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    Published on: May 23, 2008

    The Houston Business Journal reports that HE Butt is engaging in a new multi-tiered price promotion campaign, “which includes lowering thousands of prices, increasing the value of weekly promotions and helping customers make affordable choices when shopping.”

    According to Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B Houston, the campaign is linked to the fact that "our customers are telling us that the changing economy and price increase on commodity items is affecting them.”

    The story notes that “in addition to new lower prices, customers can take advantage of money-saving opportunities and free items at H-E-B through special offerings including new coupons, five-items-for-$5 promotions, Meal Deals and My H-E-B Rx Rewards.”

    KC's View:
    Did a quick check online, and it looks like gas prices in Houston range from $3.55 to $3.99 per gallon. It’s only going up, and I have to assume that as it does so, people are going to be changing their shopping habits.

    One thing you know about HEB, though – in addition to stressing price, it also is going to be a supermarket chain that will offer other differential advantages. Which is always a good thing to do for long-term viability.

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    CNN reports that Kroger has decided to expand its fuel discount program chain-wide, which gives shoppers 10 cents off per gallon for every $100 they spend inside a Kroger supermarket. Previously, CNN notes, “the programs weren't carried over between regions, so a vacationing shopper at a Kroger-owned Ralphs store in California didn't previously get the spending credit for the discount back home in Cincinnati.”
    KC's View:
    Forget about gas discounts. Based on the price of gas and rising cost of food, if Kroger and other supermarkets really want to make money, they ought to be in the business of selling second mortgages. Because that’s what we’re all going to need pretty soon in order to keep up…

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    The Toronto Globe and Mail reports that Loblaw is increasing the ethnic selection in its new superstore prototype located in a heavily Asian and South Asian section of Toronto – part of a broader effort to emphasize ethnic foods in all of its banners. Previously, the company had been more focused on ethnic products in its No Frills stores, but the experience there has been positive enough to lead to a broader strategy.

    Not everybody is impressed, though, with some analysts complaining that the selection isn’t broad enough and the products too expensive for the concept to be a big win for Loblaw.

    KC's View:
    Not having seen the stores recently, I cannot bear witness personally. I do know this, though. Loblaw needs a big win.

    Management seems to think they have one, and I hope for their sake that they are right.

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    Supervalu Inc. has agreed to a $15 million settlement with former employees of Albertsons, Lucky and Sav-On Drugs who filed a class action suit saying that when they were terminated by Albertsons between 11996 and 2004, they were not given their final paychecks.

    Supervalu only acquired most of Albertsons in 2006, but published reports say that it decided to settle the suit and move on.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    • The Times of London reports that Wal-Mart owned Asda Group plans to get into the mortgage business by the end of the year, and is negotiating with three different companies to provide its customers access to discount home loans.

    The decision would challenge Tesco’s approach to the business, which used to be branded but now offers mortgages provided by an outside mortgage broker.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    The Buffalo News reports that Dash’s Market is opening its fourth store in the region, which is described thus:

    “Inside the market’s exposed brick interior are sleek, winding cases to display fresh sushi and aged beef. The company’s trademark mix of local, national and specialty items will include an expanded natural and organic food selection, as well as a florist, prepared meals, a wider variety of imported cheeses, and artisan bread made in conjunction with Le Metro bakery.

    “The company’s diverse selection, upscale aesthetics and compact floor plan appeal to a middle-and upper-income niche market, and have helped it survive in the face of fierce competition from giant supermarkets such as Wegmans, Tops and Super Wal-Mart.”

    The story notes that the store also will have a drive-up window, which will serve both items from the store’s coffee shop as well as “limited items from the ‘Dinner in a Dash’ selection of pre-made meals.”

    KC's View:
    The paper notes that Dash’s is celebrating 85 years in business, but the drive-up window suggests that you can, indeed, teach an old dog new tricks.

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    In his first online blog since the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation onto his online activities (which included criticizing then-rival Wild Oats under a pseudonym), Whole Foods CEO John Mackey has offered an explanation, a rationalization, and an apology. Excerpts:

    • “I can’t tell you how good it feels to be able to write in my blog again. Even though I wanted to respond openly and truthfully when confronted by the various accusations of wrongdoing last year, our attorneys and Board of Directors both thought it best for me to hold off while they conducted their Special Investigation and the SEC handled its inquiry. Those matters now are completed with the board affirming their complete support for me and the SEC recommending that no enforcement action be made against Whole Foods Market or me. Now that I’m free to post again, I am going to attempt to set the record straight…”

    • “My mistake here was one of judgment—not ethics. I didn’t realize posting under a screen name in an online community such as Yahoo! would be so controversial and would cause so many people to be upset. That was a mistake in judgment on my part and one that I deeply regret because it caused so much negative media attention about me and Whole Foods Market … Unfortunately, the media selected just a few comments out of the 1,400+ that I wrote, presented them out of their proper context, and sensationalized them to tell a story with more controversy and conflict.”

    • “I very much doubt that Whole Foods Market would even exist today without my competitive entrepreneurial drive first creating and then pushing the company forward to grow and evolve for more than 28 years now. I don’t wish to apologize for being highly competitive because much of my drive and creativity come from this competitiveness. While I respect and admire a number of our competitors and have learned from them, I certainly don’t love them, and that included Wild Oats when we competed against it. Whole Foods Market directly competed with Wild Oats for about 14 years, and sometimes the competition between us was both intense and personal. I believe that is largely the way business works—it is highly competitive. However, I don’t believe that I ever crossed the line of fair but vigorous debate in these postings. It is also important to understand that I did not single out Wild Oats as the only competitor I discussed. From time to time I also discussed and debated the virtues of food co-ops, specialty grocers and national and regional grocers.”

    • “It was infuriating to be accused of trying to manipulate Wild Oats’ stock price downward so that Whole Foods Market could buy it more cheaply. This is malicious speculation and an accusation with no basis in fact. My last Yahoo! post occurred in August 2006, and Whole Foods Market did not begin talking to Wild Oats about a buyout until January 2007—a five-month gap. In addition, almost all of my posts that were critical of Wild Oats were made when its stock was far lower than the $18.50 per share Whole Foods Market paid for it.”

    • “I’ve learned many things from these events. The primary lesson I’ve learned is that because of Whole Foods Market’s success, I have become a public figure. My personal and work lives are now closely connected—and impact one another. Anything I say or do is now at risk of showing up on the front page of a national daily newspaper and therefore, I need to be much more conscious about the implications of everything that I say or do in all situations … I wish to apologize to all the stakeholders of Whole Foods Market—customers, Team Members, investors, suppliers, and our communities. I am truly sorry that all this has happened and put a negative spotlight on our company. If I could get a “do over” on this one, I certainly would choose not to have ever participated in the Yahoo! online financial communities. Unfortunately, I cannot undo the past. I can only learn the many valuable lessons that are here for me to learn and try to do better in the future.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that “McDonald’s Corp. says trans fats have been removed from the cooking oil it uses for french fries and other fried foods in its American and Canadian restaurants, and expects to remove the fats from the rest of its menu by the end of the year.”

    USA Today reports this morning that “Menu Foods, other pet food makers and retailers involved in last year's massive pet food recall will set up a $24 million cash fund to compensate pet owners, according to a proposed settlement filed Thursday in federal court,” which is in addition to $8 million already paid out to aggrieved pet owners in the case.

    “The fund is expected to compensate thousands of pet owners in the U.S. and Canada who bought recalled pet foods made by Menu and 11 others,” the paper reports. “The products had a contaminated ingredient from China that sickened dogs and cats.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    • Modesto, California-based Save Mart Supermarkets announced that Steve Junqueiro, Executive Vice President, has been named the company’s COO.

    In addition, Mike Silveira, Senior Vice President of Human Resources and Law, has been named the company’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Steve Ackerman, Vice President of Finance, has been named acting CFO, assuming all the responsibilities of Ron Riesenback, Senior Vice President/CFO, who announced his retirement this week.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    • Hormel Foods reports that its second quarter profit was up 14 percent to $77.56 million, on sales that were up six percent to $1.59 billion.
    KC's View:
    Hormel is probably in for a good couple of years, because it makes Spam, which we’re all going to be eating a lot of if things keep going the way they’re going…

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    MNB reported yesterday that Jimmy Buffett, the singer-songwriter who has developed an enormous business with "beach music" that speaks to wanderlust souls and the thirst for margaritas, sunshine, a sailboat and a stiff breeze, has decided that his newest DVD, "Scenes You Know By Heart," will only be available at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club stores, as well as on

    The only exceptions to the decision: Buffett's own websites, and, also will sell the DVD, which is a visual version of his popular "Songs You Know By Heart" CD. The DVD is due out on June 3.

    Buffett is just the latest artist to strike such a deal with Wal-Mart, with Garth Brooks and The Eagles also having done so in recent years.

    This story generated a number of emails…none of them positive about Buffett’s decision.

    MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

    Speaking from the viewpoint of a person who got married in Key West and had our wedding reception at Margaritaville, this is right down there with finding out about Santa Claus! We will still no doubt go through with our 10th anniversary celebration at Cheeseburger in Paradise this July but we definitely will not be picking out the straw hat & flowered shirt at Wal-Mart on the way!

    How great is it that you married someone willing to have the wedding reception at Margaritaville! Not sure I could have sold Mrs. Content Guy on that one. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t…)

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I have been a Buffett fan since I first saw him in the 70s. Some of the most fun concerts I have ever been to. While he has built a very powerful brand that includes restaurants, beer and re-releasing his music over and over it has not stopped my admiration and we buy his music when new CDs become available.

    When the Eagles offered the CD exclusively through WM I stopped buying their music. It is a shame but I will not buy this DVD from WM. Jim has just lost some of his appeal with me and my wife (also a parrot-head). Perhaps it’s a calculated move to see whether selling a DVD exclusively will work or not in advance of a CD deal with WM. I’m sure there is much less risk.

    It’s a shame that Jim has sold out. Kudos to Wal-Mart but I foresee a backlash from long time parrot-heads. He might have “stepped on a pop-top” with this deal.

    Jim. Do the right think and renounce this partnership!

    And MNB user Jim Nolan asked the best question:

    Will the DVD include WDWGDAS as the "Yellow Album" did? Or will Wal-Mart ask for the "Why Don't We Get Lunch at School" version from the 1997 tour?

    I checked the playlist, and it looks like the version being used is the one from the Hawaii concert, which some might find offensive. (I think he describes it as a Hawaiian love song…)

    And if you don't know what “WDWGDAS” stands for, you’re on your own...
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    On first reading, I looked at this story and thought, how great is this.

    The New York Times reports that a California company believes it has perfected the technology that will allow it to clone dogs, which apparently is fairly difficult because dogs have an “unusual reproductive biology.”

    And so, the company plans to auction off the cloning of five dogs, with the winners of the auctions able to have their own dogs cloned in a project that has been dubbed “Best Friends Again.” Bidding is expected to start at $100,000. Per dog.

    However, before you look at your aging puppy and decide that a Xerox copy would be a nice thing to have, consider that the Times also reports that one of the principals of the company, BioArts International, is a South Korean guy named Hwang Woo Suk, who led a team in 2004 that claimed “it had made cloned human embryos and stem cells. But those claims were found to be fraudulent.”

    In addition, the Times quotes experts as saying that while a cloned dog might be a physical replica, it won’t have any of the memories of the original version…which means you’ll have to teach it to go to the bathroom outside all over again. And, in fact, since the new version won’t know you, it could end up coming back to bite you in the…hand.

    Buyer beware.

    Still, here is the sentence from the Times story that I found to be really interesting…and a little frightening:

    “Scientists consider dogs among the most difficult animals to clone because they have an unusual reproductive biology, more so than humans.”

    That’s right.

    Dogs – those same animals that eat shoes, drink out of the toilet and chase trucks down the road – are tougher to clone than humans.

    Scary, huh?

    While on the subject of animals, I’d like to elaborate on something I wrote yesterday. In a passing comment about appropriate promotions, I mentioned that if a store sent me information about cat food it would irritate me, because, as I put it: “I hate cats.”

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    “I hate cats” ? You could have left that immature statement out and made your point well enough. Living down here in the land of Michael Vick, the last thing we need is anyone of your intellect espousing a hatred for any animal. Very poor judgment, but perhaps you are gratified by the attention. Hope not. I kind of like you.

    I like you, too.

    But I think that there is an enormous distance between hating cats and being deliberately cruel to them.

    I hate snakes, too, by the way.

    And speaking of hating snakes…

    Yesterday afternoon I took a couple of hours off and went to see “Indiana Jones & The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” a movie I’ve pretty much been looking forward to since “Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade” came out in 1989.

    And I am happy to say that I had a very good time. It is great to see Harrison Ford back in the leather jacket and fedora, carrying that bullwhip – the hair may be almost white, but he still carries himself with a kind of intellectual and physical panache rare among today’s movie stars. (In fact, he seems very much of a previous era…which is sort of sad for those of us who grew up with him in “American Graffiti,” the “Star Wars” films, “Blade Runner,” “Witness,” etc… But that is sort of the subtext to “Crystal Skull,” which doesn’t hide the fact that Indiana Jones is in his sixties…)

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the new Indiana Jones movie is a great one. It isn’t. There are periods that lag, especially when devoted to exposition that seems to have leapt directly from the mind of executive producer George Lucas, who should be barred from screenwriting forever. (It is said that he came up with the basic story, which isn’t that great.) But there are some wonderful action pieces from director Steven Spielberg that just crackle.

    Two other revelations. One is Shia LaBeouf, who plays a young hoodlum who joins Jones on this adventure. LaBeouf apparently is some sort of teen star, and I was fully prepared to hate him for taking attention away from the estimable Dr. Jones, but he’s terrific – if this is what young movie stars are made of, we could do a lot worse. And it was wonderful to see Karen Allen back onscreen in the role she first played in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (still the best of the series). She’s sexy and vulnerable and tough and she brings a light into Indiana Jones’s eyes; just watch the smile on his face when he first sees her in the movie.

    So, see it and enjoy it for what it is. It might have been a better movie if they’d tried to shine a fresh light on Indiana Jones’s character, but the old light, though sepia-toned, still offers plenty of old-fashioned entertainment.

    Wine recommendations of the week:

    • The Girls in the Vineyard 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, from California.

    • Cyan 12 Meses 2003 red wine from Spain, which is 100 percent Tinta de Toro.

    • Bottega Vinala 2002 Trentino Lagrien, from Italy, for which I thank my friends at Wegmans’ excellent wine operation for making the recommendation.

    Each of these is great with whatever grilled meats you may be enjoying this holiday weekend – burgers, steaks, sausages, whatever. Enjoy!

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 23, 2008

    Here in the US, next Monday is celebrated as Memorial Day, a federal holiday that is supposed to be about remembering the sacrifices of servicemen and servicewomen through the decades, but also is the unofficial beginning of summer. Which means that MNB will be taking the day off…but we'll back on Tuesday.

    Have a good weekend.

    KC's View: