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    Published on: August 15, 2008

    In the UK, The Independent reports that Tesco is getting ready to set up an office in Chicago that will serve as a precursor to an eventual opening of its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets there.

    According to the story, a team of executives already has a team of executives on the ground there, looking for property that can used both for retail stores and a Midwest distribution center. Matthew Price, a real estate director for Fresh & Easy, is said to be in charge of the Chicago property acquisition team.

    No target date has been set for when Fresh & Easy might begin opening stores in Chicago.

    As the Independent writes, “The revelation is the clearest indication yet that Tesco intends to gain geographical spread in the US beyond the 71 Fresh & Easy stores it has already opened in southern California, Arizona and Nevada.”

    KC's View:
    No surprise here, except maybe to some folks who have been predicting Fresh & Easy’s imminent demise.

    This isn’t to suggest that Tesco’s US operations are glitch free and ready for prime time. But Tesco obviously believes that it is onto something, and that momentum is important if it is going to attain critical mass.

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    The Washington Post reports that minorities, currently about one-third of the US population, will represent a majority of the nation’s population in just 34 years, by 2042. This demographic shift will happen even sooner among the nation’s children; by 2023 more than half the nation’s children will be what we now think of as minorities.

    By 2050, 54 percent of all US residents will be non-Caucasians, as will 62 percent of the nation’s children. Hispanics are expected to represent the lion’s share of the growth.

    These statistics are courtesy of the US Census Bureau, which says that these shifts are actually taking place sooner than it expected.

    Other projections made by the Census Bureau:

    • The nation’s total population will increase from about 302 million today to 439 million by 2050.

    • The number of people who identify themselves as bi-racial is expected to more than triple by 2050 to 16.2 million, or about four percent of the total population.

    • By 2050, the 65-and-older demographic - Baby Boomers - is expected to account for more than one in five US residents, compared to one in eight today. And the 85-and-older population is expected to more than triple, and will represent four percent of US residents.

    • By 2050, the percentage of the population that is considered to be “of working age” will drop from 63 percent to 57 percent of the total population.

    KC's View:
    God bless America.

    There will be some who will say that this is a good enough reason to stop or severely limit immigration, because that’s the only way to exert any control over these trends. But without getting into the whole immigration argument, I have to say that when I read these numbers I tend to get a sense that this is sort of the natural evolution of things.

    After all, the whole notion of “majorities” and “minorities” is a human construct; we’ve imposed these descriptions based on the things that separate us, not the things that connect and bind us together.

    Even if it sometimes is an imperfect experiment in democracy and a human quilt that can fray and threaten to unravel, the US, it seems to me, is like water that finds its own level. And that level is always changing, ebbing and flowing.

    So we ought to embrace these changes as being emblematic of America, not antithetical.

    Not to say that there won’t be challenges. Businesses that have to cater to this shifting population will doubtless have to make adjustments. But again, such is life.

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    In upstate New York, the Democrat and Chronicle has a fascinating piece about the Wegmans Organic Research Farm, a two-year-old facility that was designed to create a kind of thought leadership when it comes to organic agriculture.

    According to the story, “the farm's mission is also to teach the company's employees, suppliers and consumers about organic agriculture and to nurture an appreciation of where real food comes from. (Danny) Wegman hopes children in particular will grow to appreciate fruits and vegetables as a way to counteract the obesity epidemic.”

    Wegmans “contracts with more than 800 growers to supply its 71 stores with locally grown foods, but very few grow organically,” the story notes. And so the company decided to create a farm where it could learn about the challenges and opportunities inherent in organic farming, develop products that could be sold in its stores, and help its suppliers understand the unique advantages of an organic approach to agriculture.

    Of course, sometimes nature presents its own challenges – rain and damaging hail have slowed the growing season this year and even damaged some crops. But that’s part of the experience…and puts the company, and hence its customers, in better touch with where food comes from and how it is grown.

    Wegmans Organic Research Farm currently is growing heirloom tomatoes, potatoes and green beans, but fruit trees and asparagus also have been planted for future harvesting.

    KC's View:
    There’s a reason that Wegmans is one of the real class acts in US food retailing. The company has a sense of context – about the communities it serves, about the people who represent the company in its stores, and about the food that is such a high priority.

    It isn’t just about making the sale and making the numbers. It is about the rare and precious role that a food retailer can play in the lives of the people who shop, work and supply goods to the company.

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports that trade group Washington Food Industry is pushing for a city referendum on a new Seattle law that will impose a 20 cent charge for every disposable plastic or paper bag used by shoppers in the city’s supermarkets, drug stores and convenience stores. The fee is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2009.

    According to the story, the trade group, which represents independent grocers, has to collect more than 14,000 signatures by August 28 in order to get a referendum on the ballot for an August 2009 election.

    KC's View:
    While I understand the resistance to a fee, the grocers who are fighting this legislation run the risk of being on the wrong side of an issue that has momentum they cannot control.

    And while the grocers say that a fee isn’t necessary to make the kind of progress needed in getting rid of disposable bags, it seems to me that enough progress were being made, then government wouldn’t even have considered such legislation.

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    • Information Resources Inc. (IRI) reports that while a declining economy has proved troublesome for a number of retailers, Walmart in fact has been gaining market share in 84 percent of the top consumer packaged goods categories.

    In part, this has been a result of Walmart’s “always low prices” approach to marketing, which is a compelling message to recession-minded shoppers. But the retailer’s ubiquity also seems to have played a role, since customers are looking to make fewer trips because of the high price of gasoline, and want to visit supercenters where they can do a greater amount of one-stop shopping. Since Walmart has more supercenters than anyone else, the trend plays into the retailer’s sweet spot.

    • Walmart-owned Asda Group in the UK said that there were two pieces of evidence suggesting that British shoppers were changing their buying habits because of recessionary mindset. For one thing, sales of its Smartprice budget brand products were up 20 percent in the just-completed second quarter, as were sales of frozen food in general – meaning that customers were looking for products that both cost less and would last longer.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    • Published reports say that during the second quarter, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) spent $1.7 million to lobby the federal government on nutrition, retail crime and other issues.

    And during the same period, the United Fresh Produce Association spent $220,000 on its lobbying efforts on agricultural and energy issues.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    • The Times of London reports that Tesco has upped the ante in the UK supermarket price wars, announcing that it has cut the cost of some 18,000 products in a new promotion.

    Walmart’s Asda Group is expected to respond momentarily.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    While Starbucks may be closing 600 stores in the US, its international growth plans continue unabated.

    The latest evidence: the coffee retailer has announced that it has signed a deal with concessionaire Servex that will put Starbucks cafes in every railroad station in the Netherlands. First up is Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, which should get its Starbucks next spring.

    Until now, Starbucks only has been operating in airports in the Netherlands. This is its first attempt to get a foothold elsewhere in the country.

    KC's View:
    However, Starbucks reportedly has been quick to say that it will not be operating a “coffee shop” in the traditional Dutch sense of the word. In Amsterdam, when you see a “coffee shop,” it is generally a place where you can not only get a cup of joe, but a hit of pot…since smoking marijuana is legal there.

    Starbucks has said that it does not allow smoking of any kind in any of its stores around the world, and that the same policy will apply to Amsterdam.

    Which is sort of too bad, if only because it would have opened up enormous marketing and product development possibilities for the company. Not to mention allowing it to sell a lot more of those sandwiches and pastries.

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    I love emails like this one, from MNB user Kevin Brouilard:

    I am a daily reader but until today I have not written. I attended a food show the past few days sponsored by my wholesaler, Bozzutos, Inc., at the new MGM @ Foxwoods Casino. There was a vendor in attendance, Terra Creta Estate, who is a producer/bottler of olive oil from Crete, Greece. On the back of their bottles is a multi-digit number that when entered on their web site produces information that was amazing … A consumer is able to see when it was packed, at what temperature it was held, who packed the product, who picked the actual olives and what TREE it came from. I wasn't keeping diligent notes so I know I missed a few other advantages. It was impressive and shows that it can be done.

    You see. It can be done. Traceability and transparency. And it will give companies like this one, I believe, a differential advantage that will extend to the retailers that carry its products.

    Thanks, Kevin.

    Got a number of emails about yesterday’s MNB Radio piece about innovative approaches to health care solutions.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Health care is a very complicated topic. I still believe the issue that we need to be talking about is healthy living rather than insurance or medical care. If, as a nation, we promoted the idea of maintaining health, rather than promoting the resolution of health issues, we would be in a better place. There seems to be no responsibility for personal unhealthy lifestyle choices, there seems to be little concern about healthy eating, physical exercise, or avoiding environmental hazards. But, after all of these personal bad choices, we feel the government…or business…or our community is responsible for resolving our personal issues that we caused. We are in a spiral, a race to the bottom…I have no answers, but I fear that if there is no personal responsibility…it will take us all down. We cannot afford the 1.5 trillion dollars spent on health care this year, much less what it will cost in ten years with 10% to 15% annual inflation in health care. I applaud the businesses that are trying to do something, but, it is really up to the individual.

    My argument is not that companies become responsible for employees’ health…just that by making health care both available and affordable, they could create more loyal and productive employees. It seems to have worked for Toyota.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Given the short term goals, stock pressures and other related decision-driving forces, the last place I want to leave my and my loved ones health care to is to the company doctor! Granted insurance companies drive to a similar beat but they have other countering forces, regulations, and, importantly. medical staffs that are ostensibly otherwise motivated and somewhat more autonomous in their decision making. No thanks.

    Maybe Toyota and the like should open grocery and all serving retail stores for their employees complete needs..... they called them "company stores" clinics sounds worse. History has a way of repeating itself and upper management's response to money matters also shares a pattern.

    We also continue to get emails about the canvas bag trend and now about the “precycling” trend:

    One MNB user wrote:

    Canvas Bags being handed out at this year's Iowa State Fair seem to be "the" thing. From MidAmerican energy to Mrs. Clark's Foods, scads of vendors are giving them away.

    MNB user Sara Korn wrote:

    Call me old fashioned, but for years I’ve been hearing and living by the slogan on my blue bin: “reduce, reuse, recycle.” (In fact, I think these three words are the reason there are three arrows forming the triangle recycling icon.) I’m glad to see market research evidence of people really living by this slogan (I went to the Brandweek article for the rest of the story, looking for some explanation), but I don’t think it needs a fancy new name. If I were the one to find the trend, “precycling” isn’t the name I’d choose since this really has nothing to do with recycling. “Reducers” sounds like my grandmother’s name for people who diet.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Now, if only the friendly cashier/ baggers could learn how to pack those reusable bags properly. Nothing ruins a perfectly good visit to the grocery store like seeing a freshly baked loaf of bread thrown in the bottom of the bag with canned tomatoes or a gallon of oj stuffed on top.

    And still another MNB user wrote:

    As soon as I saw the term “precycling” I realized that described us. We have switched to canvas bags, and we recycle as much as we can. I estimate we recycle more than 90% of the food containers we use. As we try to increase the amount we recycle, we find ourselves not buying products that are not # 1 or 2 plastic containers – that is all that our local recycling center will take. Our local supermarket brings in blueberries, for instance, from two different sources. We buy one because it is in a #1 container, but we don’t buy the other because they use a #5 container. That means we don’t always buy the fruit we want, and the store missed out on a sale when they use the second supplier, so we both lose.

    And another MNB user chimed in:

    While back to school shopping with my daughter at a local mall over the weekend, I happened to notice a mother shopping with her two daughters. What was interesting was that all three of them were carrying canvas shopping bags from a local supermarket (I’m sure they’d appreciate the free advertising) – jammed full. I actually felt like a hypocrite while holding my plastic bags from the department stores I just visited. I will be using my canvas shopping bags the next time I go shopping – no matter where it is.

    On the subject of allegations that Walmart is trying to influence how its employees vote in the coming presidential election, MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

    Why is it OK for unions to tell members how to vote, but not for employers to suggest how employees should vote?

    Good question.

    Regarding flawed or inaccurate polling, one MNB user wrote:

    I forget who it was that Harry Truman defeated in the 1948 Presidential election, but the headlines were trumpeting that his opponent won. This happened because the polling company, I think Gallup, had predicted his opponent would win. This polling company had never been wrong on a Presidential election. The reason they were wrong, they conducted their entire poll using the telephone, at a time when less than half the population in the U S had a telephone at home. Sound familiar.

    Those who don’t learn their history are doomed to repeat it.

    For the record, I’d rather the polling companies be wrong than have them start calling cell phones to ask questions. My privacy is more important than their accuracy.

    And, also for the record, in 1948 Harry Truman beat Thomas E. Dewey, the Republican governor of New York.

    Regarding Starbucks questionable popularity, MNB user Chris Utz wrote:

    Starbucks… I don’t like their prices, I don’t like their political perspective and I don’t need some snooty ‘barista’ looking down their nose at my ability to order a cup of coffee. If I ever do decide to purchase a $5 cup of coffee, I don’t want a lot of PC propaganda on my coffee cup. Probably one of the reasons Starbucks isn’t doing so well is growth in the number and variety of espresso outlets. All some folks need is a water tap and an electrical outlet to set up a stand; not to mention McDonald’s and others going after this high margin market. Please add my vote with the 73% that don’t like Starbucks.

    And the great news is that everybody has options.

    Finally, I want to go back to a thread that emerged on the site over the past week or so. At various times I’ve made a veiled reference in my commentaries to certain fictional characters – Jimmy Malone, Matt Hooper, Martin Brody. (The first is Sean Connery’s character in “The Untouchables,” the latter two were played by Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider in “Jaws.”) I try to use these references to illustrate a point or to make a joke…but I gather that some people don’t get them and find it a little frustrating that I don’t go into detail.

    Anyway, the whole “veiled reference” habit generated a bunch of emails this week.

    MNB user Larry Friedrich wrote:

    Is it just lazy people who find it easier to email you a question than do a few seconds research via Google to get an answer?

    MNB user Linda Ballew-Johnson wrote:

    Don't feel old - The old one is the writer incapable of Googling the names.

    Don't be too harsh. Sure, they could Google the names. But I think people who get frustrated sort of feel like I’m making a private joke and they aren’t in on it. And they’re young…

    MNB user Kevin McCaffery wrote:

    With all the new young arrivals, I think MNB is going to need a bigger boat.

    Big boat, big tent. That’s MNB!

    MNB user Tim Davis wrote:

    Please don’t feel old... I am only 27 and have probably seen Jaws about 10 times. Maybe it is because I live in Massachusetts, but I really don’t think so.

    No, it is because you’re an educated human being.

    MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

    I know what you mean about references sometimes dating us among our younger brethren. Yesterday, someone said something about “having to get to work…”, to which I responded “WORK!” in my best, voice-cracking Maynard G. Krebs impersonation. Then ensued a discussion, the upshot of which was that I was old and nobody had the slightest idea what I was talking about (that happens a lot but usually not because of ageism!). Now, hopefully, YOU know from whence came my reference.

    The other question regarding memory and moving towards The Golden Years: Why is it I can name the characters on that TV show from the ‘50s (‘60s?) and can’t remember where I put the car keys this morning?

    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

    MNB user Lorna Nelson wrote:

    At 50 my dear, there are suddenly new rules:

    • Know your audience – and know there are still a lot of us out here who saw “Jaws” and “got it”

    • However, if you don’t think your kids would get the joke, add a commentary like “see Jaws for reference, literally”

    You also need to acquaint yourself with newer movie classics – like maybe some of the Coen Brothers’ movies.

    OR see “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle”. Seriously funny, right up there with Blues Brothers.

    And don’t apologize for being old, most of the time you’re quite relevant. I’ve yet to speak with a 25 year old that fully understands the grocery business…

    Actually, my kids would get the jokes. But they have the advantage/disadvantage of having lived with me all these years, and having sat through movies that a lot of their friends never heard of.

    And BTW, I love the Coen Brothers. Though I’ve never seen ”Harold and Kumar,” I must confess. (I have, however, seen “Shawn of the Dead,” if that helps…)

    MNB user Karl Heink wrote:

    On Tuesday, when I read your comment about Matt Hooper and Martin Brody, I busted out laughing. Thank you.

    However, in light of the additional commentary regarding who they were, I wanted to share my own experience. I was born and raised in Florida. I grew up enjoying all water related activities. In the mid seventies (just prior to the release of "Jaws"), my family moved to North Dakota. One summer there, I went with my friends to see "Jaws" at a drive-in theatre. All of the friends I was with were raised as children of farmers, and they found the movie to be entertaining. I found it to be the most horrific nightmare I had ever seen. I was about 12 or 13 years old when I saw it and could not sleep for about a week. My friends laughed at my behavior.

    A couple of years after that, my family returned to Florida where I still live. I love the beach. I just returned from a vacation where I spent a week at the beach with my wife and kids. Never a moment at the beach goes by that I don't think of all the possibilities that "Jaws" has exposed to me.

    Perhaps someone with well-known travels and restaurant visits could recommend some great recipes for Hammer-head, Tiger, Bull-nose, and Great White. Martin Brody and I probably have the same feeling about sharks.

    Mrs. Content Guy says that one of my fatal flaws – and there are many – is that my day is made when one person writes in and says something like “I busted out laughing.”

    Thanks for sharing. I could envision that North Dakota drive-in as I read the words…

    MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

    Our kids still talk about a summer evening about 15 years ago when they and their high-school friends gathered in the pool while I set up a 6’ screen on the deck and with a borrowed video projector showed ‘Jaws’ while they splashed in the water. I think they were all on the deck by the end, though…

    Keep those references coming, Kevin. I love ‘em, even though I know there’s a whole generation of people who have no clue what you’re talking about!

    Here’s where I come down on this.

    I think I’m going to continue to make these pop culture references whenever it feels appropriate or when whimsy strikes me. Sometimes I may explain them, but sometimes not…again, it will depend on my mood.

    I love emails like the ones above – the ones that don't just respond to something I said, but also evoke a time and place and memory. If I get too clinical about this, we’ll lose that, I think. And I’d hate to lose that.

    But if I write something that you don't get, and you want to shoot me an email to ask what the reference is, feel free. I’ll answer the question on the site, just in case there are a bunch of other people who share your confusion.

    And if you want to make obscure cultural references in your emails, take your best shot.

    I’m a sucker for a learning experience.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 15, 2008

    I’m not sure if you’ve been reading “Doonesbury” this week, but Gary Trudeau – still churning out first class satire after all these years – has been riffing on the nation’s obesity crisis in general, and the practice of posting calorie counts in fast food joints in particular.

    The high point so far has been this rather ample fellow trying to choose between the “Bad Boy” breakfast, which comes in at 4,750 calories, or the “Wee Willie” breakfast, which is a mere 2,300 calories. Of course, it has been named the ‘Wee Willie” to embarrass men so much that they dare not order it.

    Great stuff.

    Agence France Presse has a story about a new study conducted by Rotterdam’s Erasmus University suggesting that happiness may have as much of an impact on longevity as not smoking – and could, in fact, lengthen one’s lifespan by between 7.5 and 10 years.

    I’ll buy that, though I have to admit that I was taken aback by the place where the original study was published: The Journal of Happiness Studies. Seriously.

    According to the AFP story, “Among healthy populations … happiness appeared to protect against falling ill, thus prolonging life. Happy people were more inclined to watch their weight, were more perceptive of symptoms of illness, tended to be more moderate with smoking and drinking and generally lived healthier lives.

    They were also more active, more open to the world, more self-confident, made better choices and built more social networks.”

    Of course, maybe one of the reasons happy people live longer is because, as Aristotle said, “Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient.”

    And I’ve always thought that self-sufficiency and autonomy are keys to a long and happy life.

    Interesting piece in the New York Times this week noting that the one-year ban on fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles – imposed by the LA City Council as a way of addressing obesity concerns – actually could have a negative impact.

    That’s not because of a sudden shortage of McDonald’s or KFC restaurants, but rather because the ban applies to “any stand-alone restaurant that dispenses food, to stay or to go, and that has ‘a limited menu, items prepared in advance or prepared or heated quickly, no table orders, and food served in disposable wrapping or containers’.”

    According to the Times, Jonathan Gold, the Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic for LA Weekly, “worries that the law could keep out places of more culinary interest. South Los Angeles has the best barbecue in the city, he said, and it has a growing number of cooks from Mexico and Central America making lamb barbacoa and pupusas.” Such restaurants also could be affected by the ban, and this could have a deleterious effect on local residents by restricting some of the better choices they might have available to them.

    I have to admit, I hadn’t thought of this. And it certainly speaks to the law of unintended consequences when it comes to government intervention.

    I also have to admit that while I have no idea what it is, I want to taste a pupusa. It sounds delicious.

    Here’s a big shout-out to Krekor Ohanian, who turns 83 today. Of all the TV heroes I idolized as a kid, he was the best.

    (How’s that for an obscure cultural reference?)

    By the way, in case you were wondering, “Taredartzet Shnorhavor!” is “Happy Birthday” in Armenian. Which would be appropriate in this case.

    I really wanted to like the film version of “Mamma Mia!” Really. I never liked Abba, never saw the Broadway show, but I wanted to like the movie, mostly because it stars Meryl Streep. I’ve been passionately in love with Streep since I saw her in “Taming of the Shrew” in Central Park back in 1978; I was one of a few people brought on stage to serve as props during the “play within a play” staging, and most of the evening she was just a few feet from where I was sitting. I was besotted. (Mrs. Content Guy knows all this, and is aware that if Streep knocks on the door some night, I’m gone. Alas, she isn’t worried.)

    That said, “Mamma Mia!” is awful. Truly, truly awful. There are some nice moments, and Streep has a terrific singing voice, but the whole thing is so badly staged that the director manages the impossible – a Meryl Streep performance that is less than memorable. (The best number in the movie is Christine Baranski singing ‘Does Your Mother Know?” Baranski is a Broadway pro who has done plenty of musicals, and she knows how to sell a song…and so manages to survive the lousy direction.

    Now, to be fair, I have to admit that the young people at the show I attended seemed to really like it. And the old people in the audience seemed pretty enthusiastic. But not me. And not Mrs. Content Guy, who hated it more than I did.

    Wish I could recommend it. But I can’t.

    Couple of really good wines to recommend this week.

    The weather cooled off this week, so I made a nice thick lasagne and opened a bottle of the Il Brecciolino 2001 Castelvecchio that my son got me for Father’s Day. This is an unbelievably good wine…a little pricey, but thick and rich and robust and perfect with spicy Italian food.

    When the weather was warmer, we opened a 2007 Tramin Sauvignon Blanc from Italy, which is light and spicy and really good with shellfish.

    Just great.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: