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    Published on: April 25, 2008

    The Sacramento Bee reports that a new bill introduced this week by a California Democrat and a Florida Republican would require that imported food would have to meet US safety standards, a move that the sponsors said would increase consumer confidence about the food supply.

    "We hope this will establish a gold standard for food safety, as well as a standard for our foreign food supplies," said Rep. Jim Costa (D-California).

    The Bee writes: "Backed by farm industry groups such as the Western Growers Association and the United Fresh Produce Association, the new bill vies for attention with a more aggressive effort introduced previously by other House Democrats. To some extent, Costa's bill could be construed as the food industry's negotiating stance.

    "The House Energy and Commerce Committee will discuss today a broader food safety bill introduced by committee Chairman Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich. That would impose a new $2,000 inspection fee on U.S. food-producing facilities, doubling the Food and Drug Administration's food safety budget.

    "The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which supports Costa's bill, contended that Dingell's bill imposes 'unfair food taxes.'

    "Both bills, and others seeking to regulate food safety, have been introduced in the wake of high-profile contamination scares. These include, most notably, Salinas Valley leafy greens found to be tainted by E. coli bacteria in late 2006. The tainted spinach was blamed for at least three deaths and more than 200 sicknesses nationwide."

    Meanwhile, in testimony before the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Energy and Commerce and the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, representatives of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) offered opinions about the best way to modernize that improve the nation's food safety infrastructure.

    “Congress must take steps to help FDA and the food industry address new challenges posed by rising food imports and changing consumer preferences,” said GMA President and CEO Cal Dooley. “That said, we oppose the FDA Globalization Act. During this time of record increases in food prices, the bill imposes a billion dollars in new taxes on consumers and proposes burdensome regulations that will not be effective in enhancing food safety.”

    “We propose that Congress modernize our food safety system by fostering a robust partnership between government and the food industry, significantly increasing FDA funding through general funds, and by making risk and the prevention of contamination the focus of our food safety strategies,” said Chief Science & Regulator Affairs Officer Robert Brackett, who formerly was with the FDA.

    GMA urged Congress to:

    • Give FDA the power to establish safety standards for fruits and vegetables.
    • Require food companies to have a food safety plan, subject to FDA review.
    • Require every food importer to police their foreign suppliers, ensuring their standards meet those of the FDA.
    • Build the capacity of foreign governments and enlist the help of the private sector.
    • Give the FDA new powers to address bad actors, by granting the Secretary mandatory recall authority.

    KC's View:
    Just one question here. A simple one.

    Do you think that most Americans would be surprised that food imports currently don't have to meet US food safety standards, and that we need new legislation to make it so?

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    Even as Blockbuster Inc. tries to expand into a new segment of the retailing business through a proposed acquisition of Circuit City, the Dallas Morning News reports that a number of stores in that market are testing several new concepts, including:

    • "Whether customers want to rent movies as early as 6 a.m. on their way to work, instead of after work."
    • "Including the option to buy a cappuccino or a fountain drink." (One concept being tested is an old-fashioned soda counter branded as the Coca-Cola Café.)
    • "Offering new technology for watching movies, reading books or shooting video at a Blockbuster."
    • "Whether customers would stop in more often if they or their children were entertained with a game of Rock Band on a 62-inch screen or they had access to free Wi-Fi."

    The goal, according to CEO Jim Keyes, is to find new ways to keep the company and its fleet relevant to a fast-changing shopper base. "I'm a big believer of the physical relevance of a store. People like to shop, whether it's in a Neiman Marcus or a Blockbuster," Keyes tells the paper. "But we need to change our stores to become a destination for entertainment."

    And, since the concepts are being tested in areas with varying demographics, the company is using different graphic and design approaches to see what works for different groups.

    KC's View:
    Longtime readers of MNB will know that I am no fan of Blockbuster, but I have to say that I admire the approach being taken here. Keyes is right – a store is only effective as long as it is relevant, and especially in this segment of the retailing business, relevance ebbs and flows with the changing interests and demands of a young and fickle generation.

    I'm not sure how many big screen TVs Blockbuster can expect to sell in one of these stores, but there is no reason it cannot use a section of the store to highlight Circuit City special offerings if indeed that acquisition is completed.

    There is no way to know whether any or all of these kinds of moves will work, of course. But it is better to try than to simply sit still and wait for the creeping irrelevance (not to mention the guy down the street) to put you out of business.

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    Florida Today reports that Winn-Dixie is countersuing 26 current and former employees who have launched an employment discrimination action against the retailer, saying that it practiced age, gender and racial bias.

    Winn-Dixie is looking to block the suit from ever coming to trial, and claims that "the plaintiffs' lawsuit should be thrown out because the company is protected from such litigation under its Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization case," according to the story.

    Florida Today also notes that "last year, the Florida Commission on Human Relations found 'reasonable cause' to believe a former Winn-Dixie employee, Tammie Leonard of Titusville, one of the plaintiffs in the discrimination suit, was a victim of age and race discrimination."

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    Supervalu announced that shoppers at its stores can redeem their government-issued economic stimulus checks for gift cards in $300 increments, to which the company will add $30 bonuses.

    The move follows similar moves by Kroger and Sears.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    • Triarc Companies has come to an agreement to acquire Wendy's for $2.34 billion in stock.

    • The New York Times reports this morning that as Starbucks struggles to get back to its coffee brewing roots, the company has reorganized its entertainment division.

    "As part of the changes, Starbucks said Ken Lombard, president of the entertainment unit since 2004, had departed," the Times writes. "Chris Bruzzo, the chief technology officer, will take the reins of the division, which selects and markets music, books and other items sold in Starbucks coffee shops.

    "Starbucks also said it would turn over management control of Hear Music, its in-house record label, to its partner in that venture, the Concord Music Group."

    • GMDC announced its partnership with LearnSomething, Inc., described as "the leading provider of e-learning solutions for the food, drug and mass retail industries," to provide GMDC member companies with a suite of e-learning tools that will impact productivity at both the store and buyer/merchandiser levels of their operations.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    • Safeway yesterday said that its first quarter profit was up 11 percent to $193.4 million, up from $174.4 million during the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose 7 percent to $10 billion from $9.3 billion in the year-ago period.

    Reflecting a consumer trend in which people are trading down for less expensive products, CEO Steve Burd said, Safeway's own-label food sales are outpacing those of national brands.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    • Dean Foods has hired Kelly Duffin-Maxwell, the former senior vice president of breakthrough innovation at Kraft Foods, for the newly created position of executive vice president, R&D.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    A bunch of emails about the food shortages and rationing stories that have been popping up regularly…

    One MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, for those of us who lived through WWII and the Nixon years along with price freezes and the high price of gasoline in the 80's. IT IS TOUGH.... Sure we'd all like cars that run on natural gas or ethanol. But it just isn't going to happen until Congress gets their act together and that isn't happening and won't ---- until H--- freezes over.

    That said, I went shopping yesterday in a major store for fresh veggies and fruits. What a shock. Can you believe green peppers 2/$4. Today in another super they were regular priced at $1.29. So who is gouging who? Same size and from the same shipper.....

    So, we blame it all on the cost of petroleum.... and maybe so. But are grocers taking advantage of this situation? I certainly hope not. Eggs. Who ever thought we'd be paying over $2.50 a dozen when the egg purveyor is only 40-120 miles from the market?

    Sad, isn't it?

    MNB user Stan Barrett had some thoughts about the rationing imposed by Sam's Club:

    There was an interesting follow-up on NPR last night that pointed out that warehouse clubs don’t typically respond like a grocer would - short supply, high demand = raising prices. The warehouse clubs want to protect their low price image, so instead of raising prices, they are choosing to ration the product at the low price. This protects their image as a low-cost supplier and allows them to continue to generate the bulk of their revenue on membership fees.

    The story also interviewed a CA rice producer who indicated that the US has a surplus of rice and is a net exporter. I do not doubt that there is a potential global hunger issue coming in lesser developed countries that spend a higher percentage of their income on food. However, there appears to be more at play in the Costco/Rice story than is being reported. I would be interested in hearing any other feedback that you have heard or your take on the NPR story since I don’t pretend to be an expert on the grocery industry or global rice markets.

    MNB user Rick Marcum wrote:

    OK, Kevin, rationing on rice, flour and other food staples…gas prices rising at remarkable rates…less visits to restaurants…rising food costs…etc… All of this you have reported about and I have read most of it. In the US it would be reasonable to assume (you know what that can do) that consumers are not going out and would need the staples in the food chain to begin to fire up their kitchens at home and begin to enjoy a meal around the table and cut back on expenses related to moving the car and going to restaurants that are also raising their prices. Not to mention the panic that this announcement will cause to the American public. I heard this first on Fox & Friends this morning. Also, the most consumed staple in the world is rice and more so in other countries than the US. Haiti, on the other hand, is the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere and has been since the Duvalier family completed raping the country some decades ago. That is not to say that we should not be assisting Haiti in anyway possible, but to use them as a benchmark for the rest of the world is not a fair assessment. I am anxious to hear more on the subject of food rationing as time continues and am curious to see if we are jumping to unreasonable conclusions. Yes, as the rich Americans, we do have an obligation to set the example for the rest of the World as we have in the past and, I trust, will in this instance. I am certain that American generosity will reach Worldwide as it has in the past.

    MNB user David M. Metz wrote:

    Another issue in regards to the discussed commodities: I am pretty close to what's going on in the food commodities business because my daughter in law owns a bakery and I am in the produce business in Los Angeles and we had a discussion in regards to the increases in price in Flour all types and sugars and oils and there has been a huge increase across the board. So I have the following statement to make, As long as the US and other industrialized countries continue to use precious land to create BIO FUELS, we will continue to see an increases across the board on all grains and oil. I am very environmentally conscious however we need to make smarter choices in what we choose to make fuel from.

    In regards to the World Economy and scripture: Have nations turn the swords into plowshares and let there be war no more. AMEN. But I too am a Cynic as well.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    A nice simple step toward sanity would be to put an immediate halt to the boondoggle of converting corn to bio-fuel. According to recently published articles, 25% of US corn crops have been diverted to this ill conceived effort to eliminate only 1% of our fossil fuel needs. Meanwhile it is contributing heavily to rising food prices, bringing protected lands into production, and wreaking havoc with the environment through the coal needed to make the conversion, and the fertilizer runoff in to the Gulf of Mexico.

    On the subject of Shaw's new in-store "Inspiration Stations," one MNB user wrote:

    I was with Shaw's for 5 years, leaving just after Albertsons announced it was going to sell itself - so I have a 'before and after' perspective on Shaw's.

    When it was owned by J Sainsbury, Shaw's was pretty innovative, rolling out different formats (the Shaw's at the Prudential Center is much different than Shaw's in Freeport, Maine) and merchandising ideas like 'Shop the World', 'Ducklings', and 'Happy Tails'. This in addition to the successful Wild Harvest section, which Supervalu is taking national.

    After the series of sales, headquarters shifted from Massachusetts (very close to the customer) to Boise (Albertsons) and now Minnesota (Supervalu). 'Inspiration Stations' can be seen as good marketing or can be seen as purely cost (labor and shrinkage).

    The idea reminds me of the Shaw's owned by J Sainsbury - taking the customer view and wanting to satisfy a need. If cost does not get in the way (Supervalu supports the idea), it will probably be successful because I expect Shaw's will 'tune' the Stations depending on the market where the store is located and the season of the year.

    I hope it works and I'll be stopping in at some of the stores in my area.

    We said yesterday that the "Inspiration Station" idea works better if one offers not just recipes but also sampling and brings together solution-oriented products. I used Publix as an example, and one MNB user chimed in:

    Wegmans follows the Publix model with cooking and sampling. Also stocks all of the needed ingredients right next to the station. It wakes you up, is so convenient and inspiring, you’re out the door with dinner before you even think about it.

    Which is what supermarkets are supposed to do.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 25, 2008

    I remember having an eight-track in my car, many years ago. (Those of you to young to know what an eight-track tape is, keep it to yourself.) And I remember when I upgraded to a more useful cassette player. When I got my first in-car CD player, I thought that was pretty cool, and I really like the six-CD player that Mrs. Content Guy has in the Murano, though it always takes me a few minutes to figure out how to get the discs in and out of the slot. I recently drove a rental car with satellite radio, and fell utterly in love with Sirius, which allowed me to listen to Margaritaville Radio for a couple of hours.


    Still, while I appreciate and embrace these technological advances, I was startled this week to read in USA Today that automakers are beginning to consider that the next generation of audio systems won't even take CDs.

    "Blaupunkt announced it's shipping a second-generation, $160 stereo and AM/FM radio that ditches the CD player in favor of ports for other digital music technologies including Apple iPods and other MP3 players, thumb drives or other USB devices or SD memory cards," the paper writes. "Other makers have competing units that began appearing last year. All are aimed at the growing segment of music-loving auto enthusiasts who carry their tunes in their pockets."

    It is somewhat sobering how far things have come just in my lifetime. I was reading the other day how in 1956, there were Chrysler, DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth models that offered as an option an under-dash phonograph that could handle 45-speed records. It got a little dicey when you went over a bump – shock absorbers weren't as good then, either – but that was considered state-of-the-art.

    It is just extraordinary how technology changes basic assumptions, and quickly makes previous innovations obsolete. Not that CD players are going to disappear overnight, but it always seems to be that once this shift start, it accelerates faster than we expect. I fully anticipate that when I have grandchildren (hopefully many, many years from now), they will look at CDs with the same disbelief that my kids look at 33 RPM records.

    I am confused by one thing, though. I was looking at a new Miata the other day (just flirting…I'm not ready to turn my back on my 14-year-old ragtop just yet), and I could get an in-dash 6 CD-changer and either an iPod hookup or Sirius satellite radio…but not both.

    Not sure why this is the case, but I do know one thing. Like so many American shoppers, I want it all. And being denied it all dopes not sit well with me.

    A story in the Boston Herald the other day related how the paper decided to find out if college students could buy acceptable outfits at Walgreen, which has begun offering its own line of Casual Gear clothing. So they gave two young women $50 each and sent them on their way…and these kids came back with an outfit apiece, and were perfectly happy.

    How great is this? Next time my daughter says she needs clothes, I'm just going to hand her $50 and drive her to Walgreen.

    Of course, she will look at me like I have three heads, but there's nothing new about that.

    So let me get this straight.

    First, the top management at Macy's, having acquired a number of major department store chains over the years, decided to dump such much-loved institutional identities as Marshall Field's and convert virtually all of its stores to the Macy's banner in order to become a national chain.

    And now that sales are off, the company has decided, according to the Wall Street Journal, to ditch "the nationwide cookie-cutter approach in favor of tailoring merchandise at the world's largest department-store chain by sales to local tastes." The gamble now is that while having one banner and infrastructure gave the company greater clout with suppliers, going to a more localized approach will give it more credibility with shoppers … which, at the end of the day, is what retailing is supposed to be about.

    There's nothing wrong with an executive team realizing the error of its ways and reversing its course, but one has to wonder if this reflects a true strategic mindset, or more of a tactical approach in the face of an economic downturn that is having a real impact on sales and profits.

    But two things seem clear.

    One is that when the folks at Macy's made the initial decision, they did it because it was good for them, not good for the customers. A lot of people – me included – argued that time, money and effort would be better spent shoring up brands that might have grown a little tired, rather than tearing them down and replacing them with the Macy's name - which, let's face it, ain't exactly Nordstrom.

    The second thing is this. I'm not a native Chicagoan, but even I feel a little ping of regret when I walk down State Street and see that Marshall Field's name has been replaced. It is as if there is something amiss in the universe. I can only imagine how the natives feel.

    It caught me by surprise this week to learn that "Bull Durham" is out on DVD with a new 20th anniversary edition.

    Has it really been 20 years since the best sports movie ever made came out?

    Hard to imagine.

    I was reminded of the great lines written by Ron Shelton and uttered by Kevin Costner as Crash Davis when he talks about the difference between being a minor league player and a major leaguer:

    "Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium."

    Ain't it the truth.

    I generally like red wine better than white wine, but one of my favorite wines is Viognier, and the advent of warmer weather is always a good excuse to break out one of the bottles that is sitting chilled in the fridge.

    Which is what I did yesterday – enjoying a nice 2006 Cline Viognier from California with a simple dish – scrambled eggs served with a mélange of cheddar, Monterey jack, asadero and queso blanco cheeses, and topped with Trader Joe's terrific salsa verde. Yummm…

    Great line from the estimable Gene Robinson, a columnist for the Washington Post, talking about the ongoing Obama-Clinton conflagration in the Democratic party as both candidates seek its presidential nomination:

    "It was supposed to be 'Mr. Smith Goes To Washington." It's turned into 'Alien vs. Predator'."

    Like almost everybody, I get a ton of jokes sent to me via email. Most of them I don't read, and most of the ones I do read aren’t all that funny. But an MNB user sent me this one yesterday, and I laughed out loud.

    A new supermarket opened near my house.

    It has an automatic water mister to keep the produce fresh. Just before it goes on, you hear the sound of distant thunder and the smell of fresh rain.

    When you pass the milk cases, you hear cows mooing and you experience the scent of fresh mowed hay.

    In the meat department there is the aroma of charcoal grilled steaks with onions.

    When you approach the egg case, you hear hens cluck and cackle, and the air is filled with the pleasing aroma of bacon and eggs frying.

    The bread department features the tantalizing smell of fresh baked bread & cookies.

    I don't buy toilet paper there any more.

    Of course, when I start laughing at supermarket humor, it may be that I've been doing this for too long.

    Are you going to FMI in Vegas? If so, drop me a note…and perhaps we can find a moment or two to catch up. It'll be a busy couple of days, as we cover the show not just for MorningNewsBeat, but for our new FoodWireTV project. But it would be great to meet…

    A final note, if I may.

    It is important for you to know that I never, ever take for granted the support and engagement of the people who read MorningNewsBeat each day. It is, for me, a unique pleasure and responsibility to be part of this community that often seems to have taken on a life of its own.

    So whether you send me emails about my taking my daughter on a business trip to Spain last week, or notes that are incredibly supportive concerning yesterday's MNB Radio "mea culpa," I want you to know that I read and think about every one.

    There are too many, to be honest, to respond to every one. And in these two cases, at least, I think that to post the emails would be to belabor points and discussions that don't require it.

    But I thank you for your thoughts and support.

    I'm a lucky guy.

    Have a good weekend.


    KC's View: