retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Earlier this week, MNB took note of a story from HealthDay News that revisited an old debate – whether or not pregnant women and nursing mothers should restrict the amount of seafood they eat because of concerns about mercury toxicity and its impact on children’s developing nervous systems. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says they should – that they need to avoid fish that may be higher in mercury levels and eat a total of no more than 12 ounces a week.

However, the opposite argument – that seafood actually is critical for proper neural development – is gaining currency, with some pretty strong evidence that the more seafood moms eat, the better their children do in tests of their mental functions and moor skills. Still, it was noted, in the United States the debate seems entirely academic – since not that many Americans eat 12 ounces of seafood a week, let along expectant and nursing mothers.

The story prompted the following email from Jennifer McGuire, MS, RD, who is Manager of Nutrition Communication with the National Fisheries Institute:

Regarding your article, “Debate Persists about How Much Fish Women Should Eat,” you are correct that Americans eat far too little fish to gain health benefits, let alone approach a level of concern. Recent US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data shows that the average pregnant woman in this country eats 1.89 ounces of fish a week, over six times less than the amount associated with optimal brain development in babies.

Island cultures like the Seychelles that eat fish-rich diets – nearly 17 ounces per week – have been studied for decades and researchers consistently find no pattern of negative effects among children.

The science is quite clear and compelling, but where much of the “debate” comes in is the way in which the science has been poorly and incompletely communicated to moms. The federal guidance on this issue was meant to encourage seafood as an important part of the diet, especially during pregnancy, and advise against four rarely consumed or available predatory fish – shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish.

Unfortunately, studies show the guidance was coarsely interpreted by the media and moms as a warning to limit or avoid all fish.

In light of studies that reveal the risks of suboptimal brain development from a seafood- and omega-3-defidcient diet, the FDA is currently exploring a new approach to this debate that looks at the whole picture – the risks of eating plenty of fish versus the risks of limiting or avoiding fish for both brain development and heart health.

In the meantime, it is very important that we at least accurately characterize the current guidance. In your article, you advise avoidance of albacore tuna. However, this is a misinterpretation of federal advice, which clearly states that half of pregnant moms’ 12 weekly ounces of fish can be albacore tuna. Canned albacore tuna is rich in omega-3s, affordable, and available, so it is important to be clear to pregnant moms that six ounces per week is safe and healthy.

I ask that you clarify this point to your readers, and offer myself to your publication as a credentialed resource on this topic moving forward.

Point taken. Point made.

Just one thing, though. I’ll accept the criticism that perhaps I coarsely interpreted the guidance on tuna…but it was never my intention to advise anyone to do anything. That role is left to people far smarter than I.

I continue to get email about my skepticism of the hand-held technology being tested by Stop & Shop…and one letter comes from Mike Grimes of Modiv Media, which developed the system being tested by Stop & Shop:

It’s true that the “scan-n-bag” solution is not news. But the benefit everyone … missed is both new and unique: relevant and exclusive offers that the device delivers to shoppers while they shop. People like to talk about recipes and nutritional information but what many shoppers really want from a supermarket is a quick, efficient trip and ways to save money on products that matter to them that don’t require sifting through reams of generic offers.

I’d be happy to give you a personal tour of the system in a store near you if you want. Just let me know.

Deal. And I promise that I’ll write about what I see and think after the tour. (Not that you’d expect anything less.) I’ll do my best to be objective, and we’ll let the chips fall where they may.

I’m hardly alone in my skepticism, by the way. One MNB user wrote:

The speed goes away when the customer is audited; the customer can even be offended by the audit. The retailer determines their threshold for risk and can set the frequency of the audits. The software is usually set up to audit less frequently depending on the accuracy of the audit. It is my belief that these solutions are not as fast as using an experienced cashier.

Regarding the continuing legislative attacks on the use of the making of baby bottles and other food containers with bisphenol-A, or BPA, which some scientists believe poses health risks to children, in the making of baby bottles and other food containers, one MNB user responded to my observation that BPA is “over,” whether manufacturers like it or not:

BPA isn’t over until the FDA says it’s over. If a manufacturer makes a baby bottle and labels it BPA-free…I’ll bet the FDA requires a disclaimer statement in close proximity that says, “The FDA has determined there is no difference between baby bottles made with BPA and those made without BPA.”

Probably. Which is depressing.

We had a story yesterday about JM Smucker lowering prices on its Folgers coffee, which is expected to pressure Kraft to do the same with its Maxwell House brand…and I wondered it of this presaged more price cuts by manufacturers that have been resisting entreaties to do so by retailers.

MNB user Dan Jones responded:

With products like ground coffee, canned tuna, vegetable oil etc., their pricing is driven largely by raw material ingredient costs. They are not commodities (they are branded, after all), but the pricing on these items has been more volatile than most CPG items. I would not look to these categories as a harbinger of significant pricing changes. Now, if more value-added brands begin to lower prices (breakfast cereals, snack chips, salad dressings, etc) we may be on to something.
KC's View: