Published on: May 14, 2008
Responding to yesterday's "Sansolo Speaks" column that used hitting a curveball as a metaphor for business and life, one MNB
user wrote:Great metaphor! Great players, even mediocre ones, spend thousands of hours yearly practicing for that .2 of a second decision.
That's called planning and researching the competitors, market, industry and all the outside influences and technological breakthroughs. It's the planning and researching that makes great players hit the curveball 3 out of 10 times and the mediocre players only hit the curveball 2 out of 10 times...but its the difference between winners and losers.
Got a lot of email about the piece the other day concerning the Bush administration
urging a federal appeals court to stop Creekstone Farms, a Kansas meatpacker, and other companies from testing all of their animals for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease. Creekstone already has won the case in the lower courts, but the Justice Department appealed.
Less than one percent of all slaughtered cows are testing for BSE under current federal guidelines. Larger meatpackers also have objected to Creekstone's plans, saying that it could create unfair pressure on them to test all their animals for BSE, which could result in higher costs and, ultimately, higher consumer prices.
The White House opposition to the Creekstone plan is hinged to the notion that broader testing does not guarantee food safety and could result in a false positive that scares consumers.
My comment was that "it is easy to understand economically why some folks would be against more widespread testing. It might cost some more money…though I’d wager that if you asked consumers, they'd be willing to pay a few more cents per pound for that kind of reassurance. But it is impossible to understand this point of view from an ethical and public policy perspective. Wider testing is good because it gives both the industry and consumers more information. More information is good because it allows people to make more informed decisions. Better-informed decisions lower the risk of people getting wick and dying.
"And yet, this logic seems to be anathema to the Bush administration and the meatpackers that are fighting Creekstone."MNB
user Don Brandt responded:Doesn’t the administration have enough to do without sticking their nose into this? What about free market and capitalism? What is the problem…maybe a meatpackers campaign donation?...if Creekstone wants to test and if I’m willing to pay for it, just what is the governments interest?...certainly not ours!MNB
user Chris Esposito wrote:Regardless of the health issues or trade export ramifications, to me this is a pure market driven issue. I don't see how this is any different than organic veggies or free-range chicken. If the consumer is willing to pay the extra for the testing, then the consumer is sending a message to the producers, "I want it, do it, I'm willing to pay for it". Isn't that how a free market is supposed to operate? If, in turn, no one wanted to pay extra for the knowledge that the beef they were buying was free of mad cow disease, then Creekstone wouldn't stay in business very long.
And another MNB
user wrote:If Creekstone does test all animals (which I think is a good idea), it would put to ease our fears about eating beef. Maybe if the large companies started testing, say 25% of animals and the results are the same, than the government would say they were correct and maybe, no additional testing is required. However, if there is a larger number that tests positive, then the government would have no leg to stand on for not testing all animals.
Remember, one of your favorite phrases - compete is a verb. So the large companies are afraid of a small company. Interesting, I wonder if Wal-Mart is afraid of a small company.
Maybe retailers should give the large companies an edict and say we will only buy animals that have been tested for BSE. I wonder what retailer(s) will step up to the plate and move this issue forward since the government does that have the nerve.
This is my argument above in the story about toy safety standards. If Wal-Mart or Kroger or Safeway or another big retailer stood up and said, "We will only buy beef tested for BSE," it would change the world.
Also got email about the story noting that celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, known for television programs such as "Hell's Kitchen" and for a personality that might generously be described as pugnacious, has told the BBC
that he is pushing for legislation in the UK that would require that fruits and vegetables only be locally sourced and only sold when in season.
According to the BBC
story, Ramsay has spoken to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown about his proposal. In addition to providing people with better food, he says, "it would cut carbon emissions as less food would be imported and also lead to improved standards of cooking."
Brown says, "There should be stringent laws, licensing laws, to make sure produce is only used in season and season only. If we don't restrict our movements within this industry of seasonal-produce only, then the whole thing will spiral out of control."
My view was that while Ramsay's idea may seem fanciful – legislation seems a little over the top, and I can't help but think that the British Parliament has better things to do - his essential notion is actually an interesting one.
It probably is fair to say that the quality of food has suffered because of year-round availability. Let's face it – green grapes and corn on the cob may be available in February, but it isn't nearly as good as when you get it in season. It is a kind of lowest-common-denominator approach to food marketing…the short-term immediate gratification of having these items available all the time takes precedence over actually having food that tastes better.
It may be impossible to go backwards on this, though the whole idea of eating local is a good move in that direction. But I still think, especially because of the carbon footprint issue, that it makes sense for food retailers to start thinking about how they are going to wean shoppers off their addiction to year-round availability to certain products.MNB
user Dan Murphy wrote:Mr. Ramsay’s point about the carbon footprint of making sure suburbanites have year round access to produce of all sorts is a sound one. I cannot help but agree with you that while it may be difficult to turn back the clock entirely, the supermarket business (and agricultural industries in general) would benefit from capitalizing on this teachable moment and taking its case to the public rather than pressing ahead with business-as-usual (read: bring-it-in-on-a-boat-and-stack-it-up. They-will-buy-it-off-our tan-colored-lozier-fixtures-because-what-else-can-they-do). This is a real chance to lead, not follow.
Another benefit beyond the carbon footprint of moving so much material around the globe may quite directly be one of public health. If we are able to make significant shifts in where our produce comes from, we might well be able to decrease the hazards associated with wide ranging food recalls since the dependence on a limited number of enormous, often foreign, suppliers to multiregional shopping chains would be radically decreased.
I wonder if this change in demand for produce might over time allow some shift in production in developing countries away from capital- and petrochemical- intensive production of produce, by what is normally a handful of politically connected companies, in what is essentially a cash-crop model (for sale to the international markets), to land use and production patterns that may favor domestic consumption and economic development. Given the interplay of self interest and quick wit this may in time create in these producer nations more widely distributed surpluses of food, then money and then importantly, time. All of which would contribute mightily to the general welfare of these same countries. Even a small shift of this sort would seem highly desirable.
As Gordon himself might say !@#*!&# brilliant.
But another MNB
user wrote:Are you crazy? Don't you think each consumer ought to get to make the decisions about "immediate gratification" and "tasting better"? It really lies in the taste-buds of the beholder, I should hope.MNB
user Doug Galli chimed in:Just a note, that if this becomes legislation, which I believe would never happen, what is the financial impact on the growing areas that export the food around the globe? Most notably Chile. I would think it would have an economic impact on this country and the many growers and farm workers. At times what many people think are the best plans, have far-reaching implications that are not well thought through, but when they make these outrageous statements, play well in the press.
On another subject, MNB
-fave Glen Terbeek had some thoughts about the continuing discussion of Starbucks' travails and its former CEO, Jim Donald:I have no doubt that Jim is a great leader and person, with so many people supporting him. I would like to meet him. But just maybe the "central buying and distribution" mind set he learned and led at Wal-Mart and Safeway isn't the right model for local coffee houses to win their local markets. Like you, I have been in many Starbucks in the US and other countries, and the markets sure are different. Each
has a personality. As an example, the one at the beach here in San Diego has a much different customer set than say the one I frequented in Chicago. And I have also been in locally owned coffee shops, including the one across the street from the San Diego store and shops in Starbucks' home town of Seattle that are doing a great business and maybe even winning the local marketplace.
There is no question that Starbucks created the gourmet coffee category, actually helping the local competitors as a result. Now they need to focus on winning the "unique" local marketplaces that each store operates in. The only way to achieve continued same store sales increases is by doing just that.