retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, commenting on a piece about produce “safety myths,” I wrote: “Traceability. Transparency. The case for both is compelling, and I simply do not understand why some people and organizations resist.”

To which one MNB user responded:

Do you ever get tired of saying the same things over and over and over and over…?

Funny, my kids often have said the same thing to me. To which I always have pointed out that if they’d listened to me the first time, I wouldn’t have to repeat myself.

Sort of the same deal goes here. I promise you that when the US food industry becomes totally transparent and with complete traceability, I’ll shut up about it.

By the way, MNB user Robin Richardson responded to the same commentary thus:

You are right. Your are right. You are right. Stop fighting traceability!

A story yesterday about Peapod prompted MNB user Ellen Ornato to write:

I recently placed and received a Peapod order and there was a fuel surcharge on there. Even at $8 for delivery I still benefit from the savings of my time and gas (not to mention spontaneous spending). However, it wasn’t until I received my order that I remembered how many plastic bags they use; often they pack one item in a bag. It honestly made me rethink using this service.

Excellent point. All home delivery services ought to be thinking of ways to burnish their “green” credibility.

Or, as my daughter would say, “street cred” instead of “street crud.”

Commenting on projections yesterday that China will be the world’s second largest retail market on the planet by 2012, I suggested that it’ll probably be number one by 2013.

One MNB user commented that this was unlikely to happen as long as his wife was in the US with credit cards. (This user’s name is being withheld to protect him…but I have to admit that he made me laugh out loud.)

Another MNB user wrote:

I think your prediction of 2013 is pretty spot on. I think it might accelerate for a couple of reasons:

• The current US economy: Consumer confidence is at an all time low along with this recession.

• Technology boom in China: China's investment in technology, especially in their infrastructure, lays the ground work to the retailers advantage.

• The Summer Olympics: The world is about to see more of China than ever before, truly giving global access to an under-tapped market place - how many people in that country? Advertisers, CPGs and the like are scrambling to get commercial airtime in a market (TV) that has seen ad space dwindle with the Internet based ad growth. This will give, be it short, a resurgence to TV ad space, hence increasing retail growth.

And even with their devastating earthquake, a country and people like China will rise above it, build a strong economy, and again retailers will be ready to introduce themselves to untapped markets within China.

So, 2013 is a great prediction. I'm thinking more 2011...

Another MNB user wrote:

Forget about China’s growing retail size and when it will surpass the US. What scares me the most is the SALE of the US economy to China and other foreign countries!!

With the devalued dollar and the growing economies of China and India, the excess money in the oil rich Middle East and the strong Euro, our companies are being bought up like a cheap yard sale…….evident in Del Monte’s recent sale of Starkist to an Asian company among many, many more.

Who knows, by 2013, it might be China declaring war on the US for our resources, but not with guns and bombs. They will appear and say “P.S. We happen to OWN you.”

Another MNB user wrote:

Let’s take defective and poisonous products out of the equation for a second and consider:

• US manufacturing lost to China
• US jobs lost to China
• US quality of life lost to China through increased gas prices, food prices, etc.

Now, is all this worth losing for cheap trinkets and products that poison our children, the vulnerable, and the earth? Shouldn’t each of us boycott “Made in China”. AND, please don’t make me out to be an isolationist or protectionist.

On the subject of locavores, MNB user David Carlson wrote:

There's one infallible way to determine the "real" food miles of an item: Price. The more fossil fuels burned transporting it, the higher the price is going to go. When you're dealing with commodities like produce, it's pretty simple, and will only get more pronounced as fuel prices continue to go up.

MNB user Liz Schlegel wrote:

Thanks for this coverage. Here's the thing - it isn't JUST about food miles. It's about supporting local agriculture and keeping green space green. Here in Vermont, green fields and dairy farms are a critical part of the landscape - not just for tourists, but for locals too. If we don't buy the products they produce, they will be in trouble - and so will we.

And, as you say, it's about quality and flavor. To which I would add relationship and community - I know what our local dairy farmer contributes to our community (one's a film-maker, actually) - and I know what the lettuce grower, apple growers, salsa makers, flour company, cheesemakers and the beer brewers do to make Vermont special. I'm proud to show my appreciation - and my good taste - by buying their products.

Another MNB user demurred:

Locally grown is wonderful concept. The problem is, it is virtually impractical. There are not enough consumers to eat all the apples, cherries and walla-walla onions grown in Washington and Oregon. Although that would probably change in about 5 years when all the growers went out of business and you could buy individual trees from the bank that got the orchard back in bankruptcy. Plus it cut off the need for immigrant labor…we’d have so many skilled unemployed orchardmen that would be anxious to work.

The Midwest can produce shiploads of corn and beans during about 100-120 day season, but this is dent corn not really suitable for human consumption at least in the ordinary sense. We have lots of milk and wheat as well.

The program would work in southern California, large population, large groups and nearly all year growing season…try it in Kansas City.

I don’t know, but I would guess you could haul a railcar load of apples across the country for about the same or less as a bunch of truck farmers hauling 5-10 bushels at a time to the farmer’s market.

But MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

Leave it to the media and 'thinkers' to make eating local really really complicated... Simply put, I want to know where my food comes from. I want to be able to ask and get a clear answer about the tomato on my plate... and most often that means it came from somewhere smaller and closer to my hometown.

Do your elaborate calculations about carbon foot prints and fossil fuels - it just confuses the issue. And those calculations often don't figure in the impact of pesticide use (and the petroleum involved in that)... but that's a whole 'nother issue!

On the subject of the makers of high fructose corn syrup launching a promotional campaign, Ash Byrnes wrote:

My dad sent me a link to the "HFCS Fights Back" article. As the molecular basis of nutrition is an interest of mine, I really wanted to share a few thoughts on high fructose corn syrup.

To start off, I will give the corn refining companies the benefit of the doubt. After all, stating "Since HFCS consumption is correlated with obesity; therefore obesity is caused by HFCS consumption" without stating how this works would be a Cum hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

But even setting these scientific studies aside, the amount of fructose in our diet is still alarming.

Firstly, fructose is more likely to be in the more reactive open chain form rather than glucose. This is because the 5-membered ring of fructose is more constrained than the 6-membered ring of glucose. All monosaccharides spontaneously react with proteins, which is extremely problematic as it alters the structure and therefore function of proteins in the body. These can lead to age-related chronic disorders and is particularly harmful in diabetics.

Secondly, the body is not equipped to uptake as much fructose as it is glucose. The first step in metabolism of any monosaccharide is adding a phosphate group. The enzymes that perform this step specifically for glucose can handle up to twenty times the sugar concentration than those responsible for phosphorylating only fructose. Additionally, glucose metabolism can take place anywhere in the body, whereas fructose can ONLY be metabolized in the liver. Humans simply haven't evolved (or "weren't created to have," take your pick) to consume large amounts of fructose.

So, pairing the increased reactivity of fructose with the human body's innate inefficiency to metabolize it, we have a serious problem. Essentially, consuming HFCS "spikes" the fructose content in the blood stream, where it travels who knows where throughout the body, reacting with who knows what.

So true, we may only be able to point out "links" between HFCS and obesity at this point. But, for me at least, I don't want to place excess fructose in my body if I have a choice in the matter. Sure, it may turn out that HFCS may not be as bad for us as we think, but I can't see anyway that it could be good for us either.

I’m not sure what gives me the bigger thrill, knowing that fathers are sending MNB to their daughters, or having those daughters use Latin in their emails.

BTW, I have no idea what “phosphorylating” means. I clearly should have paid attention in chemistry class. (Or did they cover that in biology?)

And on the same subject, MNB user Chelle Blaszczyk wrote:

Interesting that the Corn Refiners Association is spending money on advertising. In our local newspaper, I made a comment in an article about us using crystalline fructose and evaporated cane juice because they are better for our bodies than HFCS. Within 3 days (including mailing from Washington DC) a packet of information on HFCS and why it isn’t bad for you along with a letter from the President telling me that I was misleading our customers by saying that in the newspaper. And the journalist who wrote the story also received the same information… I know it is easy to keep up what is being printed; but for the Corn Refiners Association to send information out that quickly was amazing to me. Makes me believe that there is some money being made somewhere…

No doubt about that. They must have their own war room…

Let’s test it out.

I’m happy to say right now that as much as possible, we avoid all products made with HFCS in our household. And I’ve got my kids looking at labels to make sure that what we’re buying doesn’t have this ingredient. We’re working on the assumption that it isn’t good for us…and I think, no matter how many publicity campaigns get launched, more and more people likely are to be doing the same.

KC's View: