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    Published on: February 29, 2008

    Plenty of news today about the nation’s largest beef recall, which resulted when 143 million pounds of beef – two years of production by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in California – was recalled after the Humane Society released a video of employees torturing so-called “downer cattle” so that they could be slaughtered for food. Downer cattle are believed to be higher at risk for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, and federal law prohibits them from being processed into the food supply.

    • The Modesto Bee reports that “a single purchaser of recalled beef resold it to about 2,500 other vendors,” and Consumers Union notes that a California law has required that the names of retailers receiving shipments of the beef has been made public.

    "USDA has a policy of keeping the names of retailers of recalled meat secret, so this is a huge, long-overdue victory for California consumers," said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "This recall is unprecedented in its size and the numbers of retailers involved, and California consumers now have a way of finding out 'where's the beef.' "

    The list can be found at:

    "We are delighted that the California law is starting to work and that California consumers now have some measure of power to protect themselves and their families in this huge beef recall," said Elisa Odabashian, Director of the West Coast Office of Consumers Union. "But recalled meat was shipped beyond California's borders, and because of USDA's continuing secrecy about the names of the retailers, consumers in other states have no way of knowing if they purchased any of the recalled beef."

    • Meanwhile, J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute (AMI), while calling the practices at Westland/Hallmark “a shocking departure from both industry best practices and typical operations,” told the US Senate in testimony that this was an isolated case.

    “Proper and humane handling of livestock is not just a priority for AMI and its members – it is part of our culture,” he said.

    Boyle also said that the extent of the recall, and the resulting publicity, sends the wrong message to consumers since the government has concluded that it poses only a remote health risk.

    • However, at least one person is suggesting that the Westland/Hallmark case is not a situation in which employees were acting on their own. The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the lawyer representing a slaughterhouse employee charged with animal cruelty is saying that his client was just “a lower-level employee taking orders from management,” and that it is possible that corporate management – not just plant management – was involved.

    The worker charged in the case, Rafael Sanchez Herrera, was making $9 per hour at the plant.

    • The New York Times reports that Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), is calling for “continuous monitoring of live animals at slaughterhouses and suggested that the Department of Agriculture use video cameras.” According to the story, Kohl also is demanding that the government do “audits in the next month of every slaughterhouse in the country supplying meat for federal programs like school lunches.”

    However, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is only promising more random audits.

    Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer told the Senate this week that he continues to believe that there is no evidence that any sick animals got into the food supply.

    But, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) disagreed with that conclusion. “We don’t know if these animals portrayed on this videotape were sick or not,” he said. “We can’t keep saying these things if we don’t really know.”

    KC's View:
    I could go on for hours about this, but I will make just a few simple points.

    First, the US government ought to follow the California example. If you’re going to do a recall – and I’m not passing judgment here on whether the extent of this recall was warranted, though I suspect it was – then government has the responsibility to tell its employers (that would be us, remember?) exactly where the beef has been distributed.

    Second, it will be interesting to watch where the “I was only following orders” defense goes. On the one hand, that sounds like a fairly typical defense strategy during the plea-bargaining phase. On the other hand, I have trouble believing that a $9-per-hour low level functionary was acting on his own.

    And, while I’d like to believe that this was an isolated case, I’d be willing to bet that it is not. I just hope that all the other companies out there who have engaged in such behavior are now cleaning up their acts.

    And finally, I think that nobody really knows anything in this case. And that the implications and consequences are going to be unfolding for months, maybe years.

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    The Arizona Republic reports that a new Whole Foods store in the Northeast Valley features something that is being called a “groceraunt,” which features “at one corner, a large, wide-screen LCD television (that) broadcasts an in-house chef grilling fresh vegetables or conducting a cooking lesson. In another corner, a wine-tasting bar sits a few feet from a brick-oven pizza counter.”

    According to the story, “the variety of products and services is so wide that company marketers have dubbed the new store a ‘groceraunt,’ a combination grocery store and restaurant. Several mini-restaurants like the Smokehouse Grill and the Asian Express surround aisles of organic foods, beer, clothing, and even baby products.” And, the republic points out, products are being selected “based not just on whether they're organic, but also on how environmentally friendly they are.”

    KC's View:
    The best of Whole Foods’ stores are among the best food experiences in the country. They may be pricey and with very specific target audience, but they are both innovative and aspirational … qualities that more food retailers ought to work to achieve, wherever they are in the demographic spectrum.

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    Ahold-owned Stop & Shop has unveiled a new recipe contest for kids that could reward the winner with a grand prize of $10,000 in savings bonds.

    According to a press release issued by the company, “The contest encourages children ages 7 – 14 to create a nutritious and delicious recipe using milk, cheese, or yogurt and can be for a snack or meal … The contest is being presented by Stop & Shop, 3-A-Day of Dairy, Dannon, Cabot and Garelick…to help promote the health benefits of dairy products in an everyday diet.

    KC's View:
    First of all, I like any idea that gets kids thinking about nutrition and cooking. The food industry ought to do more of it, and Stop & Shop and its manufacturer partners are to be commended.

    However, at the risk of seemingly overly cynical (who, me?), I would suggest that an even better context would be to establish a nationwide search for a 7-14 year-old child who knows what the hell a savings bond is.

    The people running this contest need to start talking to young people rather than over-the-hill marketing experts who clearly have their heads in the 1950s. And elsewhere.

    This contest is really constructed for the kids’ parents, which sort of misses the point.

    You want to get kids interested? Offer them a $5,000 gift certificate to an Apple Store and a $5,000 iTunes gift certificate.

    But savings bonds?


    Published on: February 29, 2008

    On MNB Radio yesterday, I made a reference to the Overall Nutritional Quality Index, or ONQI, and noted that the Washington Post had reported that it had been adopted by a number of retailers, including Wegmans.

    However, this was incorrect. While Wegmans is a Topco member, and Topco is involved with ONQI, Wegmans has not adopted this nutrition profiling system.

    MNB regrets the error.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    • The Network of Executive Women (NEW) has announced that James White, senior vice president of consumer brands for Safeway, has been named its Outstanding Champion for 2008. The veteran CPG/retail executive will be honored at a reception May 5.

    "James White has consistently championed the mission of NEW by creating diverse, high-performance work teams, demonstrating the business imperative of inclusion, and leading our industry by example with cutting-edge policies at Purina, Gillette and now Safeway," NEW said in a statement.

    • Yet another good reason to eat Indian food…

    HealthDay News reports that “curcumin, an ingredient in the curry spice tumeric, can reduce heart enlargement and may lower the risk of heart failure.” The findings were part of a Canadian research project published in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    • Nash Finch announced a fourth quarter profit of $8.5 million, compared to a loss of $26.4 million during the same period a year ago. Q4 revenue was $1.07 billion, down three percent from $1.10 billion in the fourth quarter of 2006.

    For the year, Nash Finch earned a profit of $38.8 million, up from a loss of $23 million the year before. Revenue was reported at $4.53 billion, down from $4.63 billion in 2006.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras plans to resign next month, and will take a job as vp/general counsel with Procter & Gamble.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 29, 2008

    Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, is getting a lot of attention for a recent blog in which he vented his frustration with the New York Times and instituted something he calls the “New York Times Deathwatch.”

    The reason for his frustration isn’t the way the Times treated Senator John McCain recently, but rather the company’s diminishing financial returns, which reflect weakness in the overall newspaper business. Andreessen also points out that the Times board of directors features not a single person with strong experience in an Internet company…and here is his very funny take on this subject:

    “Well, given that the Internet is the central force dismantling the company's business, I'm sure that by now they've stocked their board with noted Internet experts. Let's see:

    • Brenda C. Barnes -- CEO of Sara Lee; noted snack cake expert;
    • Raul E. Cesan -- former CEO of Schering-Plough; noted Levitra expert;
    • Daniel H. Cohen -- president of DeepSee LLC, "an oceanic exploration and submarine leasing company"; noted Jacques Cousteau expert;
    Lynn G. Dolnick -- former head of exhibits for the National Zoologic Park in Washington DC; noted marsupial expert;
    Michael Golden -- current publisher of the International Herald Tribune; former head of the company's Women's Publishing Division; noted sundress expert;
    William E. Kennard -- former head of the FCC; noted "seven dirty words" expert;
    James M. Kilts -- former CEO of Gillette; noted smooth, smooth shave expert; prior to that, unindicted coconspirator at Philip Morris; noted expert on your grandfather's hacking cough;
    David E. Liddle -- here I have to take a pause as I actually know this one; based on what's happening at the company, it could be reasonably asked whether he's actually attending the board meetings;
    Ellen R. Marram -- former CEO of Nabisco; noted Oreo expert. Oh, wait, she actually ran an Internet company: "From 1999 until 2000, Ms. Marram was president and chief executive officer of efdex Inc. (the Electronic Food & Drink Exchange), an Internet-based commodities exchange for the food and beverage industry." Ooh. I wonder if that ended well…
    Thomas Middelhoff -- former CEO of Bertelsmann; noted expert on complicated family politics -- well, that's probably coming in handy...
    Janet L. Robinson -- current CEO of the New York Times Company; noted expert on horrific business implosions;
    Doreen A. Toben -- CFO of Verizon; noted 30-year debenture expert;
    And finally, Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. -- the Big Kahuna -- the Man -- the Guy In Charge -- the chairman and scion -- the dude with the cojones to actually defend Judy Miller. Not noted Internet expert.

    “So, if you want to issue bonds to pay for FCC-approved snack cake manufacturing in a submarine on display at a national park by a sundress-wearing cigarette-puffing Levitra-popping Judy Miller, you're pretty much set.”

    Boy, does Andreessen have this right.

    Let me be clear. I love newspapers. I started out as a newspaper reporter, and until MorningNewsBeat, that was the single best job I ever had.

    And I love the New York Times, even when it makes boneheaded decisions like to run the McCain story in a sensationalistic context.

    But Andreessen makes a great point when he says that in view of the falling sales and revenues, what the Times ought to do is kill the print version of the paper immediately and become a news source that is completely online…implementing whatever changes are necessary to make this work.

    "Take acute pain now in order to avoid years of chronic pain," Andreessen says. "Basic rule of thumb: Be on offense, not on defense."

    This may seem radical…and it actually hurts for me to think that maybe he’s right.

    But at the very least, newspapers like the Times have to consider the possibility that Andreessen is seeing the future more clearly than they are…

    (On his radio show, Tony Kornheiser is fond of saying that the newspaper business is dying, and that a decade from now, there won’t be a newspaper business in the way we traditionally think of it.)

    Newspaper executives have to remember MNB’s favorite natural law: Fart’s Law, which says that “the likelihood of an innovation succeeding increases exponentially with the number of old farts who refuse to endorse it.”

    It’s happening in retail, and there is no bloody reason in the world that it won’t happen to newspapers, magazines and other traditional media sources.

    There is almost no worse sin for a corporation than to be tone-deaf. (Okay, there probably are a lot worse sins…but work with me here.)

    In Chicago, the raging debate is about the future of Wrigley Field, the longtime home of the Chicago Cubs and, in baseball terms, a structure that could fairly be referred to as a shrine to the greatest game and a temple of fan frustration.

    The Tribune Co., which has just been bought by real estate magnate Sam Zell, is selling the team and the naming rights to the ballpark. And fans in the city seem generally up in arms, since this could result in Wrigley Field being called something else, which will sound like the perpetual scratching of corporate fingernails on a metropolitan chalkboard. (Apparently, the Wrigley Co. isn’t interested in paying the $50 million that would be required to keep its name on the building.)

    This is just dumb.

    Amazingly, I am about to write words that I rarely use: the New York Yankees did it right.

    Now in the process of building a new stadium in the Bronx, the Yankees have announced that it, like the old one it replaces, will be called Yankee Stadium. Because, let’s face it, calling it anything else would have been absurd, no matter what the revenue possibilities might be.

    For some stadiums, it doesn’t matter. Across town, the New York Mets’ new stadium will be called Citi Field…because let’s face it, Shea Stadium was a hole and nobody really knew who Bill Shea was, anyway. (Besides, maybe they used the revenue to help fund Johann Santana’s new contract.)

    But some stadiums transcend mere baseball. Like Yankee Stadium. Fenway Park. Busch Stadium in St. Louis. And Wrigley Field.

    To change such names would be to so totally tone deaf that it almost defies imagination.

    Robert B. Parker has published the latest in his Jesse Stone series of novels, ‘Stranger In Paradise,” and it generally lives up to expectations. For those of you not familiar with the Jesse Stone books, they exist in the same universe as his Spenser series, but focus on the alcoholic chief of police of Paradise, Massachusetts, a small coastal town near Boston; Parker’s goal was to explore a character “less complete” than Spenser, and he writes these books in the third person, rather than using Spenser’s first person narrative. (A lot of supporting characters from the Spenser books show up in this series, though Spenser and Hawk have yet to make appearances.)

    “Stranger In Paradise” is nominally about how Chief Stone works to protect a young woman from her criminal father, and how he finds himself in an uneasy alliance with Wilson Cromartie, a charismatic bad guy from an earlier Stone book. As with all of the Parker novels, “Stranger In Paradise” is a quick, easy and entertaining read – not one of is best, but pleasant enough nonetheless.

    One other quick note. The Stone books have been turned into an excellent series of television movies starring Tom Selleck, and the last of them, “Jess Stone: Sea Change” is just out on DVD and worth renting. (This may be heresy, but I actually like some of them better because Stone is portrayed as older and more world weary than the book version, and they never show Stone’s ex-wife, who can become an annoying distraction – think Susan Silverman at her worst – in the books.) A new one, “Jesse Stone: Thin Ice,” which is not based on one of the novels, has been completed and is waiting to get an air date from CBS.

    We saw “Vantage Point” last weekend, and would rate it a fun thriller – it doesn’t stand up to much thought or scrutiny, but is cleverly written and directed – the movie concerns the attempted assassination of a US president (William Hurt) who is attending an anti-terrorism summit in Spain, and it basically retells the same story a half-dozen times from a variety of points of view. We see events through the eyes of a television producer (Sigourney Weaver), a Secret Service agent (Dennis Quaid), a tourist (Forrest Whitaker), the President, etc… It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, with more of the picture becoming clear – albeit with plenty of red herrings – with each retelling.

    Again, it isn’t like the great political/paranoia-fueled thrillers of the seventies. (Think “The Parallax View” and the original “Day of the Jackal” as best of breed.) But it is fun.

    While watching, I had to wonder how many people in the audience remember that when they were in their primes (1981), Hurt and Weaver co-starred in a really neat thriller called “Eyewitness,” directed by Peter Yates, which was about a janitor (Hurt) with inside information about a murder and a romantic obsession with a TV news reporter (Weaver). If was offbeat and fun…and had great supporting turns by Steven Hill (“Mission: Impossible,” “Law & Order”) and a young Morgan Freeman (do I need to list his credits?) as detectives on the case. It says something that I remember it so vividly…though I haven't seen it in a quarter-century. However, I just checked with Netflix, and it is available on DVD…and I’ve added it to my list. You should do the same.

    While in Boston earlier this week to give the keynote address (with Michael Sansolo) at the always great Boston Seafood Show, I had the opportunity to stop at a place that instantly became a favorite – the LTK (for “Legal Test Kitchen”) Bar & Kitchen, where I enjoyed the single best tuna burger that I’ve ever had in my life. It was thick and juicy, and was served with chili sambal and roasted pepper aioli – just wonderful. LTK also serves a terrific spread made up of white beans, garlic, olive oil and pesto that is terrific with chunks of crusty bread.

    And, LTK has a great wine list…and it is from this list that I offer my wine of the week: the 2003 Spellbound Petite Sirah from California, which stood up nicely t the spices of my tuna burger.

    Great place. Great meal. Can't wait to go back.

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


    KC's View: