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    Published on: November 17, 2008

    There is an excellent op-ed piece about the prospects for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) in the Wall Street Journal this morning by Ariella Bernstein, who describes herself as “a Democrat who has worked at both the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS), two agencies that figure prominently in this legislation.”

    The piece begins from the premise that organized labor has made passage of EFCA a high priority in 2009, hoping to make it happen during the first 100 days of the Obama administration. Bernstein writes that it would provide for “certification of a union as the bargaining representative if a majority of employees sign authorization cards; mandatory arbitration on the terms of a contract if the parties cannot reach agreement; and stronger penalties for unfair labor practices during a union organizing campaign or while the parties are negotiating a first contract.” A secret ballot by employees on whether they actually want to be represented by a union would no longer be required.

    Bernstein’s big idea: while EFCA is being promoted by organized labor and is seen as a Democratic priority, it is not necessarily the best approach to resolving management-labor issues in the US.

    Her argument is that union representation does not necessarily guarantee higher wages and benefits, especially in a recessionary economy with restricted access to credit, that mandatory arbitration actually absolves the two sides of having to compromise, which is “a critical component of labor-management relations,” and that too much is unknown about what the practical impact of EFCA might be. “I believe we need a better understanding of the problems before signing on to this bill as the solution,” she writes.
    KC's View:
    This piece is worth reading, and worth paying attention to…especially for Democrats who are going to be in government as of January 2009, and who should not go blindly into that good night.

    Passage of EFCA right now would be a disaster on a variety of levels. Business has enough problems at the moment, and to saddle it with new restrictions and labor rules would be ill timed at best. This isn’t to defend the practice of firing employees who are union organizers or sympathizers…but there has to be a better way than EFCA. And eliminating the secret ballot is just un-American.

    (My guess, by the way, is that the Obama administration may resist labor’s entreaties. EFCA is polarizing, and the new president seems to want to rule from the center and find common ground. I hope I’m right.)

    Commercials promoting EFCA and asking citizens to call their Congressmen in support of it are all over cable television, which means that the industry needs to rise to explain – calmly and rationally – why it is not a timely idea. But maybe it also means that the business community has to embrace changes that would address some of labor’s concerns, thereby offering a real solution and alternative, not just being negative about labor.

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    Published reports say that New York-based Price Chopper is developing an urban-oriented small store format that will be about 15,000 square feet and will have some similarities to Tesco’s Fresh & Easy stores as well as the new Walmart Marketside concept and Safeway’s version, called The Market. And, like those stores, the format will have a name that will differentiate it from Price Chopper’s traditional stores.

    The first version of the store will be built in Saratoga Springs, New York, according to reports.

    The story comes from Natural-Specialty Foods Memo, which says that the “new urban-concept food and grocery store format will be a brand new small-format rather than just a smaller version of its Price Chopper banner supermarkets, which are located New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.”

    KC's View:
    Here’s where Price Chopper is smart, beyond the obvious fact that it is looking to develop neighborhood-specific stores that can help it develop new customers and expanded market share.

    First, it isn’t waiting for the competition to bring such stores to its backyard. Most of the small store activity has been in the west, but Price Chopper is being pro-active in developing its version. That’s smart.

    Second, it is doing so at a time when a lot of companies probably are reducing their development expenses because of the tough economic environment. This is a smart time to invest in growth, because it positions the company correctly for when things get better.

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    The Boston Globe reports that BJ’s Wholesale Club has emerged “as one of the rare bright spots in this abysmal retail environment. While many merchants are biting their nails, closing shops, and shedding jobs in the midst of one of the worst retail seasons in decades, BJ's Wholesale Club, with its discounted goods, is pretty giddy.” In part because it has no debt and has been seeing higher percentage sales increases than either Costco or Sam’s Club, BJ’s “is capitalizing on the woes of other chains and planning to accelerate its store openings.”

    And, the Globe writes, “In some ways, BJ's is outperforming its peers because of its increased emphasis on consumers, according to analysts. Costco and Sam's Club draw a larger base of business shoppers, while BJ's attracts more consumers who shop more often for everyday grocery needs.

    “But BJ's also had more room to grow than its competitors did.”

    After bring its former CEO, Herb Zarkin, out of retirement to retake the reins at the company, BJ’s has focused on both efficiencies and fresh foods – which has enabled it to sell products that people actually want at better prices.

    The Globe writes, “BJ's knows the good times may not last forever. The company is preparing for a weak holiday season, with less inventory and tepid expectations. Sales for general merchandise, like televisions and jewelry, have declined in recent months. But company officials are hoping the expanded holiday food selection of tiramisu, imported cheeses, and high-end appetizers such as chicken satay will drive business.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    The Times of London has a piece about Tesco’s Fresh & Easy stores in the US, and quotes its CEO, Tim Mason, as saying that “looking at the past year, you have to be deliriously happy. At the same time, we are absolutely focused on what we need to do for this business to be as absolutely successful as it can be.

    “It has taken a bit longer to penetrate catchments around the stores than we thought it would [and] I think the reason is because this is the first mature market, well-served market, that we have opened into, so actually it's not filling a vacuum and, therefore, has to earn its place. But as we go into the second year, we would expect to see unbelievably good like-for-like growth.”

    Fresh & Easy reached the 100-store mark last week, but announced that because of economic issues in the US, it would slow down its expansion plans and expected to reach 200 stores by November 2009 rather than February, as originally projected.

    KC's View:
    I learned something new and refreshing about Tim Mason from this piece – that he is a fan of “This Is Spinal Tap,” a movie from which he quotes dialogue to the interviewer. You can't be a bad guy if you like ‘Spinal Tap.”

    Which is interesting, since sometimes the criticisms of Fresh & Easy have reminded me of another line from the movie: “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    The Conference Board has released its quarterly Consumer Internet Barometer, which says that e-shoppers plan to increase their online purchases during the upcoming holiday season while simultaneously reducing their spending in brick-and-mortar stores. The study also says that these consumers expect free shipping when shopping online, and that they also expect to be offered deals not available in brick-and-mortar locations.

    According to the report, “Online households planning to spend more than $500 in stores declined to 16 percent from 21 percent last year. Those planning to spend more than $500 online rose to 5 percent from 4 percent last season.

    “Those planning to spend between $100 and $499 in stores declined to 57 percent from 61 percent last year, while those planning to spend that amount online edged up to 36 percent from 35 percent last year. Online households planning to spend less than $100 in stores increased to 22 percent from 16 percent last year. Those planning to spend that amount online rose to 32 percent from 29 percent.”

    The report also says that “the ongoing sentiment among online holiday shoppers is that free shipping, coupons and discount offers would encourage them to spend more online. About 93 percent of women versus 87 percent of men say free shipping would serve as a motivation to spend more online this holiday season. More than 71 percent said special offers and deals not available in stores would boost their online spending, with little difference between men and women. More than 70 percent of women and 68 percent of men said they would be willing to spend more if merchants offered coupons/discounts. In concert with shipping cost frustrations, 48 percent of women say they would spend more online if sites offered free return postage, compared with 39 percent of men who felt this way.”

    The Consumer Internet Barometer predicts that “this holiday season, books, clothes, movies and toys will be the most popular items on the consumer’s Internet shopping list. The most preferred shopping sites are those operated by retail store and catalogue operators such as Walmart.com or BestBuy.com, followed by online retailers such as Amazon.com and online auction sites such as EBay.com.”

    KC's View:
    Sounds good. Until you read our next story…

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    Forbes reports that “this may be the last holiday season you can dodge sales taxes by buying presents on the Web … State legislators, retailers and lawyers say 2009 may be the year Internet taxes finally come to pass.

    “The idea, which would levy sales tax on most goods bought online, has been tossed around for nearly a decade. A perfect storm of factors, including record state budget deficits, a new Congress and continued e-commerce growth, appear likely to rekindle the issue. Experts say that cash-strapped states view this revenue, estimated to be several billions of dollars, as money left on the table.”

    The sense is that a Democratic-controlled Congress would be receptive to the imposition of such a tax, though it is not known how President-Elect Barack Obama might come down in such legislation found its way to his desk.
    KC's View:
    I guess the question that has to asked and answered is whether the imposition of an Internet sales tax structure would kill off or at least diminish a business that actually is growing during tough economic times. I understand the need for new revenue; we can't keep bailing out various industries without looking for some revenue from somewhere. But I’d hate to hurt an industry that is managing to grow even while so many other concerns are suffering and/or dying.

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    Advertising Age reports that Walmart may be talking to as many as seven advertising agencies about handling its Marketside small store/fresh foods/discount format, which it intends to market and promote separately from its eponymous brand.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    Reuters reports that “grocery sellers are poised for a hearty holiday season as harder-to-get credit and rising unemployment promise to keep consumers close to home and family. U.S. shoppers, who have been putting off purchases of clothes, furniture and cars in what could be the worst retail environment in three decades, are stretching their food dollars by visiting fewer restaurants, clipping coupons and trading down to store brands.”

    • The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Supervalu-owned Albertsons is closing two of its stores in Las Vegas. The story says that the two locations are older units that have outlived their usefulness.

    The more than 100 employees who work in the stores will be relocated to other locations, according to the story.

    • Published reports say that Oklahoma City-based Homeland Stores is buying five Williams Foods stores in the area. Terms for the deal were not disclosed.

    The five stores were acquired by Williams from Albertsons in 2007

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that Lavazza, the specialty coffee retailer, is opening a new format in the Chicago area – Espression by Lavazza, which includes an expanded coffee and food selection.

    According to the story, “The company teamed with chefs Ferran Adria and Moreno Cedroni on the menu, which includes gourmet made-to-order sandwiches (brie and prosciutto with a fig conserve on panini bread) and salads and gelato. Breads, croissant and cookies are baked on-site. Sandwiches are priced from $7.45 to $9.45. Food is served on china,” and id described by the company as “food that might be found in a fine dining restaurant, but it's here in a casual atmosphere.”

    KC's View:
    Not sure that Espression by Lavazza is tailor-made for a recessionary economy. Timing is everything.

    That said, one can't let a bad economy stifle innovation. It is a balancing act, but you have to pay attention to both sides.

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    • The Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS) announced the appointment of Thomas R. Oare as its new executive director and CEO, effective February 1, 2009. Oare, who has been serving as senior vice president for MetroSplash Systems Group, replaces the present executive director and CEO, John Hervey, who is retiring effective January 31, 2009.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    Regarding the higher cost of a Thanksgiving dinner this year, one MNB user wrote:

    The great thing about holiday dinners is that they're usually the same as they were the previous year and the year before that and the year before that. Since I know that we're going to have the green bean casserole with mushroom soup and crunchy onions on top for one side, potatoes for another, and pumpkin pie, I have this amazing opportunity and ability not to just shop the week before but to use my coupons and loss leader deals several weeks before hand or in some cases much more in advance than that to prepare.

    It's frustrating to constantly read about how prices are going up. I don't doubt that it's true but wonder how many people ACTUALLY pay more. Are there any numbers on that?


    Another MNB user wrote:

    I can feel your pain about the increased cost of Thanksgiving dinner. We just relocated to France this fall (spouse's job) and I've been trying to source a small whole turkey for our Thanksgiving. (Has to be small -- my oven is 1/3 the size of my American one!)

    Ready for this? It requires a special order from the butcher (drop me a note when you come to Paris next -- I'll take you through our wonderful market -- a wide variety of products, but small enough to be able to walk past all the vendors) to acquire an entire turkey...and the cost is running 15-19 Euros per kilo. That breaks out to somewhere in the range of $10 per pound....for a TURKEY. Yikes.

    I'm seriously considering pheasant or duck for our dinner (to be held on Saturday, as Thursday is a work and school day, and impossible for friends to attend)...I have a hard time coughing up $10/pound for something I know thousands of families will be buying for under $1.00/pound without even thinking about it!

    Oh, the things we take for granted!


    Oh, to have such problems!

    You have a deal. Next time I come to Paris, I’ll give you a holler.




    One MNB user brought up a question I sort of figured would emerge eventually…

    I am a retired food industry executive (beverages) and my wife also from the food industry reads your webpage.

    We are coffee drinkers and have lived in Europe, Asia, and South American. Like many coffee drinkers we have favorites and know that the type of bean and bean blends is important. The method of roasting is also a factor in the flavor and "drinkability" of the finished product.

    Not dilettantes, just normal country folks.

    My wife suggests that you favor the Starbuck's coffee products. She was an beverage analyst and indicated that in the last 1,506 publications of your website you mentioned Starbucks in 813 of them. That is significant, according to her.

    Although we do not care for the Starbuck coffees we know some (fewer and fewer) consumers do.

    Now that you are promoting White Cloud Coffee will your mention rate of Starbucks decline?


    While I appreciate your attention to detail, you have to find better things to do with your retirement than count the mentions of Starbucks on MNB!

    That said, you make a point worth addressing.

    I have never counted the number of times I have mentioned Starbucks – or any other company or person. I figure that the news dictates the mentions, and I don't believe in quotas.

    I would guess, however, that most of my Starbucks mentions have to do with branding and business issues, and those references will almost certainly continue. I find the company to be a fascinating story, and we don't know how it will end yet.

    But you are right. I have many times enthusiastically talked about Starbucks’ products, which I always have liked. But as mentioned in our DrumBeat above, the folks at White Cloud sent me their coffee unsolicited, I tasted it and loved it (Mrs. Content Guy ordered me not to buy Starbucks for the house anymore), and then we started talking about them sponsoring MorningNewsBeat.

    The great thing about MNB is that I’ve been able to endorse virtually every product made by my sponsors…and this is a perfect example. Not that my endorsement counts for much, but it makes me feel good about the companies with which I do business.

    I hope this answers your question. Transparency is everything.




    I also got a bunch of emails responding to last Friday’s list of great hamburger joints around the country.

    MNB user Anne Maas wrote:

    Ahhh, the memories. I moved from Minneapolis to the East Coast 4-1/2 years ago. I have tasted burgers from many of the Minneapolis restaurants listed and it just made me miss all of the fabulous food that city has to offer. Bar Lurcat - if ANYONE is ever in Minneapolis, you must stop by Bar Lurcat and order their 2 mini burger appetizer. It is beyond divine. They are just burgers in a bun. No condiments, no lettuce, tomato - nothing. And it is the best freakin' burger I've ever had. Yum! Of course being very conscientious about healthy eating, I don't even want to begin to know what makes them taste so good. They have a wonderful selection of wines to wash them down with as well ...

    One MNB user wrote:

    The next time you are in the LA area try the Apple Pan in Westwood near UCLA. They have been around since 1945 or 1947 and I have been going there for 40 years myself. They have fantastic hamburgers and apple pie.

    Been there. Love it. Good call.

    MNB user Rob Rice wrote:

    I’m not looking for a bag, just wondering if omitting from your list a burger stop you recently made (see description below from Offbeat posting, 9/19/08) was an oversight, or if that burger isn’t worthy of inclusion on the list. Just curious.

    Another night, I ate at a small bistro called Smokejack’s, where they served a delicious local tomato, basil and mozzarella flatbread, and one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever eaten – made of local beef, and served with local cheese and bacon-roasted organic potatoes. Yummmm…I’m getting hungry just typing the words.


    I love Smokejack’s, in Burlington, Vermont…but Friday’s list was meant to be joints contributed by MNB users. I’ll add it to the master list, though. Thanks.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    You forgot Shantytown in Bloomington, MN.

    Didn’t forget it. Nobody told me about it. Until now.


    Tangentially, I got two similarly themed emails about the hamburger list, which carried the headline, “Good God Almighty, Which Way Do I Steer?”

    One MNB user wrote:

    Why do you have curse God as part of your commentary? Totally unnecessary and very offensive to some.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    Please, Please, I would ask that you not use His name in vain, in an explaining of a burger.

    I apologize if anyone was offended.

    However, for those who may not have gotten the reference, it was not a gratuitous line...it is a direct quote from the Jimmy Buffett song, “Cheeseburger In Paradise.” And therefore, I thought, and continue to think, entirely appropriate.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 17, 2008

    In Week Eleven of the National Football League…

    Denver 24
    Atlanta 20

    Oakland 15
    Miami 17

    Detroit 22
    Carolina 31

    Chicago 3
    Green Bay 37

    Minnesota 13
    Tampa Bay 19

    Arizona 26
    Seattle 20

    San Diego 10
    Pittsburgh 11

    Houston 27
    Indianapolis 33

    Baltimore 10
    NY Giants 30

    Philadelphia 13
    Cincinnati 13

    New Orleans 30
    Kansas City 20

    St. Louis 16
    San Francisco 35

    Tennessee 24
    Jacksonville 14

    Dallas 14
    Washington 10

    KC's View: