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    Published on: February 19, 2008

    An eight thousand word piece in The New Yorker entitled “Big Foot” looks at the morality and science of measuring carbon emissions, begins like this:

    “A little more than a year ago, Sir Terry Leahy, who is the chief executive of the Tesco chain of supermarkets, Britain’s largest retailer, delivered a speech to a group called the Forum for the Future, about the implications of climate change. Leahy had never before addressed the issue in public, but his remarks left little doubt that he recognized the magnitude of the problem. “I am not a scientist,” he said. “But I listen when the scientists say that, if we fail to mitigate climate change, the environmental, social, and economic consequences will be stark and severe. . . . There comes a moment when it is clear what you must do. I am determined that Tesco should be a leader in helping to create a low-carbon economy. In saying this, I do not underestimate the task. It is to take an economy where human comfort, activity, and growth are inextricably linked with emitting carbon and to transform it into one which can only thrive without depending on carbon. This is a monumental challenge. It requires a revolution in technology and a revolution in thinking. We are going to have to rethink the way we live and work.”

    According to The New Yorker, “Few corporations could have a more visible or forceful—impact on the lives of their customers. In his speech, Leahy, who is fifty-two, laid out a series of measures that he hoped would ignite ‘a revolution in green consumption.’ He announced that Tesco would cut its energy use in half by 2010, drastically limit the number of products it transports by air, and place airplane symbols on the packaging of those which it does. More important, in an effort to help consumers understand the environmental impact of the choices they make every day, he told the forum that Tesco would develop a system of carbon labels and put them on each of its seventy thousand products. ‘Customers want us to develop ways to take complicated carbon calculations and present them simply,’ he said. ‘We will therefore begin the search for a universally accepted and commonly understood measure of the carbon footprint of every product we sell - looking at its complete life cycle, from production through distribution to consumption. It will enable us to label all our products so that customers can compare their carbon footprint as easily as they can currently compare their price or their nutritional profile.”

    The New Yorker notes that “greenhouse-gas emissions have risen rapidly in the past two centuries, and levels today are higher than at any time in at least the past six hundred and fifty thousand years. In 1995, each of the six billion people on earth was responsible, on average, for one ton of carbon emissions. Oceans and forests can absorb about half that amount. Although specific estimates vary, scientists and policy officials increasingly agree that allowing emissions to continue at the current rate would induce dramatic changes in the global climate system. To avoid the most catastrophic effects of those changes, we will have to hold emissions steady in the next decade, then reduce them by at least sixty to eighty per cent by the middle of the century. (A delay of just ten years in stopping the increase would require double the reductions.) Yet, even if all carbon emissions stopped today, the earth would continue to warm for at least another century. Facts like these have transformed carbon dioxide into a strange but powerful new currency, difficult to evaluate yet impossible to ignore.

    “A person’s carbon footprint is simply a measure of his contribution to global warming. (CO2 is the best known of the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, but others including water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide also play a role.) Virtually every human activity - from watching television to buying a quart of milk - has some carbon cost associated with it. We all consume electricity generated by burning fossil fuels; most people rely on petroleum for transportation and heat. Emissions from those activities are not hard to quantify. Watching a plasma television for three hours every day contributes two hundred and fifty kilograms of carbon to the atmosphere each year; an LCD television is responsible for less than half that number. Yet the calculations required to assess the full environmental impact of how we live can be dazzlingly complex. To sum them up on a label will not be easy. Should the carbon label on a jar of peanut butter include the emissions caused by the fertilizer, calcium, and potassium applied to the original crop of peanuts? What about the energy used to boil the peanuts once they have been harvested, or to mold the jar and print the labels? Seen this way, carbon costs multiply rapidly … As a source of global warming, the food we eat—and how we eat it—is no more significant than the way we make clothes or travel or heat our homes and offices. It certainly doesn’t compare to the impact made by tens of thousands of factories scattered throughout the world. Yet food carries enormous symbolic power, so the concept of ‘food miles’ - the distance a product travels from the farm to your home - is often used as a kind of shorthand to talk about climate change in general.”

    At the same time, things are not that simple. “In his speech last year, Sir Terry Leahy promised to limit to less than one per cent the products that Tesco imports by air. In the United States, many similar efforts are under way. Yet the relationship between food miles and their carbon footprint is not nearly as clear as it might seem. That is often true even when the environmental impact of shipping goods by air is taken into consideration. ‘People should stop talking about food miles,’ Adrian Williams told me. ‘It’s a foolish concept: provincial, damaging, and simplistic.’ Williams is an agricultural researcher in the Natural Resources Department of Cranfield University, in England. He has been commissioned by the British government to analyze the relative environmental impacts of a number of foods. ‘The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby - well, it’s just idiotic,’ he said. ‘It doesn’t take into consideration the land use, the type of transportation, the weather, or even the season. Potatoes you buy in winter, of course, have a far higher environmental ticket than if you were to buy them in August.’ Williams pointed out that when people talk about global warming they usually speak only about carbon dioxide. Making milk or meat contributes less CO2 to the atmosphere than building a house or making a washing machine. But the animals produce methane and nitrous oxide, and those are greenhouse gases, too. ‘This is not an equation like the number of calories or even the cost of a product,’ he said. ‘There is no one number that works’.”

    KC's View:
    This is a fascinating and provocative article by the always reliable New Yorker that gives a sense of the complexity of the issue. (You should go out and pick up a copy of the magazine…ASAP.)

    It seems to me that even as retailers attempt to pick their way through this environmental minefield, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that consumers want to do something, want to do the right thing…even if they are not sure what to do.

    I think that this actually creates an opportunity, as retailers can forge a bond with their shoppers in a kind of “we’re all in this together” fashion. Explain the options, explain the choices, and maybe even develop consumer advisory groups that can help the retailer make intelligent and appropriate choices.

    It could be more than a remarkable marketing opportunity. It could be a chance to develop a concrete sense of community between the shopper and the retailer.

    By the way, it is worth noting that the “buy local” movement isn’t just driven by the issue of carbon emissions. Reuters reports that Lucy Neville-Rolfe, corporate and legal affairs director, told the National Farmers Union annual conference yesterday that Tesco plans to double its sale of local products in the UK by 2011.

    "This year, we expect to sell 400 million pounds ($779.8 million) of local products in the UK. By 2011, we plan to sell one billion pounds worth. That target is perfectly achievable," she said, noting that the goal is linked to shoppers’ demands for fresher products that also contribute to the UK economy.

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    The New York Times reports that a California meat company has issued the largest beef recall in US history – 143 million pounds of meat, some of which found its way into school lunch programs in several states.

    As the Times reports, the recall by Westland Hallmark Meat Company is part of a widening animal abuse scandal. Late last month, the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing workers “kicking sick cows and using forklifts to force them to walk.

    “The video raised questions about the safety of the meat, because cows that cannot walk, called downer cows, pose an added risk of diseases including mad cow disease. The federal government has banned downer cows from the food supply.

    “Agriculture officials said there was little health risk from the recalled meat because the animals had already passed pre-slaughter inspection and much of the meat had already been eaten. In addition, the officials noted that while mad cow disease was extremely rare, the brains and spinal cords from the animals — the area most likely to harbor the disease — would not have entered the human food chain … The video was embarrassing for the Department of Agriculture, as inspectors are supposed to be monitoring slaughterhouses for abuse. It surfaced after a year of increasing concerns about the safety of the meat supply amid a sharp increase in the number of recalls tied to a particularly deadly form of the E. coli pathogen.”

    The Times notes that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) “does not have the authority to recall meat. However, it can withdraw its inspectors from a plant, putting pressure on a company to issue a recall.

    “The company is recalling all its raw and frozen beef products since Feb. 1, 2006. Of the 143 million pounds that were recalled, 37 million went to make hamburgers, chili and tacos for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs, officials said.

    “Cows that cannot walk are banned for use in the food supply because they pose an added risk of mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, a fatal disease that eats away at the brain. There have been three confirmed cases of infected cattle in this country since 2003.”

    Meanwhile, the beef industry is saying that the Westland Hallmark situation is not typical. The Associated Press reports that “Bo Reagan, vice president of research for the Colorado-based National Cattleman’s Beef Association, said the videotaped incident was not indicative of how most slaughterhouses operate.”

    And, USA Today reports that USDA has pledged to “step up oversight at 900 slaughterhouses in the USA to check for inhumane handling violations like those that led to the biggest meat recall ever on Sunday.”

    Meanwhile, Consumers Union released a statement urging USDA “to disclose the retail outlets that have sold Westland/Hallmark beef that was just recalled.

    "’Currently, USDA refuses to disclose to the public the names of retail outlets involved in meat recalls,’ explained Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives at Consumers Union. ‘Consumers have no way of knowing whether the store from which they've purchased their meat was involved in a recall.’

    “Halloran noted that when it comes to recalled meat, there is no easy answer to ‘Where's the beef?’ A consumer must search through dozens of lot numbers on the USDA website. Many of the Westland/Hallmark shipments were in large lots, so the information about the source of the meat may not appear on the retail package. If a consumer has already discarded the meat package, there is no way to track back the meat.”

    KC's View:
    Consumers will have to be forgiven if they don't have an enormous amount of trust in what the USDA and the beef industry have to say on this matter…mostly because there has been a steady erosion of faith in the food supply.

    The headlines will keep coming, of course, which will increase consumer skepticism. One has to wonder how much longer Westland Hallmark will even be in business; even if the orders don't dry up, you can expect that a series of lawsuits will be filed against the company that will make its continued existence almost untenable.

    A favorite Latin proverb, oft quoted here on MNB, is this:

    Trust, like the soul, never returns once it goes.

    More and more, we’re getting to this point, and it has to be of grave concern to retailers and manufacturers,

    And if you wonder why, go down to our story below about the new edition of Facts, Figures & The Future and see the laundry list of food-related recalls and issues from just the last 18 months.

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    One of my favorite quotes of all times comes from a Star Trek episode, in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard reminds us that “things are only impossible until they’re not.” It’s a great way of reminding us that the unexpected somehow always has a chance and I believe it.

    But even I’m on overload this week. First, I’m a fan of the New York Giants, who you might have heard won the Super Bowl this year. Now Giants fans have an unusual form of fatalism born of history. We were the team that once had a lead, with the ball and four seconds left on the clock. And we lost. So when the Giants won, I went into shock.

    Then something bigger happened. A beagle won the Westminster Dog Show in New York.

    Here again, I’m not an idle observer. I own a beagle, or rather I should say, a beagle owns me. While Uno the beagle was delighting the crowds in New York Hunter (my beagle) was disproving the old adage that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. On his own he learned to unroll a full roll of toilet paper and start consuming it.

    Hunter is talented that way. We rescued him from the pound 11 years ago and he rewarded us by running away that night. Since then, he had made a daily ritual of walking the fence that now surrounds our house. Despite his pampered lifestyle he needs to check daily to see if there is any way he can escape. He’s too old to run far, but he likes to know the possibility is always there.

    Now, each week I try to figure out someway of working interesting news stories into object lessons for this column and Uno the beagle just seemed tailor-made for a discussion about management.

    After all, here is a dog breed that, while beloved, has a weak record of achievement. Uno was not just the first beagle to ever win best in show; he was the first beagle to even win the hound division in nearly 70 years. Cute as they are, beagles have their issues.

    But the difference between Uno and Hunter probably has more to do with how they were managed than anything else. I’m betting that Uno’s owner is probably a whole lot better than me at training a dog. We have to remember that with our employees too. Their performance comes down to how we treat them, working their strengths and weaknesses and understanding that greatness lies in all of them. That is, if we bring it out. (See, I told you I’d find a business connection.)

    So I reflect on Uno and Hunter, knowing that had I been a better dog owner, maybe my beagle would have achieved greatness. Or at least, he might have been able to eat toilet paper without leaving so much mess. Once again, things aren’t always impossible.

    Or maybe they are… Over the past couple of weeks I wrote about the need for debate and not charging to extreme positions at the drop of a hat. It’s pretty obvious to say the change won’t come from Washington.

    There are many divisive issues in the Capitol and some of the differences are actually important. However, how is it possible that the discussion of Roger Clemens’ alleged use of performance enhancing drugs broke down on party lines? And wasn’t there something more important for Congress to do last week? Like look for the videotapes the New England Patriots took of other team’s football practices? Surely, Uno’s win in the dog show merits some scrutiny of some kind.

    Repeat after me, “things are only impossible…”

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports on how consumers and retailers may respond to the possibility that food and milk from cloned animals and their progeny may end up in the nation’s food supply:

    “The question is, will consumers swallow the new technology? And how will food businesses cope if their customers balk?

    “Many food merchants are still framing their policies while they warily monitor public opinion. The historic commercial debut of cloning comes in an era when a significant segment of consumers have rejected other foods the FDA deemed safe, such as milk from hormone-treated cows and genetically modified corn.”

    And, the Chronicle writes: “Food merchants, from small shop owners to national supermarket chains, could face formidable challenges if they want to guarantee customers the option of avoiding all products linked to cloning.

    “No public system is in place to alert food sellers when products from animal lines that include clones could reach their shelves - whether in the form of a rib-eye steak, a quart of low-fat milk, a can of beef minestrone or a wedge of sharp cheddar.

    Consumer groups such as the Center for Food Safety and Consumers Union support mandatory labeling of all products linked to cloning, from raw meat to meatball sandwiches. They're backing bills proposed in Congress and by a few state legislators, including state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco. Without labeling, they argue, any food safety problems that did arise from cloning would never be linked to the technology.

    Some retailers, after hearing from customers, are also calling for some form of government action. Two supermarket chains with a significant presence in Northern California, Safeway and Whole Foods Market, say the government should oversee a system to track clones through the food supply. It should also consider other means, such as food labeling, to ensure that consumers can make informed choices about products of cloning, the companies said.”

    But, as the Chronicle notes, the current rules are such that “livestock breeders and milk or meat suppliers have no legal obligation to disclose to either food manufacturers or consumers that a product came from a cloned animal line. Some vendors plan to keep their products clear of cloned lineages, but the FDA may not permit packages to bear a voluntary label such as ‘clone free’.”

    KC's View:
    The position here has been consistent. Label everything and be completely transparent. To do otherwise, especially in a time when technology makes it possible to do so – and also makes it possible for consumers to communicate instantly about products and procedures – is to resist the inevitable and create questions in the minds of shoppers.

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    The Washington Post this morning reports on the declining number of supermarkets available to New York City residents.

    “Soaring real estate values are prompting property owners throughout the city to shutter grocery stores and sell to developers, according to city officials, supermarket owners and industry analysts,” the Post writes. “In the process, another of the essential services that make New York livable is pushed further away, replaced by glittering condos and more banks.

    “Today there are one-third fewer supermarkets in New York's five boroughs than there were six years ago, said Lawrence Sarf, the president of F&D Reports, a retail consulting company.

    “The impact of losing a neighborhood grocery is powerful, not only eliminating a spot where residents come together but also affecting a community's health. Some poor neighborhoods in central Brooklyn or the Bronx that have lacked a good supermarket for decades have the lowest rates in the city of consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and the highest rates of diabetes and obesity -- a trend that has been found in inner cities across the country.

    “Bodegas have long flourished in the poorest city neighborhoods, but they often offer little in terms of nutritious food, with shelves carrying little more than hamburger mix, white bread, canned pasta and peanut butter, generally at higher prices than a supermarket charges.

    “The administration of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is treating the loss of supermarkets and its effects as a looming health crisis and an impediment to economic development.”

    KC's View:
    The folks at the Coca-Cola Research Council, who are in the middle of releasing a report stressing the connections that retailers need to make between food and health/wellness, in some ways ought to be cheered by the fact that Mayor Bloomberg is treating the loss of neighborhood supermarkets as a “looming health crisis” – because it makes the point in very concrete terms.

    The lack of a real and vibrant supermarket diminishes a community, hurts a neighborhood’s ability to make healthy choices, and needs to be addressed through serious public policy initiatives.

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    The University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is out this morning, and says that “customer satisfaction with the goods and services that Americans buy declined in the fourth quarter of 2007 … The index falls to 74.9 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale, down 0.4 percent to its lowest score of 2007.”

    According to the report, “Consumer spending growth slowed in the fourth quarter as predicted by the third quarter drop in ACSI. A second consecutive drop in customer satisfaction, combined with increasing unemployment, plummeting house prices, tighter credit, high levels of household debt, and inflating fuel and food prices, is likely to pose even more challenges this quarter for consumer spending growth.”

    However, the news is good for some in the supermarket industry: “Supermarkets are up 1.3 percent to 76, the highest level in 14 years, despite the recent rise in food prices. Publix continues to lead the category with a score of 83. According to their customers, Publix, like Nordstrom, offers high quality products and superior customer service, which has been the foundation for the lead in customer satisfaction over the past 14 years. Winn Dixie plunges 7 percent to tie Wal-Mart’s supermarket business at the bottom of the industry at 71. Whole Foods Market makes its ACSI debut with a score of 73, leading in quality but at the bottom for value.”

    Excerpts from the report:

    • “Customer satisfaction with the retail sector, which includes department and discount stores, specialty retail stores, supermarkets, gas stations, and health and personal care stores, slips 0.3 percent to 74.2 on ACSI’s 100-point scale.”

    • “Nordstrom succeeds where Wal-Mart hasn’t. Nordstrom is reintroduced to ACSI after increasing its market share, and it leads the department and discount store industry with a score of 80 as a result of high quality merchandise and superior customer service.”

    • “Discount store giant, Wal-Mart, takes a sharp turn south, plummeting 6 percent to its all-time low of 68, well below the industry average. Competing on price is no longer enough to offset lagging quality. Wal-Mart also scores lowest in the industry for customer service.”

    • “Deep discount store Dollar General makes its ACSI debut with a strong score of 78, providing customers with a wide variety of merchandise in a reasonably small store space at super discount prices.”

    • “The e-commerce sector rises 2.0 percent to a new high of 81.6. In the highly competitive e-retail category, leads with a score of 88, one of the highest regardless of industry. has been successful at keeping pace with increasing customer expectations and improving the customer experience accordingly. Newegg, Netflix, and Overstock make their first appearance in the e-retail category this year. Newegg (87) and Netflix (84) debut just behind Amazon, while Overstock’s first appearance is at the bottom of the industry with a score of 80.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    Albertson’s LLC announced that it is merging two of its current divisions “in order to ensure the most efficient operation of the company.”

    The Rocky Mountain division, with offices in Aurora, Colorado, and the Southwest division, with offices in Phoenix, will merge into a new Southwest division. In addition, Albertson’s LLC announced today that, due to their remote location in relation to its core markets in Colorado, the company intends to sell its two stores in Scottsbluff, Nebraska and Rapid City, South Dakota to the Nash Finch Company.

    “This reorganization allows Albertson’s LLC to streamline its operation to leverage operational efficiencies,” said Bob Miller, Albertsons LLC CEO. “Although it was a difficult decision because of the impact it has on some of our dedicated associates, we believe that it will prove to be the right decision for the company.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    The Austin American Statesman reports that HEB’s Central Market has responded to Whole Foods’ plan to stop using plastic bags as of April 22 “by promoting its own efforts to sell reusable bags and recycle plastic bags.

    “A Central Market press release details the ‘variety of innovative bags’ that the company has to offer. They include: reusable bags, plastic bags that can be recycled, paper bags made of 40 percent post-consumer and 60 percent post-industrial waste.”

    According to the paper, “Central Market is feeling the pressure to tout its own environmentally-friendly practices after Whole Foods’ move last month got so much buzz. Whole Foods banned plastic bags in all of its stores in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. After April 22, Whole Foods will only offer paper bags and reusable bags.”

    KC's View:
    It really doesn’t matter whether a company goes first or second or third when it comes to adapting to this trend. It will be easier for some companies to be first movers because such a policy shift will be more easily accepted by their shoppers, and it is important for retailers to be conscious of and sensitive to shoppers even as they nudge them along.

    What does matter is that we as a society get rid of disposable shopping bags as much as possible, and that we get aggressive about choosing other options.

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    In this month’s edition of Facts, Figures & The Future, Phil Lempert takes note of the more than 900 products recalls that took place over the past 18 months. These included, Lempert writes:

    • 21.7 million pounds of ground beef recalled after reports of 25 cases of E. coli illnesses across US;
    • 3.3 million pounds of frozen meat pizza recalled due to E. coli contamination following reports of 21 people in 10 states sickened;
    • 800,000 pounds of ground beef recalled after 4 children diagnosed with E. coli poisoning;
    • One million pounds of ground beef recalled nationwide E. coli contamination;
    • 90 SKUs recalled by one manufacturer because of botulism;
    • 24,000 cases of white chocolate baking squares recalled for salmonella contamination;
    • 52,650 pounds of chicken breasts recalled for Listeria .

    ”Is there any doubt why our shoppers have a low confidence level in our ability to insure a safer food supply?” Lempert asks, noting that in a recent survey of consumers who use his, almost a third of respondents said that they felt the food supply is “not safe.” And, he suggests, it is time for retailers to become more pro-active, taking greater control and responsibility for food safety in America.

    In another story on F3, there is a look at the possibility of an economic recession in the US, and the impact that it could have on consumers and retailers:

    “The general consensus seems to be that the price of energy - especially gasoline and home heating oil - is one of the main drivers of current economic worries. If people are spending three dollars or more per gallon of fuel for their SUVs, then the likelihood is that they won't have money for discretionary spending.

    “New research from The Nielsen Company finds that almost half (49 percent) of U.S. consumers are reducing their spending to compensate for rising gas prices, up four points from June 2007. Seventy percent of consumers are also battling high gas prices by combining shopping trips and errands, while 41 percent are eating out less and 39 percent are staying home more often.”

    In addition, F3 notes that “the energy crisis has darkened America's breakfast bowls. Despite world cereal production of a record 2.101 million tons in 2007, up 4.6 percent from a year ago, ‘international cereal prices in November remained high and volatile, reflecting sustained demand, particularly from the biofuels industry,’ read the latest Crop Prospects and Food Situation report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

    “Historically low levels of stocks and insufficient increases in production also stoked the high cereal prices, which in turn have led to higher retail prices of basic foods in many countries.”

    And, there’s much more.

    To get your copy of F3, go to:

    F3 is a joint production of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), ACNielsen, and Phil Lempert.

    (Full disclosure: MNB’s Kevin Coupe is a regular contributor to F3.)

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    • The Providence Journal reports that discount, limited assortment retailer Aldi plans to open five stores in Rhode Island as part of a New England expansion.

    USA Today reports that Campbell Soup’s child-oriented lines “are getting their second sodium reduction in three years … This time, the 12 soups for kids will have 480 milligrams a serving, which means the company can legally label them as healthy foods for the first time.”

    And, the paper reports, “The company also announced Monday that it is reformulating 36 ready-to-serve soups and giving them a new brand name: ‘Campbell's Select Harvest.’

    “All the soups sold in cans and microwavable bowls currently labeled ‘Campbell's Select’ will be called ‘Campbell's Select Harvest.’ The more upscale soups sold in boxes under that label will not be part of the new line. While they will be lower in sodium, the ‘Campbell's Select Harvest’ soups will not meet other federal government criteria for areas such as fat and cholesterol, meaning they cannot be labeled as healthy.”

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia is spending $50 million - $45 million in cash, $5 million in stock – to acquire the media and licensed businesses of chef Emeril Lagasse.

    According to the story, “Under terms of the deal, Martha Stewart Living will acquire the rights to television programs such as ‘The Essence of Emeril,’ syndicated episodes of the ‘Emeril Live’ show on the Food Network, a dozen cookbooks and Mr. Lagasse's Web site, as well as licensing deals for Emeril-branded products from All-Clad cookware, Wüsthof cutlery, Wedgwood tableware and T-fal appliances. The acquisition also includes Emeril-branded spices, marinades, coffee, Bam! B-Q sauce and other food products. Mr. Lagasse's restaurants and corporate office are not included in the deal.

    “The move is the first major step to diversify Martha Stewart Living's businesses after long relying on the appeal of its namesake, Ms. Stewart. The company is looking to use its expertise in building celebrity brands to expand Mr. Lagasse's businesses, which will operate as its own unit within Martha Stewart Living.”

    • The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Service Employees International Union (SEIU) have announced that they are both endorsing Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    • Wal-Mart announced this morning that its fourth quarter climbed four percent to $4.1 billion, from $3.94 billion during the same period a year earlier. Q4 sales increased 8.4 percent to $107.4 billion, with same-store sales up 1.7 percent.

    Wal-Mart also said that for the just-completed fiscal year, groceries accounted for 31 percent of Wal-Mart’s total sales.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 19, 2008

    MNB user Julie Johnson wrote:

    I appreciate the two articles that you have written recently on the topic of food safety. As a Food and Resource Economics major at the University of Florida, I was required to write "opinion" papers on many of the hot topics in agricultural economics, except that the class was split in half and we were given "opinions." Because of this I was required to take the time to explore a side of the issue that I may or may not have thought I agreed with.

    For example, when hearing the term "irradiated beef," my mind said "no, that's bad," but after reading about irradiation and it's benefits, I realized that it was likely not harmful (and maybe even helpful). I would still say that it should be labeled so that anyone who doesn't want irradiated beef doesn't have to buy it. My point is that I agree with your opinion that many of these food safety topics need to be discussed. Consumers need to be educated so that they are able to make educated decisions instead of rash ones because they feel that they must take a side on every issue.

    There are always at least two sides to an issue and more often than not, both sides make good points. I'm not sure who is responsible for educating the consumer, but if the media is left with the opportunity to educate, consumers will continue to take sides without actually knowing what they're talking about.

    Sure. Take a shot at the media.

    But I agree with you that retailers and manufacturers have to be more aggressive about educating consumers.

    MNB reported the other day that New York State is looking to get online retailers to charge sales tax for purchases, and we admitted here that we’re beginning to think that perhaps the time has come where e-commerce does not require the kind of nurturing that no sales tax implies. (I actually feel sort of guilty about coming to this conclusion.)

    MNB user Dan Jones wrote in to disabuse me of this notion:

    Sales taxes are designed to help pay for the infrastructure that a retail establishment uses. Sidewalk repair, snow clearing, protection from the police, sewage services, etc. An internet business uses none of those government services. Why should they pay a tax? Because Eliot Spitzer and the leaders in Albany are incompetent is not a good enough answer.

    I like this. Except for the fact that last time I checked, the trucks delivering packages for e-commerce companies did use the public roads, this is very good logic for not charging sales tax for online purchases.

    Regarding the story about the federal government considering the possibility that retailers should be made to pay fees to pay for country of origin labeling (COOL), one MNB user wrote:

    This is similar to the PACA that imposed “license fees” on retailers, that among other things was similar to the FDIC. Retailers paid a fee so that the farmers and growers would get paid for their products…never mind that there are about three or four sellers/resellers/brokers/wholesalers and the like ahead of the retailer. It was said that these farmers/growers retained a security interest in the covered fruit and vegetables all the way down to the retailer. At the time, there had never been a known claim under that Act, where a farmer or grower was not paid for some arbitrary reason and it was disputed.

    Of course it started out with a small fee, plus the initial “ignorance penalty” (knowing nothing about it or that you were required to be licensed). Once established, the fees started to rise. I believe in the beginning each store paid the same fee, now I believe it has a cap. I guess the fees collected go into the general fund to be wasted on earmarks and the like.

    And MNB user Al Kober wrote:

    No matter who is charged the ultimate payer will be the consumer. Most consumers see COOL as a good thing for them even thought they may have a very unscientific opinion of the benefit to them. Many consumers see COOL as either a food safety issue or a health issue. It is neither, but the over used cliché, "perception is reality" fits here. Much like Natural and Organic, more emotion benefit than a scientific benefit. When asked if you see COOL as a good thing many say yes. When ask them to pay more for it, the enthusiasm for COOL goes down. Consumers want it as long as someone else pays for it. Reality is they will pay more when this goes into effect, one way or another. There is no free lunch. (There goes another one of those clichés.)

    I have to go back to before we discussed COOL. If it is such a good thing, why hasn't some profit-minded company adopted and promoted it . The answer is there is no profitable market for it. How much does "Feel Good" cost anyway?

    Responding to last week’s piece about Anheuser-Busch bringing out a new version of Bud Light with lime, one MNB user wrote:

    This is AB’s second version of Bud aimed at Hispanics. The first is Chelada which has Clamato in it. Apparently this is quite the treat for first generation Mexican Americans after a hard day working in the sun. Certainly shows that Bud has figured out that Hispanics are a growing segment and require special marketing activities. My guess is that this will also demonstrate the growing regionalization of brands. You don’t see much Chelada in New England, but there is a whole lot of it in Arizona. Probably be the same for Bud Light with lime.

    I wrote last week about the fact that every owned-and-operate Starbucks in the US will close for three hours later this week so that employees can be retrained (re-indoctrinated?) in the art of coffee making, and I noted the very notion of not being able to get a venti skim latte was anxiety-inducing. Which led MNB user Thad Stanley to write:

    One can only imagine the chaos that would have ensued had the Starbucks closure occurred the same day that the BlackBerry system went down.

    Never owned a BlackBerry…but my current addiction to the iPhone gives me some sense of your point.

    Also on the subject of Starbucks, MNB user Morris Hoover wrote:

    I have been writing the Starbucks Corporation for over three years regarding their inconsistent quality from store-to-store. In my travels, I have been shocked to see a lack of "standardized operating procedures" with respect to Starbucks drinks and personnel throughout the United States and abroad. Training has obviously been lacking and attention to quality control seems less evident in their daily operations.

    Consistency of their coffee products has suffered greatly as expansion efforts take the lead over uniqueness and elegance in the eye of the customer. The motto of great coffee every time seems to apply only when the employees feel up to it. Starbucks should have instituted a register market survey program ala Panera or Qdoba to track its customers with respect to all the variables aforementioned but instead it focused on growth at the expense of the customer.

    One key item to note about Starbucks, it once was a place that was unique and special. It had a connotation of being a place to find great coffee, great service and a great place to sit read and drink coffee. These days it is a place to get coffee but has lost some of its luster and focus.

    And finally, a nice email from an MNB user about our environmental coverage here on MNB:

    Kevin & staff,

    Kudos to all of you. You are the voice of "Green" reason in a world of parrots of pessimism! - I appreciate you bringing to our attention what retail is doing to move towards green. Are retailers doing good things - yes. Are retailers doing all they can - no. Will retailers do more green things over time - yes. But the most important thing you ( and retailers are doing, you are both creating awareness of the sustainable issue.

    I thank you. And the staff thanks you.

    KC's View: