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    Published on: March 3, 2008

    CNBC reports on a new “Wealth in America” survey that it conducted that indicates a growing negativity about the economy being felt and stated by US citizens.

    According to the survey, “83 percent of Americans rate the economy as only fair or poor, up 11 points since the December poll, and almost two-thirds are pessimistic now and about the future.

    “Meanwhile, just 20 percent of Americans expect their home price to increase in the next year, down from 40 percent a year ago. The expectation is that home prices will decline a slight 0.3 percent, the first decline since the quarterly survey began. In the last survey, Americans said they believed home values would rise by 2.2 percent.”

    Furthermore, “Just 39 percent of Americans expect the value of their stock portfolios to rise in the next 12 months, down from 60 percent a year ago. That’s caused 24 percent of stockholders to say they will invest more conservatively in the next several months, up from 14 percent in December.

    “The survey also suggested respondents are concerned about stagflation, when prices rise and growth stagnates. Americans expect their wages to rise 5.4 percent in the coming year, unchanged from December. Yet they expect prices for everyday goods they buy to rise 8.2 percent on average, up from 6.4 percent last quarter.”

    There is some good news, however. “Despite the gloomy outlook, half of all Americans expect to keep their spending the same on discretionary items like movies, restaurants and vacations,” CNBC writes. “A third say they’ll spend less and 13% expect to splurge.

    “The credit crunch doesn’t appear to have hurt Americans’ ability to get loans. About three-quarters of Americans say they haven’t had any trouble obtaining credit, virtually unchanged from the October survey.

    “If there’s going to be an economic downturn, American’s don’t believe their finances are in bad shape. Only 16 percent say they have ‘a lot of debt’ and 70 percent say their debt has stayed the same or gone down in the past year.”

    As for politics, the survey showed that the participants far preferred Democrats to Republicans in terms of their ability to turn the economy around, though they seemed to feel that the GOP would be better for the stock market. And, “when it comes to specific economic problems, a large percentage have little faith in either political party.”

    KC's View:
    I tend to feel that that lack of faith is likely to be rewarded, but I’m getting a little cynical about the short-term prospects for the economy.

    It is a little scary to read that so many people seem to be having little trouble getting loans and credit cards…especially since Americans’ over-reliance on credit seems to be playing a fairly prominent role in the nation’s economic problems.

    It is the opinion here that these consumer concerns about the economy will play a role in what and how people buy, and how they define value and convenience. Retailers and manufacturers, while they will feel the impulse to circle the wagons and cut…cut…cut, should think seriously about where to invest…invest…invest. Because this could be a great time for some companies to redefine themselves and their relationships with shoppers.

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    The New York Times this morning reports that “known for its strict, by-the-books culture - accepting a cup of coffee from a supplier can be a firing offense - Wal-Mart is now encouraging its merchants to speak frankly, even critically, about the products the chain carries.

    “This unusual new Web site, which was quietly created during the holiday shopping season, has become a forum for unvarnished rants about gadgets, raves about new video games and advice on selecting environmentally sustainable food.”

    The Times writes that Wal-Mart’s site, www.CheckOutBlog.com, “turns the traditional model on its head. Instead of relying on polished high-level executives, it is written by little-known buyers, largely without editing. The result is an intensely personal window into the lives, preferences and quirks of the powerful tastemakers at Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, who have spent years shielded from public view.”

    According to the story, the new blog seems to be avoiding the pitfalls of previous Wal-Mart-oriented blogs because it is authentic, as opposed to being a fabricated “consumer support” blog designed to appear as if it were spontaneous. At the same time, some of its authenticity seems to stem from the fact that the site carries honest criticism of Wal-Mart-stocked items, such as Microsoft’s Vista operating system…though this same criticism can raise the hackles of suppliers.

    KC's View:
    Wow…a blog that is “an intensely personal window into the lives, preferences and quirks” of the people who write it. What a concept.

    I approve. Needless to say.

    What Wal-Mart is doing here is ever more effectively identifying itself as the agent for the consumer, rather than just a manufacturer’s rep to the consumer. Wal-Mart can do it, because it is more powerful and influential than its suppliers.

    But this is very smart. Consumers are being honest and unvarnished in their various blogs and comments, so Wal-Mart is smart to cast its lot with them.

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has placed one food inspector and one supervisor on paid leaves of absence pending the results of its investigation into the events that led to the nation’s largest beef recall.

    The move comes as the USDA has been blaming the company for the violations that resulted in the recall, and the company has been blaming hourly employees for torturing downer cattle to the point where they were able to make it into the slaughterhouse. The torture was caught on video by the Humane Society, posted on the Internet, and almost instantly caused a firestorm.

    There reportedly were five USDA inspectors working at the plant.

    KC's View:
    So, the questions are these – what did they know, and when did they know it?

    In my experience, questions that often generate interesting answers…and answers that rarely are positive for the people about whom the questions are being raised.

    By the way, just as a matter of interest, there was a fascinating piece the other day in the Wisconsin State Journal about a butchery that is run on the campus of the university of Wisconsin – Madison, which is only open on Fridays and which provides students and teachers with freshly cut “bacon, steaks, lamb chops and the ever-popular Jordan and Clayt 's Hot Sticks sausages.”

    According to the story, “The point isn't to offer discounted meat to the customers, who are mainly UW-Madison students and employees. Instead, the shop was created to give students a chance to try all aspects of meat processing, with an emphasis on food safety.” The whole point is to ingrain best practices in the students’ minds…and it seems to be working.

    I’m thinking that maybe these students should be the face of a new USDA.

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) may be trying to put some distance between her and her 1986-1992 service on the board of Wal-Mart as she runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, but filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) suggests that the folks at Wal-Mart aren’t taking it personally.

    In Arkansas, the Morning News reports that Clinton has received a total of $12,200 for a variety of Wal-Mart executives during the primary season, the most of any candidate in either party.

    In second place, according to the story, “was former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who received $7,150 before he dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination in January. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican still in the race, has picked up $7,050 from Wal-Mart's leaders,” including a thousand bucks each from CEO Lee Scott and Vice Chairman Mike Duke. Huckabee is the former governor of Arkansas, which serves as Wal-Mart’s home base.

    Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois), the other Democratic contender, has received $3,300 from senior Wal-Mart personnel. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), the presumptive GOP nominee, had not gotten any money from high-level Wal-Mart executives as of January 31, 2008, the final date for which contributions were filed.

    KC's View:
    I’m sure the same sort of story could be written about the senior executives of virtually every major or minor business in the US…but this one happened to be about Wal-Mart. And because two of the four remaining candidates for the two major party nominations have links to Arkansas, I just found this interesting.

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    HealthDay News reports that a new study suggests that “concentrated extract of freeze-dried broccoli sprouts reduced bladder tumor development by more than half in laboratory rats,” and that it is believed that “the protective effect of broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables -- such as cabbage, kale, and collard greens -- is at least partly due to isothyiocyanates (ITCs), a group of phytochemicals with anti-cancer properties.”
    KC's View:
    Thank goodness it was broccoli sprouts and not Brussels sprouts. Because no matter what the medicinal benefits of Brussels sprouts, I’m not eating those things. Not ever.

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    In London, The Times reports that Wal-Mart’s Asda Group and Coop are considered to be the most likely companies to acquire Somerfield, the 900+ supermarket chain there that is said to be on the market for the equivalent of close to $5 billion (US). However, the bids submitted by Asda and Coop reportedly are “well below” the number being sought by the equity groups that own Somerfield, and the Times suggests that this means that it is more likely that Somerfield could be broken up and sold in parts.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    Looking to try and revive its fortunes by paying attention to American nutritional and dietary concerns, Krispy Kreme announced last week that it is “offering a Lightly Glazed Doughnut--a hint of sweetness on top of Krispy Kreme's signature golden doughnut.

    “The new featured doughnut is a yeast-raised ring drizzled lightly with Krispy Kreme's original glaze.”

    KC's View:
    Gimme a break. I don't care how “light” these doughnuts are, they’re awful for you, and they’re always going to be awful for you.

    “Light doughnut” is an oxymoron. And people who believe it….well, just get rid of the “oxy.”

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    MSNBC reports that the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) says that Americans are getting less sleep than ever, which “can be a nightmare for your mental and physical health” and is, in fact, “an under-recognized public health problem.”

    According to the story, “Sleep experts say chronic sleep loss is associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, depression, cigarette smoking and excessive drinking … The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. Children ages 5 to 12 should get nine to 11 hours and those 11 to 17 need 8-1/2 to 9-1/2 hours … The CDC said 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep loss and sleep disorders in a country of 300 million.”

    KC's View:
    Uh-oh.

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    In the UK, the New York Times reports that J Sainsbury is getting into the pubic health business…though not the same way that US stores have done it through the opening of in-store clinics run by nurse practitioners.

    “At Sainsbury, a team of government-financed doctors will see patients,” the Times writes. “To start, they will work in the evenings and on Saturdays in a fully equipped consultation room in one store in Manchester. If the pilot project succeeds, it is expected to be introduced in other Sainsbury stores this year.

    “The supermarket doctors will help not only patients but also the government. British authorities have struggled to improve their taxpayer-financed national health service and to make doctors more readily available to patients. The doctors may also help Sainsbury. Like other retailers, the company is searching for ways to increase profits as growth in its traditional food business has slowed … The clinics are expected to attract more customers and to give the store an incentive to sell prescription drugs, which have higher profit margins than over the counter medication.”

    According to the story, “Britain’s national health service offers free medical consultations, but Britons are permitted to register with only one practice close to their home; otherwise, they can pay for private health care. That requirement, combined with the difficulty many people have in seeing doctors during daytime weekday hours, means employees spend 3.5 million working days a year traveling to and from doctors, costing the British economy $2 billion, the Confederation of British Industry estimated … the Sainsbury clinics differ from those at Wal-Mart or other American stores. They are not walk-in clinics, and only patients registered with the supermarket doctors’ practice can book appointments.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    • Ahold-owned Stop & Shop announced last week that as part of its price-lowering strategy, it will “offer lower prices on a wide variety of salad dressings, condiments, cooking oils, and other products … In addition to ketchup, mustard and relish, customers also will find lower prices on olive oil, mayonnaise, sauces and marinades, shortening, pickles, olives, vinegar, and jarred pickles and peppers. To date, Stop & Shop has lowered prices on thousands of other products including produce, dairy products, cookies and crackers, frozen foods, water, coffee, juices, cereal, pet foods, paper goods, baby care products and household supplies.”

    • Unilever announced that it will combine its Home and Personal Care unit with its Foods division under a single executive - Vindi Banga, now president-Foods, who will also oversee Home and Personal Care.

    MediaWeek reports that TV chef Emeril Lagasse has signed a deal with Discovery Communications’ Planet Green TV network for a new series that “will be shot on location at a Washington-area Whole Foods Market, the national supermarket chain that specializes in organic and minimally-processed produce, meats, seafood and dairy products.”

    Lagasse is quoted as saying, “Since my early days as a chef, I’ve always been passionate about using the freshest quality ingredients from farmers, fisherman and ranchers. I try a little harder every day to think greener and be respectful of our environment and our resources. On ‘Emeril Green’ we’ll unearth how easy and fun it is to cook with what’s fresh, tasty and in-season and find smart ways to make each day a little greener for you and your family.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2008

    Well, I knew I was going to get some grief for this…

    MNB reported on Friday that 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. ”

    My comment was that I liked the idea of encouraging kids to cook … but “at the risk of seemingly overly cynical (who, me?), I would suggest that an even better contest 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?

    “Geez…”

    MNB user John Servidio wrote:

    What is wrong with a Savings Bond? Why can’t Stop & Shop encourage both a healthy diet as well as a strategy of long-term investment and savings? Aren’t they really two sides of the same coin? Our youthful culture of instant gratification at the expense of time honored traditions of thrift and moderation is really the problem we are facing. I think it demonstrates enlightenment for the people at Stop & Shop to want to encourage and instill these values in our youth. We need more programs like this, and less that support the mentality of the “gotta have it now” generation.

    And MNB user Lee Emdur wrote:

    I couldn't disagree with you more about the Stop & Shop recipe/bond contest. Even if what you wrote about savings bonds being an antiquated prize is tongue-in-cheek, you are taking an unnecessary shot at Stop & Shop.

    Let me get this straight — a savings bond is very "1950s" but $5000 Apple Store spending sprees for kids should be encouraged? Great message. We live in an age of rampant consumerism, negative savings rates, mushrooming credit card debt and ballooning student loan obligations. I applaud Stop & Shop in awarding a savings vehicle for parents and their children that can be used for their education. I would argue that parents don't need to get more "stuff" for their kids, rather they need help (especially in this economy) in planning for their higher education. Kudos to Stop & Shop for being in tune with this sentiment. I think you are the one out of touch here!

    Regarding your dissatisfaction with constructing this contest for the parents — that is the whole point! Parents make the shopping decisions when it comes to what grocery store to visit. I would guess that the average 10 yr old won't step foot in a grocery store to purchase a full order on their own for at least 8-10 years. This contest is wisely targeted to parents and I would imagine that many of them will appreciate the chance for a savings bond. And you know what else, that child -- who may not fully understand the prize now -- will appreciate it down the line when they are figuring out how to pay for their college education, and making his/her first trip alone to the store to pay for their own groceries.

    I say give Stop & Shop a break on this one and give them the benefit of the doubt once in a while!


    You may disagree with me on this, but I think that savings bonds are largely products given to children by grandparents and maiden aunts, and that they are pretty much irrelevant to kids’ lives. Sure, it’d be nice if they thought about “time honored traditions of thrift and moderation,” but most kids do not worry about that stuff.

    (By the way, if you think kids have little or no role in what stores parents choose and what products they buy, I’d argue that you are mistaken. Kids have an enormous role…since most parents want them to actually eat the products we buy.)

    If you want kids to get interested in cooking, you have to offer them something they want. Offering kids savings bonds is like offering me a year’s worth of Brussels sprouts.

    Now, if you tell me that the chain is offerings kids an iTunes gift certificate, and a savings bond that their parents can tuck away for them, I’m okay with that. The kids can focus on the iTunes and the parents will feel better about the money.

    Last time I checked, contest prizes were supposed to appeal to the people you actually want to participate in the contest.

    By the way, here’s another potentially radical thought. Savings bonds are really only good for one entity – the US government. At this point, there are more than $15 billion - $15 billion worth of unredeemed yet matured savings bonds out there. People have them, don't know they have them, and the government doesn’t have to pay them off. (If we all decided to cash in the savings bonds that our grandparents gave us on the same day, I suspect that the presidential candidates might have to rethink their economic platforms.)

    There are tons of better ways to earn interest than with US savings bonds, which I continue to believe are not just irrelevant to kids’ lives, but generally irrelevant to real life in 2008 America.

    MNB user Bob Warzecha had some thoughts on this issue:

    You're probably right that Stop & Shop should provide the winner of their recipe contest for kids something other than a savings bond.

    When my nieces and nephews were born I would buy them stock in a company such as McDonald's or Proctor & Gamble and enroll them in the company's dividend reinvestment plan. Then for each special occasion (birthday, Christmas) I would purchase additional stock in their account. Each time I would get a call from my brothers who thanked me profusely for the gift. This would go on until the child turned 7 or 8 when I would get a call from the child who would say dejectedly "Gee, thanks, Uncle Bob for the stock". I knew then it was time to stop buying stock and start buying the gadget du jour for the present.


    And another MNB user wrote:

    Obviously, you are a child of the 50's with your formative years in the sixties...Geez...is sixties slang for the 50's term of "Gee Whiz". I know what a savings bond is because I was born slightly after the end of the last little ice age...but your thoughts about marketers thinking younger (more creatively and innovatively) was "right on"!

    To build on this, I would suggest that if I am right that savings bonds are largely products given to children by grandparents and maiden aunts, it is worth asking whether this is the image Stop & Shop wants to have in the minds of young people who will be their future customers? If the chain wants to seem old and stodgy and of another generation, just keep it up with the savings bond strategy.

    That’s just not the way I’d go.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2008

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    KC's View: