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    Published on: August 19, 2008

    by Michael Sansolo

    A funny thing happened on my son’s way to college. He got a lesson in banking, which in turn provides a lesson to all of us.

    Now before you read any further, think for a second about how little an 18-year-old really has to do with a bank these days. The odds are that the overwhelming portion of his banking will be performed via machines, either ATMs or on-line banking. In so many ways, a bank is a completely faceless and useless building.

    In my house, we don’t think that any more. And it’s all because of a little book provided by the bank aimed at introducing college students (and other young adults) to the world of banking. By that I don’t mean high finance, subprime loans or credit card fees. (I still have many problems with banks, as you can tell.) Rather, the book provided simple details on topics including:

    • How to write a check.
    • How to balance you checking account.
    • How to understand interest—both paid to you and to the bank.

    Basically it was a compilation of simple, clear and important stuff to know and all written in a way that anyone could understand and use. It got me thinking about why supermarkets don’t have a similar book.

    In contrast, think for a second about the supermarket. In truth, it’s one form of retailing that young adults will likely have to deal with, unlike the banks. On-line shopping is still embryonic, which means that even the most inept home cook (college-aged boys fall heavily into that group) might have to visit them from time to time. So why don’t we turn this into opportunity? What’s more, we know they’ll have to eat and perhaps that means they will actually cook. Once again, opportunity is knocking.

    Think of all the useful skills we could so easily detail. There could be easy lessons on how to properly pick produce; 10 simple meals that anyone can make, even with limited cooking appliances; simple supermarket terms that everyone should understand; even safe food handling tips or guidance in making better nutritional choices.

    Again, nothing fancy, but all completely essential…just like at the bank.

    Now I’m sure some of you out there are saying this is ridiculous idea. After all, you might say, aren’t kids learning this stuff at home from their parents? Well, the answer is NO!

    We know from painful experience that some things aren’t getting taught at home or in the schools any more. Home economics is off the curriculum in most places and, sadly, many young adults don’t have a parent who understands banking, cooking, or many other essential skills. We don’t have to make value judgments, we just have to help.

    A simple book of tips and guidance would turn the newest shoppers into better shoppers and then the benefits multiply. Budget challenged young adults might find out how easily they can prepare certain meals and might actually start finding reasons to cook more because they’ll begin to know how to do it. Young adults might appreciate the help with current issues like understanding what a “trans fat” is or how to avoid food-borne illness. Through education they may grow to trust us and rely on us more, which can only mean good things in the future.

    And then there’s the other benefit that parents picking up this book for their kids might actually learn a thing or two themselves and might also appreciate the goodwill and act on it in their shopping.

    If nothing else, there’s no way we can’t produce something more useful and relevant than banks. There’s an old joke that whenever you see a banker jump out a window, jump after him or her. It means there must be lots of money in the street.

    Well, get jumping. The banks have gotten this one right.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    MSNBC reports on the evolution of the in-store health clinic industry: “Overall, there are about 1,000 retail health clinics currently operating in the United States, according to Merchant Medicine, an industry consulting and research group,” MSNBC writes. “While some clinic operators have been expanding, others have given up. In the past year, Merchant Medicine estimates that 136 clinics have closed up shop, a trend it blames in part on financiers who lost patience when the clinics weren't showing quick profits.”

    And, while “as recently as last year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and other retailers were touting in-store health clinics as the wave of the future, offering basic health care at low cost and with fewer hassles than a visit to your doctor’s office or the emergency room. But widespread acceptance of the clinics appears to be slow, with many consumers reporting skepticism about the idea of getting a checkup where they also get their groceries.

    “In addition, many in the business have been hit with operational and financial snags, forcing them to retool or even abandon their strategy.”

    KC's View:
    What’s interesting about this story, as well as the trend in general, is the apparent assumption that in-store health clinics are a one-size-fits-all solution.

    It seems pretty clear to me that there are some retail environments in which a health clinic simply doesn’t make sense, either because the store does not lend itself to that kind of specialty service, or because the population has no need of it.

    It also seems pretty obvious that there needs to be some sort of standard established for how these clinics will interact with people’s regular doctors – in those cases where people actually have their own physicians. Ideally, clinics are just part of the whole…not a replacement for the whole.

    But let’s face it. There are people who don't have doctors who could use this kind of accessible and affordable option. And there are situations – like a flu shot, or some sort of low-level, easily diagnosed malady – in which a visit to an in-store clinic is completely appropriate and actually might take some pressure off traditional doctors’ offices.

    One person in the story is quoted as suggesting that the rise of in-store clinics reflects the continuing degradation of the US health care system. But that strikes me as an overwrought response. The in-store clinic solution can be a sensible and appropriate option for shoppers, and can help certain retailers close the loop between food and health and wellness in a way that makes sense.

    The biggest danger to the concept, I think, is what often can be the traditional industry response to an innovation – expect it to change the world overnight, and if it does not, label it a failure. There are few such game changers…and in-store clinics need to be seen in context and in proportion.

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    Pork producer Nature's Premium Brand announced that it will become the first North American pork company to track DNA for reliable and accurate traceability back to the farm where the animals were raised. Nature's Premium will use IdentiGEN's DNA TraceBack system, which has been verified by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
    KC's View:
    Traceability will give shoppers the kind of reassurance they need, especially in a climate where there are far too may questions about the safety of the foods they are eating and feeding to their families. The amazing thing is that it has taken so long; Feargal Quinn began using DNA traceability systems in his Irish Superquinn stores more than decade ago, if memory serves.

    We ought to have more such systems here in the US, and both government and industry ought to be embracing them.

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    USA today carries a story saying that “federal inspectors at U.S. border crossings repeatedly turned back filthy, disease-ridden shipments of peppers from Mexico in the months before a salmonella outbreak that sickened 1,400 people was finally traced to Mexican chilies.” However, the US Food and Drug Administration reportedly did nothing other than sending the peppers back…and last week, Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's food safety chief, said that peppers were not seen as a potential problem before the salmonella outbreak.
    KC's View:
    Which raises some pretty good questions. Why weren’t peppers flagged as a potential problem long before the salmonella outbreak? How come the FDA’s food safety chief didn’t know that peppers had become problematic? And, if Acheson did know, why did he lie about it?

    While the produce industry estimates the cost of the salmonella outbreak at about $200 million in lost sales and rotted product, the cost is actually greater – lost credibility on the part of the government that is supposed to be protecting consumers. And lost trust in a food industry that is perceived by shoppers as the first line of defense in making sure that food is safe to eat.

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) released a statement yesterday praising the US Food and drug Administration(FDA) “draft assessment” that said bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly found in household products such as baby bottles and food containers, does not pose a health hazard when people are exposed to small amounts.

    Dr. Robert Brackett, GMA’s chief science and regulatory affairs officer, said, “We welcome the FDA's draft BPA risk assessment, as its findings - once again - support the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that confirms the safety of BPA in food packaging for all consumers.

    "BPA has been safely used in food contact applications for 50 years and plays an essential role in keeping foods safe and fresh. Based on the entire body of scientific evidence, and the findings of the FDA and numerous health authorities and researchers, consumers can continue to safely enjoy foods and beverages in the many forms of packaging provided, including those that contain BPA, without changing their purchasing or eating patterns.

    "The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Authority, and Health Canada have all recently evaluated and affirmed the safety of BPA.

    "Several other prominent international bodies have also agreed with FDA regarding the safety of BPA. These include the World Health Organization, Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission; the European Chemical Bureau of the European Union; the European Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavorings, Processing Aids, and Materials in Contact with Food; and the Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology."

    KC's View:
    And yet, as noted here yesterday, a Washington Post story reported that the FDA finding “stands in contrast to more than 100 studies performed by government scientists and university laboratories that have found health concerns associated with bisphenol A (BPA). Some studies have linked the chemical to prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.” And, both the Canadian government and Walmart have decided that baby products should not contain BPA because of these concerns.

    I’ll say it again. This becomes a game of “who do you trust?” And the FDA has almost no credibility these days…certainly not as much as Walmart has.

    If I’m a consumer and I have a choice, I won’t buy products with BPA. It is that simple. Because erring on the side of caution seems a lot more sensible if the science is being debated.

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    Business First of Columbus reports that members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) who work for Kroger Co. in the Columbus, Ohio, region, have ratified a new contract that replaces one that was scheduled to expire on November 9.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    Change To Win, a coalition of seven unions - Service Employees International Union, UNITE HERE, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Laborers' International Union of North America, United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and United Farm Workers of America – comprised of six million members, has launched a multimedia effort to bolster the presidential aspirations of Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois).

    The effort will mostly be targeted at attacking what the union calls the anti-worker agenda held by the GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

    Ironically, Change To Win has been pushing for a federal investigation into recent allegations that Walmart held a series of meetings at which it urged its managers and staffers to support McCain because an Obama presidency would be pro-union and therefore bad for business. Walmart has denied that it applied any such pressure on its employees.

    KC's View:
    Regardless of how you feel about the candidates, as someone pointed out in this space last week, it hardly seems fair that management cannot urge its employees to vote a certain way while unions can urge their members to support one candidate or another.

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    Reuters reports that when Longs Drug Stores decided to accept a $2.54 billion bid for the company by CVS Caremark, it essentially spurned a slightly smaller acquisition bid by Walgreen…though one report suggests that Walgreen walked away from the deal because of concerns that antitrust regulations would force it to divest certain properties.

    The story notes that Walgreen could still launch a competing bid for Longs; as noted on MNB yesterday, there are reports that Longs is being pressured by one of its investors to hold out for a better price than the $2.54 billion price already agreed upon.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Hershey Co. has raised its wholesale prices by almost 10 percent, an increase it ascribed to higher raw material and fuel costs.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that Wendy Clark, the former senior vice president for advertising at AT&T, is going to join the Coca-Cola Co. as head of integrated marketing communications and capabilities, reporting to CMO Joseph Tripodi.

    According to the story, Clark will be responsible for "continuing to build and deliver marketing capabilities across brands, geographies and customers, including the use of traditional and new marketing channels to help transform our thinking to true integrated marketing communications.” She starts September 15.

    KC's View:

    Published on: August 19, 2008

    On the subject of the FDA’s “draft assessment” saying that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly found in household products such as baby bottles and food containers, does not pose a health hazard when people are exposed to small amounts. – despite some significant opposition saying precisely the opposite – one MNB user wrote:

    This appears to be heading in the same direction as rBST…Chemical industry studies indicate safe…NGO studies indicate unsafe. If science is so black and white, why can you not use science to determine an issue? Again, the FDA has lost sight of their mission statement – to protect the people of the US - and have again sided with business. If there is so much conflicting “Scientific Evidence” on both sides…let’s find an arbiter and determine the real “Scientific Facts” before the FDA makes a decision!!!

    The ultimate problem is that consumers become victims here. The government and industry are supposed to be looking out for consumer safety, but their credibility is waning and the debate is such that we cannot make our own decisions with a reasonable degree of certainty.

    Which is a shame. And erodes overall trust in the system.

    Regarding the fact that Nebraska Beef, the company implicated in the E. coli-related recall of 1.36 million pounds of beef, is still operating despite all the questions about its safety procedures, one MNB user wrote:

    Couldn't agree with you more regarding Nebraska Beef and how they are still in operation. What I want to know as a consumer, how can I possible know where the beef I buy comes from? As a Whole Foods consumer, I thought the extra few cents a pound I paid for ground beef ensured that it wasn't coming from an outfit like this...apparently I was wrong. And this week, I officially changed my buying habits. I
    skipped the meat counter at Whole Foods and instead went to our Farmers Market and purchased meet from a local rancher who personally walks the floor of the slaughterhouse where he sends his cattle for processing.

    Not everyone can or will make that change, but until enough consumers do, places like Nebraska Beef will stay open (with the full support of the USDA).

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Hello? Are 100 studies finding the hazard of BPA enough to ban it? Apparently not. Here is a clear and blatant example of how the government works against the very health of the citizens it has pledged to protect!

    What folly is this is! Here's how it works: These corporations who created BPA in the laboratory want to make a return on their investment in creating this chemical. They then give enough money to elect the politicians who will select the FDA officials to make this decision in their favor!

    Fortunately there are companies like Wal-Mart and countries like Canada who see through the politics and make a choice to ban it from their stores. Appalling!

    MNB user Brenda Strombeck wrote:

    My question is, who owns Nebraska Beef? Nebraska Beef should obviously be closed and shut down by FDA. But why isn’t it? Probably because it’s owned by a big Republican corporation.

    Shouldn’t all Americans be questioning the FDA for allowing this plant to remain open? And shouldn’t FDA be looking at all aspects of the plant, such as the humane treatment of the animals, slaughtered animals with disease and more.

    This is why I choose NOT to eat beef when I am in the US, as I am an American living in both California and Quebec, eastern Canada. Quebec and Canada have laws and regulations that they apply and follow because they actually care about their people first, money second. Social is great when it comes to food safety, prescription drugs, social medicine and more. There are some flaws in this system although, there are flaws in any system.

    Although flaws in a social system don’t seem to compare the flawed system within the US. At least nothing that I have encountered that comes close to what the Bush administration has allowed and gotten away with for the past 8 years within the US. Priority must be the people first, then capitalism. In the US, unfortunately, it’s the other way around.

    I suspect that there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

    But to be fair about it, I did a little research via Google into the political donations of Nebraska Beef, which is a privately held company. And while I couldn’t find anything on the corporate donation side, I did see that over the years there were a number of donations to political campaigns made by company executives – to Democratic candidates.

    Now, this was not exhaustive research…it was the low fruit on the tree. But it is important to keep in mind that politics gets played by both parties, and sometimes the easy answers aren’t always completely accurate.

    On the subject of disposable bag fees and taxes, MNB user Fred Chang wrote:

    I skimmed over the bag taxes article from last week but I'm surprised there has been such strong objection to it from Seattle grocers. I used to live in Taipei, Taiwan, where the city has in the past few years implemented a variety of (mostly) successful pro-environment policies. First of all, to reduce garbage going to landfill and incinerators, the city government mandates consumer-centric garbage separation into 5 -6 categories. They also require garbage be disposed of in garbage bags that cost money to buy -- usually 13-14 cents or so.

    Consumers, businesses, anyone who either doesn't use the mandated garbage bags or fails to separate recycling out, are fined. This has been extremely successful in changing people's perception of "what is garbage". It's so strongly ingrained that my relatives who recently visited a very affluent city in Southern California commented "What? In this most advanced country in the world they just have all their garbage dumped into one bin???"

    A similar step for reducing plastic bag usage at grocers was also announced a few years back, after the garbage legislation. Grocers and retailers are required to charge for single-used plastic bags (usually 5-20 cents). In a city where a convenience store is located on every block and most people walk to their grocery stores, you would think people would find it very inconvenient to bring your own bag. The reality is that as humans, we can all adapt.

    Of course, at the beginning everyone complained and talked about how it didn't work, and the legislation was modified and amended a few times to allow for special cases (open air fish, meat, and produce markets, for example, are allowed to have single use plastic bags). But in the end, I think everyone is proud and happy to reduce the needless negative impact on the environment.

    It's about providing incentives to do the right thing. If the incentive is avoiding a small negative impact on your wallet, so be it.

    As a disclaimer, I'm also one of those people who advocates everyone bringing their own mug to work, and was one of the people who vocally protested my workplace's use of Styrofoam. One year later, we stopped providing styrofoam cups and take-out containers. People bring their own mugs, or pay for their own single-use cups.

    MNB user Wayne Barrett disagreed:

    KC, another example of the government fooling the people. It’s not about the environment; it’s ALL about the money (aka more taxes) and adding to the bureaucracy.

    Can you imagine the role of the compliance inspectors going into the stores? They’ll probably have a quota to meet each day. I wonder if they thought thru the costs of implementing this program. Do they have an exit strategy if the costs of implementing the inspectors is higher than the revenue that they collect? Why are they singling out some retailers and not others? Maybe it’s about the political contributions. Or maybe, I’m like you and have a jaundiced view on this subject. Seattle vote the (bums, idiots, or whatever) out of office.

    KC's View: