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    Published on: March 31, 2008

    In the UK, the Sunday Telegraph reports that Tesco has decided to call a three-month halt to the rollout of its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores in the western US. The company said that after a fast-paced initial rollout - 59 stores over four months in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada – it decided to "make improvements and allow the business to settle down".

    In his blog on the Fresh & Easy website, Fresh & Easy’s chief marketing officer Simon Uwins wrote, in part:

    “We've opened 31 stores in 66 days so far this year...now we're pausing for breath.

    “We've been delighted with the openings. There's always been a line of customers waiting for each store to open. Indeed at some, such as Long Beach … the lines were almost too long, they took hours to clear - I'm sorry if anyone was inconvenienced.

    “And every week, we attract more customers in our existing stores.

    “However, after opening our first 50, we planned to have a 3 month break from openings, and other than a couple more in Phoenix, we're taking it (albeit, in our usual fashion, with 59 stores already open).

    “Why?

    “Quite simply, to allow the business we've created to settle down.

    “In 9 months, we've gone from a project team of 200 people to a business employing nearly 2500 people - and in another 9 months, it'll be over 5000. In a little over 4 months, we've gone from a business with no stores to one with 59 - with hundreds more in the pipeline.

    “We've learnt a huge amount about running the operation, and talked to thousands of customers about what they like about fresh&easy, and where they'd like us to improve.

    “So we've given ourselves a little bit of time to kick the tires, smooth out any wrinkles, and make some improvements that customers have asked for.”

    Of course, there are considerable doubts in the marketplace about whether Tesco is seeing the kind of sales, traffic and return on investment that it expected from the Fresh & Easy chain.

    Tesco has said that it plans to have about 200 Fresh & Easy US stores by February 2009, and already has laid out its plans to open units in Northern California.

    KC's View:
    I would be careful about drawing too many conclusions about this decision by Tesco, or speculating too much about what it might mean.

    It seems obvious, from all the reports that I have seen, that not all the existing stores have lived up to expectations, and that there are some operational issues that need to be straightened out. But it actually speaks to Tesco’s strength of commitment, I think, that it makes a move like this. It would be much worse to keep moving in one direction without tweaking the concept…sort of like sailing without paying attention to the wind direction.

    Besides, I’ve been saying this practically since the beginning – Fresh & Easy 2.0 is likely to be very different from the first stores…and that will be more of a measure of Tesco’s understand of and commitment to the US marketplace.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The Washington Post reports that Giant Food and Safeway have reached an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) on a new contract covering Washington, DC, area stores to replace the one that expired over the weekend.

    Terms of the agreement were not released, but health care, benefits and wages were at the heart of the negotiations. Unionized employees are scheduled to vote on the new contract offer tomorrow, and approval is expected.

    KC's View:
    It is beyond me why so often management and labor walk to the precipice, only to find common ground at the last minute. But if it works, it works.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The New York Times reports that the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus plans to announce today that Wal-Mart’s advertising claim that it saves the average American family $2,500 a year is misleading, and that it is a claim “for which the advertiser provided no support and, in fact, conceded that there was none.”

    However, the actual criticism seems to be one that Wal-Mart is wiling to live with.

    The watchdog group specifically criticized the ad campaign’s “inference” that people can save $2,500 a year by shopping at Wal-Mart as opposed to at other, competing retailers. In fact, according to the analysis, Wal-Mart’s pricing policies create an environment which customers save $2,500 annually – regardless of where they shop.

    The Times reports that Wal-Mart assured the watchdog group that it will adjust its advertising, and that it is “proud” that its economic impact is even more “explicit” than advertised.

    KC's View:
    That’s a pretty compelling argument, in my view – that Wal-Mart actually saves you money no matter where you shop. The corollary, of course, is that if you shop at Wal-Mart, you give the Bentonville Behemoth even more economic strength to drive down prices…a pretty persuasive case to make these days.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The Boston Globe reported over the weekend that the revelation of a credit/debit card security breach at Delhaize-owned Hannaford Bros. has created a disagreement about disclosure rules.

    According to the globe, a data privacy law that was passed in Massachusetts last year “requires companies to notify officials and residents when they lose control of records that could lead to the theft of such information as a person's name and credit card number. State officials say the law applied in the case of Hannaford, which disclosed on March 17 that 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers were potentially exposed to fraud.

    “But executives at Hannaford, based in Scarborough, Maine, say the company was not required to make such a disclosure, even after it learned that software illicitly placed on servers in its stores captured card numbers and expiration dates and sent them overseas. The chain eventually disclosed details of the breach in stages through a press release, a statement on its website, and a letter to Massachusetts regulators that it said it wasn't required to send.

    “Some outside legal and security specialists say Hannaford has a point. Thirty-nine states have laws requiring some form of disclosure after a data breach; most of those laws, such as the one in Massachusetts, say companies must file reports when they lose payment card data connected with customers' names or other personal details. Many of the laws don't address what happens when only payment card numbers and expiration dates - with no names - are lost, as in the Hannaford case.

    “The point of the laws, say the specialists, was to strike a balance between guarding against the worst forms of identity theft and ensuring that companies are not subjected to undue burdens.”

    KC's View:
    From the reading of the articles that I’ve done, it continues to sound as if one of the reasons Hannaford may have delayed complete and early disclosure is that there was an ongoing investigation, and disclosure may have not been in the best interests of those trying to trace the problem to its source.

    The reality of modern life, however, is that consumers expect full disclosure. Transparency is all. And Hannaford no doubt already is embarking on a campaign to assure its customers that it is working in their best interests to assure their privacy and security. But it can't ever look as it is hiding anything…because that perception can create long-term problems.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The Chicago Tribune reports this morning that Safeway-owned Dominick’s is investing more than $200 million into the renovation of its Chicago-area stores, not to mention ramping up its marketing budget hoping to reverse what is called “years of decline.” While the company says that these moves into the “lifestyle” format used by Safeway to significant success elsewhere in the country reflect the company’s commitment to the division, the Tribune notes that rumors continue to “swirl” about it being for sale.
    KC's View:
    Many of the rumors seem to be fueled by the fact that Wisconsin-based Roundy’s – which is helmed by Bob Mariano, who used to be CEO of Dominick’s – plans to open stores in Chicago…which would appear to create an opportunity for Safeway to sell and Roundy’s to buy.

    It could happen. But I have to admit that for the first time in a long time, it looks to me like Safeway plans to hold onto its Chicago division…at least for the time being. (Which probably means they’ll announce a sale later this week…)

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The Lakeland Ledger reports that Charles "Charlie" Jenkins Jr. is stepping down this week as president of Publix Super Markets, to be succeeded by William "Ed" Crenshaw.

    Described by industry expert Burt Flickinger as “top of the class” and “a great innovator…a great marketer…and a very tough competitor, Jenkins, according to the Ledger, “is leaving his successor with an empire in peak condition. Publix's earnings rose nearly 8 percent last year to a record $1.2 billion as sales climbed more than 6 percent to $23 billion.

    “ Though the company's stock - independently evaluated and sold only to employees and board members - has seen minor declines in recent valuations, same-store sales remain healthy and Publix enjoys a significant lead over its competition in Florida with nearly 40 percent of the state's market share.”

    Jenkins will take over as chairman of the board, succeeding his cousin, Howard Jenkins.

    Crenshaw tells the St. Petersburg Times, “I think Charlie Jenkins Jr. got Publix headed in the right direction, doing all the right things … Will there be changes? Sure, as our customers require us to change according to their needs. But there won't be huge immediate changes in our company. I think we are headed in the right direction and folks are doing a good job.”

    KC's View:
    Couldn’t have said it better than Burt Flickinger.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The federal prosecutor who has been making the case against former Wal-Mart vice chairman Thomas Coughlin has decided not to appeal yet again the home detention sentence given to the man who at one time was a protégé of company founder Sam Walton.

    Coughlin, who pleaded guilty to stealing cash, gift cards and equipment from Wal-Mart, was sentenced to community service, five years’ probation, a $50,000 fine, and ordered to pay $400,000 restitution and spend 27 months of home detention on his Arkansas ranch; the judge agreed with the defense contention that Coughlin was too old and sick to go to jail. He could have been sentenced to 28 years in prison, according to original reports.

    The prosecutor appealed the sentence once but only managed to have more community service time added to the sentence. Now, the government has decided in essence to let sleeping felonious executives lie in their own beds.

    KC's View:
    One last time, I’ll ask the question…

    Would a high school graduate who worked as a stock clerk in a Wal-Mart store, convicted of stealing cash and gift cards from the company, be treated as generously?

    Dubious, at best.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    USA Today reports this morning that farmers are facing a choice this spring that could affect consumer prices in a wide range of areas.

    “If they choose to plant as much corn as possible, prices that have soared to record highs above $5 a bushel could stabilize,” the paper writes. “But if many farmers rotate their plantings to other crops such as soybeans, or the season is disrupted by bad weather or drought, the price of this key ingredient could soar even further.

    “That would leave other food producers — especially poultry, beef and pork companies, where corn feed comprises up to three-quarters of their operating costs — with little choice but to raise their prices as well.

    “Livestock producers typically blame higher corn prices on demand for the crop from ethanol plants, saying the alternative fuel drives up costs for everyone. But ethanol makers say the rising corn prices hurt them as well.”

    And there are two other factors at work as well – US farmers produced more corn in 2007 than ever before, and they are running out of new land on which to plant crops.

    KC's View:
    It seems to me – and a lot of other people – that the situation can be summed up in one little sentence.

    We’re all screwed.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Burger King plans to open a new format store, dubbed the Whopper Bar, which will be designed to “will sell a wider variety of its signature hamburger in a hipper setting.

    “The menu and size of the Whopper Bars will be smaller than a typical Burger King, but they will sell Whoppers not typically available at all times in the chain's traditional restaurants. Executives say they haven't finalized the menu, though it could include as many as 10 types of Whoppers, such as the Western Whopper, the Texas Double Whopper and the Angry Whopper, a version topped with spicy onions. One menu sketch has a section called ‘Pimp Your Whopper,’ where patrons can chose from additional toppings like jalapeno peppers, bacon and barbecue sauce.”

    The look of the units, according to the story, will be vastly different from the company’s traditional fast food restaurants, with the use of exposed wood and brick walls, plenty of chrome and flat-screen televisions. They will be designed to work in settings such as airports and casinos as well as other smaller venues; they also may sell beer and other alcoholic beverages, though this latter component has not yet been determined.

    One thing Burger King does not plan to do is open espresso bars and hire baristas, which is what McDonald’s has done in order to compete more effectively with Starbucks.

    KC's View:
    This strikes me as smart. It keeps to the core business, but creates a different venue through which new customers can be attracted. It expands the power of the brand without diluting it. I’m not a Burger King fan, but if I saw one of these in an airport, and it had all these interesting fame-broiled burgers, I’d try it…especially if I could get a beer.

    Which is exactly what the BK folks want to happen.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    Al Norman, founder of an organization called Sprawl-Busters that targets Wal-Mart and other big box stores for being detrimental to the health of smaller communities, had an interesting piece in The Huffington Post over the weekend in which he wrote:

    “According to a list released this week, Wal-Mart Stores has abandoned a record shattering 45 proposed projects over the past 10 months---often leaving local officials dejected and confused. Another 19 Wal-Mart projects have been killed by local citizen's groups. In total, the world's largest retailer has suffered an historic loss of 64 projects. The list of store cancellations was compiled by Sprawl-Busters, which has maintained a database on Wal-Mart battles for more than a decade.

    “Since June, 2007, the Arkansas-based retailer has delayed or killed its own stores in the following communities:

    Aledo, IL; Arlington, WA; Belfast, ME; Bonita Springs, FL; Brooksville, FL; Chico, CA; Concord, CA; Crowley, TX; Derry, NH; Elyria, OH; Fircrest, WA; Garden Grove, CA; Gilbert, AZ; Glen Carbon, IL; Hadley, MA; Hemet, CA; Hilo, HI; Isle of Wight, VA; Knightdale, NC; Lake County, FL; Lakeland, FL; Lawrence, NJ; Lewiston, ME; Liberty, OH; Pennfield, MI; Hillsborough, NH; Kilbuck, PA; La Puenta, CA; Marietta, GA; Marysville, WA; Memphis, TN; Morganton, NC; Neptune Beach, FL; Oakley, CA; Oxford, NC; Portland, OR; Raleigh, NC; Ravalli County, MT; Rutland Charter, MI; Spooner, WI; St. Peters, MO; Sioux Falls, SD; Stoughton, WI; Sunrise, FL; Waukesha, WI.

    “These store withdrawals usually come with little advance notice, and even less explanation. In September, 2007, for example, when Wal-Mart suddenly folded its tent in Lancaster, Massachusetts---3 miles from the construction site of another Wal-Mart superstore---the company issued a terse, four paragraph press release which stated, "The decision is related to Wal-Mart's recently announced plans to moderate growth of U.S. supercenters as part of leveraging capital resources through a strategy designed to improve returns and sales within U.S. stores." Such dense statements left local officials scratching their heads in disbelief--sometimes following months, even years, of lobbying by the retailer to get a project approved.”

    Norman suggests that these cancellations are concrete evidence that Wal-Mart is doing what it said it would – show down its US new store opening schedule in order to maximize return on investment and build stronger same-store sales increases.

    However, he also writes that “Wal-Mart has paid a price for competing with itself. Today, the saturation card has been overplayed, and the retailer has been forced to go on a superstore crash diet. While hundreds of sling-shot coalitions have been hurling rocks at this retail Goliath for years, ironically, it is now the giant itself which is reeling from its own self inflicted excesses.

    “This has created a wonderful 10 months for anti-Wal-Mart groups in 21 states, who have woken up in their small towns to read that another proposed Wal-Mart superstore has dissolved, as suddenly as the morning mist.”

    KC's View:
    I wouldn’t be so sanguine if I were Al Norman. Wal-Mart may be taking a breath, but that doesn’t mean it is any less dangerous. A Wal-Mart that has better same-store sales, that does not cannibalize its own stores, and that embarks on a more measured growth strategy – using, by the way, a variety of different formats (such as the new, small-store format that it plans to debut in Arizona later this year) strikes me as a company that potentially could be even more dominant.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    • The Wall Street Journal has a story this morning about how Yahoo! is launching a new website just for women between the ages of 25 and 54. Called “Shine,” the site “is aimed largely at giving the Internet company additional opportunities to sell advertising targeted to the key decision-maker in many households. Yahoo said advertisers in consumer-packaged goods, retail and pharmaceuticals have requested more ways to reach those consumers.” Yahoo! is partnering with content providers such as Rodale and Hearst on the new site.

    According to the Journal, Yahoo! has research showing that women in that age group are looking to aggregate online content and communications tools, and it will allow Yahoo! “to expand its offerings in parenting, sex and love, healthy living, food, career and money, entertainment, fashion, beauty, home life, and astrology. Shine likely will replace the existing food site over time, although Yahoo plans to keep its health site operating to serve men and other age groups as well as women.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    CNN reports that Tops Markets, recently sold to Morgan Stanley Private Equity, has committed to keeping its corporate headquarters in western New York. CEO Frank Curci announced last week that the company has signed a long-term lease for its Williamsville, NY, headquarters, and plans to add as many as 140 headquarters jobs with an investment of more than $5.4 million.

    USA Today writes this morning that “the full costs of the biggest beef recall ever are beginning to emerge six weeks later and they are hitting retailers, meat processors, other businesses and the government. In California alone, more than $1.1 million has been spent to destroy the beef and products containing it that were distributed via the federal school lunch program, state officials say.” While California is just one of 46 states that got beef from Westland/Hallmark, which had to recall 143 million pounds of beef because of concerns about contamination, it is said to be one of the largest recipients.

    • In Wisconsin, the Journal Sentinel reports that Woodman’s has opened its first Milwaukee County store, a 225,000 unit in Oak Creek that the paper notes brings “a new low-price competitor to the area.”

    The company, which generated more than $1 billion in sales last year with its 11 stores, reportedly is looking for more locations in the metropolitan area.

    • Published reports say that Chiquita and Dole have joined in the recall of Cantaloupes from Honduras that have been implicated in a salmonella scare.

    • Pernod Ricard, the French liquor company, reportedly has agreed to acquire Vin & Sprit, owner of Absolut vodka, according to a number of stories on the wires this morning. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    • NYC & Company, New York City's official marketing and tourism organization, has partnered with Whole Foods Market to launch limited-edition 100% organic cotton shopping bags on sale beginning April 1 at all 16 Whole Foods Market stores in Northern New Jersey, New York and Southern Connecticut. April also marks Whole Foods Market's nationwide goal to eliminate plastic grocery bags at checkout by
    Earth Day – April 22,

    Bags will be sold throughout April for $11.99, and for each bag sold, Whole Foods Market will donate $1 to MillionTreesNYC, a citywide collaboration between the Department of Parks & Recreation and the New York Restoration Project, a public-private initiative to plant and care for one million new trees across the five boroughs over the next decade.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    • Doug Blough, the former director of communications for GMDC, died last week of pancreatic cancer. He was 58.

    In an email to industry friends last week, GMDC CEO Dave McConnell wrote, in part:

    “Since his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer last October Doug fought against this insidious disease and to the very end maintained the sense of dignity, kindness and caring for others that were at the core of who he was and how he'll be remembered by all of us who were privileged to have known him.

    “As we mourn Doug's passing I hope that you'll join me in approaching the grieving process as one that is a celebration of the life of a very special and unique man whom we were all privileged to have enter our lives. Doug talked to me just a week ago about his anticipated passing with a sense of calm that amazed me and he actually played a big role in the planning of his funeral. In these conversations and the planning process with Linda he was consistent in stressing that it was very important that his passing be a celebration of his life and who he was … as you all know the big guy always loved a good laugh and a good time with friends and family so let's take this time to reflect on all the wonderful memories we have of him and celebrate his life.”

    • Dith Pran, the journalist whose gruesome experiences in Cambodia during the regime of the Khmer Rouge were turned into a best-selling book by Sydney H. Schanberg and the film “The Killing Fields,” died over the weekend of pancreatic cancer. He was 65, and had been working as a photojournalist for the New York Times.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    After more than six years of doing MNB, it still sometimes surprises me when a certain kind of story generates a lot of email from the MNB community. And one of those is the story about Starbucks being successfully sued by its California baristas, who claimed that the company’s policy of sharing the contents of the tip jar with shift managers was illegal. The baristas won that case in California – to the tune of a $100 million judgment that Starbucks is appealing, and now a Massachusetts barista has lawyered up and is pursuing his own suit. At the same time, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz reportedly is concerned that the company is misunderstood and that its motives are being misrepresented in the media.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I think the whole idea of tipping the flunkies at Starbucks is silly. McDonalds would never insult customers by shaking them down with tip jars. And by doing so, avoids these frivolous law suits. Starbucks should simply remove the tip jars and put big "NO TIPPING PLEASE" signs up. This would help Starbucks regain some credibility with its customers.

    MNB user Aaron Algazy wrote:

    Regarding your comments on “I don't know what this barista is making up in Boston…but I’m surprised if his wages were below the mandated minimum”.

    In many States service workers such as waiters and waitresses can make less than the Federal Minimum or State Minimum wage. This is how some businesses keep their doors open. The workers make more in tips than they do per hour. I have even heard that some work for nothing except tips. This is a contract that the workers agree to with the business. One waitress I spoke with said that if she didn’t make enough in tips to equal her ‘contract wage’ per hour, the business supplements them up to at least the agreed upon ‘contract wage’ minimum.

    This is when I noticed that in different restaurants how much service varies. National chains pay minimum or possibly a little more (but doubtful). But at local independents where the workers make less or nothing per hour and solely working for tips, the service is drastically different. The local independents are much nicer and happier and by far more helpful, thus making the Customer happier to tip better.

    At least this is what I have noticed when I eat out, and that is a lot more than I eat at home.


    MNB user Geoff Harper wrote:

    In the Boston Globe version of this story, the lawyer (Shannon Liss-Riordan) said that Matamoros and other Massachusetts baristas made above the minimum wage, but that the law applies anyway. Apparently, she feels she can make a case that the sharing of tips for this group is illegal, even though the law was passed in order for others to be paid less than minimum. It also says, as you suspected, that she spoke with Matamoros after learning of the California award.

    Also, for someone who is trying to re-instill a culture in the company, Howard Schultz looks very foolish, both in ranting about "irresponsible headlines" without explaining what was incorrect, and in righteously defending the company's honesty. My guess is that he is responding to headlines that suggest that the company profited: "Starbucks skimmed from tips". By responding to the headlines, he has totally, and probably intentionally, avoided answering the issue.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    The tip jar is a somewhat antiquated idea. When did we have to start tipping everyone.

    The tip jar at a local Starbucks here in Saint Louis was the reason one man died. Well not quite. A man witnessed two teens stealing a tip jar from Starbucks. Ran out and tried to stop him. They hit him with their car and he died a few days later in the hospital. They eventually caught the teens and are in prison awaiting trial.

    But the next week that tip jar was right back in the front of the counter at that and all Starbucks. For a company that seems to position themselves as trendy, hip and upscale. Let's lose the tip jar and just pay our employees a decent wage. After all the coffee isn't cheap, neither should the company be to its employees.


    I don't mean to be heartless here, but while what you describe is indeed a tragedy, I don't think you can blame it on the tip jar. Maybe we could actually blame it on the teens who tried to rip off the store…

    MNB user Michael Core wrote:

    Let's get straight to the point. Why do people even tip at Starbucks? You would never dream of tipping at a McDonald's. Please explain the difference between fast food and fast coffee. At $4.44 for a triple venti non fat latte, I think the can afford to pay shift supervisors a bit more than the front line servers.

    I would observe here that nobody has to tip at Starbucks. It is an option, nothing more. I don't mind it because I know that a lot of students work there, and I’m happy to help. (Though I’m certainly doing my share of helping college students just by paying two college tuitions these days.) But I never feel compelled.

    And here’s the other deal. I’d actually like it if McDonald’s had a tip jar…since on those exceedingly rare occasions when I actually go there, they never get the order right. So not tipping would be a nice way of expressing disapproval.




    On the subject of the credit/debit card security breach at Hannaford Bros., MNB user Andy Casey wrote:

    I don't know, Kevin, seems like someone dropped the ball somewhere. And as a consumer, it is a little surprising to learn there is a data stream bad guys seem to find attractive (and useful) that industry rules don't call for merchants and banks to protect. What is up with that?

    Bottom line is, when a retailer takes my card, I don't think it unreasonable to expect them to make sure the system is secure regardless of whose responsibility it technically is to do so.


    I agree…but I do think that the bad guys generally are the hardest guys to keep up with…because they see opportunity where other people do not. That’s what makes them bad guys. (If they had other motivations, they’d be called entrepreneurs.)




    On the subject of the FDA, changes that need to be made in the nation’s food safety system, and its apparent desire to not be completely transparent in providing the consumer information about recalls, MNB user Dan Jones wrote:

    The Charter for the FDA is too broad – and in gov’t, rarely is bigger better.

    We should have a Food Administration, that just worries about food and packaged goods, and a separate division that focuses on drug trials etc. A smaller, focused department could actually make some progress, and make a difference. The sad fact is, I can not imagine this pragmatic approach being taken in Washington.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    Perhaps the government can take the farmer subsidies and give the dollars to the FDA budget. Wall Street Journal (3/27/08) article indicating that for the past several years the average farmer income has risen to be substantially above the average family income. That the government was looking at cutting the subsidies but lobbying efforts kept that from happening. Farmers do have a vested interest in a well run adequate FDA agency.

    And still another MNB user chimed in:

    There is something about the FDA that I do not understand...It seems their mission statement is about protecting the public (see below), yet, if you consider the number of deaths, poisonings, and potential long-term health risks the public experiences annually from tainted food, toys, drugs not to mention the number of food and drugs that are just ineffective or damaging, I have to ask, have they ever read their mission statement? How much money will it take for them to be motivated to carry out their responsibilities. Will any amount of money resolve their issues?

    Money is one thing. Will is another.




    Finally, MNB noted last week that a wine sold exclusively at Tesco’s Fresh & Easy stores in the US has been rated with 90 points by The Wine Advocate, considered a coup for the retailer and a real find for oenophiles. The wine, Bodegas Palacio's Reflexion Rioja Reserva 2003, sells at $9.99 and is one of more than 60 own-label wines sold at Fresh & Easy …which I suggested could be a real differential advantage.

    MNB user Phyllis Palmer wrote:

    So have you tried it or are familiar with it? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Nope. The closest Fresh & Easy is more than 2,000 miles away…but I intend to at the first opportunity.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    • The Final Four in the NCAA college basketball tournament have been determined, and it will be UCLA vs. Memphis and Kansas v. North Carolina next Saturday night….with the winners to play for the championship next Monday.

    • And, in the first game of the 2008 Major League Baseball season to be played on American soil, the Washington Nationals christened their new stadium by defeating the Atlanta Braves 3-2. Ryan Zimmerman sealed the deal when he hit a walk-off home run with two outs in the ninth inning.

    KC's View:
    I say this at the risk of losing an entire demographic as MNB users, but the Atlanta Braves can't lose enough games for me. But that’s because I am a NY Mets fan who learned last season that I cannot trust my team to win enough games to go to the playoffs…I also need all the other teams to lose. A lot.

    Published on: March 31, 2008

    MNB subscribers and readers will notice that the site went up and the Wake Up Call went out late today. We had server problems that slowed down the process considerably, but I think everything is back in working order…

    My apologies, and, as always, thanks for your patience.

    KC's View: