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    Published on: September 15, 2008

    The Los Angeles Times reports on a shift taking place in the chemical industry that is driving change in the manufacturing and retailing businesses.

    According to the Times, “Innovations in designing green chemicals are emerging in nearly every U.S. industry, from plastics and pesticides to toys and nail polish. Some manufacturers of cosmetics, household cleaners and other consumer products are leading the charge, while others are lagging behind … Now, in a fresh take on the pre-World War II slogan, ‘Better Living Through Chemistry,’ small chemical companies and giant corporations, including BASF and Rohm and Haas, are implementing the tenets of green chemistry, creating safer substances that won't seep into our bloodstream, endanger wildlife or pollute resources.

    “Once viewed as part of a fringe lifestyle, rooted in the hippie movement, natural and nontoxic are going mainstream. Driven by regulations, consumer demand, an eco friendly business philosophy and fear of future lawsuits, large corporations, retailers and manufacturers are eliminating some chemicals, pulling products off shelves and redesigning others. The names are familiar: Wal-Mart, the Walt Disney Co., Ikea, Home Depot, Nalgene, Kaiser Permanente, Baxter HealthCare, Gerber, Clorox and Origins.”

    KC's View:
    There will be some companies that will embrace this approach, and some that will not. But here’s what I don't understand. If it is possible to make a product non-toxic, why wouldn’t one want to?

    If I have a choice, the only thing I want to be toxic is humor.

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    MyWebGrocer announced that is has completed the acquisition of Buy4Now’s US operations, and will operate Buy4Now as a subsidiary. The move will add Buy4Now’s US clients, including A&P, Roche Brothers Lunds/Byerly’s and New Seasons Markets, to the MyWebGrocer stable of retailers, which includes include Shoprite, Lowes Food Stores, Big Y, Food Lion and 90 other grocery chains.

    Buy4Now was founded in 2000 in Ireland with the backing of shareholders such as Superquinn, Heitons, and Eircom; the company’s non-US operations will remain independent.

    "The combination of MyWebGrocer and Buy4Now is a perfect match of complimentary companies,” said Rich Tarrant, CEO of MyWebGrocer. “The Buy4now e-commerce application is perfect for those retailers looking for a fully customized solution offered through a traditional software license model. Those retailers using the Buy4Now applications will have the benefit and access to the many other solutions provided by MyWebGrocer that will be integrated into the e-commerce platform - including interactive circulars, email services, and our recipe engine. As a further benefit to both companies clients, this merger ads to the overall consumer traffic on our Advertising Network which is a significant new revenue source for all retailers.”

    KC's View:
    I met Rich Tarrant a long time ago, when MyWebGrocer was pretty much just starting out and there were a lot of people dubious about the whole future of e-commerce. Since then, there have been a lot of potholes and business failures in the Internet sector, but it seems like MyWebGrocer continues to grow and expand – proving that the e-grocery sector has a lot of life left in it.

    Good for them.

    It’s interesting. There was a story on the other day noting how “if there’s a last bastion of merchants that have yet to embrace e-commerce, it’s the big chain grocers.” The story pointed out that “Kroger and Supervalu aren’t embracing e-commerce. Other e-commerce holdouts include Publix Super Markets Inc., with $23 billion in annual sales, and Delhaize America Inc. and H.E. Butt Grocery Co., with annual sales of $18.2 billion and $13.4 billion, respectively.

    “Of the big national grocery chains only two – Royal Ahold NV, which owns and operates, No. 41 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, and Safeway Inc. (No. 84) – have a substantial presence online.”

    However, if I’m not mistaken, both Delhaize and Publix flirted with the online grocery business, but pulled out more than a few years ago. They got burned.

    It probably isn’t going too far out on a limb to suggest that eventually, these holdouts will find an e-commerce model that works for them. They’re too smart to ignore the fact that an entire generation of shoppers is coming along that prefers to shop online whenever possible…and at least wants that to be a choice.

    Kudos to those companies – big and small – that are working this channel.

    It is the old MNB mantra – the modern shopper wants what he/she wants, when he/she wants it, where he/she wants it, how he/she wants it, at a price he/she believes is appropriate.

    A bit of full disclosure here…MyWebGrocer has been a longtime sponsor and supporter of MNB…though that didn’t seem like a good reason not to report this story and say nice things about the company.

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    Walgreen reportedly is looking to trump the $2.7 billion CVS Caremark bid for Longs Drug Stores, offering $2.8 billion for the California chain drug store.

    According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Walgreen CEO Jeffrey Rein has made it clear that he is prepared to bypass management and go directly to Longs’ shareholders if necessary.

    Reports are that CVS Caremark is standing pat on its original offer, though it has extended the deadline by which longs must formally respond to its offer.

    As of this morning, Bloomberg is reporting that Longs’ management continues to recommend to its shareholders that they accept the CVS bid. CVS today extended the deadline for its offer to midnight New York time Oct. 15.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart has applied to the Canadian government to start up an bank in that country.

    In doing so, the retailer is attempting to do what it already has done in Mexico, but what US regulators prevented it from doing last year because of concerns that the retail giant would upset the balance of power in American financial services circles.

    According to the Journal, “If approved, Wal-Mart Canada Bank will be under the jurisdiction of the OSFI and be subject to the same rules and regulations all Canadian banks follow. It wouldn't be allowed to engage in banking in the U.S.” The company has not yet come up with a list of services that it will offer, and the company said it has no plans to open traditional bank branches.

    KC's View:
    To be honest, I can't decide whether the US government is being prescient and laudably cautious in preventing Walmart from getting into the US financial services business, or simply is protecting a financial services industry that, based on recent headlines, may not deserve it.

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    There was a report in Friday that baby formula manufactured in China has been found to contain melamine – the same contaminant found to be in china-manufactured pet food that poisoned and killed thousands of U.S. dogs and cats last year. Initial reports were that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that no formula approved for sale in the US is manufactured in China.

    Subsequently, however, the FDA acknowledged that some baby formula from China may have made its way into the US through the black market, and that consumers need to be vigilant about not using any baby formula imported from China.

    KC's View:
    They may know how to throw an Olympics, but there is very little news coming out of China that would give one confidence in their food supplies. “Made in China” remains as much a warning label as anything else.

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    In view of last week’s debate about disposable vs. non-disposable shopping bags, it seems appropriate to note that the Triangle Business Journal reports that the Hilex Poly Company, the manufacturer of plastic shopping bags, is shutting down a Mt. Olive, North Carolina, factory, putting 160 people out of work.

    The decision comes after Hilex declared bankruptcy last May, and emerged from bankruptcy protection with new financial backing last July.

    According to the company, the decision to shut down the plant can be directly traced to the increased popularity of reusable canvas bags.

    KC's View:
    Even those of us who fervently believe in using canvas bags can take no pleasure or satisfaction in this. And it is important that we all take notice of the casualties.

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    The Asbury Park Press has a take on a story that is cropping up in a number of places - that Whole Foods is working overtime to shed its “whole paycheck” image and remain relevant and attractive to shoppers feeling an economic pinch.

    The company says its image is more perception than reality. "We have had a reputation as being expensive, but that being said, we've always had value in our stores, especially in (the grocery aisles) for like items. We've always been very competitive," Christina Minardi, a regional president at Whole Foods, tells the Park Press. "The problem that Whole Foods has is we've not done a great job of talking about it. Now because the economy is as it is, we're being forced to.”

    One prominent consultant agrees. According to the story, “Burt T. Flickinger III said Whole Foods has been ‘unfairly characterized as being more expensive than comparable retailers.’

    “When comparing products of a similar quality, Whole Foods has been competitively priced, Flickinger said. ‘We have done price checks all over New Jersey and the Northeast, and Whole Foods' private label, 365, is very competitively priced relative to quality,’ he said.” And, Flickinger says, Whole Foods needs to do a better job of communicating this message to consumers.

    KC's View:
    We almost always agree with Burt Flickinger, and this instance is no exception.

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    Retail Week reports that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy division in the US has gotten an unlikely endorsement – from Walmart CEO Lee Scott, whose own company is creating a small store format, Marketside, to compete with Tesco’s US entry.

    According to the story, “Scott said he had heard mixed reports about how Fresh & Easy was faring, but that he was convinced the business would perform well. He said: ‘The thing that bothers me is Tesco is a very good retailer. I have a lot of faith that they will find their direction and it is something we need to pay attention to’.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    • The Associated Press reports that Virginia’s Supreme Court has voided a $16 million award to Johnny Johnson, a Richmond-area inner city grocer who sued wholesale Supervalu for what he said was fraud and the deliberate infliction of emotional distress. Johnson said that Supervalu reneged on an agreement to help him buy a Virginia Beach chain of supermarkets, while Supervalu had testified that the company was not convinced that Johnson was up to the challenge of that much expansion, though there also was testimony that Supervalu saw Johnson as a ”complainer,” and wanted his stores for itself.

    While the Richmond Circuit Court found in favor of Johnson, the state Supreme Court has overturned the verdict and award.

    • The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Publix plans to convert a former Albertsons grocery store in that city to its GreenWise format, which features an expanded selection of organic and natural foods.

    Two GreenWise stores already are operating, in Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton. A third is scheduled to open in Tampa later this year.

    • The Minneapolis St Paul Business Journal reports that Nash Finch “has stepped up promotions of its business services, aiming to win independent retailers away from its bigger cross-town rival, Supervalu.”

    The story says that Nash Finch has created what it is calling a “Store Core” program, making layout, design, and market research services available to its retailers …. These services were previously available, but Nash Finch now is doing a better job of communicating their existence and availability to its customers.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    • The Sunday Telegraph reports that Walmart’s Asda Group in the UK has passed Tesco to become the UK’s third largest clothing retailer, behind just Marks & Spencer and Primark.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    • Mark Snyder, the senior-VP of global brand management for Holiday Inn, is moving to Sears Holdings to become that company’s chief marketing officer.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    Got a ton of emails last Friday about the reusable bag vs. disposable bag debate. Some of the highlights…

    MNB user Jessica Duffy wrote:

    While your commenter kept referring to landfill space, he did not address the amount of petroleum that goes into the production of single-use plastic bags. It takes about 430,000 gallons of crude oil to produce 100 million plastic bags. Right now, Americans throw out 100 billion plastic bags a year. Anybody good at math? In the current economy, with gas in the $4 range, we still end up way ahead, even with some impact to job numbers.

    Also not mentioned was the fact that people working for slave-wages in China have their wages held so low because of the ruthless price requirements of American companies such as Wal-Mart that exploit this low-wage base to obtain cheap, disposable crap for our insatiable love of “stuff”.

    MNB user Sue DeRemer wrote:

    It puzzles me that Dustin Stinett accuses you of basing your statements on feelings and not facts. I searched his diatribe for facts, but found none. Only rancor and opinion, be it his or others. Even the comment "higher than 50% recycling is economically and, yes, environmentally unsound" is not supported by facts, and is therefore difficult to accept at face value. His comments on landfill space are irrelevant, since waste was the issue, not landfill space.

    Plastic bags are made from oil. If that isn't enough to make us stop using them, then what is?

    Another MNB user wrote:

    It is unfortunate that so many of us have to see things as black and white, polarized by political stances. I remember reading a few years back that we were coming across masses of plastic grocery bags in the ocean the size of a larger American state. Apparently during the process of being trashed, recycled or just blowing away, they rise by the hundreds of thousand into the upper air currents around the globe to be deposited somewhere distant in the middle of the ocean. I can only imagine how unhealthy a mass that large is for marine life, the atmosphere and the ocean itself. Just one more example of why it's a good idea to move away from them as a function of transporting out groceries.

    As for environmental groups being anti-business (anti-civilization? Come on, give ME a break!), there is absolutely SOME truth to that. When Greenpeace stands up to Kimberly Clarke for trying to gain access some of America's oldest, most established forest to grind them up for Kleenex, yes, they're doing something that is anti-business. And we should be grateful that they do, for if it wasn't for some of these groups bringing these issues to light we would just wallow in the ignorance that all commercial gain is good for us and the planet as well the company-at-large's bottom line.

    I'm not saying these groups always right or use the right methods, but they certainly are not completely comprised of blind extremists who want us all the live in huts and bury our technological advances.

    I think you've said something to this effect before - we can thrive as a society, embrace science and still learn to live more harmoniously and sustainably. Those that say that we can't are simply too afraid of the change it will take to get there.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Regarding the discussion you had with Dustin Stinett on canvas versus plastic bags, there is one big missing element: many plastic bags find their way into the oceans. The LA Times did a series on this a couple of years ago and you can find more info. on this from The Ocean Conservancy and Oceana. Many fish and other sea animals die every year from ingesting these bags and other garbage we humans throw away. You might want to mention this in future dialogues.

    Consider it mentioned. And elaborated upon by another MNB user:

    It is startling to read such nasty comments about plastic bags. If these individuals claim to be so well informed, are they aware of the impact that plastic is having on a global scale?

    "In 2004 two oceanographers from the British Antarctic Survey completed a study of plastic dispersal in the Atlantic that spanned both hemispheres. Remote oceanic islands," the study showed, "may have similar levels of debris to those adjacent to heavily industrialized coasts." Even on the shores of Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic, the survey found on average a plastic item every five meters."

    From another resource: "A 'plastic soup' of waste floating in the Pacific Ocean is growing at an alarming rate and now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

    The vast expanse of debris – in effect the world's largest rubbish dump – is held in place by swirling underwater currents. This drifting "soup" stretches from about 500 nautical miles off the Californian coast, across the northern Pacific, past Hawaii and almost as far as Japan.

    Charles Moore, an American oceanographer who discovered the 'Great Pacific Garbage Patch' or 'trash vortex', believes that about 100 million tons of flotsam are circulating in the region. Marcus Eriksen, a research director of the US-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation, which Mr. Moore founded, said yesterday: "The original idea that people had was that it was an island of plastic garbage that you could almost walk on. It is not quite like that. It is almost like a plastic soup. It is endless for an area that is maybe twice the size as continental United States."

    So this is a pervasive issue that isn't just about how much free land we have available for trash sites. Fishermen will tell you that plastic debris can be found in the stomachs of many of the fish they catch.

    This is the kind of information that everyone needs to understand and deal
    with, not nasty rhetoric.

    And MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

    You guys are putting way too much thought into this.

    We take something from the earth. We chemically “morph” it into something else. Then we burn it and send the fumes into the air we breathe or bury it in the ground where we get the water we drink.

    Under what circumstance is this a good idea?

    None that I can think of.

    On another subject, in “OffBeat” on Friday we took note of the fact that the Large Hadron Collider went online in Europe, and didn’t swallow up the entire planet into a black hole…which is what some people predicted.

    I expressed a certain relief about this, but MNB user Vic Hansen told me that I was getting ahead of myself:

    You say that we can all sleep easy because the CERN go-live hasn’t created a black hole. Not true. The creation of black holes is not something the LHC would routinely do. It’s just one of the things that could happen occasionally if the forces, angles and impacts were just right. I haven’t found anyone who can give a convincing account of how likely that is, so maybe it could run for a hundred years – or a thousand – and then create one. Maybe it could make one tomorrow afternoon.

    What happens then is where the debate starts (or perhaps ends).

    Live each day as if it is your last.

    I am not reassured. On the other hand…

    There’s a party at the end of the world
    Where the locals do that tango twirl
    I don't care about "the Rapture"
    When there's native girls to capture
    There's a party at the end of the world…

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 15, 2008

    In Week Two of National Football League action…

    Tennessee 24
    Cincinnati 7

    Oakland 23
    Kansas City 8

    Chicago 17
    Carolina 20

    NY Giants 41
    St. Louis 13

    Atlanta 9
    Tampa Bay 24

    New England 19
    NY Jets 10

    Miami 10
    Arizona 31

    Buffalo 20
    Jacksonville 16

    Indianapolis 18
    Minnesota 15

    Green Bay 48
    Detroit 25

    New Orleans 24
    Washington 29

    San Francisco 33
    Seattle 30

    San Diego 38
    Denver 39

    Pittsburgh 10
    Cleveland 6

    KC's View: