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    Published on: November 14, 2008

    The New York Times reports this morning that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided all Chinese products will be stopped at the border that may contain milk or other dairy. The decision was made as concerns increased about the presence of the toxic chemical melamine in Chinese dairy products, which has sickened at least 5,000 infants and killed four there; some manufacturers add melamine to their products because it artificially inflates the appearance of protein.

    According to the story, “Chinese products that contain milk or milk powder will automatically be detained at the border until the manufacturer or its customer has the product tested and it is found to be free of contamination, or they show documentation indicating that the product does not contain milk or milk-derived ingredients.”

    It was just a few weeks ago that the FDA was saying that melamine wasn’t harmful if ingested in sufficiently small amounts.

    KC's View:
    While I tend to agree with the folks who say that this is a move that perhaps should have been made sooner, better late than never. The first priority for the FDA has to be US consumer safety, not the geo-political ramifications of such a ban…and too often it has looked like it was paying for attention to the latter than the former.

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    The Los Angeles Times reports that a new report from the American Farm Bureau Federation says that the average cost of a Thanksgiving dinner – including turkey, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, pumpkin pie – will be up 5.6 percent this year compared to 2007, to $44.61 for ten people.

    However, the group notes that adjusted for inflation, the cost of Thanksgiving dinner is a better deal this year than it was 20 years ago, and is cheaper per-person than a fast food meal.

    KC's View:
    Higher prices will certainly affect our Thanksgiving dinner this year, but not for the reasons cited by the American Farm Bureau.

    That’s because the Content Kids have made one request and only one request for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner: steak.

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC) and Reputation Institute are out with their annual Corporate Social Responsibility Index (CSRI), which looks at how major companies deal with the reality and perceptions of citizenship, governance and workplace issues.

    One retailer is included in the list – Publix. A number of suppliers to the food industry also make the top rankings, including Campbell Soup, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, General Mills, Anheuser-Busch and Sara Lee.

    The top companies are:

    1. Google
    2. Campbell Soup
    3. Johnson & Johnson
    4. Walt Disney
    5. Kraft Foods
    6. General Mills
    7. Levi Strauss
    8. UPS
    9. Berkshire Hathaway
    10. Microsoft
    11. 3M
    12. FedEx
    13. Anheuser-Busch
    14. Sara Lee
    15. Apple
    16. General Electric
    17. Publix Super Markets
    18. Honda of America
    19. Deere & Company
    20. Adobe Systems
    21. Xerox
    22. New Balance
    23. Toyota Motor Corp.
    24. Texas Instruments

    KC's View:
    Citizenship may not be a high priority for a lot of people these days, as it gives way to more pressing concerns like, say, survival.

    But it would be foolish – albeit typically foolish – for companies to apply such silo-style thinking to their businesses. The public’s increasing desire to do business with companies that they believe are responsible and even progressive in their attitudes won’t go away simply because the economy is troubled.

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    • The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that the Dr Pepper Snapple Group “is revamping Snapple's look and tweaking the formulation of its tea to try to revive consumer interest, saying tightened wallets and discounting by competitors have cut into sales.” The Journal notes that “by year end, Snapple tea will come in a sleeker 16-ounce glass bottle with a label describing the drink as ‘All Natural,’ noting that it is brewed from both green and black tea leaves … the drink will also be reformulated to contain sugar to improve flavor, rather than high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener derided by some consumers as unnatural.”

    One thing remains the same, however: Snapple’s familiar slogan, “Made from the best stuff on Earth.”

    • Published reports say that discounter Aldi plans to launch a new travel business in the UK, which will be promoted through its 400 supermarkets there. The move is new for Aldi in the UK, but the company has had experience with it in Austria…where the retailer is that nation’s second largest tour operator.

    • The Westchester County Legislature, just north of New York City, voted this week to impose regulations on the area’s restaurant chains that will require them to post calorie counts on their menus and menu boards. The law applies to all companies with 15 or more chains nationwide.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    • Loblaw Cos. said yesterday that its third quarter profits were up 32.5 percent to the equivalent of $126.8 million (US), on sales that were up 3.9 percent to $7.8 billion (US), with same-store sales up three percent.

    However, the company cautioned against reading too much into the dramatically improved numbers, saying that the fourth quarter and coming year are expected to be extremely challenging.

    • In the UK, J. Sainsbury said that its first half net profit was up 5.6 percent to the equivalent of $261.6 million (US), on revenue that was up 7.4 percent to $13.7 billion (US). Same-store sales were up 3.9 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    A couple of weeks ago, in an MNB Radio meditation about the hamburger, I suggested that it is perfect metaphor for innovation and possibilities in the food business.

    I said, in part:

    Viewed as a commodity, a hamburger is just meat and a bun. But with a little innovation and imagination, a burger becomes something more, something special. It becomes something that gives the place that sells it a differential advantage.

    The same thing goes for many of our stores and many of our products. Even in a time of economic duress, it continues to make sense to apply innovation and imagination to how we create and market them.

    The entire commentary can be found at:

    As part of my rhapsody for the hamburger, I listed a number of my favorite places to enjoy one…and invited MNB user to submit their own favorites. I said that the first 25 people to do so would be sent a free limited edition MNB canvas bag…and that’s when the dam burst.

    I’m actually going to send bags to the 60 people who responded the fastest…just because I’m that kind of guy. (I had to stop somewhere…but for those of you who won, the bags are in the mail.)

    It was a fascinating compilation. Minnesota and Wisconsin obviously are burger heaven for a lot of people. There are a few in Connecticut, my home state, that I’ve never heard of. And who would have thought that one burger joint in The Netherlands would be mentioned by two different people?

    To be clear, I have not vetted this list of recommended burger joints. I am relying on the good nature of the people who submitted them. In a number of cases, the burger joints were recommended by a number of people, but only are listed here once.

    And so, our list of the world’s best hamburgers is as follows, listed in alphabetical order:

    1. 112 Eatery, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    2. AJ’s Fine Foods, Scottsdale, Arizona (it is worth pointing out that this is the only supermarket that made the list!)
    3. Anchor Bar & Grill, Superior, Wisconsin
    4. Bar Lurcat, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    5. Big Bun, Boise, Idaho.
    6. Big Jud’s, Boise, Idaho
    7. Bill Gray’s, Rochester, New York
    8. Bubba’s Burgers, Kauai, Hawaii
    9. Burger Bar, Norwalk, Connecticut
    10. Burger Hut, Chico, California
    11. Burger Tex, Austin, Texas
    12. Burgermaster, Seattle, Washington
    13. Burgermeester, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    14. Burgers, Shakes & Fries, Greenwich, Connecticut
    15. Casper & Runyon’s Nook, St. Paul, Minnesota.
    16. Charlie Beinlich’s, Northbrook, Illinois
    17. Charlie Reidel’s, Rochester, New York
    18. Charlie’s Hamburgers, Springfield, Pennsylvania
    19. Chips, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.
    20. Colorado Grill, Fresno, California
    21. Convention Grill, Edina, Minnesota
    22. Country Burger, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas.
    23. Cozy Inn, Salina, Kansas
    24. Crazy Burger, Narragansett, Rhode Island
    25. Crown Burger, Salt Lake City, Utah.
    26. Crusier’s, Jacksonville, Florida
    27. Culver’s, Phoenix, Arizona
    28. Don’s Original, Rochester, New York
    29. Dotty Dumplings Dowry, Madison, Wisconsin
    30. Doug Out Pub and Grill, Richfield, Ohio
    31. Fast Eddie’s Bon Aire, Alton, Illinois
    32. Fat Franks, Bellows Falls, Vermont.
    33. Federal Café, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    34. Gilley’s, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
    35. GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen), London, The United Kingdom
    36. Grasshopper Also, Carlstad, New Jersey
    37. Harmon’s Lunch, Portland, Maine
    38. Haven Brothers, Providence, Rhode Island
    39. Heart Attack Grill, Arizona.
    40. Homer’s, Hickory, North Carolina
    41. Hudson’s Hamburgers, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
    42. Hut’s, Austin, Texas
    43. Jerry's Drive Inn, Pensacola, Florida
    44. Johnny B’s, Southlake, Texas
    45. King’s Place, Miesville, Minnesota
    46. Kopp’s Frozen Custard, Wisconsin
    47. Kroll’s, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
    48. Kuma’s Corner, Chicago, Illinois
    49. LDR Char Pit, Rochester, New York
    50. Lions Tap, Eden Prairie, Minnesota
    51. Lurk’s Bar, Afton, Minnesota
    52. Matt’s Bar, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    53. McGuire’s Irish Pun, Pensacola, Florida
    54. Miner’s Drive-In, Yakima, Wisconsin
    55. Montreal French Fries, West Bridgewater, Massachusetts
    56. Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Northern California
    57. Neils’ In & Out, La Grande, Oregon
    58. P. Terry’s, Austin, Texas
    59. Pak-A-Sak, Enid, Oklahoma
    60. Rich’s Drive-In, Somers, Connecticut.
    61. Rose’s, Canoga Park, California
    62. Rotier’s, Nashville, Tennessee
    63. Saluit, St. Paul, Minnesota
    64. Schaller’s, Rochester, New York
    65. Smith & Wollensky, New York, New York
    66. Superior Bar & Grill, Superior, Wisconsin
    67. Swensen’s Drive-Ins, Akron, Ohio.
    68. Taylor’s, Loomis, California
    69. Tebo's Gladstone, Oregon
    70. Ted’s Steamed Cheeseburger, Meriden, Connecticut
    71. The Blue Lantern, Buffalo, New York
    72. The Cherry Cricket, Denver, Colorado
    73. The Cotton Bottom, Salt Lake City, Utah.
    74. The Craftsman, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    75. The Station Café, Bentonville, Arkansas
    76. Thurman’s Café, Columbus, Ohio.
    77. Time Square Diner, Toronto, Canada
    78. Tom Wahl’s, Rochester, New York
    79. Town Topic, Kansas City, Missouri
    80. Village Café, San Jose, California
    81. Vincent, Minneapolis, Minnesota
    82. White Hut, Springfield, Massachusetts
    83. Whitey’s Booze and Burgers, Richfield, Ohio
    84. Whitey’s Booze N’ Burgers, Richfield, Ohio
    85. Wild Willy’s, York, Maine
    86. Willie’s Weenie Wagon, Markham, Illinois
    87. Zippy's, Kahului, Maui

    KC's View:
    Beyond being a great road map for where to get great burgers, this list makes a serious business point – that these are restaurants that have created for themselves differential advantages that make them stand out in people’s minds. It’s the burgers, the grilled onions, the fries, the shakes – in other words, it is the food. (Not the deals, not the packaging.) That’s something we all ought to be aiming for in our businesses.

    Now, enough about business.

    Go enjoy. I plan to.

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    Responding to yesterday’s piece about consumer enthusiasm for private label products, MNB user Betty Terry wrote:

    I was a teenager during the recession in the 1970s when grocery store chains first started offering private label brands in a big way. Back then, the quality of private label brands didn't measure up to the popular national brands, and my mother always felt like she was sacrificing quality when she bought them. I agree that the quality is much better now, which presents a great opportunity for both the chains and the consumer -- the former to build store loyalty and the consumer to save money.

    I sometimes wonder if the industry needs to come up with a new moniker for this category. Maybe “private label” or “own label” just doesn’t cut it anymore…”proprietary brands” seems a little bulky, but that ought to be the essence of the message.

    Regarding the “should bake sales be obsolete” debate, one MNB user wrote:

    As one who sent four children through Catholic Schools I had a lot of experience with bake sales and other fund raising events. I often commented that this and other fundraisers were really just picking our own pockets. To illustrate this. when going to vote I once brought my wife's cake to the school bake sale being held on election day (the school was a polling place). After voting, on my way out I bought my wife's cake.

    Not long after that some one came up with the "no bake bake sale" idea.

    MNB user Al Kober chimed in:

    It is a dying family bonding event. We had two of our granddaughters over for the weekend and my wife baked cookies with them. It wasn’t as much fun for her as it was for them. They measured the flour, which got all over the stove, rolled the dough, they loved smashing the nuts with a rolling pin, that my wife put in a plastic bag. They made the cut-outs, put them on the baking sheet, removed them from the oven, and then decorated them. This is where it got scary. When they were done the cookies looked like some psychedelic design but they loved it. This time spent together baking was invaluable. If holding old fashion bake sale can bring families together like this then there is still value.

    If this doesn’t work I really like the “I don’t want to bake, you don’t want to buy, send $5.00” no-bake sale.

    MNB user David Livingston had some thoughts about Louisiana-based Rouse’s, which continues to grow:

    Talk about being at the right place at the right time. Rouse's has been around forever and is really a class organization. They have always been on the cutting edge of new supermarket concepts while at the some time catering to the unique cultural characteristics of rural Louisiana. Then Winn Dixie filed bankruptcy, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and A&P continued their historical trend of throwing in the towel. Rouses saw the opportunity of a lifetime and snatched up the A&P stores and at the same time is capitalizing on locating in the high growth areas where hurricane victims have relocated. In this difficult economic environment, it’s good to see a company find such good opportunities for growth.

    Regarding my MNB Radio diatribe yesterday against food industry people not in love with food and unwilling to try new things, one MNB user wrote:

    I am always surprised when people in the food business won't try anything new. When I travel, I like to go native (I guess part of that is my upbringing and visiting relatives and staying in their homes overseas while growing up). I absolutely love new experiences. When I worked for a broker, I would notice trends early on and make recommendations to my management so they could capitalize on them (Asian flavors, growing Hispanic presence, indian/middle eastern, etc.) and all I would get were blank stares. These were all older white guys who supposedly knew it all. They blinked and now are playing catch up. I have a dear friend that is an independent broker who travels internationally. She never eats anywhere outside the hotel she stays in, and always eats western foods. When I come across something that I think she could sell, I have to think about if she would understand the product and the end users.

    it is a matter of personal pride that in all the years I’ve traveled, I’ve eaten dinner in my hotel fewer than a half-dozen times…and then only when the hotel restaurant (such as The Line at the Shangri-La Hotel in Singapore) was the journalistic reason I was there.

    Got a nice note from MNB user Peggy Long:

    You said that your business card should have said 'Have passport, will travel'. My mantra has been along the lines of a quote from James Michener. I don't have the exact quote, but it's something along the lines of "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay home".

    I'm glad that you live life in the culture and environment that you're experiencing. It's the only way to see the world and share it with those of us at home. Thanks for the MorningNewsBeat. It's a great newsletter and filled with substance, not fluff.

    Well, maybe a little fluff.

    Because we all need a little fluff in our lives.

    MNB user Doug Maddenberg had an interesting question:

    Kevin, very much enjoy your detailed descriptions of the great meals you have on the road. It occurred to me though – don’t you ever have a bad one? Ever order the specialty of the house and wish you had stuck with the lasagna? Maybe a blend of tastes/ingredients that DON’T go fabulously well? Or a dish that’s just gross? I think it would be entertaining once in a while to hear about a KC Clunker. Or do you just have all the luck?

    Well, first of all, I am exceedingly lucky. Very rarely do I get a clunker…but I also have an iron constitution and a palate that likes most everything.

    Even when I don't like something, I never wish that I ordered the lasagna. I can get lasagna anywhere. (And I make a great lasagna, so ordering it out seems silly.)

    Beyond that, I have to admit that I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy.

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    In a Thursday Night Football thriller that went into sudden death overtime, the NY Jets defeated the New England Patriots 34-31.
    KC's View:
    The Jets, by the way, now have sole possession of first place in the AFC East…which almost certainly won’t last, but for the moment is wonderful to contemplate.

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column on Wednesday, entitled “How To Fix A Flat,” ought to be required reading for…well, everyone.

    The essential premise of Friedman’s piece is that the proposed bailout of the troubled US automobile industry ought to be questioned, since it seems as if the companies involved have done everything possible to avoid real innovation and environmental responsibility. Friedman doesn’t just hold the car companies accountable, but suggests that a raft of legislators have enabled them to do so by protecting them from the consequences of their own actions and inactions.

    “Instead of focusing on making money by innovating around fuel efficiency, productivity and design,” Friedman writes, the auto industry “threw way too much energy into lobbying and maneuvering to protect its gas guzzlers.”

    Any bailout, he suggests, ought to come with some very big strings…with the goal of getting new management that will force real innovation.

    That’s a good point for any business, it seems to me, not just an industry that is on the precipice of ruin. In fact, it makes sense not to wait until standing on a cliff before one starts to think about innovation as a way of doing business.

    I’m afraid that in the current economic environment, efforts to innovate and to create new business paradigms that are relevant to an evolving culture, changing demographics and new technologies, may end up being put on the back burner. That would be a mistake, in my judgment. It ignores the fact that even during a recession, the future beckons.

    Friedman’s final line in his column is a doozy:

    “Somebody ought to call Steve Jobs, who doesn’t need to be bribed to do innovation, and ask him if he’d like to do national service and run a car company for a year. I’d bet it wouldn’t take him much longer than that to come up with the G.M. iCar.”

    That reminds me of something that Bill gates once said about the auto industry, that “id GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 miles per gallon.”

    Who do you want to model your business after?

    GM? Or Microsoft and Apple?

    Strikes me as a pretty easy call.

    Nice to know that professional sports franchises are paying attention to the economic headlines.

    The Boston Red Sox announced that they will not raise ticket prices for the 2009 season.

    And the New Jersey Nets said that they will sponsor a jobs bank, offering free tickets to people who bring resumes to a career fair; the resumes will then be distributed to the team’s various sponsors.

    Read two excellent books this week while on the road.

    “The Brass Verdict” is yet another terrific mystery from Michael Connelly, this one a follow-up to his “The Lincoln Lawyer,” featuring defense attorney Mickey Haller. In this one, Haller – who has been going through his own private physical and psychological hell after having been shot, gets a shot at redemption when he finds himself representing a movie studio mogul accused of murder. The case has plenty of twists and turns, and the book features another Connelly regular, detective Harry Bosch, who finds himself alternately fighting against and helping Haller.

    Connelly is one of the best in the genre. “The Brass Verdict” doesn’t disappoint.

    Steve Martin’s memoir, “Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life,” is an utterly delightful book that recalls his years as a standup comic during the late seventies and eighties. For many of us, it seemed as if Martin quickly got white hot and then suddenly decided to quit and devote himself to the movies. But in fact it took Martin years to develop the persona and approach that made his comedy so specific and even personal…and his book is simultaneously a dispassionate and fond remembrance of those times. I loved it.

    Yesterday’s MNB Radio piece made mention of one specific seafood dish that I had while in Spain this week, but I should mention that I loved all the Galician food that I ate. Galician pie, which is made from peppers and sausage and is melt-in-your-mouth good. Galician soup, which is made with chicken stock, white beans, collard greens, onions and potatoes. And Galician-style hake, which is distinguished by a sauce made with olive oil and paprika. Just delicious.

    So last week, I was in Argentina. This week, I was in Spain. I managed to come home for about 36 hours last weekend…which was propitious timing, since we’d been invited on Saturday to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut. A new Margaritaville restaurant was opening there, and we were invited by a friend who works for the company to attend a party and special VIP concert by…you guessed it…Jimmy Buffett.

    There were just 300 of us in the room, and it was an amazing experience. Buffett performed all of his favorites in what he said was his last concert stop for 2008, and the room was electric. I’ve been to a bunch of Buffett concerts, but there is nothing like standing about 15 feet away from him while her does “Five O’Clock Somewhere,” “Changes In Latitude, Changes In Attitude,” and, of course, “Margaritaville.”

    Besides the music, the margaritas were excellent, the Landshark beer was cold and refreshing, and the hamburgers and coconut shrimp made it feel like a night at the beach.

    And I’ve had two of the more excellent weeks of my life.

    Like I said yesterday, it’s a good gig.

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


    KC's View:

    Published on: November 14, 2008

    Is your company coping efficiently and effectively with the stunning economic changes that have taken place in the marketplace in the past few months?

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    KC's View: