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    Published on: June 24, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    Without moving a muscle, Jim Holt walked right into the middle of a cultural divide.

    Holt, a small businessman in Kansas, didn’t know he had a rule in his company that would land him on Good Morning America, and The Wall Street Journal, but he did. The rule was this: women in his office were required to wear leg covering. In other words, they had to wear pantyhose.

    Honestly, I didn’t know this was such a hot issue until I asked some women. Apparently, pantyhose doesn’t rank at the top of anyone’s comfort list. They are way too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter and that’s just the start of the complaints. Here’s a note to other men out there: don’t compare pantyhose to wearing a tie. A tie may be restricting, but it rarely starts sagging in unmentionable and uncomfortable places.

    The cultural divide Holt encountered is that women younger than a certain age have almost entirely eschewed pantyhose, opting instead to go bare-legged. This trend has been spurred on by spray on toners and other such products that make legs look better than ever. Also by a push for comfort. In the process, pantyhose became an unnecessary problem.

    When I asked women about this, the responses were equally interesting. One young woman (under 25) said she only wears pantyhose when she wants a complete professional look. Otherwise, it’s just not happening. Another woman, who was raised in Europe, said the debate doesn’t exist there. They are part of the professional attire. Others questioned how this became an issue at all.

    Honestly, I have no idea how this became an issue worthy of The Wall Street Journal and ABC News (Google “pantyhose debate” and you’ll find the trail of coverage), but that’s how issues take off these days. The times keep changing and with them the standards of what is and isn’t part of the rules change too.

    It’s happened to all of us. Whether it’s the changing rules of smoking, or how we should talk to other people in our offices or even the rights of different groups of workers, the changes are here to stay.

    Those changing rules also mean the rites of passage aren’t quite the same any more. Today’s rising workers might be far less willing then their elders (including me) to have to pay their dues the same way they were paid in the past. Their reasons are pretty straightforward too. They don’t grow up today expecting lifetime employment, long pensions and completely free health care. They have seen how the workplace has changed and the impact it has had on family members.

    It’s hard sometimes for us Baby Boomers to realize that we became the establishment. All those people over 30 who we weren’t supposed to trust many years ago are now sitting next to us in the doctors office complaining of the same symptoms we have.

    As the times change all of us have to move with them. Jim Holt is an object lesson. He found out about his problem only after hiring a young human resources manager. Others can avoid this fate by making sure work rules are getting reviewed by diverse teams including people of different age groups, genders, races and ethnic backgrounds. (Holt may have enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame, but I’m better he would have rather focused on work.)

    The great humorist Will Rogers once said that even if you are on the right track you can get run over if you are just sitting there.

    In other words, start moving, start learning and get going. The train is coming and the odds are it isn’t wearing pantyhose.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    The Los Angeles Times reports that not only is the era of low-carb diets over, but “high-carb foods such as beans, bananas and whole-grain breads” have become something of a rage as “some in the food industry have begun touting the health benefits of ‘resistant starch’ - a form of fiber that delivers some of the health benefits of soluble and insoluble fibers.”

    Resistant starch, according to the story, helps maintain regularity as well as controls cholesterol, weight and blood sugar.

    KC's View:
    I can see the cookbooks and diet books on the horizon…which will only serve to complicate issues and confuse consumers. Resistant starch may be good for you…but it is not a silver bullet that will solve a variety of problems. It is just one element in what ought to be a balanced diet…which, when combined with sufficient exercise, helps maintain good health.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    Interesting piece on about the complicated calculation of “food miles,” and how, despite their best intentions, so-called “locavores” may be missing the bigger picture.

    Noting a 2001 study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, the article reports that “the average apple travels 1,555 miles to a Chicago terminal market where wholesalers sell produce to grocery stores. A San Francisco Farmers Market apple, on the other hand, only travels about 105 miles to the Ferry Plaza market building.”

    Salon writes, “A new breed of eaters has embraced the local, low-food-mile diet. The Bay Area-based Locavores group, for instance, vows to eat food produced within 100 miles of San Francisco. In a nod to the movement's growing popularity, the word ‘locavore’ nabbed the title of 2007 Word of the Year from the New Oxford American Dictionary, and Food and Wine magazine offers tips to befuddled cooks on ‘How to Eat Like a Locavore.’ Campaigns such as ‘Local Food Is Miles Better’ (run by the trade magazine Farmers Weekly in the United Kingdom) have called on supermarkets to crack down on excessive food miles by labeling and promoting locally produced items. The corporate world has jumped on board as well: Google's Cafe 150 stocks its pantry with ingredients gathered from within a 150-mile radius.

    “While locavores list numerous reasons for eating local -- including freshness, taste and boosting regional economies -- one primary argument is protection of the environment. Long-distance food transport sucks up more fossil fuels, says the Farmers Market Web site, and unleashes more carbon dioxide onto our planet.

    “That does sound dire. But what if conventional distributors make up for the long journeys by driving big trucks packed with produce? Let's say a distributor travels 1,000 miles and carries 1,000 apples to market, while 10 local farmers each drive a pickup 100 miles and carry 100 apples each. The local farmers log fewer food miles but cover the same total distance -- and use a comparable amount of fossil fuels -- for the same amount of food.”

    Beyond that, the article says, other issues have to be taken into account – the time of the year, the specific item, even the fertilizer used for the product. And the piece suggests that consumers may be better off looking at other criteria when choosing their food rather than just the simplistic calculation of food miles.

    KC's View:
    Seems to me that taste is the best criteria, whenever possible. I guess that doesn’t make me an environmental purist, but there it is. If we all – meaning retailers, suppliers and consumers - focused more on taste, rather than efficiency, then the food world would be an infinitely better place.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    The Washington Post reports this morning that “the rising cost of fuel is rippling far beyond what consumers pay at the pump. Companies across an array of industries are instituting fuel surcharges that are nibbling away at consumers' pocketbooks. Like the airline industry with its baggage fees, businesses say they are being squeezed by higher gas prices and must pass on the costs to survive.”

    One example cited by the Post: “Grocery delivery service Peapod normally charges $6.95 to $9.95 for delivery, depending on the size of the order. About seven months ago, it added a fuel surcharge tied to the average price of gas in certain states. An online chart outlines costs up to $1.48 for a fuel price of $4.05 per gallon. But with gas averaging $4.079 yesterday, the current surcharge of $1.58 is literally off the charts. ‘We did everything we could to save the customers,’ spokeswoman Elana Margolis said. ‘There was no way around. We waited for a really long time’.”

    KC's View:
    I used to believe that free delivery – or at least the illusion of free delivery, as in the case of Amazon Prime – would be a cost of doing business in the e-grocery sector. I’m not so sure of that anymore, and tend to think that consumers will understand fuel surcharges that are fair and transparent. We all understand how expensive gas is…it all will depend on the way it is done.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    Harris Interactive has released a new poll saying that Google is now the company in America with the best reputation, displacing Microsoft from the top spot that it held a year ago.

    Google went from fourth last year to the top spot, while Johnson & Johnson remained at number two, Intel went from 16 to three, General Mills went from six to four, and Kraft Foods was listed as five – and it didn’t even make the list a year ago.

    Rounding out the top 10 were Berkshire Hathaway in sixth (it was 21 last year), 3M in seventh (three a year ago), Coca-Cola in eighth (five last year), Honda in ninth (14 last year) and, dropping from first to tenth, Microsoft.

    Harris Interactive’s ninth annual Reputation Quotient survey polled thousands of Americans to determine the reputations of the 60 most visible companies in America for better or for worse.

    Halliburton is the least-respected company on the list of 60 businesses, preceded by Altria Group, Royal Dutch/Shell, Chevron Texaco, Exxon Mobil, and Citgo.

    However, seven out of 10 consumers told Harris Interactive that they believed America’ corporations have a “not good” or “terrible” reputation.

    “Google is the perfect example showing reputation does not correlate with ad spending," Robert Fronk, Harris Interactive’s senior VP-senior consultant, reputation strategy, tells Advertising Age. "The positive perception of how you treat your employees, your corporate-social-responsibility efforts, and your products and services and the amount of media that can generate probably trumps any ad spend they would ever want to make."

    KC's View:
    Not surprising that the bottom of the list is occupied by oil companies, a cigarette company and a firm that has been accused of exploiting wars for profit.

    Also pretty interesting that four of the companies in the top 10 sell products in supermarkets…it suggests that there is a reserve of good will there that CPG companies need to nurture and nourish, being careful not to abuse the good faith of shoppers.

    I am intrigued about two rankings – Apple is just 19, which seems very low, and Starbucks is 32, which may reflect the seriousness of the marketing and performance issues that the company has been facing of late.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    The Los Angeles Times reports this morning that tomorrow, Kroger-owned Ralphs “is expected to eliminate bonus valuations on coupons for $1 or more and will only double the value of coupons for 50 cents or less … Currently, shoppers can receive a maximum of $1 extra when redeeming manufacturers' coupons for $1 or more. However, under the new policy that is expected to take effect Wednesday, those coupons will be accepted only at face value.

    “Under the new policy, coupons worth 25 cents will still be worth an extra quarter, for a total savings of 50 cents. And a 50-cent coupon will be doubled for a net savings of a dollar. But the doubling stops there. Any coupons for more than 50 cents but less than $1 will only increase to $1.”

    Safeway eliminated its double coupon policy in its Vons division in 2006, according to the story, but then reinstated it but only doubles up to $1.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    In the UK, the Observer has a long piece about Starbucks’ travails, noting that CEO Howard Schultz recently told shareholders that the company is facing the biggest economic challenges of its history, and that Starbucks “somehow evolved from a culture of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation to a culture of, in a way, mediocrity and bureaucracy … We have somehow lost our edge.” Schultz also said that it is possible that the era of expensive, gourmet coffees may be running out of steam.

    “In a memo to employees, he lamented how automatic coffee machines had improved efficiency but given customers a more 'antiseptic experience',” the Observer reports. “He noticed how the smell of the company's breakfast sandwiches overpowered the aroma of coffee and new flavours had been introduced in place of genuine inspiration … The quandary Starbucks faces is one that confronts any rapidly expanding business. The original idea is lost. While investors reward growth, especially in in-store sales, it must ultimately slow and the stock slide. Schultz, who returned as CEO this year, must now negotiate the narrow path between restoring the brand and fostering growth.

    “He has proposed grinding the coffee by hand again (to restore the aroma), phase out the over-powering breakfast sandwiches (replacing them with more healthy fare), introduce a new, smaller espresso machine so baristas can see over the top and better connect with customers. Perhaps most remarkable are plans to scale back Starbucks' emphasis on espresso-based fare and return to more traditional, drip-based drinks.”

    KC's View:
    Any reader of MNB knows that I am an enormous Starbucks fan, but I noticed something the other day. A dictum apparently has come down from headquarters that each coffee has to be done individually…and that baristas even have to the foam cup-by-cup. While this would seem to be an admirable nod to craft coffee brewing, I also noticed that this decision slowed the line down considerably…and actually annoyed some of the customers on line.

    This reflects the challenge facing Starbucks, and, to be honest, any retailer dealing with customers in the same sort of way. It is the eternal struggle between art and commerce, as companies look to find a balance that generates both quality and profit.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    The Newark Star Ledger reports that “the next Chinese export to reach American consumers will be lower-cost generic versions of brand-name medicines. Although it will take at least several years before Chinese-made generics are available here in significant numbers, the prospect already is raising safety concerns, given China's history of substandard drugs at home, the recent scandal involving contaminated ingredients in the blood thinner heparin, and other safety problems, from tainted pet food to toothpaste.”

    According to the story, “Chinese drug companies face a number of challenges if they want to export generic drugs to the United States, including providing proof they can manufacture safe and high-quality finished products that meet American standards. The Chinese market has been riddled with counterfeit drugs, and its drug regulatory agency has been beset by corruption.”

    KC's View:
    Thousands of key rings manufactured in China are being recalled because they have so much lead in them that there are concerns that people could hurt themselves if they put them in their mouths. If China can’t make safe key rings, what are the odds that it will make safe medicines.

    Now, the good news for shoppers is that Chinese generic drugs are likely to lower overall drug prices…but the question is how much testing are we going to do, how much traceability there is going to be, and how seriously the federal system is going to take the prospect of Chinese drugs. Will they stay ahead of possible problems, or will they be reactive?

    I’m not confident.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    Published reports say that that Del Monte has come to an agreement with Dongwon Group, a South Korean company, to sell its StarKist seafood division for about $300 million. Del Monte acquired StarKist from HJ Heinz in 2002.
    KC's View:
    Not sure that selling a seafood division to an Asian company is going to do a lot for the brand in the long term. Suspicions have been raised among American consumers, especially because of all the issues raised with Chinese exports, and I think this is going to get worse before it gets better.

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    • Walgreen reports that its third quarter earnings were up two percent to $572 million. Q3 sales were up 9.6 percent to $15.01 billion, on same-store sales that were up 3.4 percent.

    • Associated Grocers of New England reports that its fiscal 2007 sales were up 12.5 percent to $315 million, based on both increased sales and new retail customers.

    KC's View:

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    • The Times of London reports that Richard Jones, Sainsbury’s director of general merchandise and global sourcing, has quit to join rival retailer Tesco. No details are yet available on what Jones’ role and title will be in his new job.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 24, 2008

    Responding to yesterday’s piece about Costco’s first location in Australia, one MNB user from Down Under, Andrew Hartnett, wrote:

    When I heard about the location chosen by Costco I was amazed as it doesn't appear that they have chosen a site where their target market resides.

    From reading your columns for the past 2 1/2 years, I've built a picture of Costco being a "Cheaper in Bulk" retailer. Why they have chosen to place their first Australian store in Melbourne's CBD seems strange. The majority of people who are moving into the Docklands precinct, have substantial incomes, and no need to drive as everything is accessible by public transport. Those that work in the Docklands, are more likely to take public transport due to limited and expensive parking, not to mention fuel costs. Costco would, in my opinion, have been better off setting up in an area that is more of a "mortgage belt", with more families on limited income who are looking for better prices and would have the transportation to take bulk purchases home.

    I'm looking forward to seeing how Costco goes, as we have very little choice of retailers here (75% of the market is controlled by 2 players), but it looks as if they have made their first mistake by choosing to open in a trendy new environment rather than areas that contain working families who need some relief from the continued increases of day to day life.

    Traditionally, Costco parking lots are filled with expensive luxury cars – it tends to do very well with the well-off. Not sure about the public transportation component, but don't underestimate the impact that Costco can have in a trendy new environment. But we’ll see how it plays out in Australia…I hope I have a chance to come down and see in person.

    More comment on the Ikan system that allows people to scan items at home and create an online shopping list that allows for automatic fulfillment of regularly bought products:

    Although I don’t see Ikan as something that would work for me in the current form…the comments on MNB are getting dangerously close to “Old Farts Law.” With technology changing at such a rapid pace, retailers should be more concerned about what Ikan 2.0 and 3.0 might look like…then beat them to the punch.


    Got several emails about the passing of George Carlin, noted yesterday on MNB.

    MNB user Joe Fraioli wrote:

    One of the greatest comic minds of all time has passed. He was relevant from the beginning of his career right to the very end. He shocked us, made us laugh, but most importantly he made us think. I made the extra effort (I knew he was 70+ and had some heart / health issues) and saw him in person last summer and boy I am glad I did!

    Another MNB user wrote:

    From his "hippy dippy weather man" routine which I enjoyed as a kid on our 13 inch black and white TV to his side-splitting "F@#$ the Children" bit (which my husband and I saw at the Rosemont Theatre about 5 years ago)--George Carlin always delivered by pointing out the total hypocrisy of everything from self-help books to Uncle Sam.

    He will be missed but thank goodness for the body of work he leaves behind.

    Irreverent, energetic, politically incorrect and hysterical. George, RIP.

    MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    My two favorite comedians have long been at opposite ends of the spectrum, George Carlin and Jeff Foxworthy. I’ve long held the belief that beneath the profanity of Carlin was a first rate mind, possibly a genius level intellect, and every joke or monologue he use in his act, no matter how outrageous it was, had a grain of truth at its core.

    While I loved his “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television”, my favorite routine of his was “A Place for My Stuff”. I can still hear him saying, “That’s what a house is for, it’s a place to lock up your stuff, wouldn’t want someone to take some of your stuff, you ever notice they always take the shiny stuff, they never bother with that crap your saving. So, you lock up your stuff in your house while you go out and get……more stuff. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it.” He goes on to talk about traveling and packing some of your stuff to take with you, the second version of your house, and goes on about the third and fourth versions and how supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.

    Great stuff, great comedian, really smart guy. I will miss him.

    And another MNB user decided to comment on one specific aspect of Carlin’s personality:

    For some reason, you overlooked his status as perhaps the most-brilliant religious thinker of our time--a man who fearlessly characterized belief in "an invisible little man living in the clouds" as childish nonsense.

    Okay…that ought to generate some responses…

    KC's View: