growing consumer drive for improved food safety and labor conditions,” he paper writes. “Everyone in the industrial chain, from producers to retailers, agrees that these issues are becoming critical” in an era when consumer confidence in the food supply is on the decline.

    The Herald-Republic writes: “The fresh fruit industry is pushing for a commodity-specific, scientifically based program that has some uniformity. For one thing, growers and shippers want a program that takes into account the fact that fruit is grown on trees, not on the ground, and thus requires different standards from ground grown lettuce, spinach and the other vegetable crops where problems have occurred.

    “Nevertheless, fresh produce industry leaders anticipate regulatory pressures to increase. They expect a drive in the next presidential administration to create a superagency on food safety. Such a move is expected to pull together elements from several existing federal agencies to better coordinate protecting the food supply. This year, a move to boost funding for the beleaguered Food and Drug Administration is expected.”

    KC's View:
    I’m not entirely sure that the next administration – whether Democratic or Republican – is going to make food safety the kind of priority that some would like. After all, it doesn’t exactly seem to be a big discussion point in any of the campaigns; I haven't seen all the debates, but I don't recall it even being discussed in those that I have seen.

    Still, I would like to see a so-called “superagency” … but only if it doesn’t just cobble together the mistakes and inefficiencies of the past.

    I want to believe. Really, I do. But I don't have a lot of confidence.

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    USA Today reports that the nation's unchecked diabetes epidemic –there are more than one million new cases each year, of the disease, which can lead to kidney failure, blindness and death - “exacts a heavy financial toll as well: $174 billion a year.

    That's about as much as the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the global war on terrorism combined. It's more than the $150 billion in damage caused by Hurricane Katrina.” And, according to the paper, the American Diabetes Association now says that “the cost of diabetes — both in direct medical care and lost productivity — has swelled 32% since 2002.”

    Because of these high costs, diabetes is expected to have an enormous impact not just on the health care system, but on the companies that employ people who contract diabetes and the state and local economies that have to support the care of many diabetics.
    KC's View:
    One of the things that the story makes clear is that routine care and maintenance of people with diabetes isn’t the real cost, but rather the uncontrolled diabetes that afflicts many Americans.

    Michael Sansolo and I recently did a presentation together in which we ended up having a discussion with several retailers about the opportunities inherent in marketing products to people with diabetes, and the more we talked, the more sensible it sounded. Once again, it presents the opportunity to be more than just a source of product, but to be a resource of information for the consumer.

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    In a presentation to investors and analysts yesterday, Supervalu chairman/CEO Jeff Noddle said, “We have delivered strong financial performance while transforming the company for the future. We are executing our plans to generate long term profitable growth which includes delivering improved sales, allocating capital to fund our business opportunities, and improving our overall financial condition.”

    Noddle also said that the company’s stores that have been remodeled as part of the Premium Fresh & Healthy program are generating good results with healthy sales increases well above overall identical store sales growth. Noddle said, “We are pleased with our early remodel performance and plan to maintain our commitment to the important remodel program, increasing our major remodels in fiscal 2009 to 165 stores, up from fiscal 2008’s 125 store remodels.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    The New York Times this morning reports that the US Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to “post inspectors to embassies and consulates throughout the developing world in hopes of improving the quality of the food and medicines increasingly flowing to the United States. According to the story, while “the agency already sends inspectors to dozens of countries each year to inspect pharmaceutical plants and clinical trial sites,” the goal now is to be on the ground on an “ongoing and continuous basis rather than episodic and periodic.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    If one thing has become clear in recent months, it is that the coffee wars are just beginning. For a variety of reasons Starbucks seems to be suddenly vulnerable, and both McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts have made clear that they intend to press what they see as their singular advantages in going after coffee drinkers. And then, there are the challenges to some of Starbucks’ upscale competitors, which suddenly are facing an even tougher marketplace for their brands.

    It is a battle that is likely to get a lot of attention in the media, both free and paid, as all these companies look for every possible marketing advantage. For example…

    Advertising Age has an interview with Will Kussell, president/chief brand officer at Dunkin’ Donuts, who described how the company is engaging Starbucks – and other competitors – in the brewing coffee wars.


    On Dunkin’s customers… “Our consumer is mainstream American. We have a very broad demographic. We equally index across all income levels; male and female is very balanced.”

    On brand positioning… “We really are the leading beverage authority. Marrying that with our bakery authority, we have a two-fisted punch, and of course it's built on speed of service. We are fast. And the last piece is we're reasonably priced for the quality and service. ... We're typically more reasonably priced than one of our competitors. (But) you've got to educate the consumer on what your brand stands for, because in making the case, some people have a dated perception that we're more oriented toward doughnuts. The big challenge is making them understand that we are a beverage leader.

    On a redesign that is sweeping through the chain… “We try to bring forward the brand and brought in more coffee tones both exterior and interior, more visual merchandising of the espresso area and more comfortable seating. [It] speaks to a more contemporary feel but still captures who we are as an accessible, fun brand. From a visual perspective, we're making the espresso more prominent.”

    Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has an interview with Carl Pennington Sr., the former Albertsons executive who took over as CEO of Tully’s Coffee Co. last week. He’s the sixth person to hold that job at the financially troubled company since 2001.


    On bringing stability to the company… “We have an outstanding brand and good brand recognition due to our strong wholesale presence throughout different retailers in the Western United States. ... It's a matter of getting everyone working on the same projects and making sure we get good tractions. I think we are headed in the right direction … I hope to do that through good management procedures and also by getting out and getting to know the people in the stores and by spending time with them.”

    On the competition… “They are all good competitors. I have a lot of respect for McDonald's particularly. They are good competition, and we have to take a look at all of them but our sales in our retail stores are pretty good. ... I don't want to be cocky, but we haven't seen an impact at this time.”

    On opening shops inside other retailers, such as Albertsons… “We have a great wholesale division. I'm looking for continued good growth there. Going forward we have a good opportunity with retail shops as well. Our biggest thing now is our wholesale division. Our retail stores are located in the right places … I think we will do some of each, no question. That is our plan at the moment. We have had a lot of interest from different retailers on going into their stores…”

    KC's View:
    Fundamentally, Dunkin’ and Tully’s are two very different companies with very different growth trajectories, but it is interesting to compare and contrast their strategic approaches to the current situation…especially in view of the news this week that Starbucks is testing a $1 cup of coffee and free refills in some of its Seattle stores. For both Dunkin’ and Tully, it is all about brand, brand, brand.

    By the way, the more I think about it, the more I think that the $1 coffee is a bad idea for Starbucks to pursue. I much prefer the concept that was, I think, advanced by an MNB use a couple of months ago – that Starbucks could have after-work “happy hours” during which prices could be rolled back, that maybe could feature live music, and that could try and recapture some of the “third place” magic that it may have lost. That would build the brand, not diminish it.

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    • The Detroit Free Press reports that Kroger is ending its service agreement with a Supervalu-owned warehouse in Livonia, Michigan, and instead will shift those operations to its own distribution facility in Delaware, Ohio.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that Dannon is being sued by a California consumer claiming that the company’s advertising of its Activia, Activia Light and DanActive products is misleading and false. “Dannon promotes them as clinically proven to help regulate digestion and boost immunity because they contain bacteria,” the Times writes, but the consumer disputes the claims…and is looking for the company to give refunds to every American who has bought the products.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    • Royal Ahold announced this morning that its Q4 sales rose 0.2 percent, and the company blamed the weakening dollar for the low growth rate. . In the US, Ahold said, sales rose 2 percent to $3.9 billion (US) at its Stop & Shop/Giant chains and 8.6 percent to $1 billion (US) at its Giant-Carlisle chain.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    Got the following email from MNB user Steven Ritchey about yesterday’s piece Wal-Mart’s “manifesto” for the future, which included CEO Lee Scott saying that it is possible that the retailer could end up selling hybrid and electric cars and having charging stations in its parking lots:

    I’m sure there are those who are very cynical about Wal-Mart’s Lee Scott’s remarks about environmental issues and sustainability. I think he is being quite practical and in fact is just following good business practices. While I’ve certainly not been a supporter of Wal-Mart over the years, I think Mr. Scott is being smart about this. If Wal-Mart can dramatically cut the amount of energy it has to purchase, it saves money. It doesn’t matter if the only reason they do it is to save money, the environment doesn’t care, but it does help the environment we live in. If he is doing it for the “right” reasons, so much the better, even if it is only to save money, the end result is till the same.

    MNB user Richard Thorpe wrote:

    Even if Wal-Mart’s sole purpose is “a convenient feint” to deflect criticism – won’t people and the planet be better off. The only reason any company goes green is to make more green (granted there will always be exception(s) that prove the rule). In the long haul those who do go “green” will win out because if they don’t the long haul will be much shorter.

    MNB user Michael Jones wrote:

    I believe that Lee Scott is headed in the right direction. However we as suppliers and manufacturers already produce products of value and importance for consumer consumption. We should not be portrayed as the bad guys. Also a thought on wind energy; Wind turbines are on “blight” on the landscape. They not only ruin the look of the landscape but they ruin the natural value of the free and open land we all love. They are as bad environmentally as the lighting used in parking lots and on store lighted outdoor signage.

    Not everyone agreed, however.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Lee Scott has jumped the shark...

    I would suggest that Lee Scott is probably happy that you think so.

    As for me, I don't think that selling electric cars in any more of a stretch than Wal-Mart wanting to get into the banking business, and I don't think that charging stations in the parking lot is any different than having gas stations.

    It’s all about both seeing – and helping to create – the future.

    By the way, there also was a story about Wal-Mart claiming that the vast majority of its employees have health insurance, which prompted one MNB user to write:

    What a waste of time and money to interview part time associates at Wal-Mart on health care and why they did not take. It is simple; those associates are bottom feeders who take the job not as a career but as a means to work until they find something better or simply for the purpose of material gains through the back door with their friends. Check the studies on internal theft with the turnover rate and the reason codes; think you will find a very high percentage of these associates had no health care benefits.

    A lot of people criticize Wal-Mart for how it deals with its employees. But I would be shocked if anyone at Bentonville headquarters has ever used the term “bottom feeders” to describe the people who work for the company.

    On the subject of a UK effort to simplify its food labeling system and make it more consistent, not to mention making cooking classes mandatory in school, one MNB user wrote:

    Congrats to our British brethren for taking the stomach by the horns.

    Cooking classes in school is a great start, if followed up with nutritional education and tips on being educated shoppers it may actually make a difference. Education is key, but education alone won’t do. Cooking is a skill after all.

    Of course my own point of reference on the matter is highly skewed as I know yours is. We live to eat rather than eat to live. For us foodies it is a passion that transcends survival but aspires for gourmet greatness if not perfection with a sense of adventure, discovery and always an eye toward healthy living. When eating out, it requires that the chef do a better job than I could at home. Others of us eat because we have to, nutrition and sustenance reign supreme and taste is of lesser import. I have a friend in this category who admits to not being a very good cook and really has no interest in it. Still others are struggling to keep two jobs and feed the kids on food stamps and WIC cheese, where culinary adventure is severely limited.

    There was a reference the other day to Tesco and the cooking illiterate. While Tesco may not be the flashy gourmet destination of a Whole Foods, they are capitalizing on the US’s seemingly downward trend in this area.

    I think the UK is doing good, we should be doing the same for our kids.

    In commenting on this story yesterday, I made a crack about how the UK probably wouldn’t allow fast food joints to advertise on report cards, which led one MNB user to write:

    The constant bashing of the whole Happy Meals for grades tirade is growing tiresome. Anyone who gets MNB regularly knows your stance on this issue. I disagree with your stance only because if anything, it’s a four times a year “reward”, “prize”, “gift” or whatever else you want to call it, scheme to get kids to learn. Does it add a few extra calories per visit? Yep. Is it the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children are only in a McDonald’s on an occasional basis? Yep. And as has been argued before, it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure they make good choices for their children’s health and EDUCATE them to make the proper choices. Harp away all you want (as it is your newsletter after all), but from an avid reader, you’re beating a dead horse.

    You make a legitimate point here. Sometimes I do get carried away.

    I would point out that while regular readers of MNB are accustomed to my rants, and probably get tired of them from time to time, the fact is that MNB adds between 75 and 100 new subscribers every week. So I’m always aware that I have to find a balance between new and old members of the MNB community.

    That said, I probably have beaten this dead horse enough. (Though I’m not sure it is dead…because as your letter makes clear, the horse keeps kicking back!)

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 25, 2008

    Two news stories collided last week on “Law & Order,” and the big loser ended up being Wal-Mart.

    “Law & Order” specializes in “ripped from the headlines” stories, and this particular episode stole from two beauts – the court case last year in Washington, DC, when a guy sued a small dry cleaner for millions of dollars after he claimed they lost his pants, and the ongoing story about tainted products being imported from China. I hadn’t seen it, though I had recorded it…and an MNB user encouraged me to watch it, saying she started off amused and ended up horrified.

    In short, a retailer called “Saving$Mart” made the mistake of accidentally importing poisoned toothpaste from China, and then one of its executives – concerned that he would be blamed by the penny-conscious retailer for the mistake and end up losing his job – ended up committing murder, which was covered up by a PR-conscious retailer.

    Sometimes companies worry about what is being said about them on the Internet, but here was an example of a major broadcast network taking a swipe at a barely-disguised Wal-Mart.

    I wonder how much money Wal-Mart spent on commercials aired on NBC during the past year. I wonder how much it will spend in the coming year.

    And I wonder how many other viewers found themselves “horrified.”

    I know convenience is important, but sometimes I have to shake my head.

    For example, the Sydney Morning Herald reported he other day that “convenience is so big in Britain that chains including Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Whole Foods Market, Harrods and Selfridges now stock pre-separated egg whites for those who cannot be bothered - or don't have the time - to separate eggs.”

    What’s next? Pre-boiled water?

    Great political commentary on “The Tony Kornheiser Show” the other day, as Mr. Tony asked the following question about the presidential candidates:

    Is it possible to have tinted hair and still have a message of authenticity?

    Good question.

    “Quantum of Solace”?

    That’s the announced name for the new James Bond movie, scheduled to premiere next November.

    I used to think that the ungrammatical “A View To A Kill” was a lousy title, but this new one has me perplexed…because I have no idea what it means.

    It is, however, the name of a sort story written by Ian Fleming…and I’ll give the producers the benefit of the doubt since the movie is again starring Daniel Craig and is being directed by the highly versatile Marc Forster.

    It’s just hard to imagine what the theme song will sound like. After all, how many words rhyme with “solace”?

    For years, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association have sponsored an advertising campaign using the slogan, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.”

    If memory serves, the original actor who voiced those commercials was James Garner. (Has there ever been a better TV actor than Garner, by the way?) Then, in more recent days, Sam Elliot, who has done so many terrific westerns, has been the voice behind the commercials.

    But in recent days, there’s been a new voice saying, “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” It’s a little more Garner than Elliot, but also a lot younger…and it takes about three seconds to realize that it is Matthew McConaughey. And he’s pretty good at it.

    “Cloverfield” essentially is a “Godzilla” remake that is a very good monster movie. At a little over 80 minutes, it is actually the perfect length for what it is – “Cloverfield” looks like a video shot by an amateur who is witness to the destruction of New York City by a mostly unseen monster. It is never said where the monster came from or what caused its existence; the audience ends up being as confused as the amateur photographer and his friends, who attempt to rescue a friend who is injured and alone, all the while chronicling their trip across town and endeavoring to avoid the monster. “Cloverfield” is very clever…and it is making a lot of money because of young people flocking to it.

    By the way, one of the best things about “Cloverfield” is the trailer that comes right before it – for the new ‘Star Trek” movie scheduled to open on Christmas Day. It is just a teaser trailer…we see the Enterprise being built, and hear Leonard Nimoy (“Spock”) intoning, “Space, the final frontier…”

    I got goosebumps. I got a tear in my eye. And I can't wait.

    Couple of wines for you this week:

    The 2003 Araco Crianza, a delicious rioja wine that I served with this tilapia and tomato dish that I make…and that costs about $13.

    The 2005 Mosaic Malbec, which I opened the other night when I made cioppino for the first time. Both were delicious...and while the Malbec was a little pricey at about $25, it was worth every penny. (And I think it made the cioppino taste even better!)

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.


    KC's View: