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    Published on: April 7, 2008

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California State Senate’s Health Committee has passed 6-3 a proposal that would “require every merchant along the food supply chain, from livestock producers to grocery store operators, to tell their customers that a product came from a cloned animal or its offspring.”

    Opponents say that such a bill, if it were to become law, would create a laborious and unworkable labeling process, and it is expected that even if such a bill passed the California legislature and were signed into law, the courts eventually will determine whether it is legal. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.

    The Chronicle writes, “Until January, the sale of milk and meat from cloned livestock and their offspring was restrained only by a voluntary moratorium requested by federal authorities who were studying the potential health effects of the technology.

    “But the voluntary restrictions were loosened after Jan. 15, when the Food and Drug Administration concluded that food from cloned cattle, pigs and goats and their offspring is safe to eat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture immediately cleared the offspring of cloned animals for sale but asked owners of clones to continue to observe a voluntary moratorium on marketing the animals. The USDA is working with industry representatives on a plan to usher clones into the food supply.”

    KC's View:
    There already have been stories about how, despite the supposed moratorium, foods have been making it into the food supply…so maybe the point is moot. On the other hand, maybe the fact that the moratorium has been violated is the best argument for mandatory labeling – since the voluntary thing clearly didn’t work out.

    I understand that the labeling process may be cumbersome, but I think that more and better information is always smarter than keeping information from the shopper. And since cloning is a new technology that not everybody is confident about, people simply deserve to know.

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    USA Today this morning reports this morning that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy’s combination of Trader Joe’s size with Whole Foods-style natural products and a Costco-type environment has created an “unfamiliar combination” that seems “to have left American shoppers confused about just what the chain is. As a result, Tesco is finding it harder than expected to make its mark on the nation's $500 billion grocery business.”

    And, USA Today writes, “The stores are simple, bland and tiny by supermarket standards at about 10,000 square feet. The Fresh & Easy name signals the two things it wants shoppers to think of it for: freshness and convenience. All fresh food is dated — even the produce. And the stores are easy to shop.

    “Perhaps more important, however: price. They're up to 30% cheaper than conventional market chains, reports TNS Retail Forward, a research firm.

    “Fresh & Easy store-brand goods account for about half the products on the shelves — and have been created to contain no artificial ingredients or preservatives. But the store also carries name brands from Coca-Cola to Kraft. ‘We've created the 21st century market for the 21st century American,’ says Tim Mason, CEO of Fresh & Easy, who is overseeing the chain's U.S. expansion from offices in El Segundo, Calif.”

    KC's View:
    At some level, I think that the conversation about Fresh & Easy has to change. I think we all have to cut down on the speculation about whether or not it will succeed, because we haven't seen the format yet that will rive long-term success for Fresh & Easy. (That will come with the 2.0 and 3.0 stores that Tesco eventually opens.) But what we really have to talk about is the future of small-store format, and what kinds of permutations it may take as other retailers experiment with the form. And I think we’re going to see a lot more companies testing the concept, and reshaping it into new forms.

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    Parade magazine had a piece over the weekend noting how innovative thinking can change the economics and environmental dynamics of a business – using United Parcel Service as a prime example.

    “The delivery giant UPS thinks that making right turns instead of turning left at intersections can help the environment,” Parade reports. “Tom Dowdy, a UPS engineer, says the company redesigned its routes so that drivers would make a minimum of left-hand turns. As a result, the company shaved 30 million miles off its deliveries in 2007 and thus saved the cost of 3 million gallons of gas. It also reduced UPS truck emissions by 32,000 metric tons (equivalent to the emissions of 5300 passenger cars).

    “What makes right turns so much more energy-efficient? Cars and trucks are not idling in traffic—burning fuel and releasing emissions—when they turn right as opposed to left. (Turning right also is often safer, because drivers don’t have to face oncoming traffic to make a turn.) ‘People can’t control sky-high gas prices,’ says Dowdy, ‘but they can make small changes in their driving habits that benefit them financially and environmentally over time’.”
    KC's View:
    Sometimes it is the most unlikely idea that can make the most sense.

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    Safeway has launched a month-long fundraising and awareness campaign keyed to what is described as an innovative partnership with Easter Seals and Special Olympics that is designed to raise millions of dollars to fund regional rehabilitation services and autism programs, job training grants, and adopt athletes so they can participate in Special Olympics games throughout the country.

    In addition to the fund raising that will take place at Safeway’s various banners and 1,700 stores, the company also is focused on providing job opportunities for people with disabilities. (Safeway says that it currently employs more than 10,000 people with special needs.)

    This year Safeway will use the funds raised in April to fund community disability centers operated by Easter Seals that are located in communities where Safeway operates stores. These facilities provide rehabilitation, training and autism services to people with disabilities. Easter Seals will use a portion of the funds to create a special grants program that will be dedicated to provide job training grants and expand autism programs. In Canada, Easter Seals will use funding to develop a “Kids to Camp” program that will allow thousands of children to learn and further develop intellectually and physically. Additionally, through a unique partnership with Special Olympics, Safeway will help fund the Special Olympics mission to provide year-round sports training an competition to people with disabilities which in turn build acceptance in communities.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    Bloomberg reports that Starbucks “is testing letting its customer pour their own coffee at some stores,” allowing consumers to “pay before or after getting their own drip coffee from a brewer near the condiment bar.” The company, however, is not commenting on the innovation.

    "We are constantly looking for new ways to connect with the customer and provide the best Starbucks experience," a Starbucks spokesman tells Bloomberg. "We do not comment on any specifics until a final decision is made."

    Starbucks is looking at various ways to reverse several quarters of sales declines that have created the image of a company that is in a kind of malaise.

    KC's View:
    I’m not entirely clear on how this works, so it is hard to imagine that this helps improve the Starbucks experience.

    It does, however, give me an idea. If Starbucks wanted to try something different, maybe it could hold classes in how to make lattes and other kinds of espresso drinks. They could do it during slow times of the week, and have limitations on attendance to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand…but it might be a nice way of connecting with shoppers.

    Just a thought.

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    In the UK, Tesco has launched libel proceedings against The Guardian, saying that the newspaper intentionally misled readers in stories that charged the retailer with creating a tax avoidance scheme designed around offshore partnerships.

    Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco's executive director of corporate and legal affairs, released the following statement: "It is very regrettable that we have had to take this step. We had hoped that the Guardian would be able to accept that it had made a mistake and apologise for what it had written, but despite our requests to them to set the record straight this has not happened."

    Tesco says that the Guardian reported the story despite being given evidence that it was untrue.

    The newspaper replied in a prepared statement: “This looks like a deliberate tactic by Britain's largest retailer to shut down perfectly legitimate inquiries into their methods of tax avoidance. At the same time that two Tesco directors are reported to have lobbied the government in private on matters of taxation, the company is now seeking to chill public debate on the same issues.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    The Oregonian reports that Kroger has decided to offer $4 generic drugs at pharmacies in its Fred Meyer and QFC stores in Oregon and Washington. The decision was similar to one made by Kroger’s Southern California Ralphs banner.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    • The Business Courier of Cincinnati reports that the Kroger Co. has named Calvin Kaufman to be group vice president and president of Kroger Manufacturing, replacing the retiring William Boehm.

    • M-C-McLane International has named Louis Stinebaugh, most recently the president of Mi Pueblo Food Center, to be president/COO of the company, reporting to chairman/CEO Mike Julian.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    MNB noted on Friday that the Chinese government reportedly has drafted the proposal that would require customers to pay for disposable plastic bags obtained at retail venues and mandating certain standards for plastic bags. The story was attributed to China Retail Now, which reported that stores violating the rule – which could go into effect as soon as June 2008 – could be fined thousands of dollars.

    Well, the rest of the story (with apologies to Paul Harvey) comes via Salon, which reports that a story on Al Jazeera says that in banning the plastic bags, China also has closed a plastic bag factory, which left 20,000 people unemployed.

    The story says: “The people of this village lost their farmland when the plastic bag factory opened up just down the road, but that was alright because they were promised a livelihood, now they've lost even that, and they have nothing, and all in the name of environmental protection. It's the dilemma China faces, if it protects the environment, it damages the economy, and for a developing nation, it's a big risk to take.”

    Just as an aside, Salon also takes note of the correspondent who filed the story on the Arab network – Tony Cheng – and writes, “Sporting a posh English accent, a Chinese surname, and an Arab employer -- it's hard to get more global than that.”

    • Okay, MNB expected that the saga of Tom Coughlin, the convicted felon who used to be vice chairman of Wal-Mart was over. But a column by Ann Woolner on forces reconsideration…

    Coughlin, you may remember, pleaded guilty to stealing cash, gift cards and equipment from Wal-Mart, and was sentenced to community service, five years’ probation, a $50,000 fine, and ordered to pay $400,000 restitution. He is currently serving 27 months of home detention on his Arkansas ranch, having avoided jail when his lawyer argued with the defense contention that Coughlin was too old and sick to go to jail.

    Woolner’s column reads, in part:

    “If Thomas Coughlin…has learned anything from his encounter with the law, it is how to manipulate the justice system.

    “For one thing, because of poor health he gets to stay home and avoid even the most accommodating of white-collar prison camps, as those un-jails are dubbed.

    “Then there is his notion of community service. Less imaginative felons wind up collecting highway trash. Coughlin goes to a party.

    “It's true. Coughlin persuaded his probation officer to let him count as community service the hours he spent last month schmoozing with old hunting buddies at a banquet for the National Wild Turkey Federation, local chapter … Coughlin got to count not only his time at the banquet, but time spent attending planning meetings and rounding up auction items.

    “No spooning out soup to the homeless for this millionaire.

    The sheer pleasure of being out of the house and among the 350 banquet-goers was itself a bonus. Except for approved forays, he and his ankle bracelet are spending his 27 month sentence within 10 feet of his house, which sits on a 2,000-acre ranch near Centerton, Arkansas.”

    That’s pretty great writing. Even-handed, but making a sharp point.

    And then, Woolner gets even better. She writes about the fact that Coughlin’s ill-health was largely responsible for keeping him out of jail:

    “The thing of it is, Coughlin's ailments are largely self- inflicted … At 6 feet 4 inches, he weighs 330 pounds, an appeals court pointed out last year. He suffers from severe pulmonary hypertension, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, double vessel coronary arrhythmia, sleep apnea, knee and back pain and obesity. There have been times when his heart has stopped pumping, almost killing him, and in 2003 a defibrillator was implanted in his chest.

    “For 25 years, doctors told Coughlin to lose weight, advice he all but ignored, according to the court's review of the record.

    “I'm not saying his sentence should overlook his poor health or subject him to conditions likely to kill him. There is no death penalty for stealing, nor should there be. And he surely never meant to make himself as sick as he is.

    “But the situation does call to mind the story about the defendant who killed his parents and then threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan...”

    Woolner goes on:

    “When you think of a place where someone suffering from heart disease and diabetes might go to safeguard his health, a banquet doesn't immediately leap to mind.

    “In fact, if overeating is his problem, is Coughlin better off serving time at home, with a handy refrigerator, than in prison, where not even Club Fed earns stars for haute cuisine?”


    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    • Charlton Heston, the movie star known for Biblical blockbusters such as ‘The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur,” died over the weekend at age 84. Heston, who also had a high profile in the political arena – first by marching with Martin Luther King Jr. during the sixties, and later in life as a spokesman for conservative causes such as fighting against gun control legislation – has been off the public stage since 2002, when he announced that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
    KC's View:
    Regardless of how you feel about Heston’s politics, I think it is fair to say that this was a guy in love with acting and in love with movies, and that was something evident in the gusto with which he attacked virtually every role that he played. That’s not to say that he was the best actor in the world. I’ve never been a big fan of the Biblical epics, and I’m one of the few people who thinks that he’s not very good in Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil,” which I also happen to think is a wildly overrated movie. I also saw him on stage in “Macbeth,” with Vanessa Redgrave, which was the second-worst Shakespeare production I’ve ever seen. (The first being William Hurt in “Richard III,” just as a matter of interest.)

    But I love him in two movies, both, ironically, released in 1968. One is “Planet of the Apes,” which is just great science fiction with one of the great all-time final scenes in movies. The other is a largely forgotten western called “Will Penny,” in which he plays an aging cowboy facing a changing landscape that threatens the way he always has lived. And, let’s not forget “Soylent Green” (1973) and “Omega Man” (1971), both of which benefited from his passion for his craft. Which is one of the better things you can say about anyone, in my view.

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    On the subject of the plastic bag tax proposed by Seattle, we got the following email from MNB user Elizabeth Archerd:

    I want you to know that my store, Wedge Co-op in Minneapolis, MN, stopped giving away free plastic grocery bags last month. We let members and other shoppers know in advance, and the day we stopped giving them away we saw a surge of people bringing in their own bags, mostly canvas but also reused paper bags. We sold over 800 of the woven polypropylene bags, at cost, within the first few days we offered them.

    Overheard today at the entrance: "Duh! I left the bags in the car. And they even have those signs in the parking lot!"

    Thanks for that suggestion.

    My pleasure.

    Though I should note, in the interest of fairness, that it wasn't my idea. It was an idea submitted by an MNB user. Which gives it a lot more credibility.

    Got an interesting email from Cristelle Ghekiere, who works for a European company called Séniosphère, responding to a recent MNB piece about a study concerning how baby boomers define themselves:

    In Europe we observe the same trends. At Seniosphere, we conduct numerous studies of the 55+ market for a variety of brands, products and services.

    And we observe, in Europe as in the US, that even at 80, people don’t describe themselves as old. In their mind, they almost always are 20 years younger than on their ID card.

    Even at 80, some are learning the use of technology and computers to stay connected with their family and especially grand children. Starting around 55, their major complaint is to be considered as “old” by manufacturers, retailers, employers and the society when, effectively, they want to contribute, buy products and services adapted to their needs and their pragmatic value and style purchasing power.

    There were some emails last week about the case of Debbie Shank, the former Wal-Mart employee who was permanently brain damaged in a car accident eight years ago. Her medical expenses were covered by Wal-Mart, but when she sued the person who caused the accident and won, Wal-Mart sued to get back more than $400,000 in medical expenses – something it was allowed to do under the terms of the company health plan. Earlier this week, awash in criticism that it was leaving the family almost destitute, Wal-Mart changed its mind.

    But the email that seemed to get a lot of attention was the one from MNB user David Livingston, who wrote last week: “Wal-Mart realizes the downside to being self insured. If they had used an outside company like Blue Cross, this would have not been news. Winning a lawsuit is not about "financial status" or hitting the lottery. It’s to payback for damages. Wal-Mart was damaged and they didn't get paid back. I feel bad for the family and it’s a very sad situation. I have a feeling Ms Shank will never see a nickel of that money and that her husband will live it up royally once all the television cameras are gone. ”

    My response to that: I don't even know how to respond to this last sentence, which seems completely at odds to my impression of the situation. It must be hard, living day to day with such a low opinion of the human race.

    Livingston’s comment generated a bunch of responses…

    MNB user Anne Maas wrote:

    Wow. Has Mr. Livingston seen something first-hand that the rest of us have not? What a horrific thing to assume, and worse yet, voice publicly.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    It sounds like the only winner in this case and story are the lawyers who will bank $200,000 to $250,000. Just another angle to a sorry situation.

    MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

    I could not agree with you more on Mr. Livingstone’s dark view of humanity. I can only assume he also would support proceedings to recover the money donated to the victims of 911 and Hurricane Katrina who later received insurance settlements.

    Now, to be fair, David Livingston did take issue with my characterization of his comments:

    Thanks. I suppose you didn't also read that Mr. Shank divorced his wife so they could milk the government out of more benefits? I don't have a low opinion of the human race, I have a low opinion of Mr. Shank. Why don't you dress up like a hillbilly, get on TV, and plead with Starbucks to share more tips with your son. That would be the same thing. But you have a bit more class and aren't going to do that.

    Actually, you'd be amazed what I’d do to help my kids if they really needed it.

    I did read about the divorce ..but the difference between David and me is that my first thought was that Mr. Shank divorced his wife because of impending and imposing financial need, and that he needed to do anything and everything possible to help secure her future. I saw it as selfless, and I have seen nothing to make me think that he is as horrible a human being as David seems to think he is.

    Now, David may be right, and I may be proven to be ridiculously naïve. But I’d still rather start from my point of view and be proven wrong than start from his and be proven right.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 7, 2008

    Over the weekend, the University of Memphis and the University of Kansas won their NCAA men’s basketball semifinal games against UCLA and the university of North Carolina, and will face each other tonight in the national championship game.

    And, in the women’s tournament, Stanford University defeated the University of Connecticut while the University of Tennessee defeated Louisiana State University, and will play each other in the championship game on Tuesday night.

    KC's View:
    This has nothing to do with basketball, but I need to ay something that I’ve said many times here on MNB. I just need to get it off my chest. Again.

    I hate the Atlanta Braves.

    Probably not the last time I’ll say it, either.