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    Published on: January 20, 2009

    Some call it the “downturn diet,” but the Los Angeles Times refers to it as the “back-to-basics bailout diet” – according to the paper, “the quest for a healthful and cost-conscious diet suggests Americans will be eating more meals cooked at home, upping their produce and whole-grain intake and eschewing sodium.” In other words, it won’t just be choices dictated by price tags – though value will continue to be an important factor when people walk the aisles of their local supermarkets.

    Joan Salge Blake, clinical assistant professor of nutrition at Boston University, tells the Times that “when people eat at home, they're often likely to eat more healthfully,” and she cites “a number of recent food industry innovations -- pre-cooked rice in a bag, clean and chopped fresh vegetables and fruits, including the microwave-in-bag varieties -- that are facilitating the consumption of quick but nutritious meals at home.”

    Greg Drescher, executive director of strategic initiatives for the Culinary Institute of America in Greystone, Calif., tells the Times that Americans have a much more sophisticated approach to healthful eating than they did five or 10 years ago, realizing that there are no "magic bullet" foods (i.e. oats) or food types (i.e. low-fat versions of foods) and “instead embracing a more holistic approach to healthful eating, one that emphasizes variety and whole, less-processed foods.”

    KC's View:
    When combined with a recession-driven need to save a buck wherever possible, the news appears to be good for the supermarket industry…if the industry is willing to take advantage of the current scenario.

    There are so many opportunities to take advantage of – in the best possible sense – with the convergence of so many concerns at this point in time. Supermarkets can do it, without engaging in lowest-common-denominator marketing, and still appealing to the better angels of our nature.

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    It was about a week ago that Wegmans announced the availability of free generic oral antibiotics prescribed by doctors until the end of March, a program that also has been implemented by companies that include Stop & Shop, Giant Food and Safeway.

    However, the program was not universally lauded, with some public health experts noting that the overuse of antibiotics is a significant problem, reducing their effectiveness overall.

    It was interesting that Wegmans took note of the objections…and in an email a few days ago, Mary Ellen Burris , the company’s Sr. Vice President of Consumer Affairs, wrote the following:

    “When our announcement came out about providing free antibiotics, the response was both positive and negative. Positives came from those who were often not able to afford the prescribed drug. Negatives came mostly from health professionals who are trying to inform patients/parents that antibiotics do nothing for most coughs and colds, except cause an ever-increasing problem with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Among those concerned, one stood out: Nancy Boyer, RN, nurse practitioner at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She started her communication to us with, ‘What, are you nuts???’ She offered to write a paragraph on what to do if your kid has an earache, cough and cold instead of insisting on a drug. So we took her up on the offer and we're sending her ‘paragraph’ to you.”

    And then, Wegmans posts in full Boyer’s suggestions for how to deal with a variety of cough and cold symptoms without antibiotics, including the caution, “Antibiotics do not help a child with a cold or cough sleep through the night.

    “Unless told by your healthcare provider that your child needs antibiotics, for the long term good of your child, do not insist upon them. Antibiotics will not be effective and may cause the beginning of antibiotic-resistant bacteria … The body has an amazing ability to heal if given the right combination of time, fluids, rest and reassurance.”

    KC's View:
    This is just so smart…because it is completely and utterly transparent…treating customers like adults, explaining the situation and options, and then putting the decision-making in the hands of the shoppers and their physicians.

    I could be wrong about this, but it is hard to imagine any other retailer that would go out of its way to post information that appears to be contrary to one of its promotional programs.

    Smart move.

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    Excellent piece in USA Today about counterfeit foods – products masquerading as “something else” that manufacturers have deliberately mislabeled so they can add to their bottom lines.

    Among the products mentioned in the piece: seafood, described as “the most frequently faked food Americans buy”; olive oil, in which there are cases where products labeled as 100 percent extra virgin olive oil is actually 90 percent soybean oil; as well as honey, maple syrup and vanilla.

    It is expected that the frequency of such foods finding their way into markets and homes is likely to increase as the economic downturn continues.

    KC's View:
    This is yet another argument for transparency and a new labeling paradigm, because it will reassure customers that they are getting what they are paying for.

    Retailers should push for such improved transparency…since they are, in an ideal world, the customer’s agent to the manufacturing community.

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    The Boston Globe this morning reports that federal health authorities have confirmed that salmonella has been found in a single package of Kellogg’s Austin Quality Foods peanut butter crackers, and that General Mills is recalling some products because of food safety concerns.

    According to the story, “Food companies and retailers have been recalling products with peanut butter in them because of suspicion of contamination amid a salmonella outbreak that has killed at least six people and sickened more than 470 others in 43 states. At least 90 people have been hospitalized.

    “Also yesterday, Midwestern grocer and retailer Meijer Inc. said it was recalling two types of crackers and two varieties of ice cream because of the possibility of salmonella contamination: Meijer brand Cheese and Peanut Butter and Toasty Peanut Butter sandwich crackers, and Peanut Butter and Jelly and Peanut Butter Cup ice cream.

    “Golden Valley, Minn.-based General Mills said in a news release yesterday that it was recalling two flavors of snack bars: LARABAR Peanut Butter Cookie snack bars and JamFrakas Peanut Butter Blisscrisp snack bars. The company said the recall affected 15,000 cases and no illnesses have been reported.”

    Most peanut butter sold in jars at supermarkets is said to be safe, with attention being focused on peanut paste and peanut butter made at Peanut Corp. of America's plant in Blakely, Ga.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    The Tampa Bay Business Journal reports that Delhaize-owned Sweetbay Supermarkets plans to close seven of its 107 locations in western Florida, though the company still plans to open three new stores this year.

    According to the story, “the stores are closing for a variety of reasons … that include market conditions, geography, performance and pending lease renewals.”

    Interestingly, the story runs as the Orlando Business Journal reports that Albertsons is closing three stores in Florida – a state that has been hard-hit by the economic downturn.

    KC's View:
    In tough times, you have to clear away the dead wood. Hard to say, harder to do. But you don't really have any choice.

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    In upstate New York, the Democrat and Chronicle reports that PriceRite and Tops Markets are investing millions of dollars to expand in the Rochester area, hoping to capitalize on what they believe is a public perception that the market’s dominant supermarket, Wegmans, has high prices … which isn’t the best positioning during a recession.

    According to the story, “PriceRite will open its third Rochester-area store in less than a year this February, and Tops announced in late 2008 that it plans to open seven to 10 new locations, some in Rochester, by 2014.

    “Those companies are investing millions here even as Wegmans holds onto an unusually large slice of the market share. In a survey of 2,013 people between August 2007 and July 2008, Scarborough Research found that 76 percent of respondents had shopped at Wegmans in the past week, followed by Wal-Mart Supercenters at 40 percent and Tops at 38 percent.

    “Wal-Mart, which has six locations including four supercenters in Monroe County, has plans for at least three more supercenters in the Rochester area.”

    In addition to emphasizing price, Tops seems to be focusing on opening stores in areas not served by Wegmans, with stores smaller and more neighborhood-focused than it believes Wegmans can deliver. Wegmans, for its part, isn’t conceding anything, and is emphasizing lowered prices on hundreds of everyday items.

    KC's View:
    The simple fact is that competition is good, competition keeps you sharp, and competition keeps you from getting complacent. After all, as someone once said, “Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make bored.”

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    In Pennsylvania, the Patriot-News reports that Carlisle-based Giant Food Stores plans to open two convenience stores with gas stations, which the company says “are sort of a natural extension of Giant's success selling gas.”

    The units will open in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, region, and will offer users the ability to take advantage of the chain’s popular gas rewards program.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Tesco CEO Terry Leahy says that consumer demand stabilized during November and December after a precipitous drop during October…but that it remains to be seen how the beginning of 2009 will pan out.

    "The situation hasn't worsened in the last few months," Leahy tells the Journal. "Whether that's a floor or a ledge, it's hard to say." However, he concedes that “2009 is going to be a difficult year.”

    • Published reports say that Tesco has opened a new low-carbon store in Manchester, England, that will use between 50 and 70 percent less energy than a similar energy-efficient store that was unveiled three years ago.

    According to one report, the store has a lighting system that dims individual bulbs in response to changes in natural light, and that cools refrigerators with carbon dioxide. Checkout counters are said to be made of recycled plastic.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    In Canada, the Weekly Albertan reports that the Calgary City Council is considering the possibility of legislating some sort of “green” alternative to disposable plastic bags, ranging from banning them altogether to levying a tax on them. Other alternatives also are being put forth by the council and interested observers – such as ramped up recycling programs – but the momentum seems to be some sort of public policy solution to the problem of excess waste.
    KC's View:
    If I recall correctly, Calgary was once named by Forbes as one of the world’s cleanest cities. Good to see them grabbing this particular bull by the horns.

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    Brand Week reports that General Mills, Kraft and Kellogg are all focusing on the good taste of fiber front and center of new advertising campaigns for high-fiber products such as Fiber One Frosted Shredded Wheat cereal, South Beach Living Fiber Fit cookies and granola bars, and FiberPlus Antioxidant bars.

    The approach “comes at a time when New Year’s resolutions are at their peak, and fiber, which is touted not just as a way to increase regularity but also for its ability to let consumers stave off hunger, has supplanted weight loss fads like low-carb, low-sugar and low-fat diets.” However, there also seems to be a recognition of the fact that taste matters, perhaps more than ever, and that making it “young and sexy” is the best way to give it legs.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “a global slump in demand for beer may be more severe than expected and that emerging markets such as Russia and China can no longer be relied on to drive growth.” Traditionally seen as recession-resistant, the beer industry reportedly is looking at much tougher than usual market conditions. The evidence? SABMiller, the world’s second largest brewer, posted a one percent drop in beer volume for the most recent quarter, and Carlsberg reportedly is cutting 274 jobs as a way of getting cost efficient in a tough market.

    Meanwhile, the New York Times reports this morning that Anheuser-Busch InBev and Heineken “are preparing efforts to reach beer drinkers who have been watching their spending since the recession began,” using celebrities – Conan O’Brien and actor John Turturro, respectively – for humorous ad spots that they hope will generate enthusiasm for their brands.

    KC's View:
    I’m not nuts about the John Turturro ads, but I’m willing to do my part to help the global beer market. It’s a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    • The Associated Press reports that “after more than 110 years, H.J. Heinz Co. is giving the tomato top billing on its namesake ketchup and bumping the pickle from the label of one of America's most iconic brands.

    “Bottles of the market-leading ketchup with the new label are shipping now and should arrive in stores this week. The image of a single, large, vine-ripened tomato is much larger than the pickle it's replacing and better reflects what's inside the bottle,” according to the company.

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that “Kraft Foods Inc. and Procter & Gamble Co. … have settled lawsuits alleging patent infringement on coffee containers. In a series of suits over the last two years, P&G claimed Kraft had copied packaging from P&G's Folgers Coffee. Kraft, maker of Maxwell House coffee, made counterclaims against P&G.” Now, according to reports, everything has been settled amicably, efficiently and pragmatically with both sides agreeing to play well with others.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    • Belgium-based Delhaize Group said that its fourth quarter sales were up 16 percent to the equivalent of $7.1 billion (US). The company, which generates about two-thirds of its revenue in the US, said that US same-store sales were up 2.9 percent for the quarter.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    Regarding the ongoing legal battle between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Whole Foods, in which regulators continue to try to unravel the retailer’s acquisition of Wild Oats more than a year ago, MNB user Cleve Young wrote:

    I agree that the FTC issue with Whole Foods is absolutely absurd. But I do have to question if a change in the Presidential administration and therefore a change in FTC leadership will change either this specific case or prevent others like it. While this is a broad statement I do think Democrats in general have always shown a much higher proclivity to be willing to stick their noses into the marketplace and try to direct companies to do what they think is best instead of letting the marketplace decide. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are usually professional politicians first and business savants last, with their decisions being based upon their political agenda and not market realities.

    MNB user Jessica Duffy wrote:

    Whole Foods Market is actually competing against most other grocery store formats. They have worked hard to lose the “Whole Paycheck” nickname with highly competitive private label offerings and to do that they are in direct competition with Stop and Shop, Shaw’s, and Trader Joe’s (at least in this part of the northeast). The specific purpose of the Whole Deal campaign was to show where Whole Foods is competitively priced with even “conventional” grocery stores. And many of those conventional grocery stores jack up their prices of many natural and organic foods – a full dollar more of kashi, $1.99 for San Pellegrino water at Stop and Shop compared to $1.19 at Whole Foods. The FTC should be taking them to court for price gauging.

    And if Whole Foods is more expensive in some categories, it is because there are so many fun, diverse, wonderful products and foods to buy. Of course, a box of mac and cheese with real cheese instead of corn syrup solids, and non-bleached pasta instead of chemically whitened pasta often has to cost at least a little more. Real food is more expensive than processed by-products. “Spend it now or pay it to the Doctor later.”

    And also, just rebranding stores as Wild Oats again isn’t going to solve the problem. Whole Foods has put millions of dollars into upgrading those stores before putting their name on them. A few of them were so old and run-down that they couldn’t be refurbished. I know you’ve said it for me, but who is the moron in the FTC who has nothing better to do?

    In the interest of transparency, it should be noted that Jessica Duffy is a Whole Foods customer service supervisor in the North Atlantic region.

    At one point last week, commenting on a story about the FTC’s consideration of regulations on advertising certain products to children, I wrote:

    Frankly, I’m surprised the FTC has time to do anything about children’s television advertising, given its Javert-like obsession with unraveling the Whole Foods-Wild Oats merger.

    Which led MNB user Richard Thorpe to respond:

    I think you missed the boat on this one.

    Okay - I had to Google "Javert" (“Les Miserables” was read so long ago) so let me give you a well done on the literary reference and an "F" on not commenting on how poorly "self-regulation" of children's advertising is doing. On those few occasions when the grandchildren are overnighters and they watch their Saturday morning cartoons (limited TV time)- Sugar frosted cereal as a healthy breakfast, one wonders. Look at the members cited in the article - chocolate drinks - colas - fast food, candy et al. To think that self regulation would work any better with these folks than it did with cigarettes, drugs or hey - How about our banks and brokerage houses - is patently absurd. They will not self regulate beyond a few token messages. Let's not denigrate someone at the FDA who is actually trying to do the correct job because some idiot has a "you know what" for the Whole Foods issue.

    That being said it is still Mom and Dad who must be held responsible for what their children eat, watch and the activities they participate in.

    We continue to get email about how some retailers continue to be closed on Sundays, which I described last week as kind of like fighting a 15-round boxing match without raising your fists in the seventh and fourteenth rounds.

    MNB user Glen Terbeek wrote:

    We shop faithfully at a "store" that is only open 4 hours a week. It is called the farmers market. It is down the street from two supermarkets and it sometimes takes us 10 minutes to find a parking place. It is very busy. All vendors need to be certified organic.

    First of all, the shopping experience is terrific. Even if we have house guests, we go since it turns out to be enjoyable for them as well. We are dealing with vendors that know their products (in most cases they grew the product) , and know their customers. We know them by first names and they know us as well. They will help pick out which items are ripe today or for future use. There is sampling galore.

    We see many of our friends there as well and we easily spend $50-$60 a week for the two of us. In addition, the farmers market supports the local public school in our village.

    So I guess if you create a significant differentiating value proposition, opening hours are not so important. Shoppers will adjust to the hours, if the offering is compelling.

    The question is, what can existing retailers learn from this?

    P.S. This "store" is opened Sunday mornings from 9 AM to 1 PM.

    Which only goes to reinforce the point I also made last week – that isn’t so much when you are open, as what you have to offer when you are open.

    MNB user R. Dale Blotter wrote:

    I was delighted with all the positive feedback you received on the Fareway Sunday close policy. I was going to send my own comments on the subject but decided why bother, no one cares anymore about Sunday as a day of religious observance and a day of rest from our everyday hustle and bustle. It was a very pleasant surprise to see that so many of your readers had similar views to what I was feeling. I think we truly lost something precious as a society when retail became a 7 day a week preoccupation.

    With the whole Blackberry cult we have become an always on society where people feel compelled to pay attention to business everyday, 24/7 instead of spending time with family, friends our in pursuit of some worthwhile outside interests. If we are to develop the reflection and perspective that you often write about in your articles about retailers taking the time to think and observe in order to have the insights into the consumer and their businesses that are needed to succeed, maybe we need more retailers to adopt such policies. Perhaps also, a lot of retailers wouldn’t be in the economic mess they are today if our society was a little less focused on spending and buying and consumer debt.

    Everyone thought the merry go round would never stop but just go faster and faster.

    I got beaten up a little bit last week because of my boxing metaphor, which led one MNB user to write:

    Thankfully we live in a part of the world where we all get to have an opinion, and individually support that opinion with our dollars. If closed on Sunday works in that region- it will be successful. If not - it won't- or might change. That's the beauty of the system.

    The beauty of your system is that you get to report it - comment on it - and I get to read about it - and decide for myself.

    Respectful dissenting should be expected from your readers, and an opportunity to try and change your mind is (and should be) part of the "contract" between us.

    Thanks. But I never mind getting beaten up a bit. I have a thick hide, and I learn a lot.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    Content Guy’s Note: Last Friday, due to a technical error, the ‘Your Views” section was not online for most of the day, and the “OffBeat” commentary actually ran twice.

    (In this case, to be absolutely transparent, “technical error” is a euphemism for the Content Guy screwing up when he was cutting and pasting on Friday morning. Oops. Sorry about that.)

    Anyway, for those of you who want to read the emails that finally got posted late Friday afternoon, here they are…

    On Thursday, MorningNewsBeat reported that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is proposing that fish be renamed “sea kittens,” suggesting that such a change will increase awareness of fish feelings and cause people to stop catching and eating fish.

    My comment, in part:

    I think it is fair to say that PETA has completely taken leave of its senses.

    This is, just to keep things in perspective, the same group that urged Ben & Jerry’s to start making its ice cream with human breast milk instead of cow’s milk because milking cows is inherently cruel. (Of course, I can't imagine that an un-milked cow would feel all that comfortable, but that’s apparently not important.)

    To be clear here, I am not in favor of wanton cruelty to animals. Ever. I believe that fishing has to be done both responsibly and sustainably. (And I know a little bit about this, having just completed a video project about seafood that will be shown at next month’s CIES Food Safety Conference in Barcelona.)

    But fish are food, preferably, in my view, blackened and very spicy. Kittens are not. (Historically, that’s probably because it is tough to get the fur out of your teeth. Though if the recession turns into a depression, kitten stew could become a real delicacy…)

    There are some animal welfare issues out there that PETA could grapple with that would not reduce its credibility and image as a radical fringe organization. This isn’t one of them.

    This generated some responses.

    MNB user Amelia Kirchoff wrote:

    ”Though if the recession turns into a depression, kitten stew could become a real delicacy…)” That statement is in really bad taste. Think before you write.

    I know this may come as a surprise, but I actually thought long and hard before I wrote that. The “kitten stew” and “fur in the teeth” lines actually were the jokes that were in good taste…I’ll let you speculate about the others.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I’m not one of those people that feel the need to call a fish “a fish.” That being said, I like my Sea Kittens beer-battered with a side of fries.

    Thanks for an always entertaining jump-start to the morning.

    MNB user Wayne Godwin wrote:

    You’re sure to get a load of feedback on your PETA article, some good, some bad, but either way, let me know when you’re appearing at a comedy club, or Vegas, that was very funny!

    Not sure about Vegas, but…I can tell you that I appear here, Mondays through Fridays …and there’s no cover charge. Bring your own margaritas!

    MNB user Steve Read wrote:

    Oh, oh. Kevin, while I am sitting here laughing out loud, I bet that you are going to get some nasty emails regarding your “tasteless” comment on kitten stew!

    Actually, a lot fewer than you'd think. MNB, after all, has a pretty depraved audience.

    Which sort of answers the next email:

    Let us know next week what the score card on outrage was for this one. As a person who lives with a number of cats, I thought the line about the fur in the teeth was hilarious.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Finally – the good old non-PC Kevin of the past has returned! Welcome back.

    Never left.

    And MNB user Bob Vereen may get the prize for the funniest response…which actually referred to the previous Ben & Jerry’s/breast milk story:

    If Ben & Jerry is going to use human breast milk, how does one apply for milking chores?

    In a more serious vein, one MNB reader wrote:

    Members of PETA had just better hope they never get lice, since they would not in good conscience be able to rid themselves of these living beings. And I guess anti bacterial soap is out.

    Seems to me that plants (vegetables) are living beings, and scientific research shows that they grow better when exposed to music. If PETA is advocating vegetarianism, their members might want to consider the feelings of the vegetables they eat, too.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    …will be posted on Wednesday this week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    In the NFL Conference Championships last weekend…

    Philadelphia Eagles 25
    Arizona Cardinals 32

    Baltimore Ravens 14
    Pittsburgh Steelers 23

    This means that on February 1, the Steelers will face the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. For the moment, it looks like the Steelers are seven-point favorites.

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 20, 2009

    MorningNewsBeat welcomes Bunzl Distribution to our outstanding roster of Bunzl continues a longtime focus on packaging alternatives its customers need to support their green efforts.

    Whether it's foodservice packaging or green chemicals that have less of an environmental impact, Bunzl is a terrific source of products that fall into three categories - products that are recyclable, products that are from manufacturers utilizing sustainable production practices, and products that are certified "green."

    For more information about Bunzl’s important and timely “green” efforts that also can aid your bottom line, go to:

    KC's View: