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    Published on: March 17, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a pair of consumer advocacy organizations – Consumers International and the International Obesity Task Force – have developed a code of marketing conduct that they hope governments around the world will adopt and enforce, putting restrictions on the kinds of food products that can be marketed to children.

    According to the Journal, “The groups are calling for a ban on radio or television advertising of food and beverages that are high in fat, sugar and salt between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.; a ban on marketing such food via social-networking Web sites and other forms of new media; a ban on gifts and toys as a way of promoting unhealthy food; and a ban on the use of celebrities and cartoon characters to market such food.”

    The groups made the proposal on Saturday during a meeting of the World Health Organization for the annual observance of World Consumers Rights Day.

    The Journal notes that a number of companies – including Kraft, Kellogg, General Mills and PepsiCo – already have announced voluntary guidelines that will restrict the kind of products they will market to kids under the age of 12. But the two consumer organizations object to where the line is being drawn – they would like to see 16 as the line of demarcation.

    KC's View:
    Putting aside for the moment the issue of whether such marketing guidelines should be government mandated, I do think that drawing the line at age 16 seems a little unreasonable – that we’d all be better off if we taught our kids how to make intelligent choices rather than believing that a simple ban on TV/radio advertising is going to change their behaviors.

    Especially these days, because these kids have access to so much, it becomes increasingly critical for parents – supported by the schools (not vice versa) – to show involvement and offer guidance to our kids. (But I’m not really softening on this issue…I still think that offering McDonald’s Happy Meals in exchange for good grades borders on the criminal!)

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    In the UK, the Guardian reports that even as Tesco continues to face questions about the performance of its US Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores, “its core UK business is being battered by the economy and losing ground to rivals.”

    This latter comment is based on recent market share figures that indicated that Tesco is growing less than competitors William Morrison Supermarkets and Wal-Mart’s Asda Group. The entire UK grocery sector is said to be under pressure both from inflation and a rollback in consumer spending.

    In the Times, there are reports that about a third of Tesco’s chilled foods team “has gone to America to help to develop the fresh food lines sold in Fresh & Easy,” which may be serving as a distraction that is hurting its UK business.

    Tesco has responded to the criticisms by saying that the shifts in the UK market are cyclical and nothing to worry about, and that it remains bewildered by the “baseless” criticisms of its Fresh & Easy Stores, which it says are “growing rapidly.”

    KC's View:
    The late, great Bob Murphy used to refer to severely challenged baseball teams as “looking at nine miles of bad road,” but while Tesco almost certainly is facing challenges, I’m not sure it is quite that bad.

    After all, the global economy is in tough shape…which is creating problems for retailers big and small. And Tesco is trying to develop a new kind of grocery store in an entirely new market…which has its own share of challenges. So to expect that things would go completely smoothly would be to expect too much.

    I still wouldn’t bet against Tesco. The company has too much money, too much intelligence, too much bench strength and too much ambition. If there are problems, the folks at Tesco are a pretty good bet to fix them.

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    The Chicago Tribune reports that Medical Marts, which operated more than a dozen in-store health clinics inside retailers that included Meijer and ShopKo, has permanently shuttered all of its locations.

    According to the Tribune, the move was precipitated when venture capitalists withdrew their funding; Medical Marts were different from other in-store clinics, the Tribune writes, because its facilities were staffed by physicians, rather than the nurse practitioners common to other in-store clinics.

    This is the second time this year that an in-store clinic provider has run into financial troubles. Last January, CheckUps, which operated 23 in-store medical clinics in southern Wal-Mart stores, shut down those operations amid financial troubles that caused it to stop paying its employees and vendors.

    KC's View:
    When the Tribune first reported on the Medical Marts concept a year or so ago, I commented:

    The best way to compete is to bring something new to the table, which is what Medical Mart and Meijer are doing. I have no idea how the economics of this work, but I would imagine that if given the choice between a doctor-staffed facility and a nurse staffed facility, I’d probably choose the one with the actual physician. That said, I have no problem getting flu shots and easy diagnoses from nurse practitioners.

    Now we have the answer. The economics apparently don't work very well.

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    • Wal-Mart is estimating that it has saved US shippers more than one billion dollars since implementing its $4 prescription plan…and that this doesn’t even include the savings generated for shoppers when the retailer’s competitors also cut their prices.

    Wal-Mart says that four out of 10 prescriptions filled at its stores fall into the $4 category.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    The Boston Herald reports that Boston’s health commission has voted final approval of a ban of the use of trans fats by the city’s restaurants and cafeterias. The ban goes into effect in six months.

    “Boston has now stepped into a leadership role,” Anne McHugh, who runs the health commission’s chronic disease prevention program, tells the Herald. “Trans fats are a significant source of heart disease, and heart disease is a leading cause of death.”

    The ban is similar to one implemented by New York City and under consideration by the city of Baltimore. San Francisco has taken a different approach – allowing restaurants banishing trans fats on a voluntary basis to display a decal saying so.

    KC's View:
    The San Francisco approach strikes me as better, since it uses a carrot instead of a stick to achieve similar ends.

    Still, whatever the approach, the overarching message is clear – the anti trans fat train rolls on.

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    The Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Target Stores is teaming up with Hormel Foods and Cargill “to place labels on meat letting consumers know when food been treated with a gas to make it look fresher.” The new program could begin as soon as later this month.

    A number of companies have been criticized for treating their meat with carbon monoxide, which is used to help meat retain its red color.

    The labels will say: "Color is not an accurate indicator of freshness. Refer to use or freeze by [date]."

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    • The Financial Times reports that Tesco is sending Michael Fleming, is UK business development director, to Japan, where he will serve as CEO of the company’s operations there.

    “The move comes a year after Tesco began rolling out Express-type stores in Japan, suggesting that the retailer has finally got the format right after four years of trying,” FT reports. “Tesco, which announced plans to open Tesco Express-style stores in Japan a year ago, has rolled out at least 30 outlets over the past year, taking it to an estimated 150 stores.”

    KC's View:
    Gee, if it took Tesco four years to get its Japan stores right – in a market where it entered via acquisition, rather than opening an entirely new format and banner – what does that say about how it will behave in the US?

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    Interesting piece in the New York Times about Starbucks’ in-store music business, which just a few years ago was seen as a way to market sophisticated, eclectic, even unconventional songs and albums to what was seen as an aspirational consumer demographic.

    “But the ardor for Starbucks has gone the way of yesterday morning’s grounds,” the Times writes. “Critics in the music industry say the company squandered its cachet by mismanaging the effort to broaden its music mix. The choices that reflect its early taste for the offbeat — like an album from Lizz Wright, a torchy pop singer — are now squeezed in with offerings not unlike those at Wal-Mart, including the latest releases from Alicia Keys and James Blunt … Along the way, Starbucks has alienated business partners who contend that it has demanded too big a cut of music revenue. The company’s shift in direction has also prompted upheaval within — including the departures of half a dozen senior executives from its entertainment unit.”

    Starbucks said its music sales are healthy and that it sold 4.4 million CDs in North America last year, up some 22 percent from the year before; however, at least some of this increase likely can be traced to the company’s increase in store count…since it sells just two CDs per store per day.

    KC's View:
    I suspect that Starbucks may be suffering from its attempts to become a cultural icon, rather than settling for being a coffee icon. And it may be fair to suggest that its various efforts in the cultural area – in music, books, movies – have distracted it from the core business.

    Though I have to be honest. I always sort of thought the notion of Starbucks putting its imprint on the culture was a cool idea…one that would take it beyond simply being a coffee company.

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    • Whole Foods reportedly plans to open between 25 and 30 stores during its 2009 fiscal year, a roughly 10 percent increase in store count from its current 270 units.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    I wrote last week with some surprise about how many people at a Western Michigan University food marketing conference had not ever bought anything on, or had not even visited the site.

    Which led MNB user Phil Censky to write:

    What really strikes me about Amazon is how they understand the concept of loyalty. Two programs really stand out: Amazon Prime and Subscribe and Save.

    With Amazon Prime (as you've pontificated in the past) and its free 2-day shipping, the more you order, the bigger the savings. Subscribe and Save offers consumers convenience (you never run out of certain stock items) and it offers brand loyalty to the manufacturers (and to Amazon). If a consumer subscribes to a certain household staple category (food or nonfood) via Amazon, what's the likelihood that they'll ever go back to traditional brick and mortar retailers for that category?

    Time to rethink the leakage tree and who the competition is.


    MNB user Doug Hessinger had this response to Michael Sansolo’s paean to the Wii:

    Like yourself, I just recently had the opportunity to play a few Wii games - a long stretch from the "model T" Pong and Atari games I used to have as a kid (wish I'd kept them now as they're probably becoming a collector's item..). While amazed, I was also somewhat disheartened to realize that I was actually beginning to tire and breath hard while playing the boxing game - then realized that I was actually exercising! (Please, no comment as to my obviously being out of shape.)

    But on the Today Show this morning, there was a report that physical therapists are using Wii for their rehab patients. Great idea, and while Nintendo probably had no intention of this, it presents a great opportunity to possibly expand their business with program designed for such purposes, benefit a portion of society, create goodwill and receive some good press.

    Who knows, perhaps one day moms will be telling their kids to "go play your video game and get some exercise."

    MNB user Keith Green had the following question:

    In response to the Ukrop’s rBST announcement – Having grown up in Chicago, I have a healthy dose of cynicism and know almost nothing about cows, except that they come from Wisconsin. You could certainly read an announcement like Ukrop’s and assume that means there are NO hormones/additives given to their cows. My question is, do the cows receive other injections/additives that get into our milk? Or is the article just stating that there is one less hormone injection, making the cows and therefore the milk, safer?

    Another MNB user wrote, about another issue:

    I read with interest the article about economists thinking that the US has slid into recession. The article sites the slow-down of retail sales as one of many reasons for the slow-down.

    I continue to be dumbfounded that retail companies continue to outsource middle class jobs to other countries who do not purchase their products and yet they don’t see the correlation between lower sales and that outsourcing.

    I'd like to assure those companies that outsource that family and friends of people who work for companies that outsource are thinking twice about buying from those companies.

    And, because the discussion here about the nature of sin hasn’t quite ended, MNB user Glen Terbeek chimed in:

    Maybe the energy spent discussing the seven dealing sins of the Catholic church by the followers of MNB should be redirected to the discussion of the seven deadly sins committed in the Supermarket Industry.

    Let me start the list off by suggesting that the current "false economics" of trade dollars might be number one. I am sure that your readers can add and debate many others.

    I think there is room for both discussions…but maybe that’s just me.

    MNB user Dan Murphy wrote:

    Delighted to see the thought provoking discussion regarding ethics, sin, science and the relationship of the food business to all three matters. Could not agree more with those of your readers who feel that discussion of serious and challenging matters such as these is not any sort of attack on anyone, and if I am not terribly wrong about a central tenet of Catholicism, the matter of an informed conscience is of central significance -- so a spirited discussion is if anything rather useful.

    I did need to take issue with the reader who commented that that the Catholic hierarchy hates science. This is an incorrect, though easily digested assertion (think planet of the apes with the “inherent contradiction of being minister of science and defender of the faith!”). Yes, they surely sought to suppress Galileo and any number of others. I hasten to point out though, that that was some 500 years ago, and that although slow, the church understanding and philosophy changes (witness Vatican II). In a similar way I suspect you Kevin, and many of your readers have changed their thoughts and understandings over their lives to this point (surely I know I think differently now than when I was a teenager- although I am unsure if I think more clearly or better in any way).

    It bears noting for the record that unlike many more fundamentalist philosophies Catholic doctrine supports the Big Bang (Georges Lemaitre was in fact a Catholic cleric), the theory of evolution, and evolution is taught in Catholic schools (which I bring up only because so many others did). The church has no particular issue with the notion of life on other planets (life everywhere in the universe is a divine creation), and taking a larger view, if I am not terribly mistaken there are and have always been plenty of religious scientists, not only of the Catholic and other Christian flavors but I think it safe to say Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and many others. God and science are not at all mutually exclusive and I assert that any dogmatic repetition that it must be so because Charlton Heston said so, or because it seems so obvious having been shown as axiomatic in TV and movies for 80 years is as equally ignorant a position as is that of anyone who would use their faith to proclaim that all human efforts to understand and improve the world we live in is the devil’s work.

    It is a matter of some pride here that there cannot be that many business-oriented websites where the readers write in to talk about people like Georges Lemaitre.

    And, an email from an MNB user that I found particularly amusing:

    Does God creating Eve from Adam’s rib count as genetic manipulation?

    Excellent question.

    Of course, I’ll probably go to hell for reprinting it…

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 17, 2008

    Tiger Woods sunk a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday and won the Arnold Palmer Invitational by 1 shot in Orlando, Fla., a win that extends his PGA Tour winning streak to five and keeps intact a so-far perfect season.
    KC's View:
    This maybe just the second or third time in more than six years that I’ve mentioned golf on MNB…because, to be honest, I know nothing about golf, don't play and have never watched it. (For example, I have no idea what a “birdie putt” is.)

    But…I have to say that I am wowed by this accomplishment. On Friday, I kept reading about the fact that Woods was six or seven strokes back, and at one point heard the increasingly annoying and aggravating Mad Dog Russo on WFAN crowing about the fact that Woods’ streak was over, that there was no way he’d come back.

    So when I read the news stories this morning…I was thrilled for Woods’ achievement and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that final 25-foot birdie putt.

    I still don't know what one is. But man, it looked like a combination of magic and pure artistry … like a Koufax fastball or an Ali jab. Thing of beauty.