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    Published on: April 24, 2008

    Citing high demand and tightening supplies, Wal-Mart announced yesterday that its Sam's Club membership warehouse stores will begin rationing sales of several kinds of rice, including long grain white, basmati and jasmine. No similar rationing program has been announced for the company's Wal-Mart Stores, and the company has not announced the rationing of any other product categories at this time.

    The Sam's Club rationing only is being implemented in areas where local laws allow retailers to limit the quantities of products that they sell.

    Meanwhile, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that Costco " is seeing higher-than-usual demand for staple foods such as rice and flour as consumers appear to be stocking up," but that the company has so far been able to manage supply without limiting how much consumers can buy. ""If we run out, we're usually back in stock the next day," Costco CEO Jim Sinegal tells the paper.

    These trends seem to be just a small part of a much larger global food crisis, called a "silent tsunami" by Josette Sheeran, executive director of the World Food Program, who notes that the food crisis in plunging already desperate nations into deeper crisis and greater cultural, political and economic turmoil.

    The price of rice has more than doubled in the past five weeks, and the World Bank estimates food prices in general have risen by 83 percent in three years.

    The Post-Intelligencer writes, "Unrest over the food crisis has led to deaths in Cameroon and Haiti, cost Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis his job, and caused hungry textile workers to clash with police in Bangladesh. Malaysia's embattled prime minister is already under pressure over the price increases and has launched a major rice-growing project. Indonesia's government needed to revise its annual budget to respond." And, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said more protests in other developing nations appear likely," though "long-term solutions are likely to be slow, costly and complicated."

    KC's View:
    Not to get overly philosophical about this, but it seems to me that since this situation probably only will get worse, the people of this planet are faced with a choice – work together in a way that makes the world not just flatter but more cohesive, or continue down our current path, in which divisions seem deeper and the future, quite frankly, seems darker.

    Unfortunately, I see little evidence that we are likely to find a better way. But maybe I'm just feeling cynical this morning.

    In a more pragmatic sense, retailers and manufacturers in the US are going to have to start thinking about how they are going to explain these shortages to shoppers, who have largely become used to living in a land of plenty. Once again, retailers that create a sense of community with their shoppers – being a resource for information as well as a source of product – will find themselves having a differential advantage.

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    The Boston Herald reports that Shaw's Supermarkets is working with the public television cooking show "America's Test Kitchen," and will create what are being called "Inspiration Stations" in its stores featuring recipes that will help shoppers get out of a "food rut."

    According to the story, "Shaw's said the initiative, called 'Get Inspired,' was designed specifically to stop New Englanders from sleep-shopping through the grocery aisles, cooking the same uninspired meals, week after week."

    KC's View:
    I like that term, "sleep shopping."

    I haven't seen an Inspiration Station in my local Shaw's, but I now will go out of my way to look for it. I would hope that these booths will have more than just recipe cards, however; the smart play is to do what Publix has done in so many of its stores, and create a booth where cooking and sampling can be done, and where the ingredients for the meals being promoted are gathered together for a truly smart shopping experience.

    Just a thought.

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    Crain's Chicago Business writes that Kraft Foods plans to unveil 80 new products this year, "focusing its new offerings on four areas: snacks, convenient meals, health and wellness, and premium items."

    Among the new items being rolled out: macaroni-and-cheese-flavored crackers, granola bars that boast of digestive health benefits, Cool-Whip in an aerosol can, Planters Kettle-Roasted Peanuts; single-serve deli slices of meat, and beefier-tasting Oscar Mayer hot dogs. According to the story, "Kraft also is coming out with more 100-calorie snack packs, Crystal Light beverage sticks and flavors of microwaveable pizzas."

    The story notes that in most cases, the new products are extensions of existing brands, which not only increases their likelihood of succeeding, but also allows Kraft to charge a higher price, and important attribute at a time when raw materials costs are skyrocketing.

    KC's View:
    Here's the one that I love the most, just from a quick reading – Cool Whip in an aerosol can. It just sounds great…especially because now, when Mrs. Content Guy isn’t watching, I can just pop open one of those babies, insert it in my mouth and get that great Cool Whip taste without having to actually put it on a dessert.

    (In our house, it won’t just be me who will do it. It also will be the three kids…but we all have to be careful that Mrs. Content Guy doesn’t see us…)

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    Business Week reports that Wal-Mart has promised state legislators in Arkansas that any product that carries a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag will be clearly labeled, a move made to alleviate concerns that the technology could be used to gather demographic and purchasing information about specific customers.

    However, Wal-Mart also said that while the tags are used to increase efficiency and lower the cost of goods, they do not contain or transmit any customer information. Labeling the tags will give shoppers the ability to remove them after they have left the store.

    Wal-Mart reportedly intends to put RFID tags on all products sold by its Sam's Club unit by 2010.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that Wal-Mart is making another go at the fashion business and has been "striking deals to bring in new brand-name designers and apparel. Among them: the once red-hot Norma Kamali, known for jersey draped dresses, sleeping-bag coats and ensembles made from gray sweat-shirt material, who is creating a clothing line for Wal-Mart that will debut in the fall.

    "Wal-Mart also has signed deals with California surfer brand Op and Jones Apparel Group's junior jeans line l.e.i."

    The moves come even though Wal-Mart – stung by a series of fashion missteps – had said that it planned to return to a fashion business dominated by t-shirts, pants and socks.

    KC's View:
    It seems likely that Wal-Mart's new move into fashion is related to the tightening economic climate – if it can find the right balance between cost and style, there's no reason it can't work, at least in certain demographic segments.

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    More than 20 leading Minnesota employers – including Supervalu and Target – have pledged to help their employees close critical gaps in two key areas of personal finance - retirement savings and use of direct deposit for pay - in a statewide initiative that will impact thousands of Minnesota families.

    According to a press release, " The employer-led initiative is a response to troubling trends that, unless reversed, could spell disaster for the state's economic future. Less than half of Minnesota workers participate in an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan, including more than half a million full-time workers in the Twin Cities metro area, and many do not use basic banking services.

    "Financially Fit Minnesota's 20-plus pacesetter companies are committing to making measurable increases in employees' rate of retirement savings and/or direct deposit use, and their actions are expected to impact a projected 15,000 employees of all income levels over the next two years. The near-term goal is to bring more employers on board and increase the number of Minnesota households impacted to 50,000."

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    Weis Markets announced yesterday that it would invest $80 million in its growth over the coming year, with three quarters of the budget targeted on store building and improvements. Company vice chairman Jonathan Weis said that the company has "19 major projects in various stages of planning, including three new stores, two replacement units, nine additions and five remodels."

    Weis said that this is a 23 percent increase over 2007, when the company invested $64.2 million in capital expenditures.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    • The Safe Quality Food Institute (SQFI), a global food safety and quality certification program and management system managed by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), has entered into a cooperative partnership with Mexico Calidad Suprema (MCS), a nonprofit association of food producers and packers in Mexico.

    “Working together, we can use our resources to help ensure that Mexican suppliers meet the requirements of both SQF and MCS,” said FMI CEO Tim Hammonds. “This will open new markets for trade between our countries and provide American consumers an extra measure of confidence that Mexican producers observe the highest food safety standards.”

    • Worth noting that in celebration of Earth Day this week, members of the California Grocers Association and the City of Los Angeles teamed up to distribute approximately 50,000 reusable shopping bags at more than 40 participating grocery stores throughout the city to encourage consumers to use reusable bags. The retailers participating including Albertsons, Inc., El Super, Food 4 Less, Henry’s Farmers Market, K.V. Mart, Pavilions, Ralphs Grocery Co., Smart & Final Stores, Superior Grocers and Vons participated in the two-day giveaway and each City Council district in Los Angeles had at least one participating store.

    • ConAgra announced yesterday that it will streamline its consumer foods operations, which could result in the elimination of some positions during the coming year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    • Campbell Soup Co. announced the retirement of its CFO, Robert A. Schiffner, effective August 1. The company currently is seeking his successor.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    • Anheuser-Busch reported first quarter earnings of $511 million, down from $518 million a year ago – a decrease that the company attributed to rising costs not entirely offset by price hikes. Overall revenue rose 5.7 percent, to $4.6 billion.

    • yesterday announced that its Q1 net income was up 30 percent to $143 million, compared to the $111 million generated during the same period a year ago. Revenue for the quarter was up 37 percent to $4.13 billion.

    KC's View:
    From now on, whenever we have an Amazon story, we'll have to add this bit of full disclosure – that I have a business relationship with Amazon that involves our new project, which launches next month.

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    Available on iTunes…

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.

    I'm an idiot. Or at least, I have moments of idiocy, and unfortunately I also have a soapbox, and sometimes my moments of idiocy coincide with the times when I'm on my soapbox, and I've either had too little sleep or too much coffee or both. Or, I'm simply suffering from a little too much hubris.

    I was going to talk about something else this morning, but I think it is more appropriate that I turn this space over to MorningNewsBeat users this morning. The reason: I wrote something yesterday that was profoundly offensive to some people. Not just a little offensive, which I can usually achieve without much effort. But really, really offensive.

    I was commenting on a new study that says that cancer survivors tend to have the same obesity rates as the general population – even though there is evidence that an improved lifestyle – including a healthy diet and increased exercise – can prevent a recurrence of the disease. In fact, the study determined that less than 25 percent of cancer survivors are physically active on a regular basis, and more than 18 percent of them are obese.

    In my commentary, I said I found this to be amazing, and I wrote, in part:

    "Now, there are a couple of possibilities. One is that a lot of people are idiots, and even the power of a cancer diagnosis isn;t enough to wake them up about personal responsibility for one's own health.

    "Another possibility is that somehow the medical profession isn't turning the diagnosis into a teaching moment, isn't using the opportunity to make sure that the patients get a sense of how they can affect their own destinies.

    "It seems to me that these study results highlight fundamental flaws in the human animal, at least in the 21st century – an inability to take responsibility for one's own actions, a lack of appreciation for the value of a long and productive life, and a kind of selfishness that certainly doesn;t take into account the repercussions of an early death on family and friends."

    And, I finished with this sentence:

    "It is hard to have sympathy for people who refuse to look out for themselves."

    Boy, do I wish I could take that back.

    The responses speak for themselves.

    One woman wrote:

    "I am a cancer survivor. I am, according to you, an idiot, or, possibly an idiot anyway.

    I have had a lifelong struggle with my weight. I use the word 'struggle' very intentionally. I don't sit around pigging out, and I do exercise regularly, yet my body just does not want to look nice in a bathing suit. Its a daily, morsel by morsel struggle, and I (usually) do the very best I can. About 9 years before my cancer diagnosis, I lost almost 50 pounds and kept it off, with a tremendous amount of work and willpower. Since recovery, I have gained some back. I am not obese. Overweight, yes. Obese, no.

    "You talk about people's inability to take responsibility. Let me define for you me taking responsibility after my cancer wake up call:

    • I have changed jobs so that I no longer work too much overtime. In my new position, I go home after an eight hour day, and I'm on the road only about a quarter of the time that I used to be.
    • My job is a big part of my life, but it is no longer the center of my whole life
    • I took an inventory of my life, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I got rid of the ugly, made the bad a bit better, and do my very best to concentrate on the good.
    • I reconnected with old friends that I had lost along the way.
    • I followed through on hobbies and interests that had been on my "someday" list for way too many somedays.

    "And, I gained some weight back.

    "I was diagnosed with uterine cancer at a time when I was trying to start a family. At a time when I thought I would start to 'show', I was having my reproductive organs cut out of my body. The part of my body that is designed to create, nurture, and protect life.... tried to take mine. Do you know how hard it is to come to terms with that? Guess what? I got depressed. Guess what happens when you get depressed? Your metabolism dies. Guess what else? If you seek counseling to help you with depression, it can jeopardize your ability to adopt a child. So guess who didn't seek counseling and gained some weight in the process of getting over it all?

    "I have never smoked. I wear sunscreen. I exercise. I get enough sleep. I take a daily vitamin. I never miss an annual physical, or even a dentist appt. I eat things like kale... I hate kale, but I eat it. I take care of myself, and I always have. Cancer doesn't only strike 'idiots' who don't take care of themselves.

    "I agree with you that people need to take accountability. I also believe that most people are not idiots. People fight harsh internal battles, and most people fight them the best they can. And some do not, absolutely agreed. Some people are lazy, or they give up, or they reeeeealy love donuts. But to generalize the way you did is callous, uninformed, and cruelly unfair. Aren't you the one who just the other day was chastising someone for having so little faith in human nature?

    "My mother used to have a saying too. "Don't judge someone until you've walked in their shoes." Have you walked in my shoes? Don't you dare call me an idiot, even 'possibly' an idiot."

    Another MNB user wrote:

    "I lost my sister last year to melanoma. She lived for 15 years with the disease, which is unheard of. She did everything right. BJ was always stocky, and struggled with her weight all her life. I suppose by some standards she would have been considered obese throughout her young adulthood and into her forties. By some standards…meaning people who think 5’5” and 195 pounds is obese. Your comments are uncharacteristically harsh and narrow.

    "You say 'It is hard to have sympathy for people who refuse to look out for themselves.' I urge you to reshape your perception that overweight people are selfish and don’t take care of themselves. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that there are many factors that individuals cannot control that contribute to excess body fat. You also say that 'the medical profession isn't turning the diagnosis into a teaching moment' and I urge you to consider the team of oncologists that contributed to my sister’s 15 year success against the disease. They certainly deserve credit for helping my sister kick her fast-food habit. But even with rigorous changes to diet and exercise, my sister remained pleasantly rounded.

    "Unfortunately toward the end, BJ struggled to keep her weight up. The irony is not lost on me. Nor is the recognition that she fought as hard as she could to survive, for both herself and the people who loved her."

    And still another MNB user wrote:

    "I clearly understand your position of a lack of sympathy to those that refuse to take care of themselves BUT……Walk a mile in their shoes.

    "My wife is a breast cancer survivor of 1 year. It was an aggressive form, she had a partial mastectomy, two aggressive tumors were removed, six months of chemo and three months of radiation and a related problem that resulted in heart surgery 5 months ago.

    "Thank God she is now doing quite well and she has begun a very regular exercise routine and she has and is losing weight and has made dietary changes.

    "However it has been anything but easy and remains very confusing. Her cancer is thought to be related to estrogen and she was for a while under estrogen therapy in past years that probably contributed but should she have refused this Doctor recommended therapy?

    "What exactly should she eat? Soy can elevate estrogen? Does or does not meat contribute to cancer? What about the plastic in water bottles? What about the challenge of overcoming 58 years of a lifestyle? Think it’s easy to change your basic lifestyle at the age of 58, particularly for someone who is employed and has limited time?

    "Again I understand where you are coming from but it’s always easy to be critical from afar. We need to change lifestyles at an early age. Once these things catch up with you at a later age it can be very difficult to make major change in spite of what may appear to be common sense. These people need support, specific and actionable recommendations, and new found self discipline rather than being belittled for the bad choices and habits of the past."

    There were more emails, some of them pretty vicious.

    All of it was deserved.

    While I continue to believe that there are a lot of people out there, only some of whom have had cancer, who do not take responsibility for their own health and fitness, laying into cancer survivors was a particularly heartless and thoughtless thing to do.

    I lost my mother to cancer, but in a fit of pique I forgot what that was like, what she went through, how wrenching it was physically and emotionally. There are excuses for a lot of things, but never for forgetting where you come from.

    I was wrong. I apologize.

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I'm Kevin Coupe.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2008

    …for today have been pretty much taken care of in MNB Radio.
    KC's View: