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    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Now available on ITunes…

    To hear Kevin Coupe’s weekly radio commentary, click on the “MNB Radio” icon on the left hand side of the home page, or just go to:

    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, available on iTunes and sponsored this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    I want to talk to you this week about sandwiches.

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on the road a good deal working on a video project that will be shown at the CIES World Food Business Summit in New York this June. Our goal is, for a few minutes each day, to transport the retailer and manufacturer delegates beyond the conference hall in midtown Manhattan and give them a taste of innovative food retailing elsewhere in the US. The theme of the Summit is “Ingredients for Success,” and we’ll be identifying some of these ingredients in a series of videos.

    (By the way, if you haven't made plans to attend the CIES World Food Business Summit, I suggest you look into it…as always, there will be a fascinating array of speakers and subjects. How I weaseled my way into this august company I’ll never know...but we’ll be there, compliments of the video sponsor, JohnsonDiversey.)

    Anyway, back to sandwiches…

    I love them. Always have. There is something about the combination of various ingredients between two slices of bread that is just magical to me…hot or cold, simple or complex, there are few things I’d rather eat.

    (I include cheeseburgers in this category, because what else is a cheeseburger, really, than the perfect hot sandwich? And if sandwiches are number one in my book, pizza must be number one-a. Jimmy Buffett once said that pizza is the eighth deadly sin, and I concur, especially if you’re talking about the cherry bomb tomato and fennel sausage pizza made at Serious Pie in Seattle, or the salami Piccante with crispy Porcini pizza at Mario Battali’s Tarry Lodge in Port Chester, New York. But I digress…)

    At one point in our travels, we were visiting a Wegmans store…and I had one of the best crab cake sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. The chef there told me that when Wegmans went into the Maryland market, making a great crab cake became a top priority; they’d tried about 10 different variations, he said, and thought that they’d finally gotten it right.

    I’ll say. Too moist, and a crab cake falls apart. Too dry, and the flavor tends to be gone. Well, this one was just about perfect – flavorful and thick, served on a roll and with a side salad. If I’d had more time and less self-control, I would have eaten three of them.

    A few days later, we were at one of Norman Mayne’s outstanding Dorothy Lane Markets in Dayton, Ohio, where I ordered up a chipotle salmon sandwich at the open grill that sits next to the meat department at the back of the store. It was my pleasure to watch as the grill master lovingly basted the salmon with olive oil, explaining to me why it was important to do a little extra basting where the grill marks are. He finished it off with a dusting of chipotle seasoning and served it on a couple of slices of thick bread…and once again, I was in for a major taste experience, mouth filling and delicious.

    I didn’t think that these two sandwiches could be topped…but that was before I went to a Lunds Market in downtown Minneapolis, where I ate something truly remarkable. Get this – it was a sandwich made with smoked turkey, Jarlsberg cheese, a slice or two of bacon, topped with cranberry mayonnaise and served warm on toasted thick cinnamon bread.

    Now, I have to admit that the cinnamon bread sort of threw me when it was described…but it was amazing, with the sweetness of the bread and mayonnaise perfectly counteracting the saltiness of the bacon and turkey. I may not have done my cholesterol levels any good, but I sure was in a good mood the rest of the day and already am trying to figure out an excuse to return to Minneapolis. Short of that, once these travels have been completed, I intend to see if I can figure out how to replicate this sandwich at home. Anyone know where I can get some good cranberry mayonnaise?

    My goal here, however, is not just to make you – and me – hungry, though I must admit that it is taking amazing fortitude not to drool on the laptop keyboard.

    Rather, I want you to think of the retailing experience as a kind of sandwich. It isn’t so much the ingredients, but how you put them together, how you try to innovate within the boundaries of the basic concept. I’ve had crab cake sandwiches, salmon sandwiches, and turkey and Jarlsberg sandwiches before…but never served with the kind of care, panache and ingenuity that these sandwiches got.

    That’s got to be our goal, I think. Taking both familiar and unfamiliar ingredients and using every bit of creativity that we can muster to turn them into something special and memorable.

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio – where lunchtime cannot come soon enough – I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports on the food wars being waged in the nation’s courtrooms, as litigants and ambitious lawyers target manufacturers for selling products that they feel are either unhealthy and therefore responsible for people’s poor health, or are inaccurately or deceptively labeled.

    Defense lawyers seem to think that these court fights are far more about money than responsibility and decry the use of the legal system to create what they believe is a nanny society where nobody is deemed capable of looking out for themselves.

    According to the story, most of the court cases have come down in favor of the litigants, though there have been cases where judges have rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments. And the general conclusion seems to be that these cases are going to continue to be filed for the foreseeable future.

    KC's View:
    Maybe I’m being overly idealistic here, but it seems to me that we ought to be able to have a society in which clear and unambiguous labeling can exist without falling into the trap of allowing people to avoid personal responsibility. Maybe the legal system is structured in such a way that this kind of construct cannot be factored in, but if so, that’s too bad. The world is a complicated place, but there ought to be room for a legal principle that says, “You tell me the truth, and I’ll be responsible for myself.”

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    USA Today reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this week sent US Marshals to inspect a New Jersey company, Westco Fruit and Nuts, that received three shipments from Peanut Corp. of America (PCA) last year but has refused to recall any of the products that it made using those nuts.

    Peanuts shipped by PCA have been implicated in the salmonella-related sicknesses of almost 70 people and possibly in the deaths of as many as nine people.

    Westco is not commenting on why it has refused to recall the products, and experts tell USA Today that it is highly unusual for a company to not comply with an FDA recall request.

    KC's View:
    I read this story about the US Marshals being brought in, and all I could think of was Deputy Sam Gerard gathering around his people and saying, “Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive company has been avoiding this recall for a couple of months. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of that plant and every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Our fugitive’s name is Westco Fruit & Nuts. Go get ‘em.”

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Good piece from Reuters noting that the United States new Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws are raising hackles in Mexico and Canada, where beef and hog producers are concerned that they won’t be able to sell their animals in the US because of the new regulations.

    Some say that to make their jobs easier and labels simpler, some US manufacturers are refusing to buy meat and hogs from outside the US; there is no evidence, to this point, that US consumers prefer domestic beef and pork over the imported kind. And Walmart is quoted as saying that it doesn’t care where the meat is from, as long as it is properly labeled.

    Still, there is at least the threat of a trade war, with Mexico and Canada at last considering strategic closings of their markets to US beef and pork products.

    KC's View:
    It probably makes sense that it will take a bit of time for this all to shake out, and that markets might temporarily be restricted as US manufacturers figure out what works and what doesn’t. That doesn’t mean it will always be thus; at some point, the situation will work itself out and markets will be as open as they were in the past.

    For the moment, though, I continue to believe in the idea of COOL…because if recent history has shown us anything, it is that we cannot know too much about the origins of the foods we put in our mouths.

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Dow Jones reports that more than two years after binding arbitration began between Walmart’s Canadian operations and the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) there, a judge has essentially imposed a new contract that keeps wages and benefits where they are; a 30-cent per year raise, he said, will be used to offset union dues.

    Arbitration began after a single Walmart store in Saint-Hyacinthe, about an hour east of Montreal, was organized by its workers and joined the UFCW.

    Walmart said that the judge’s conclusion reinforced its long-held position that its wages and benefits are competitive and that union representation was unnecessary.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Fascinating story in the BBC about Brazil and its growth as a world power…and how, in many ways, its fortunes can be tied to the ambitions of one of its major supermarket chains, Pao de Acucar – which a decade ago set itself the very public goal of developing “supermarkets worthy of the First World.”

    Those were high ambitions for a company that then existed in a third world nation, but today, the BBC notes, Brazil is one of the “Bric” countries – “a handy acronym with Russia, India and China as one of the world's biggest emerging economies.”

    During that time, the BBC writes, Pao de Acucar has grown to 147 stores under its own name that cater to upscale shoppers, plus another 434 stores under other names that serve less affluent shoppers. The company has a 13.3 percent market share and is the second biggest retailer in Brazil.

    Of course, with that growth came global interest…and the once family-owned company now is owned by France’s Casino. “Globalisation,” the BBC< writes, “means that Brazilian firms can now compete internationally with developed-country rivals - but it also means that if you are successful, the ‘First World’ may come looking for a piece of the action.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    USA Today had a little nugget the other day about Fairfield, Connecticut, Dr. Kilbourn Gordon, who runs the Urgent Care Center there…and who has taken to giving his patients two kinds of treatments – the regular medical kind, and a package of chicken soup, which he apparently believes will be good both for their bodies and their souls.

    Gordon says that patients’ eyes tend to light up when they get the soup; he says he’d prefer to give them the homemade variety, but it wouldn’t be practical. (He also takes care to tell patients with blood pressure problems that the soup has a high salt content.)

    KC's View:
    This is a great idea…and a natural for supermarkets that have those in-store medical clinics.

    It would be so smart for these supermarkets to give their patients coupons for fresh or packaged chicken soup that they could redeem that day. Or maybe some other comfort food that would improve their spirits as well as improving their medical condition.

    Really good food stores, it seems to me, have the ability to minister to people’s stomachs, hearts and even their souls, if you believe in such things. Kudos to Dr. Gordon for figuring that out.

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Good Housekeeping magazine is getting into the food business, with a new line called Good Food pantry products that it is developing with Hearst Brand Development and Napa Valley-based private label manufacturer Tulocay & Company.

    The Good Housekeeping Good Food line is described as being “all natural, value-priced food products made with quality ingredients and designed for ease of use with 30 minutes or less meal suggestions … Pantry staples inspired by current trends, recipes from the Good Housekeeping test kitchen, as well as favored global cuisines make up the initial 25 product launch. The versatile collection features a medley of sauces that include steak, barbecue or marinades for grilling and roasting, as well as popular Asian and Mexican flavors, and pasta sauces, mustards and vinaigrettes/dressings.”

    KC's View:
    Probably a good idea for Hearst to be getting into a business other than mass media, since print is a dying form of communication.

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Wrigley’s Eclipse gum is under attack by rival manufacturer Cadbury and the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which claim that Eclipse’s claim that it kills the germs that cause bad breath is not scientifically supported; the council is recommending that Wrigley modify its ads immediately.

    Wrigley is not commenting on the charges, though it is appealing the recommendation to the National Advertising Review Board.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    • The United Fresh Produce Association announced that Ray Gilmer, formerly head of communications and public affairs at the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, has been hired as its new vice president of communications.

    • Golub Corporation/Price Chopper Supermarkets announced that it has hired Russell Zwanka to fill the newly created position of vice president of merchandising; he reports to Joe Kelley, vp of sales and merchandising.

    Russell comes to Price Chopper from the North West Company, where he held the position of executive vice president of procurement and marketing.

    KC's View:
    I actually know Russell Zwanka a little bit, having had the opportunity to visit with him once at North West Company’s headquarters in Canada. It was the middle of winter and most of my recollections are connected to the fact that I was about as cold as I ever have been during that visit…but that he was a warm and friendly guy who made the visit a pleasure.

    Price Chopper isn’t exactly located on a tropical island, but at least its upstate New York headquarters is unlikely to be quite as cold as northwestern Canada during the winter.

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    • Walmart said that its total March sales were $36.2 billion, down 1.9 percent from the same period a year ago. The decrease was largely due to a 14.8 percent decrease in international sales; Walmart US sales were up 2.6 percent and Sam’s Club sales were up 2.2 percent. Same store sales in the US division were up 0.8 percent without fuel, down 0.5 percent at Sam’s Club without fuel. And up 0.6 percent overall on the US.

    • BJ’s Wholesale Club said that its March sales were up 1.7 percent to $870.3 million, from $855.9 million during the same period a year ago. Same store sales were off 0.1 percent.

    • Target Corp. said that its March sales were down 2.3 percent to $5.5 billion, from $5.7 billion a year ago. Same store sales were down 5.3 percent.

    • Costco Wholesale said that its March sales were down three percent to $6.39 billion, on same-store sales that were down five percent.

    • Family Dollar Stores said that its fiscal second quarter showed a profit of $84.1 million, up considerably from the $63.3 million registered during the same period a year ago. Q2 sales rose 8.7 percent to $1.99 billion, on same-store sales that were up 6.4 percent.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    …for the fact that you are getting MNB so late this morning. I’m on the west coast, the hotel Internet was down, and it took time to find a Starbucks that was open before 5:50 am local time (8:30 am in the east).

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    MNB took note the other day of how CVS Caremark announced this week that it is expanding its partnership with Google Health, allowing its customers to have their pharmacy records and histories, including those from the retailer’s MinuteClinics, downloaded to their online accounts – an initiative designed to make such patient histories more accessible and complete.

    I commented that “if we could only get to the point where that information could be integrated with dietary and nutrition recommendations, so that the connections between food and medicine could be made even clearer and more actionable…That’s when the circle gets closed.”

    MNB user Vonnie Veldman thought I was thinking too small…

    You are missing the whole potential of this technology moving forward. My teenage daughter is treated at Mayo Clinic, a world renowned health provider, for neurological problems she was born with. On her recent follow-up visit I asked her doctor if it was possible to download her medical history to my local hospital and clinic computers, in the event she was hospitalized in an emergency. Made all the sense in the world to me that an ER doctor would have full access to how to treat her affliction rather than relying on me to accurately recite her meds and history in a time of crisis. His response was not comforting- that technology was not available, but the doctor could call whichever neurologist was on call at the time if guidance was needed. It seems to me that millions of people live with life threatening conditions who would benefit from the instant information system of the internet. I would pay a fee to participate in a network such as this, and I am likely not the only one.

    You’d think such a thing would exist. Just another piece of evidence that maybe our health system isn’t everything it is cracked up to be.

    Responding to our piece yesterday about Blockbuster looking into the abyss because of credit issues and heightened competition from the likes of iTunes and Netflix, MNB user Connie Montgomery wrote:

    Poor, Poor Blockbuster. It took them long enough to even think about
    throwing in the towel.

    There is not only Netflix as competition. I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in South Texas we have Redbox. We can rent the same movies for $1.00 a day; that is better than Netflix. Sure it is only 1 day rental, but you can keep longer, and they just bill your credit card. It does not hit the credit card until it is returned, and if you keep a certain amount of time, you can keep the movie at about $20.00, the cost of
    the DVD if you were to buy it. They have first run, you can put in a reserve first run online in advance, and pick up at the Red Box the day it is released. They have been here for 1 year now and I have never had any problems with them. And they are everywhere; Valero Corner Stores, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and many more. Just about every corner.

    How does Blockbuster compete with that???

    MNB user Bob Vereen chimed in:

    Another factor has to be the explosive growth of Red Box and another similar concept, which offer DVD rentals for $1.00 daily in locations such as Walmart stores, Kroger and dozens of other "convenient" retail locations. We've used both and find the convenience, as well as the cost, satisfying.

    You both make an excellent point. I forgot about Redbox…but have noted recently that I’ve been seeing it in more and more places. Thanks for filling in my blank.

    MNB user Erik Mortensen also had a thought:

    I felt compelled to tell you a story about my most recent visit to Blockbuster.

    First I couldn't agree more about their inability to adapt to a changing industry. But going even further I'd argue the employees and locations are inadequately armed to service customers that mostly rely on Netflix but when it's convenient grab a flick at Blockbuster.

    My most recent trip to a Blockbuster only came about because my wife and I were in the area and we didn't have a Netflix movie at home. I proposed stopping at and picking something up. The wife was staying in the car with our 1 year old and I was going to run in and pick something out. I found a title, shot through the line-less cue and approached the single check-out person. I present my movie and he asked for my Blockbuster card. I said I didn't have it, I hadn't been there in quite some time. I offered my driver's license to prove who I was and so that he may look me up in the system. He searched for my name, but no results were returned. I gave him my wife's name thinking it was probably under her name. Again, no results were found. He asked just how long has it been since we rented there. I told him it had probably been 2 years. His response was something like "oh, well then you're profile is purged from our system, I just need you to fill out this form again, we'll update the system again and then you can rent this movie". I told him to hell with it, I only stopped in because it SEEMED convenient at the time, but that I'd just go home and pick a movie from "On Demand".

    Now maybe some, or maybe most, people would have been fine filling out all the paperwork again, but agree with me or not, this scenario is being considered more and more inconvenient. In a Fast Food world where everything is available right now speed = convenience and to a large extent speed is the expectation.

    If Blockbuster has any chances of survival they must adapt and do it yesterday (there's the speed thing again!). They need to realize and accept that their customer's trips are and will become more sporadic and unpredictable. Between Netflix, movie downloads and now mandatory digital TV, people won't have a need for a weekly trip to rental stores.

    Blockbuster may survive in the short term, but I think it is a dead company walking.

    Finally, responding to yesterday’s story about Diageo creating a chilled cube for cold beer that can be installed in retail locations, one MNB user wrote:

    All I can think of when reading this article is the new Heineken commercial with the walk-in beer closet and the guys yelling while ladies are screaming on the walk in shoe closet. Now that is using a product to sell an experience……. Someone will have one of those for real before the end of the year, maybe one of those rich actors or ball players, but I bet someone will build one.

    You’re right – that is a laugh-out-loud funny commercial.

    And there is hardly a guy alive who didn’t “get it.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    There was an interesting story in the New York Times this week that I thought actually was about more than the writer intended.

    The subject was legal ticket scalping, and how it has become almost impossible in some venues to get tickets for concerts at face value. What seems to happen, in certain cases, is that tickets for a concert – U2 or Bruce Springsteen or Taylor Swift, for example – go on sale on Ticketmaster at 9 am on a Monday, and are sold out less than one minute later. Except that there are tickets available on other sites, some of them affiliated with Ticketmaster, where the prices are significantly higher.

    This practice is getting a lot of scrutiny, including from lawmakers who wonder if this is an abuse of the laws passed a few years ago legalizing scalping. I have a quick answer to that one – yes, it is. This is a consumer rip-off, and somebody ought to step in and stop it.

    But what worries me even more is that this practice seems to play into some of the trends that I think have helped create some of the cultural and financial issues with which we are dealing today – a sense of entitlement on the part of some, and the development of a have-and-have-not society.

    In this society, only certain people are allowed to go to concerts, just as only certain people are able to play the financial games that have brought the economy to the edge. It is, in my view, an unsustainable trend.

    You have to go no farther than the NY Mets home page to see how this development is shaping up. Sure, they say that tickets can be had for as little as $11…but very few tickets, as it happens. Most of them are far more expensive, and the Times had another piece this week detailing how the Mets have created a tiered pricing system that charges more for certain games, and that the number of games falling into the premium categories keeps increasing.

    And all this is taking place during a recession.

    Now, I understand that the Mets have a hefty payroll and a new stadium to pay for. (Though, as it happens, taxpayers apparently are helping to pay for that field through a variety of means, including the bailout of Citibank, which has its name on the edifice.) But I cannot help but think that by creating a pricing system that makes it possible only for some people to afford to go to a game, the Mets are disenfranchising and disenchanting a lot of their fans.

    Including me.

    Okay, it’s a business. I get it.

    And maybe it’s always been a have-and-have-not world.

    But it seems more so now. And I cannot help but think that organizations ranging from Ticketmaster to the NY Mets run the risk of shrinking their fan bases…and hence their customer bases…by taking such a short-sighted view of the importance of the average fan.

    If you want to figure out why the US automobile industry is in trouble, you don't have to go much further than getting behind the wheel of something called a Dodge Caliber – which, to be honest, is as much a piece-of-crap car as I ever have driven.

    Now, some might take offense at this characterization. For that, I’m sorry. But this is just an awful automobile – it feels cheap, the engine always feels like it is working hard, and the seats are uncomfortable. Sure, it has a lot of storage space in the back, but that doesn’t do you much good when you are in the front seat driving the thing.

    In fact, there’s only one reason that I can think of for this car to exist – so that the car companies have something cheap and worthless to sell to rental car companies, which is the only reason I drove one.

    Because I can’t imagine anyone else is buying one of these things.

    There was a piece in Advertising Age the other day about how “recession beards” are suddenly all the rage as guys decide to stop shaving – out of frustration, rebellion, defiance, boredom…or in some cases all of the above.

    Oddly enough, this trend seems to be good for the folks in the grooming business, who are seeing their sales go up even in a tough economy because guys are looking for products to help them trim and shape their beards. (Which seems like an appropriate prompt for me to promote my favorite product in this category – the Wahl 9877-500, which I’ve been using for years.)

    I have to admit that I find this funny. I’ve had my beard, admittedly in a variety of lengths, for most of my adult life. Had it before the recession and I’ll have to when prosperity returns. In fact, about the only thing that I think could get me to shave it off would be it turning completely grey or white.

    These guys who are growing beards because of the recession? Amateurs.

    A quick shout out to the folks at Oregon Dairy Industries, for their kind hospitality this week when I was in Oregon speaking to their annual conference. I felt bad for them – they’d planned to have the governor of Oregon and Craig Robinson, the Oregon State basketball coach who also happens to be Michelle Obama’s brother. But the governor couldn’t make it (I got the call about a month ago) and then Robinson ended up in the hospital, and was replaced on the agenda by wrestling coach Jim Zalesky.

    Good group, though, and they were nice to the utility players.

    I don't often do this, but I want to wish a “happy birthday” to Karen Hemphill. That’s probably not a name that you are familiar with, but Karen is the person at Webstop who makes sure the MNB Wake Up Call gets out every morning and handles all our subscription issues. She’s terrific, she’s patient with me, and I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge her.

    Did you see the story this week about how scientists are quickly closing in on developing a technology that would allow people to erase specific memories or even bad habits from their brains, by altering the “memory molecule” that all people have?

    Wild stuff.

    And yet, as I read the story, it occurred to me that I’d read it before…and then it came to me. Isn’t this the plot of the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Sharon Stone movie, “Total Recall”?

    I have two wines to recommend to you this week…

    The 2004 Captain’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate, which is a lusciously rich red deserving of a big meal and slow drinking.

    And the 2002 Conundrum California White Table Wine, which is one of those great white wines that seems to get better with age.

    Finally, speaking of wine and birthdays, it was somewhat sobering to find out that Francis Ford Coppola – filmmaker (“The Godfather”) and winemaker – turned 70 years old this week.


    KC's View:

    Published on: April 9, 2009

    Tomorrow being Good Friday, Mrs. Content Guy and the sole Content Kid still at home have the day off from school…so we’re going to take the day off, too.

    We’ll be back Monday morning, bright and early (or at least semi-bright and sort of early), with an all-new edition of MNB.

    Have a great weekend.


    KC's View: