retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced yesterday that it will require suppliers of its private label and other food products such as produce, meat, fish, poultry and ready-to-eat foods to have their factories certified against one of the internationally recognized Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) standards.”

    According to a press release issued by Wal-Mart yesterday, “A group of major international retailers committed to strengthening consumer confidence in the food they purchase, the GFSI now lists Wal-Mart among the companies who have agreed to improve food safety through a higher and consistent auditing standard.

    “Selected by CIES, the Food Business Forum, to safeguard and ensure high quality in the international food supply chain, GFSI standards provide real time details on where suppliers fall short in food safety on a plant-by-plant basis, and go beyond the current FDA or USDA required audit process. Under the GFSI program, producers of Wal-Mart and Sam's Club private label and other foods sold in the U.S. must be audited by independently trained, approved and licensed auditors who are experts in their industry … The GFSI requires food suppliers to achieve factory audit certification against one of its recognized standards, which include Safe Quality Food (SQF), British Retail Consortium (BRC), International Food Standard (IFS), or an equivalent such as Global GAP. Wal-Mart has published a schedule to suppliers requiring completion of initial certification between July and December of 2008, with full certification required by July 2009. Audits will be completed by approved third party auditing companies.”

    At last June’s CIES annual World Food Business Summit in Shanghai, Wal-Mart was one of seven global retailers announcing that they had come to an agreement to adhere to GFSI standards. The others were Carrefour, Tesco, Metro, Migros, Ahold and Delhaize.

    The agreement was described as a “breakthrough” that marked “a step change in the orientation of GFSI. The group will now concentrate on the application of the schemes by examining auditor competence, along with upcoming issues such as food security and food safety in emerging markets.”

    The CIES-led GFSI initiative was set up in 2000 to pursue continuous improvement in global food safety systems, cost efficiency in the supply chain, and above all safer food for consumers worldwide.

    KC's View:
    This sort of global approach to food safety, coming at a time when global sourcing has become both ubiquitous and troubling, is critical.

    FYI…CIES is holding its annual Global Food Safety Conference in Amsterdam next week, with more than 560 delegates from 45 countries scheduled to attend. MNB will be there to cover the proceedings…and I will have the opportunity to present a video that I produced about how CEOs from virtually every major global food retailer views food safety issues, as well as to moderate a panel discussion on the subject that will include executives from Wal-Mart, Hannaford Supermarkets, ShopRite, Supervalu and (I can't wait – this is a great group of people that I expect to be both illuminating and provocative.)

    I have no idea of there is any room left for new attendees, but if you are interested in finding out more about whjat is shaping up to be a terrific conference, go to:

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    In the age of information, is it possible that people know both too much and too little? And, if so, is the role of the industry changing forever?

    If not, it should.

    This came through to me recently while out supermarket shopping. A woman nearby announced to her husband that she wanted to make certain she avoided any foods with GMOs in them.

    I couldn’t resist. “What’s a GMO?, “ I asked politely. She looked at me quizzically and then admitted she didn’t know. It didn’t make a difference though; she didn’t want them in her food.

    Had this woman been anyone other than my sister, I might have dropped the conversation. “If you don’t know what they are, how do you know they aren’t good for you?” I had to ask.

    At that point my sister promised to slug me. Yet the exchange bothered me for bigger reasons. My sister is knowledgeable, well educated and articulate. I expected her to respond to my first question with a detailed explanation of why she avoids GMOs. Instead, she avoids GMOs without a clue that they stand for genetically modified organisms. She avoids them because she heard she should.

    Later that week, I caught an ever-present “info-mercial” on television. It featured Kevin Trudeau hawking another one of his books that promise to blow the cover off all health, wellness, nutritional and whatever secrets. I suggest you Google “Kevin Trudeau scam” to get a sense of just how completely unqualified he is to write any of those books, but he writes them, sells them and…people buy them and believe them. Nature abhors a vacuum. So, apparently does information.

    I’m no scientist, but I can understand a lot of reasons why GMOs could be beneficial, especially in helping us develop crops that are healthier and less damaging to the environment. And I can understand the concerns. I can see why cloning could help provide better food supplies for our changing world. And I can see why they frighten people and raise a wide range of questions. These are complex issues that deserve, but rarely get, knowledgeable debate.

    Without information from trusted sources, reasoned debate loses. When the government pronounces cloned animals fit for the food supply without promising education or labeling, the forces of ignorance get all the ammunition to control the debate. Shoppers can logically ask, if cloning is so good, why wouldn’t they tell us? It’s a compelling question with no answer.

    It’s not just about controversial issues. Without balanced information on healthier eating, wellness and the world of choices, the information vacuum can get filled in very strange ways. Whether we like it or not, the world has changed and the consumer expectations of the food industry have changed with it.

    Forty years ago, the supermarket could proudly proclaim it was the purchasing agent for the consumer and could make it work. After all, that’s what stores did. They winnowed the choices for the shopper, provided ample supplies of those choices and grew to success. It’s a role the industry has to this very day.

    Next, the store became the extension of the home kitchen moving full force into step saving methods to make mealtime easier than ever for time-pressed shoppers. It’s a movement that continues to this day in each and every section of the store.

    Today it seems the industry (not just the store) is moving into a new era. Now information is king and the industry has to decide how to become the trusted “purchasing agent of information.” That means telling the good and the bad (think of Hannaford’s Guiding Stars); it means providing the details on what matters. It means explaining sourcing and science. It means becoming a partner to give nutritional information to today’s health-worried shopper.

    It won’t be an easier than the previous turns of the evolutionary wheel, but the time for this new role is here. And the industry can’t seize it quickly enough or we run the risk that other voices will drown out ours.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    The Seattle Post intelligencer has a report about the Bush administration’s final budget submission, which totals $3 trillion and is largely expected to result in the largest-ever budget deficit in the history of the US.

    Some industry-relevant excerpts from the coverage:

    • “The Bush budget … would cut the budget for the Health and Human Services Department by $2 billion, or 3 percent. By contrast, the Pentagon would get a $35 billion increase to $515 billion for core programs, with war costs additional.”

    • “The Food and Drug Administration would receive a 6 percent boost to ramp up food and drug safety efforts.”

    • “The Health and Human Services Department reductions would be in addition to almost $200 billion in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid over the next five years that administration officials acknowledge are in Bush's budget. Much of the savings would come from freezing reimbursement rates for most health care providers for three years.

    “Within HHS programs, Bush would cut a $302 million program that gives grants to children's hospitals to subsidize medical education. A $300 million program for public health improvement projects would be eliminated, while grants to improve health care in rural areas would be cut by 87 percent.”

    • “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's budget would face a 7 percent cut, $433 million. The National Institutes of Health, which funds health research grants, would see its budget frozen at $29.5 billion.”

    Responding to the budget proposal, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) issued the following statement by Cal Dooley, GMA president and CEO:

    “The food industry has made significant new investments in food safety to meet the challenges of today’s evolving global market and we are doing our part to ensure consumers have full confidence in the safety of the foods they buy. Now, Congress must make a commensurate investment in FDA's food-related programs so that the FDA has the resources it needs to fulfill its critical food safety mission.

    “The President's proposal to increase FDA food-related spending by $32 million does little more than cover the cost of inflation and falls short of what is ultimately needed to make certain FDA has the tools it needs to get the job done. However, we are confident that Congress will provide the necessary resources to rebuild FDA's scientific capacity … . Like national defense, highways and bridges, food safety is a benefit every American has a right to expect.”

    KC's View:
    I understand that there are competing priorities here, and only so much money. But GMA is right – Americans have a right to expect that their government will meet its responsibilities when it comes to food safety.

    Once again, by the way, Wal-Mart has demonstrated in its embrace of GFSI that it is willing to go where the government will not, and to stay ahead of the action. The same goes for companies such as Delhaize, Ahold and Tesco with their various US operations.

    Check out our next story…

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    USA Today has a story about food safety in which it emphasizes consumer concerns and the industry’s seeming inability to come to grips with elements of it.

    “The number of outbreaks and cases of food-borne illness almost doubled in the United States between 1995 and 2000,” the paper reports. “In 1995, officials recorded 13,497 cases of food-related illness from 645 outbreaks; in 2000, there were 26,043 cases from 1,417 outbreaks. By 2005, however, the numbers had dipped a bit: There were 20,179 cases from 982 outbreaks.

    But the types of outbreaks are now far more varied, due in large part to Americans' growing appetite for raw fruits and vegetables, which can harbor dangerous bacteria.

    Outbreaks of Listeria, a bacterium found in raw foods, have declined, while incidents of salmonella infection have stayed relatively flat. But infection with E. coli, the dangerous bacteria that can show up in undercooked ground beef as well as dairy and vegetable products, which dropped dramatically in 2003 and 2004, is rising again — and it's showing up in unexpected foods, such as spinach.”

    In fact , USA Today points out, “It is the variety of outbreaks that most troubles the scientists and government health officials who deal with them: Many of the contaminations are showing up in foods never before associated with poisoning.

    "’It's been a little bit of a roller coaster the past 10 years,’ said Dr. Robert Tauxe, deputy director of the division of food-borne bacterial and mycotic diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ‘I am struck that I am seeing new food vehicles. New foods are a problem. Spinach was a new one. And peanut butter, there's a surprise. Also the Veggie Booty, or vegetarian snack food.’

    “Not only are scientists puzzled about how such staples became tainted, but they are concerned that U.S. health officials need to do a better job of pinpointing potential sources of contamination before unsafe food winds up on supermarket shelves.”

    And here’s the conclusion from USA Today: “The whole food production system has grown increasingly concentrated, overwhelmingly complex, and — paradoxically — at times fragmented. At the same time, critics charge, U.S. government oversight is not adequate.”

    KC's View:
    It is not a coincidence that this morning’s three big stores, plus Michael Sansolo’s column, all have something to do with food safety and food credibility.

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    • The Charlotte Observer reports on the growth in popularity of private label foods, which “have grown beyond basic staples such as eggs and milk to such foods as gourmet salsa and organic salad dressing. Experts say the exclusive store brands could become even more popular among consumers this year as higher food prices and a sluggish economy have shoppers looking for ways to trim grocery bills.”

    And, the story notes, “Last year, 41 percent of shoppers polled said they frequently buy store brands, up from 36 percent five years ago, according to the association. The growing confidence in private label products comes at a time when consumer grocery store visits are declining overall.” The numbers are expected to increase as the economy continues to suffer.

    • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city council there is considering “an ordinance that would require all chain restaurants with 14 or more outlets in the state to post calorie content on their menu boards. They also would be required to add to each printed menu the amount of calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates and sodium for each menu item … It's likely to pass in San Francisco, where health-consciousness approaches religion and bashing chain businesses is about as politically safe as introducing a Mother's Day resolution would be anywhere else.”

    According to the Chronicle, the “measure is almost identical to state legislation that was vetoed last year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. A similar ordinance takes effect in Seattle this August, and another is being drafted in Santa Clara County.”

    The Associated Press reports that Unilever-owned Ben & Jerry’s Homemade has joined a national campaign designed to prevent some states from passing legislation that would stop manufacturers from labeling products as being free of synthetic hormones.

    According to the story, critics say is a restrictions are being “driven by Monsanto Co., which markets recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, also known as recombinant bovine growth hormone, or rBGH.”

    Brand Week reports that Kellogg’s is introducing Frosted Flakes Gold, a whole grain version of its longtime popular cereal. This is the second time that Kellogg’s has attempted such a version – the first, Tiger Power, was launched in 2005 and barely lasted a year.

    However, Brand Week notes that Tiger Power “was positioned as a rival to Cheerios and targeted at mothers of toddlers, Gold is aimed at older kids. The key selling point: The complex carbohydrates in whole grains provide longer-lasting energy. Kellogg is associating the brand with sports to underscore the claim. An online campaign includes a partnership with ESPN.”

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that the German government has released figures saying that the amount of beer sold in Germany last year fell to the lowest point since 1993 -- dropping 2.7 percent to 22 billion pints. The figures reflect a trend that has been taking place for more than a decade, probably because of increased health consciousness on the part of the German population.

    KC's View:
    I’m going to be in Munich in June…I’ll do my best to help out with the whole beer thing.

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    • Walgreens reported that January sales of $4,955,950,000, an increase of 9.6 percent from $4,521,192,000 for the same month in 2007. Same-store sales were up 3.8 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced yesterday that Deborah White, the organization’s vice president and general counsel for regulatory affairs, have been promoted to be chief legal officer and senior vice president.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 5, 2008

    MNB reported yesterday on a Los Angeles Times story saying that “the California Department of Education on Thursday urged all schools in the state to temporarily strike from the menu any item containing ground beef, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated claims that Hallmark Meat Packing butchered so-called downer cattle that are too weak to walk.

    “A video released Wednesday by the Humane Society of the United States showed workers at Hallmark dragging downed animals by their legs or using forklifts and water hoses to force weak cattle to their feet, prompting the federal investigation.

    “The USDA banned "non-ambulatory" cattle from the human food supply last year because inability to walk may be a sign of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.”

    And I commented: It is shocking to think that there could be more cases of mad cow disease out there than the government has said there are. The big victim in this, as always, will be consumer confidence.

    MNB user Angela Trauth responded:

    What is even more shocking here is your total disregard for Humane Society report on the suffering enduring by the cattle with this type of inhumane treatment of "downer" animals. You only seemed to be concerned about consumer confidence in the meat industry and make no mention of the animal cruelty allegations. This is not the first time I've seen a blatant disregard for balancing economic concerns with concerns for humane treatment of animals.

    I am not some animal rights "nut", but am a thinking, caring human being that believes we can have both humane treatment of animals married with successfully business models - look at the recent example set by Chipotle for their meat purchasing policies.

    I'm unsubscribing to your newsletter. Your lack of character in this area speaks volumes to me.

    Well, I guess I should have described her as former MNB user Angela Trauth.

    Maybe I was being insensitive in responding to one facet of the story and not the animal rights issue. But I’m not sure that I have anything to apologize for or defend here, though I will admit to ranting more about consumer confidence than animal cruelty.

    Ironically, my position on this issue is pretty well described by the following sentence:

    I am not some animal rights "nut", but am a thinking, caring human being that believes we can have both humane treatment of animals married with successfully business models - look at the recent example set by Chipotle for their meat purchasing policies.

    In fact, MNB has consistently lauded Chipotle for its practices over the years.

    However, Angela, I am glad you wrote … because you made a point that needed to be made, and I never object when someone wants to raise my consciousness – on any issue.

    We’ll miss you.

    KC's View: