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 15, 2008

    Food safety harmonization got a boost this week at the CIES Global Food safety Conference in Amsterdam, where the International Food Standard (IFS) and Safe Quality Food (SQF) certification programs announced their future collaboration on issues like auditor qualifications, selection of accreditation and certification bodies and the connection between the databases.

    “With the harmonisation of the services of the two standard owners, suppliers and retailers will benefit by efficiencies in the system,” said the official statement released by CIES, which owns and manages the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), which is working to bring global standards to the food safety business.

    SQF is the food safety standard developed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) in the US, with over 8.000 certifications per year. IFS is the food safety standard of the German, French, Italian, Austrian, Swiss and Spanish retailers with currently more then 8.500 certifications per year. Both SQF and IFS are part of the broader GFSI.

    KC's View:
    One of the interesting moments here at the CIES conference was listening to a couple of Danone executives discussing their food safety work in Bangladesh, where many people survive on less that $2 per day. In the US, we worry because the economy is going south and we may not be able to afford our $4 lattes.

    This presentation, beyond the technical observations, made a much broader and heartfelt point about the human condition.

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    The Seattle Times reports that has found a new way to make money – by sending people to other retailers’ sites.

    According to the story, “ Inc. is testing a new paid advertising program that will drive shoppers away from products on its own Web site.

    “On some Amazon product detail pages, competing or complementary items and their prices now appear in a list of text-link ads under headings such as ‘Available at these other websites.’ When shoppers click, the advertiser's site opens in a new window. And Amazon makes money for sending the user along - sometimes more than if it had held onto the shopper.”

    KC's View:
    What this really points out is the ultimate power of the shopper these days. Consumers can find out anything about any product, and can use their web-enabled cell phones to compare prices and characteristics of virtually any product. Which means that retailers are going to have to be sharper about their pricing and selection, but also more aggressive and transparent in how they offer relevant information about the products they sell.

    It won’t be enough to just put them on the shelves and sell it. Consumers are going to demand more…and if retailers don't deliver, well, then the shopper is going to find a retailer that will.

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    The Times of London reports that European nations may be forcing a meat shortage because European Union (EU) policies toward the use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients in animal feed have not kept up with demand.

    According to the story, “Shortages in grain for animal feed and soaring prices are wreaking havoc in the livestock sector, causing pig and poultry farmers to reduce their output, according to animal feed compounders and livestock associations.

    “The problem has been identified in an internal European Union report on the effect of EU policy towards the use of GM products in animal feed. A failure by the EU to speed up the approval of GM soya imports will significantly raise meat prices, an outcome that is directly attributable to European policies, the report concludes.”

    And, the story notes: “The emerging crisis over animal feed and meat supply is creating conflict within the European Commission, setting the directorate-general of agriculture against the health and environment directorates, which are responsible for the approval of GM foods … The imported protein feed, mainly soya and corn, is sourced from the United States, Argentina and Brazil. New GM varieties are being developed rapidly, but EU policies have imposed delays of 2 years in the approval of the new GM grains for consumption. Moreover, the EU has adopted a zero-tolerance policy on GM, meaning that a single grain of non-approved GMO in a shipment can render it unfit for use.”

    KC's View:
    One could guess is that this is where the EU – and, more importantly, European citizens – will have to start making some hard decisions about GMOs. (GMOs always have been a lot more controversial in Europe than in the US, where they are hardly a blip on the public’s radar screen.)

    It is all well and good to be anti-GMO, but when it starts affecting the price and availability things like meat, this could be a game-changer.

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    Dow Jones reports that Kroger has reached a tentative agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) for a new contract covering more than 7,500 unionized employees working in 72 stores in Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.

    Terms of the deal, which still needs to be ratified by the employees, were not disclosed.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    The BBC reports that the UK’s Competition Commission may be about to force the nation’s largest supermarket chains “to sell land to allow rivals to open in areas where there is not enough competition,” as a way to “remedy problems it has identified in the UK's grocery market.

    “There could also be a call for an ombudsman to protect food suppliers in any disputes with the big four supermarket chains,” the BBC writes.

    The four chains likely to be affected are Tesco, Wal-Mart’s Asda Group, Sainsbury, and William Morrison Supermarkets, which together account for 76 percent of all UK grocery sales.

    According to the story, “In October, the commission concluded that there were aspects of the grocery market which prevented or restricted competition. It said many people had too few large supermarkets to choose from in their local area, which acted as a barrier to competition.

    “The commission found, for example, that certain retailers hold on to land, which could prevent others from setting up shop nearby.

    “The commission is expected to recommend changes to the planning system to combat this problem. These could involve a limit on the length of time supermarkets can keep undeveloped land and stopping supermarkets from imposing restrictive covenants on land to prevent competitors building on it.

    “Retailers could even be forced to sell stores or land in areas where they are too powerful.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports that The Coca-Cola Co. plans “to eventually recycle or reuse 100 percent of the aluminum beverage cans it sells in America,” compared to the 50 percent of cans that currently are being recycled.

    According to the company, “Recycling aluminum is efficient and requires 95 percent less energy than creating aluminum from raw materials. It also reduces carbon emissions by 95 percent. Coca-Cola said it uses an average 60 percent recycled aluminum in its beverage cans.” The company created Coca-Cola Recycling LLC last year to recover and reuse packaging materials used in the company’s system.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    So it ends up that in the politically correct era in which we now live, even Monty Python has gone through sensitivity training.

    The news was on the wires this week that Python Eric Idle, who created the Broadway show “Spamalot” based on the group’s movie, ‘Monty Python & The Holy Grail,” was changing a lyric that referred to Britney Spears.

    “Because we don't laugh at sad people,” Idle said, noting that “we think that it's now too sad. Britney Spears is being tortured to death and we don't want to be on that side."

    The lyric in question, sung by the Lady in the Lake, used to be:

    “I am sick of my career
    Always stuck in second gear
    Up to here with frustration and with fears
    I've no Grammy, no rewards
    I've no Tony Awards
    I'm constantly replaced by Britney Spears
    Britney Spears!”

    It's been replaced by:

    “My love life is a mess
    I've got constant PMS
    My career is about as hot as ice
    They hate me there backstage
    They say I'm too old for my age
    They're trying to replace me with Posh Spice
    With Posh Spice!!”

    This sort of reminds me of what CBS late night host Craig Ferguson announced some time ago that as a recovered alcoholic, he found it distasteful ad mean to be making jokes about substance abusers…and since Spears is someone with an obvious problem, he would no longer be making jokes about her because it was just too mean.

    I guess this is all a good thing, that people get more sensitive about people’s problems and not make fun of them. Though I think a bit of mockery of public figures is a healthy thing, and I hate it when certain people are declared “off limits.”

    But here’s where I come down on this issue.

    I would find it difficult to make fun of Britney Spears because I know next to nothing about her situation. I know her face has been on a bunch of magazines lately and that she seems to be in a certain amount of trouble. There’s something going on with her kids and her parents, and I remember she sheaved her head sometime back.

    And that is about the extent of my knowledge. I don't read those magazine stories, don't watch those TV shows, and couldn’t give a damn about her personal problems. She is irrelevant to my life, and, in fact, is just plain irrelevant to the culture, at least in my humble opinion.

    If we all spent less time worrying about Britney Spears and more time talking a walk or reading a book or whatever, the world would probably be better off. And I’m just guessing about this, but I suspect that she’d be better off, too.

    “Atonement” is a really good movie. Based on the Ian McEwan novel (which I’ve not read), it essentially is the story of a lie – how a young girl in pre-World War II England sees an act of intimacy between her upper class sister and the housekeeper’s son and turns it into an act of violence that has a tragic impact on all their lives.

    Saoirse Ronan, a young Irish actress, plays the girl with a haunting quality, and James McAvoy plays the victimized young man with just the right amount of romantic dash. And Keira Knightly is spectacular as the sister – gorgeous and tragic and at once fragile and rock hard.

    It is a wonderful piece of filmmaking.

    Google “Indiana Jones” and “trailer” and you’ll be able to see the first trailer for the new movie, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” due out this May.

    And then tell me you don’t get a little thrill when you see the man in the hat and hear that great theme song…

    One of the things I like best about travel is the food and wine I get to try when I’m on the road, but sometimes there are really nice surprises just around the corner. When we went to see “Atonement” with some friends, suggested that we all have dinner at a place called the Fat Cat Pie Co., which I’d never heard of before and is only a few miles from my house.

    And it was terrific – simple, yet really innovative. They basically serve two things – salads and thin crust pizza, but the toppings and various versions gave the place a nice edginess that wasn't at all off-putting. There was a great crowd there, a real mix of ages, that was comforting with just the right amount of noise. It was a great lesson in how, to use a phrase that Sobeys' Bill McEwan once used in a different context, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

    And, best of all, Fat Cat had a wonderful wine list – which leads me to my two recommendations for the week…which you won’t be able to buy unless you go to Fat Cat in Norwalk, Connecticut:

    • The Fat Cat 420, which is a 2005 wine with a Carignane base, which is sort of a cross between Pinot Noir and Cabernet. (I did a little research a found out that Carignane is usually a blending agent for jug wines, but I thought this was just wonderful…with enough backbone to stand up to the onion and pepper pizza.)

    • The 2005 Cat Rotie Syrah, which is a robust wine that was also great with pizza.

    My point in recommending two hard-to-find wines is that they are both private label products…they are both small production wines made for Fat Cat by California’s Peterson vineyards. (They know a lot about wines because the group that owns Fat Cat also has a couple of small wine shops…and there is a wonderful intermingling of the two businesses.)

    I love it when restaurants – or any other business, for that matter – specializes in quality own-label products that nobody else can duplicate. (Probably why so many of my clothes are from that famous designer, LL Bean.) Done right, this approach gives businesses a differential advantage and even temporary unassailability. (Because in the end, everyone is assailable.)

    Bottom line – I have a new local restaurant that I like a lot. And a new wine list to explore.

    Doesn’t get any better than this.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 15, 2008

    Next Monday, February 18, is a federal holiday here in the US – Presidents Day, which is sort of a combination of George Washington’s birthday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and a time when a lot of mattresses seem to be on sale.

    Still, it is a federal holiday and a school holiday … which means that we’re going to take advantage of the calendar and take the day off to spend time with the family.

    See you Tuesday…have a great weekend.


    KC's View: