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    Published on: February 14, 2008

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    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, now available on iTunes and sponsored by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    I am reporting to you today from Amsterdam, where more than 500 people have converged for the annual CIES Global Food Safety Conference. This is the third of these meetings that I’ve attended, and it is a measure of how important food safety is that the number of people showing up seems to grow each year.

    This year, there is a broad representation of American delegates, which I think is a positive sign. Sometimes, we Americans tend to think of ourselves as better than everyone else, not needing to interact with or take guidance from our brethren from other countries. But that’s changing…and one of the things I’ll be doing today is moderating a panel of US food retailers talking about American attitudes toward food safety and how we need to be more global in our mindset and approach to this important issue. The panel will include executives from Wal-Mart, Hannaford Supermarkets, ShopRite, Supervalu and Amazon.com – a remarkable cross section of people, all of whom will have unique takes on the food safety challenge.

    I also had the opportunity to produce a video that will be shown at the conference. Underwritten by JohnsonDiversey, the video consists of a series of interviews with influential senior executives on both the retail and supplier side. When you’re in the corner office, balancing a lot of critical issues, food safety is just one part of your portfolio, albeit a foundational issue on which the whole enterprise depends. And we wanted to get a sense of what these executives were thinking, what their perspectives were.

    For example, Bill McEwan, president and CEO of Sobeys, stressed the importance not just of information, but of how food safety dovetails with a wide range of issues.

    “I don’t know when it’s going to happen but I think this issue of trust and confidence is going to go beyond food safety and security,” he said. “It’s going to extend to corporate social responsibility and ethical sourcing and people’s notion of not just how safe is our product but how is it produced; where was it produced and what are the factors behind it. It’s like these four roads heading into a traffic circle. When we get to the traffic circle there better be some sort of organizing mechanism to process all this information of trust or the industry is going to have real big challenges.”

    Some of this was echoed by Jose Luis Duran, chairman of Carrefour, the world’s second largest retailer. Duran told me that the key challenge for food retailers is “to get closer and closer to the source of the products themselves.” Even in an era of mass and global procurement, and perhaps because it is an era of mass and global procurement, retailers have both a control and training responsibility when dealing with suppliers.

    I was intrigued by something that Dick Boer, CEO of Ahold Europe, said to me – that food safety challenges have become far more complicated because grocers want to offer customers the same products all year round – including seasonal products, like strawberries or grapes. “So you have to buy them all over the globe, to follow summer,” he said. Which makes me wonder if, in the desire to satisfy customers, the food industry also has created unreasonable expectations that have resulted in formidable challenges that can never completely be resolved.

    A couple of other intriguing comments that are on the video…

    Gareth Ackerman, chairman of Pick n Pay in South Africa, suggested that “food safety is also a bit of a demographic issue. And the higher up you are on the food chain the more of an issue it is. The lower down you are it becomes far more of a, ‘how can you feed your family as cheaply as possible as well as possible.’” He’s not suggesting that food safety isn’t important to poor people….just that they have other concerns and are even more dependent on retailers and manufacturers living up to their end of the deal.

    On the issue of communicating with customers, here’s what Pierre Olivier Beckers, CEO of the Delhaize Group, had to say: “If we do it in a positive way; if we do it in a consistent and a coherent way, I think we should speak every day, every hour of the day to consumers, making information available. And then that trust factor will go up, not overnight but in time.”

    And E. Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola, told me: “The reality is that as food has gotten safer, as companies have become more socially responsible our consumers are demanding even more from all of us. The bar keeps getting raised literally every day and that’s really the biggest thing to challenge.”

    Mike Duke, the vice chairman of Wal-Mart, agreed: “I believe that the quality of safety efforts today among retailers and suppliers is at a much higher standard than in the past,” he told me. “We all deliver safer food today than ever before but the consumer has higher expectations than ever before.”

    It’s true. The bar keeps rising, and consumer expectations keep growing. But communication is the key…with suppliers and retailers and consumers all part of the information chain that is the strength, the integrity of the food business.

    Sobey’s Bill McEwan said it: “Communication isn’t communication until both sides get it.” But I would amend that to, “Communication isn’t communication until all sides get it.”

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that 28 Georgia school districts “have put on hold 178,000 pounds of beef that came from a California slaughterhouse under federal investigation for allegations that it processed cattle at higher risk of mad cow disease.

    Those animals, known as downer cattle because they are unable to walk, are banned from the food supply.”

    So far there is no evidence that the downer cattle had mad cow disease, though the paper notes that “some of the beef, which is used in everything from spaghetti sauce to taco fillings, was served to students before the agriculture department placed an administrative hold on the meat on Jan. 30.”

    About 10 days ago, the Los Angeles Times reported 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 … 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.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that just as men are from mars and women are from venue, they also have different approaches to watching online video.

    Women, according to a study by Nielsen Online, prefer to watch network television on the web, while men like to watch user-created content.

    “At the same time, on user-generated media sites, such as YouTube, men 18 to 34 years old were more than twice as likely as women in the same age group to watch videos. That may be because the content and programming now available on user-generated sites consists mostly of short, humor-driven clips that appeal more to young, male audiences,” the Journal writes.

    And, according to the story, “Online-video viewing has become a standard Web activity -- Nielsen Online says 73% of active Web users watched online video in December – but marketers are eager for more information about viewership patterns to help them decide how to advertise alongside this content.”

    KC's View:
    For retailers considering the use of video on their websites, this strikes me as good information to have – especially if the video is designed to target one gender or the other.

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    The Nielsen Company has released a new study saying that more than 85 percent of the world’s population has made a purchase online – a figure that increases the global online shopping market by 40 percent over just the past two years.

    South Korea is the nation with the greatest Internet penetration- 99 percent of its citizens with Internet access have used it to shop, and almost eight out of ten have bought something online during the past month,

    In the UK, 76 percent of residents with Internet access have made online purchases, compared to 67 percent of Swiss citizens and 57 percent of Americans.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Amazon.com is prepared to fight efforts by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer “to require out-of-state online companies to collect New York state sales tax on goods they send to addresses in New York -- the most recent cash-strapped state to propose the tax.”

    According to the story, “Spitzer estimates in his budget that the state would gain $47 million by requiring Internet giants such as Amazon.com to collect state sales tax. If that portion of the budget is passed, retailers will start being required to collect the taxes.”

    The story notes that “New Yorkers are currently on an honor system to report their online spending when they file their state tax returns.”

    This would be a radical departure from anything that's being done anywhere in the country," says Paul Misener, Amazon's vice president of global public policy, noting that California, Michigan, North Carolina and Texas have considered similar plans, but abandoned the idea.

    KC's View:
    As a consumer, I hate the idea. But I have to admit that there is part of me that thinks we may be past the point where e-commerce needs to nurtured by a system that exempts it from sales taxes.

    But I still hate the idea.

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    • Anheuser-Busch announced that it plans to roll out a new beer - Bud Light with lime. The company said that the product has been two years in the making, and is not a response to Miller’s introduction last year of Miller Chill, which is a lime-and-salt flavored lager.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    • The Coca-Cola Co. reported that its Q4 profit grew 79 percent to $1.21 billion, from $678 million during the same period a year ago. Quarterly operating revenue grew to $7.33 billion from the prior year's $5.93 billion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 14, 2008

    …will return.
    KC's View: