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    Published on: July 1, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    One year ago, the New York Mets were in first place. Granted they weren’t playing great, but they still had the look of a team headed to the playoffs. One year ago, they had no idea they were actually headed for an historic collapse, a weak opening to the following year, the firing of their manager and more.

    Stuff, as we all know, happens.

    No doubt, we’ve all noticed a considerable amount of change in the last year. We don’t like to think about how much the price of gasoline has increased or how much the stock market has declined. We don’t like to dwell on the on-going collapse of consumer confidence or the skyrocketing rate of housing foreclosures.

    And doubtlessly, we don’t want to dwell on how much of this bad news (the Mets excepted) happened since January 1, 2008. Somehow it doesn’t seem possible that so much happened so fast even though we all want it to turn around equally quickly.

    I’ve been reflecting on the one-year time period this week because it was one year ago that I started writing my weekly columns for MorningNewsBeat. And despite all the bad news of the past year, I haven’t regretted for a single moment joining this e-community. Your feedback (praise at times, criticism at times) has been intelligent, well stated and usually provocative.

    However, the best lesson of all came from a friend at the food management school of St. Joseph’s University in the form of one line: “Don’t breathe your own exhaust.” It’s a lesson that deserves sharing.

    The comment came in response to a discussion about MorningNewsBeat and the glee with which I, weekly, and Kevin, incredibly, daily, pull this together. Kevin and I were feeling pretty good about our growing community, its passion and its connection. But our friend reminded us a lesson we should never forget.

    Don’t get satisfied and certainly, don’t sprain your wrist patting yourself on the back.

    It’s a lesson I can’t repeat to myself enough. My goal a year ago remains the same goal I have today: to share w each week some bit of knowledge, information or opinion that I hope can help. It has to be important, useful and challenging. More than anything, it has to be worth your time to read it.

    And in truth, the celebration of my one-year anniversary doesn’t rise to that standard except for this: In one year—in six months, actually—a lot of stuff changed. That means the level of performance required by all of us is higher today than ever.

    It means that more than ever, retailers and suppliers have to deliver true value to the shopper. It means our industry has to navigate tough times to figure out ways to reduce costs, while continuing to supply shoppers nutritious, convenient, good tasting and varied choices. It means we need to find way to embrace the growing environmental challenges and concerns, while we cope with tough economic times. It means we have to find new ways to attract top quality workers, while keeping an eye on cost containment.

    It means, in short, being willing to challenge all the old rules in order to find new, creative and winning solutions. And it means we have plenty of work to do.

    Sure the industry could congratulate itself on all the good things that have been done and all the steps that have been taken. Then we’d face the same question we have at MorningNewsBeat: Are we breathing our own exhaust or could we do more?

    It’s not an easy question, but success never comes from coping with easy questions. It’s the hard ones that matter most.

    So, Happy Anniversary to me. Now let’s move on to year two…

    Except that people talking on their Bluetooth headsets in public spaces still rankles me. I’m not quitting until we get that one solved.

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

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    The Columbus Dispatch reports that an Ohio woman who says she was sickened after buying and consuming E. coli-contaminated meat from a Kroger store, has filed a lawsuit against the retailer.

    According to the paper, 26-year-old Amanda Adam bought the meat on June 4 at a Dublin, Ohio, Kroger store, consumed it the same day, and fell ill four days later. Adams reportedly had to be hospitalized for two days and tested positive for E. coli.

    As noted by the paper, “E. coli contamination has forced the recall of more than 34 million pounds of beef since 2007 from several companies and restaurants,” and in this case, by June 20 officials in Ohio and Michigan “linked nearly 30 Ohio and Michigan cases to beef sold at Kroger stores, according to the complaint. Kroger initiated a voluntary recall five days later on all beef products that carried its label and were sold between May 21 and June 8.”

    The law firm representing Adams, Seattle-based Marler Clark, is described as often representing victims of foodborne illnesses. The firm, according to the Dispatch, “alleges that Kroger has had to recall beef products five times over the past seven years. The complaint seeks unspecified damages but says that Adam has had about $10,000 in medical bills.”

    KC's View:
    This going to get ugly, and one thing is certain. The lawyers are likely to get rich, and consumer confidence in the food supply is going to get poorer.

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    The St. Louis Business Journal reports that Schnuck Markets has expanded its prescription generic drug program from one that offered a 21-day supply of any one of more than 50 oral antibiotics to one that now offers more than 300 for $4 for a 30-day supply and $10 for a 90-day supply.

    The company said that the range of products includes medications to treat high blood pressure, arthritis, asthma, cholesterol, diabetes and allergies, according to the Journal, which notes that “Schnuck Markets' pharmacy offers do not require an additional purchase, coupon or insurance, but if a customer's insurance plan dictates a lower price than that in the grocer's new generic drug offer, the lower price will be given.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that while Starbucks has gotten some plaudits for its introduction of the milder Pike Place Roast, described as a “milder brew” that makes the company more accessible to mass market coffee drinkers, there has been some backlash.

    “The new strategy, which played down the company's more-established robust roasts, has touched off a debate about what customers think Starbucks should stand for: bold coffee for connoisseurs or a tamer brew for the masses?” The Journal notes that “much of that debate is taking place on the company's customer-feedback Web site, which the chain launched in March. The site is littered with thumbs-down verdicts on the new roast. Some small competitors have posted messages there trying to woo away disenchanted Starbucks drinkers.”

    KC's View:
    It is a fascinating debate, and in some ways encapsulates the kind of debate that so many retailers have about the soul of their companies and the balance between art and commerce.

    What is interesting about the Starbucks case is that a lot of customers seem to be complaining about the fact that some of the older, bolder coffees sold by the company have been in short supply, which concerns them. In my case, I’m a dedicated drinker of Verona, a bold coffee that I buy ground and make at home…if suddenly I were not able to get it, I’d certainly be put off and it would make me question my loyalty to Starbucks.

    It’s the old story about “dancing with the one who brung you.”

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    Financially troubled and sales-challenged Kmart, a unit of Sears Holding, said yesterday that “it has cut prices and expanded its generic prescription drug program to include more than 500 common medications as of June 22,” according to a story in Crain’s Chicago Business.

    Kmart reportedly “is offering more than 100 generic treatments for $5 a prescription and lowered the cost of a three-month supply of common drugs to $10 at its pharmacies.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) announced yesterday that is launching a new Convenience Tracking Program (CTP) to both retail and supplier members this fall. CTP is described as “a store-level shopper entry/exit research, insight and consultancy program. The program is full disclosure, meaning each retailer can benchmark their shopper feedback with other chains’ shopper feedback … which can be leveraged to provide action points and priorities to fill any gaps in performance.”

    NACS said that CTP, which was developed by the him! retail consultancy in the UK, !, already has become a collaborative "common language" between retailers and suppliers for capturing customer shopping feedback in both the U.K. and Australia.

    KC's View:
    In an environment where every customer matters, every shopper relationship is a competitive advantage, and every sale can be part of a foundation that makes the difference to a company’s viability, developing and utilizing programs like CTP strikes me as incredibly important.

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    • Shop 'n Save, the group of 70 independently owned and operated
    supermarkets in western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, and West Virginia, announced that it has just launched Valu2-U - a new program designed to give shoppers access to sales and promotions from the comfort of their own computer.

    According to a statement released by the company, “The new service is simple to use. After visiting the Shop 'n Save website, consumers log on to where they can opt-in to receive a bi- weekly e-mail newsletter and special online deals. They can then personalize the site by choosing the features they want and products that best meet their needs. Special offers are sent to customers by email allowing them to print the coupon or voucher, bring it into the store, and take advantage of deals. Customers may also opt-out at any time.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    • The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Coca-Cola plans to launch Full Throttle Coffee, a new energy drink that comes in three flavors, during July in the Pacific Northwest and Southeast US, with the rest of the country slated to see it in August.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    • Jay Ropietski, a regional vice president at Price Chopper, has been hired by Weis Markets as its new vice president of store operations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 1, 2008

    MNB took note yesterday of a New York Times story about a new milk jug design being adopted by Wal-Mart and Costco, one that reportedly is cheaper to ship, better for the environment, keeps milk fresher and costs less. Which would appear to be a win-win-win-win proposition, except that customers don't like it because it apparently is hard to pour from.

    Got a lot of emails on this one…

    One MNB user wrote:

    I have tried Costco’s new milk jug. It is awkward, but is still something I can and will get used to – especially since the price is almost a dollar cheaper than my local Cub. The opening is about four times the size of today’s milk jugs, which is my biggest ‘cow’ with it.

    MNB user Tami Regan wrote:

    You're absolutely right about educating customers on why a change in happening. I buy about 5 to 6 gallons of milk a week at Costco and I hate the new milk jugs. I figured they changed it because they were easier to transport, however, now that I know it is more environmentally friendly and will keep my milk fresher longer, I will try to have a better attitude next time a pour a glass of milk and it spills down the side of the jug and on the counter.

    MNB user Ben Gochnauer wrote:

    I too noticed this change this weekend and at first was surprised. I was even more surprised when my wife said she pays roughly $2.75(maybe a little more) at Costco and nearly $5.00 at the local grocery store. Because the new design means you don't have to tip the jug near as far as a traditional jug, I enjoyed some coffee with my milk the first time I poured some in my coffee cup but that's just an adjustment I have to make. If it means saving that kind of money, I'll adjust.

    Now, how do we apply that gasoline prices?

    Maybe by putting Wal-Mart and Costco in charge of US economic policy…?

    MNB user Sam McDaniel wrote:

    While I haven't actually used one of the new jugs - I have seen them in a Sam's Club in Bentonville, AR. The number one advantage I see is that they can be stacked on a pallet without having to use milk crates. So, they'll be easier to load in the truck and load into the cooler. No more placing them on the shelf one gallon at a time. The can simply roll them up to the door with a pallet jack. While I don't know much about the cost or environmental impact, there will be a labor savings.

    By the way, they do look like they would be difficult to use. But, I'm confident I could figure it out. If not, I'm not going to cry over it, its just spilled milk.

    But seriously, folks…

    Not everybody is so sanguine about the change.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I am a 55-year-old consumer who has been in the Food industry most of my life. My wife and I have raised 6 children and are now active in the growing group of grandchildren related to us…We purchased our milk from Costco for most of the last 6 years…until they changed their container 8-10 months ago. My wife, myself and my adult children cannot pour a glass of milk without spilling when the pitcher is anywhere near full.

    My comment to the management of my local warehouse fell on people who are unable to make changes. Now, after many years of shopping, almost exclusively at Costco, we now shop at Aldi in our community because of the milk containers.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Tried Costco's new milk jug -- and I don't care if the milk elsewhere is 30 cents a gallon more -- I'm not buying that blasted thing again, and will continue to buy my milk at Publix because they have a functional jug.

    I TOTALLY GET the whole thing about transportation and packing and freight – THAT isn't my problem. My final project for my master's degree -- way back in 2004, when we were still paying $2 a gallon -- was on the economic impact of rising petroleum prices on the global economy. I get it. I really, really do.

    My problem with the new jug is that it's a complete and utter pain in the .... It's all but impossible to get the milk from the container into a cereal bowl, coffee cup, or glass without having to come back and mop up the puddle of milk that you slopped all over the place. (I've been in the kitchen, by the way, for far too many decades to not have figured out how to pour a glass of milk without spilling it -- this is what is termed a fatal design flaw -- a design so utterly hosed that there's no way to make it work in an acceptable fashion.)

    Thirty cents a gallon for a jug that actually functions is cheap compared to all the milk I wiped up and threw away.

    Wanna really impress me? Bring on the milk bags and re-usable jug that's used in Canada, and was adopted chain-wide by Kwik-Trip in the Midwest years ago....Very little waste, very little packaging, and you can manage to get milk into your coffee without slopping it all over the kitchen.

    Which was an opinion echoed by a Canadian MNB user:

    Do what we do in Canada; Sell milk by the 4-liter size. Inside the plastic bag are 3 smaller plastic bags. Customers purchase a solid plastic container (non disposable) and place the refillable plastic sleeves into this plastic container. Being from the US at first it was an issue, but after getting used to : you have fresher milk longer and also good for the environment.

    MNB reported yesterday that the newest edition of Food, Nutrition & Science from The Lempert Report says that “young adults are engaging in risky behaviors like eating raw or undercooked foods of animal origin…”

    Which led MNB user Michael Freese to write:

    Wow....I have been eating homemade cookie dough for over 50 years and I'm not dead!

    Hard to believe!

    And BBQ hamburger will give you cancer. And butter is soooooo much worse for you than margarine. And eating more than one egg a week will just clog your arteries. (Again.....eating 10 eggs a week, fried in butter, for over 50 years and I'm not dead.)

    But.....there is one thing Kevin and I can agree with.....Red wine makes you live longer.

    And MNB user Lou Scudere wrote:

    While I am a firm believer in food safety and I am a firm supporter of all the efforts that the industry has undertaken supporting same, as with any initiative undertaken with good intentions, the spin can always be taken over the edge. In my opinion this has occurred with the ADA report in FNS.

    It drives me up the wall when someone, in an attempt to generate attention, makes a statement that identifies certain truly risky behaviors (eating raw homemade cookie dough or raw hamburger) with behaviors that are for the most part innocuous, albeit not risk free (i.e. How many people eat their eggs either poached, soft boiled; fried over easy or sunny side up? How many people have placed raw sprouts on their salad at the salad bar, or, for that matter, how many retailers offer raw sprouts in their produce departments and what about raw produce in general? How many people have eaten cerviche, sushi, or oysters at a raw bar?)

    Our generation, the boomers, (whom frankly I do not as a group hold in much regard because it is our generation who generates most of this pap) needs to understand WE DO NOT LIVE IN A RISK FREE ENVIRONMENT! While efforts to educate on issue of food safety and the risks in not practicing same need to continue in earnest, let’s try and use some common sense and not have everything sound as if it is a national emergency!

    However, if society wants to, we can ban red meat, eat our eggs only hard cooked or hard boiled, not sure what we do about produce, after all there is that salmonella or e coli threat potentially ever present (I don’t think I would care for my tossed salad to be made with cooked lettuce and stewed tomatoes) stop drinking coffee (or drink more depending on the study) and Kevin, God forbid if they ever find something wrong with our drinking red wine!

    I would just like everyone to remember that good intentions should be tempered with a large dose of common sense and I’ll end my rant there.

    Good rant.

    And they’ll take our red wine when they pry the glass from our cold dead fingers.

    KC's View: