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    Published on: December 3, 2008

    The Canadian government reportedly has filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that US Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) legislation discriminates against Canadian beef and pork.

    "We believe that the country-of-origin legislation is creating undue trade restrictions to the detriment of Canadian exporters," Canadian Trade Minister Stockwell Day said in a prepared statement.

    COOL legislation requires that beef and pork from outside the US must be labeled as such. Canadian farmers reportedly pressured their government to file the complaint, saying that meat processors in the US have been refusing to buy their products since the law went into effect on October 1.

    According to the Associated Press story, “Ottawa's filing at the Geneva-based trade referee initiates a two-month consultation period between the North American neighbors. If they fail to reach a settlement, Canada can ask the WTO for a formal investigation. Such trade disputes can result in punitive sanctions, but usually after years of litigation.”
    KC's View:
    I can understand that US meat plants may be a little hesitant to use Canadian beef at the moment because of the new COOL laws, but I suspect that some of the apprehension may subside once they’ve figured out how to integrate the new labels into their systems.

    But even if it takes longer that our Canadian cousins would like, it seems to me that there is no systematic discrimination going on here. We just want to know where the stuff is coming from.

    And by the way, since the standard US response to any suggestion of a mad cow case in the US tend to be along the lines of, “the cow came from Canada,” in the long run this could be helpful to the Canadian beef industry. Greater traceability might take them off the hook in some cases and prevent them from being the easy target of blame.

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    While some – both inside and outside the US - continue to debate whether Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is a good idea, the Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal reports that Gold’n Plump Poultry is rolling out a new product line that lays bare where the chicken is from.

    BARE Chicken, according to the report, includes the following feature: “By entering the three-digit code on, consumers can learn the location of the farm where their Just BARE chicken was raised. The chickens are being marketed as fresh and all-natural, and are being packaged in a recyclable, transparent tray.”

    KC's View:
    Okay, technically this isn’t COOL. (Actually, it is FOOL..but maybe we need to find a different acronym.) But it is transparency…though I’d also like to see the company saying what the chickens were fed and other details about their upbringing.

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    Meijer Inc. announced yesterday that it is “rewarding holiday shoppers with a bonus of up to 20% off their grocery purchases when they buy general merchandise items within Meijer stores.”

    The program launched Sunday, November 30 at all 185 Meijer stores throughout the Midwest.

    According to the announcement, “The ‘Meijer Bonus’ program provides holiday shoppers with a coupon for 5% off their next grocery purchase for every $100 spent on general merchandise or apparel items. Up to four coupons can be acquired each shopping trip, and customers can ‘stack’ up to four coupons for a 20% maximum savings on their next grocery purchase. The ‘Meijer Bonus’ program runs through December 24. All grocery coupons must be redeemed by December 31, 2008.”

    KC's View:
    Maybe it is time for Meijer to reintroduce and promote the old ‘Thrifty Acres” banner that it first used in the early sixties. The time could be right.

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    MediaWeek reports that CBS Outernet, which used to be called SignStorey, is selling in-store television segments branded with Every Day with Rachael Ray that also feature advertisers such as Kraft and Tylenol.

    The segments, which air on the in-store television systems run by CBS Outernet for Albertsons, have an advertorial quality to them – they put the manufacturers’ products into an editorial content, but are part of a broader advertising program being sold by the publishers of Ray’s magazine (the companies have to make a commitment to buy a certain amount of print advertising). At the same time, the segments are used to build awareness of the Every Day title, which has lost some steam since first being launched three years ago.

    KC's View:
    This story suggests that the Rachael Ray segments aren’t being seen in all the in-store television systems being run by CBS, which probably is a good thing – my main complaint about such networks is that they all seem to be run by the same few companies, look pretty much alike, and offer little differential advantage to the retailers that have them.

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    The Washington Post reports that the European Union has repealed “its strict rules on the size, shape and appearance of 26 fruits and vegetables. It will still regulate 10 items, including kiwi fruit, but if one of these is now deemed too petite, or too plump, it could still be sold as long as it carries a warning label … The changes take effect in July. Until then, it will remain illegal for retailers throughout the European Union to sell a forked carrot or a cauliflower less than 4.33 inches in diameter. A Class 1 green asparagus must be green for at least 80 percent of its length. A vine shoot on a bunch of grapes must be less than 1.97 inches.”

    Critics of the regulations have maintained that they create a homogenized produce industry and are a classic case of the EU over-regulating an industry in unnecessary ways. Some, however, worry that without regulations, small and large farmers alike with have to deal with a wide variety of country-specific regulations…which could actually make their lives even more complicated.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    • Walmart reportedly has established a partnership with many of its leading sustainability suppliers to facilitate the creation of green jobs in the United States. According to the announcement, “the Wal-Mart Green Jobs Council is comprised of representatives from throughout the retailer's divisions, including store operations, real estate, logistics and sustainability, and representatives from suppliers across a variety of industries.

    "We believe that creating green jobs is essential to keeping the United States competitive in the global marketplace," said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs and government relations for Wal-Mart. "At Wal-Mart we believe that by bringing these companies together and working collaboratively we can help develop a larger green job workforce in this country."

    Wal-Mart plans to convene a Green Jobs Council meeting in Washington, D.C., in early 2009.

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    • In Minnesota, the Star Tribune offers a critique of new packaging and pricing techniques used in the food industry, noting that “shoppers without a keen eye and a willingness to read the fine print on labels might have missed what has happened: Food manufacturers were downsizing packages, while keeping prices the same, as they passed on higher food costs to consumers.

    “According to a recent analysis by Nielsen Co., about 30 percent of all packaged goods have lost content over the past year. This at a time when U.S. grocery bills are rising -- up 7.5 percent in October vs. the same month a year ago -- at the fastest rate in 18 years. … What began as a response to rising fuel and ingredient costs has become institutionalized at many companies. At General Mills, for example, cost-cutting is so embedded that the company even has its own intimidating term for it: ‘Holistic Margin Management’.”

    • The New York Observer reports that while much has been made recently of Starbucks closing unproductive stores and slowing down its expansion plans throughout the US, “the Seattle coffee concern is still expanding in New York City, economic maelstrom be damned.” The Observer quotes a New York retail broker as saying that “following a couple of quiet months, Starbucks is once again busy touring potential locations.”

    And, the paper writes, “That’s welcome tidings for city landlords, many of whom are having an increasingly difficult time finding tenants. ‘If landlords are going to consider this type of use in their buildings, Starbucks still remains the No. 1 choice,’ said the broker.

    “It’s also a bit of a warning to those competitors—from Dunkin’ Donuts to local operators—who were hoping to exploit Starbucks’ apparent weakness.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    • Walgreen Co. reported a November sales increase of 3.7 percent to $4.96 billion, compared to the same month a year ago. Same-store sales, however, were down 0.9 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 3, 2008

    Responding to yesterday’s story about how Whole Foods is apparently using the FTC’s continuing effort to unravel its acquisition of Wild Oats as a way to subpoena the marketing plans and financial records of competitors like Oregon’s New Seasons Markets, one MNB user wrote:

    As a consumer who lives in the Portland area, I have to believe that Whole Foods is taking an enormous risk knowing how civic-minded the residents are. If the big organic chain wants to give the local competitor this kind of trouble, there is a likelihood that they will suddenly see a precipitous drop in sales due to a local boycott.

    On casual glance, Whole Foods business here seemed to be tenuous anyway. I was in the local Whole Foods a few days before Thanksgiving and there were not a lot of people in the store. I also went to Trader Joe's and Costco that same day and they were crowded and very busy.

    The FTC case with Whole Foods is clearly a waste of time and taxpayer dollars and seems to be the product of some disgruntled attorney who did not get his/her way. But Whole Foods needs to be very careful about not alienating its consumer base by acting in the same fashion as the FTC.

    The more I think about the Whole Foods strategy the more I am utterly disgusted by it.

    MNB user Mike Griswold wrote:

    Agree completely with you on this. So far, Whole Foods has been able to play the “victim” card and we all know the FTC has very few friends relative to this topic.

    However, that perception will change quickly if Whole Foods is perceived as taking advantage of their “plight” to improve their competitive position.

    There was the earthshaking news yesterday from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) that the US is in a recession and has been for more than a year, proving that if you want an accurate economic reading, you are better off going to consumers than to economists. MNB user JJ Bepko observed:

    We probably are in the midst of a recession, but I am surprised by the definition used by the NBER. What exactly constitutes a “significant decline”?

    It seems like the best definition of a recession I have ever heard is 2 consecutive quarters of negative growth in the GDP. It is simple and more importantly quantifiable.

    Don't care how you measure it. This is a recession.

    I made the observation yesterday that best I can tell, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to drop the ball, then deny that it has dropped the ball, then question what dropping the ball really means. If these are our tax dollars at work, I’d like to ask for an audit.

    To which one MNB user responded:

    Hear Hear!

    An audit of how our tax dollars are being spent! Absolutely! And while we're at it, add a law that no longer allows Congress to vote itself pay raises…

    Regarding the Black Friday Walmart stampede that resulted in the death-by-trampling of a temp worker, one MNB user wrote:

    I’ve read reports that said that Walmart knew that there was unrest in the crowd more than an hour before they were due to open. At that point they should have called in more reinforcements, including the local police, to guarantee the safety of their customers OUTSIDE and their employees inside.

    It’s easy to second-guess the people who made the decisions in this situation. The Walmart store manager and their security details had no way of knowing what mindless barbarians waited at their gates; they could not have foreseen that humans would break down a set of doors and trample other humans inside to get to cheap electronics.

    However, these professionals could have seen the unrest and testiness of the gathering crowd and erred on the side of caution with added security and police protection. Aside from the inevitable legal consequences I’m sure that these individuals will have the images of this horrendous event in their minds forever.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Regarding the Wal-Mart trampling death in Valley Stream, NY last Friday, the aspect that troubles me the most -- apart from simply the senseless loss of life -- is this: following this story in the news, talk is of the police straining to try & identify any specific individuals from surveillance video who might then be tracked down for possible prosecution. Absolutely 100% nowhere in any public discussion is the expectation -- common, I suppose in gentler times -- that the guilty parties would simply step forward and say "I was there, I did it, I'm here to face my punishment." It seems to be an utter article of faith in this incident that those who trampled this poor soul to death will simply retreat into the background, hoping (and reasonably expecting) to never be identified. And so, to never have to face any consequences, legal or otherwise.

    Why is no one in the media focusing on this aspect of their reprehensible behavior? Have we simply fallen so far as a society that it doesn't even occur to (a) those that killed this man to step out of the shadows and face their days in court, or (b) those in the public media to use their bully pulpit to shame the guilty parties into coming forward? As a society -- call me naive, for sure -- we can do so much better than to simply expect & assume, right from the start, that the guilty parties will just never come forward of their own free will. And thus, not even bother to make an issue of this deplorable societal dynamic.

    And another MNB user wrote:

    I suppose the next step is for all the stampeders to now sue W-M for false advertising, in that they advertised specials, then had to close the store down because of the idiots trying to get in trampled some poor man to death, thereby not really offering the items at the advertised prices.

    Just how do you train someone for crowd control anyway?

    Tragedy all around.

    I understand that there is going to be a good deal of cynicism about this case and the inevitable lawsuits that will result.

    But I don't even want to hear the words “frivolous lawsuit” used to describe any legal action in this case.

    Because there is nothing frivolous about this case. Nothing.

    Reacting to Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday, MNB user Ken Wagar wrote:

    There is a reason our parents have been referred to as part of “The Greatest Generation” and Kudos to Michael for taking his to the WWII Memorial. My parents are in poor health and won’t be able to make that journey which I firmly believe would mean so much to them. I’m very happy that Michael was both able and insightful enough to make it happen for his parents.


    KC's View: