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    Published on: March 13, 2008

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    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    I’ve been on a road a lot lately, and one of the upsides of my travels is that I’m generally able to bring with me a stack of newspapers, magazines and books that I previously was unable to get to. Or, when I’m in the airport newsstand, sometimes I’ll pick up a magazine that I’ve never read before, just out of curiosity. Sometimes this works out – for example, I became a fan of Wired magazine after buying one in an airport, and that’s how I learned about Chris Anderson’s theory of “The Long Tail.” On the other hand, it also was in an airport where I picked up an issue of Men’s Vogue, and if there is an equally useless men’s magazine on the planet, I haven't yet found it.

    Then again, that’s just me.

    There are some wonderful nuggets of truth to be found while perusing such magazines. For example, in the current edition of Fast Company, in an article about how many of the “green” claims made by many companies are either false or misleading, I found the following paragraph that certainly rings true:

    “The challenge of green living is … simple: Achieve the same quality of life using less stuff and less energy. A truly green consumer won't buy 8,000 square feet of bamboo flooring because the label said it had been hand-rubbed by Nepalese children for a fair wage; she'll dump the McMansion and try to live in a walkable area close to work. A green business will not deploy teams of researchers to figure out which 20% post recycled-content copy paper to use; it will offer free bus or subway vouchers, start a carpooling program, and let workers telecommute one day a week. Being efficient on the big stuff packs much more environmental punch than the benefits that come from choosing between competing light-green product A and the kelly-green product B.

    “The uncomfortable fact for many green marketers--and targets of that marketing—is that genuinely going green would mean giving up most of the products and services that clutter our consumer culture. It would mean simplifying, valuing time and people over stuff. How can most products avoid the sin of the hidden trade-off? With a simple label: ‘You don't really need this’.”

    There is, of course, another uncomfortable truth. Most of us – and I count myself among the guilty parties on this issue – aren’t willing to really, really do what it takes to be environmentally responsible. We take half steps and make rationalizations – I try to walk more and drive less, I use canvas bags instead of plastic ones, but I’m not quite ready to give up the plastic water bottles that are so much a part of my lifestyle. I recycle them, but I’m not quite ready to part with them, despite the fact that they probably are as bad for the environment as the plastic bags I’m so militant about not using.

    Hypocrite? Maybe. Sinner? Some would say so…though maybe we won’t go down that particular road in this space. Human? Most definitely. Which ultimately means that I can do better. We all can.

    There is a lot of space on MorningNewsBeat devoted to these kinds of issues, and I think the reason I do so is that I think it is important for retailers and manufacturers to 1) educate consumers about their options, and 2) provide them with the opportunity, wherever possible and practical, to take advantage of as many of those options as possible. And as I’ve been saying for some time now, by doing so, perhaps the food industry can in fact stay ahead of the regulatory curve, to the point where government won’t be able to intervene and regulate the use of various kinds of bags or plastic bottles of whatever. Retailers and manufacturers will have behaved responsibly, and in the end, I believe, consumers will respond in kind.

    Which to my mind, is vastly preferable to rules and regulations.

    Not everyone thinks I feel that way, of course. I got an email from a MorningNewsBeat user yesterday asking me if there was any form of human behavior that I didn’t want to see the government regulate. I think he was annoyed by the fact that I thought it made sense for the US Senate to look into the new water contamination story that broke this week.

    But I had a quick answer for him: Yes, there is at least one area of human behavior that the government should stay away from:


    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that in congressional testimony yesterday, Steve Mendell, president of Hallmark/Westland Meat Co. - the slaughterhouse that is being held responsible for the inhumane and unsafe treatment of cows that led to the nation’s largest beef recall - was caught in a lie about his company’s procedures.

    According to the story, Mendel submitted written testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee saying that while indeed there was video evidence that two employees of the facility had used a forklift and electric prod to get so-called “downer cows” to stand up, in fact the animals had not been slaughtered for beef but rather had been euthanized and removed from the slaughterhouse. Downer cows are generally banned from the food supply because they are more likely to carry infections such as mad cow disease.

    However, Mendell was then shown “a second video that showed workers dragging a sick cow to the ‘kill box’ so it could be slaughtered. That video, secretly taped by an investigator for the Humane Society of the United States, was a key part of the evidence that led the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month to demand a recall of 143 million pounds of beef dating back two years.

    “Mr. Mendell said he had never seen that video - which was posted on the Humane Society's Web site and widely circulated on the Internet - because the USDA didn't give him a copy.”

    Subsequently, Mendell conceded that it was “logical” to assume, based on the evidence, that meat from downer cows had gone into the food supply, though he later backed off that conclusion. Mendell had earlier refused to testify when invited by the committee, and only appeared when compelled to by subpoena.

    Hallmark/Westland has accused the two employees involved with perpetrating the misdeed on their own, but one of the employees has said that he was only following company policy.

    KC's View:
    It seems fairly obvious here that Mendell was flat-out lying – even if he tried to protect himself by not watching certain videos. The Journal story also implies that this guy is spending a lot of time covering his own rear end…and quite frankly, it sounds like he’s mostly sorry that he got caught.

    Lot of that seems to be going around these days.

    Whatever the punishment ends up being for Mendell, I would suggest that it would involve both a cattle prod and some questionable meat.

    Poetic justice. Though there is very little poetry about what appears to be a willful disregard for public safety.

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    Channel 5 News in Dallas reports that a Minyard’s Carnival Grocery Store has signed a deal with All Smiles Dental and Orthodontics to open a dental office inside the store, providing customers with x-rays, fillings and cleanings.

    According to the story, “The dental office representatives said they are trying to make visits more affordable. Patients can see a dentist with or without an appointment, and shop instead of sitting in a waiting room … they will accept insurance but will also offer cash plans for low-income customers.”

    KC's View:
    Maybe it is just my phobia, but if I’m walking down the supermarket aisle and hear the very specific sound of a dentist’s drill, I’m leaving.

    Because the next thing I expect to hear is Sir Laurence Olivier muttering, “Is it safe?”

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the city’s Board of Supervisors has approved unanimously a new regulation requiring chain restaurants to post nutrition information on their menu boards. According to the story, “Diners in San Francisco will start seeing the labels in about six months. The law requires nutrition information - including calories, fat, carbohydrates and sodium - to be posted on menus or, for restaurants that do not have menus, on prominently displayed posters. Restaurants with menu boards would be required to list the calories per item on the board; other nutrition information could be listed on the posters.”

    The move is aimed at addressing the obesity epidemic, though the Chronicle notes that studies are inconclusive, with some research showing that if people really want to eat calorie-laden burgers and fries, all the signs in the world are unlikely to dissuade them.

    The regulations are similar to those passed in New York City.

    KC's View:
    San Francisco has been taking a highly aggressive approach to these sorts of food industry-related issues, with bans on plastic bags and new fees imposed on plastic bottles. The question is whether San Francisco is the exception or a harbinger of what will be happening more frequently around the country.

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    The East Bay Business Times reports that in an appearance before the Bank of America 2008 Consumer Conference this week, Safeway CEO Steve Burd said that the chain will be less focused on promotional pricing during the coming years and more focused on “better everyday value.” Burd said that efficiency moves over the past few years have better positioned Safeway to offer lower everyday prices and is synch with the Lifestyle stores the company has been opening.

    According to the story, “Burd also said he's not particularly worried about the entry of Tesco PLC, the British supermarket giant, into its home turf of California, where Safeway operates nearly 600 stores under the names Safeway, Vons and Pavilions. He said that each one of Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores that open within 1.5 miles of a Safeway has only 10 percent of the impact of the opening of another conventional supermarket.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    Supervalu CEO Jeff Noddle told the Bank of America Consumer Conference this week that the company has no plans to separate or divest either its retail or wholesale divisions…but could change its mind “if we were financially stressed, which we are not; or if we got to a point at which operating both compromised the growth or value of the other.” Noddle continued, “When and if we get to that point, we would consider selling one of the businesses, but I’m not going to speculate on when that might happen.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    The CBS Early Show had a feature the other morning about rising food prices….and the newscast interviewed Stew Leonard Jr., president/CEO of the eponymous chain of fresh food stores.

    Leonard told co-anchor Harry Smith that an example of the rising costs associated with food is the fact that the tuna fisherman who supplies his stores used to spend $250 a day to fuel his boat…and now it costs $1,000. “That cost has to be passed on,” he said.

    Similar cost increases are affecting the cost of fresh produce, baked goods, and virtually every other foodstuff, the program reported.

    And, Leonard said, “There hasn't been an explosion (in food prices). It's not like anything for people to panic about … you can get some good deals out there.

    "I think the thing that people want to do right now is eat home more. You know, eating out is expensive, and if you can cook and prepare your food at home and with fresh local ingredients, it's really important."
    KC's View:
    I can tell you from personal experience that this is an approach that pretty much defines the Stew Leonard’s shopping experience…and it strikes me that in the current economy – whether it be recessionary or a broader, more permanent transformation – it ought to be one focused on relentlessly by more food retailers. Consumers need and want to get more for their money, and savvy retailers can help them do that with more than just coupons and sale signs. They can give them direction, offer them ideas, stimulate a kind of conversation about food and feeding one’s family.

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that when Starbucks closed down all its owned-and-operated stores last month for three hours so that its baristas could be retrained in the art and culture of coffee and get in touch with the company’s roots, it did a less than stellar job of explaining the move to shoppers.

    According to a survey quoted by Ad Age, 75 percent of those surveyed knew about the closings, but fewer than half of those questioned knew why the stores had closed down.

    Another survey mentioned by Ad Age said that rival Dunkin’ Donuts seemed to have gotten a sales bump from its promotion of discount gourmet coffee drinks during the day Starbucks did its retraining, though other surveys suggest that there was only a minimal benefit to the competition.

    KC's View:
    I was impressed when Starbucks decided to close down its stores and doing the retraining, but I have to say that this kind of awareness is singularly unimpressive. Getting employees in touch with the company’s roots is only part of the equation…where I’m from, you have to squeeze every bit of promotional juice out of the event.

    At the same time, Starbucks needs to be running events that will bring more people into its stores to try new and existing beverages. That may be tough at a time when $4 for a latte seems steep…but the company can’t really afford to wait for the flush times that eventually will come.

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that “a decline in U.S. soft-drink sales volume accelerated sharply last year, as Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc, and other beverage companies failed to overcome flagging consumer interest in big soda brands and grappled with rising commodity costs that pushed the prices of those drinks higher.” U.S. soft-drink volume fell 2.3%, which “was considerably worse than 0.6% and 0.2% slips in 2006 and 2005, respectively, and erased gains in soda sales made since 2000.”

    The Journal writes that “the accelerated drop appeared to be due to price increases of about 5% in the past year that have made soft drinks less attractive, coupled with continually growing consumer interest in newer drink categories like enhanced waters and teas,” according to John Sicher, editor and publisher of Beverage Digest.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    BrandWeek reports that McDonald’s has launched a new entity called Station M, an internal blog that is designed to facilitate and encourage dialogue among the company’s employees and, in the end, “improve internal communications and help sustain strong sales.”

    According to the story, “Station M allows employees to post content and begin online discussions on a variety of topics, including new McDonald's products, promotions and operations, as well as general, nonbusiness related issues. Each post contains a ‘comments’ section where users can insert their reaction to, or questions about, a given topic. Content is provided in English, Spanish and French to facilitate the greatest level of participation across the U.S. and Canadian markets.”

    KC's View:
    I like it. McDonald’s has to create the forum and then sort of sit back and let it evolve on its own…but I like the basic concept.

    It is, after all, the shape of the future.

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    • In Arkansas, the Morning News reports that “a Wal-Mart employee, who suffered headaches after accidentally breathing cleaning chemicals through an office ventilation system, met her burden of proof and is entitled to additional medical treatment, the state Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

    “The decision reversed a ruling by the Arkansas Workers' Compensation denying benefits.” Wal-Mart reportedly had resisted paying for the additional treatment.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    • Larree Renda, Executive Vice President, Chief Strategist and Administrative Officer of Safeway Inc., was inducted into the California Grocers Association Educational Foundation Hall of Achievement this week – the first woman to be so inducted since the hall was created in 1993.

    Safeway CEO Steve Burd praised her as Safeway’s “superwoman.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Pilgrim's Pride “will cut 1,100 jobs from closing a complex and six of its 13 distribution centers as the world's largest chicken processor struggles with the continued surge in feed costs.” Pilgrim’s Pride, according to the story, “blamed corn-based ethanol production for the feed-cost increase” and “said the retrenchment is ‘part of a plan to curtail losses amid record-high costs for corn, soybean meal and other feed ingredients and an oversupply of chicken’ in the U.S.

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that “Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. will overhaul the packaging and flavor of its ubiquitous stick gums, including Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, Big Red and Extra brands, as part of an effort to revive sagging U.S. sales … The company says it will transform the bulky packs of foil-wrapped stick gum into a sleek and slim 15-stick envelope. It also intends to boost the gum's flavor.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 13, 2008

    “Your Views” is on hiatus today not because of the flood of emails on the subject of sin … which are straining the memory in my laptop … but because I am on the road and time is short.

    But we’ll be back with your emails, on this and a vast array of other subjects, shortly…I promise.

    KC's View: