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    Published on: April 17, 2009

    In the more than seven years that MorningNewsBeat has been posted on a daily basis, there have been countless stories and even more emailed responses to them – but this may be the first time that “Your Views” is the lead story.

    The reason? Yesterday there was a story on MNB that generated a number of emails, many of them similar … and these emails may illustrate an industry-wide condition that needs to be assessed and corrected…if indeed a correction is even possible.

    The story concerned Domino’s Pizza, and read, in part:

    “Two Domino’s Pizza employees have been hit with felony charges after they deliberately contaminated food that they were making, and then posted video of their acts on … The videos were seen more than a million times on YouTube.”

    The antics, according to the New York Times, included an employee who “prepared sandwiches for delivery while putting cheese up his nose, nasal mucus on the sandwiches, and violating other health-code standards while a fellow employee provided narration.”

    Beyond the obviously awful behavior of these two young people, there has been criticism of how long it took Domino’s management to react to the issue. I commented that I was not sure what they could have done that would have been reassuring the shoppers, and wrote:

    “On the other hand, this is a great opportunity for supermarkets to advertise ‘guaranteed mucous-free pizza.’”

    This final line was the one that seemed to grab people’s attention…but not the way I intended.

    MNB user Jerry Sheldon wrote:

    Would consumers believe a grocery store advertising guaranteed salmonella free pistachios or peanuts? I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but food safety affects everyone, and though I suspect you meant your comment tongue-in-cheek, the next grocery store scare is right around the corner. Seems like over the last few years, we’ve been good for a major issue at least once per quarter.

    MNB user Mark Wright wrote:

    How would the supermarkets know, any more than Domino’s “knew”?

    And another MNB user wrote:

    What in heaven’s name makes you think Supermarkets can guarantee mucous free pizza – they can’t guarantee any product is safe from practical jokes or angry employees. The Domino’s situation goes undiscovered regularly – I’m sure you’ve sent a steak back to the kitchen.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    You missed the issue. Any food safety issue hurts everybody, even the most careful and diligent. Ask anybody in the peanut, cilantro or tomato business how bad press hurt them.

    For the average consumer they'll paint with the same brush Subway, Pizza Hut, Papa John's, etc.; anywhere where low paid employees assemble food for delivery.

    And your sophomoric comments don't help but fan the flames.

    This is an industry issue now, not just Domino's.

    Exactly. (And I don’t even mind that you thought my little joke was “sophomoric.” At least I didn’t make the same joke that another MNB user did, suggesting that at supermarkets, “boogers cost extra.”)

    These were just some of the emails received by MNB on this subject, and the majority of them took the same position – that my joke about mucous-free pizza ignored the reality that none of us really know what is in any of the foods we get from supermarkets.

    Which makes me wonder if we’ve begun to approach some sort of tipping point when it comes to food safety assumptions. Whether the constant barrage of food safety incidents – spinach, tomatoes, peanuts, pistachios, rats at Taco Bell, etc… - has finally gotten us to the point where we don't trust anyone. If true, this could create enormous problems and challenges for the food industry, which could find itself playing defense in a variety of theaters.

    And if not true today, is it possible that reaching this tipping point, where automatic distrust of the foods we eat and the systems that produce them, is inevitable?


    This is the situation in which we find ourselves. Nothing funny about it. And worrisome, since – to quote a Latin proverb used before here on MNB - “trust like the soul never returns once it goes.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    In New Orleans, the Times-Picayune reports that Winn-Dixie has begun a new marketing campaign that relies on testimonials by local suppliers, staffers and customers.

    According to the story, the company “has focused on remodeling and reopening stores since Katrina, and Winn-Dixie believes this is the right time to remind the local community of the chain's commitment to being here.”

    KC's View:
    It is a personal prejudice, but I always like campaigns such as these. Done right, they can be enormously effective. (Though I fully expect the usual barrage of anti-Winn-Dixie emails to come in now that I’ve said something nice about the company.)

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    The New York Times this morning reports that some companies in the food industry are taking food safety matters into their own hands: “With huge losses from food-poisoning recalls and little oversight from the federal Food and Drug Administration, some sectors of the food industry are cobbling together their own form of regulation in an attempt to reassure consumers. They are paying other government agencies to do what the F.D.A. rarely does: muck through fields and pore over records to make sure food is handled properly.

    “These do-it-yourself programs may provide an enhanced safety level in segments of the industry that have embraced them. But with industry itself footing the bill, some safety advocates worry that the approach could introduce new problems and new conflicts of interest. And they contend that the programs lack the rigor of a well-run federal inspection system.”

    KC's View:
    It is hard to imagine at this point in time, despite the good intentions of these self-regulatory efforts, that they are an adequate replacement for tougher and more consistent federal regulation that is rooted in transparency and traceability.

    And I would repeat the concern mentioned in our lead story this morning. What worries me is that we could end up being too late.

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart executives are seeing increased unionization activity in their stores, which makes sense since it is generally believed that the current Congress and the Obama administration are more union-friendly than their predecessors.

    According to the story, “Since February, about 60 UFCW organizers have been dispatched to more than 100 Wal-Mart stores in 15 states to get workers to sign union-authorization cards … Meanwhile, the UFCW plans to fly about 100 pro-union Wal-Mart workers to Washington this month to lobby members of Congress on the pending legislation, known as Employee Free Choice Act,” which would make it easier to organize non-union companies.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    Interesting piece in Forbes that asks what Americans are willing to give up as they grapple with the recession. “While some purchases--including mortgage payments, children's clothing and educational expenses--were considered necessities by Americans, other everyday costs were not,” Forbes writes. Among the conclusions:

    • “An overwhelming 82% said that dining out would be easy to abandon,” with both high end and fast food restaurants feeling the pinch.

    • “Americans are also cutting back on entertainment outside of the home. By this time last year, Major League Baseball had sold 1 million more tickets. During the first week of April 2009, Broadway ticket sales declined $1 million, to $16.9 million, compared with the same period last year.”

    • “Despite the trend toward locally produced and organic foods, Americans are cutting back on pricey groceries. The Organic Trade Association in Greenfield, Mass., says that while it expects growth in the sector for 2009, organic food sales will likely slow to single digit growth. By contrast, for the last decade, organic sales have grown between 17% and 21% each year.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    The Pittsburgh Business Times reports that Giant Eagle has launched a new discount program that gives customers who use their frequent shopper cards a one percent discount off their grocery basket for every 10 gallons of gasoline bought at one of the company’s gas stations.

    According to the story, “The rebate is good for up to $60, or 20 percent, on a single trip's purchase total of $300. Any remaining discount would be held until the shopper's next visit.

    “Giant Eagle has long offered 10-cent-per-gallon discounts on gas per $50 of groceries purchased.”

    "We realize that in more difficult economic times, customers are carefully watching how they spend their dollars, even on necessities like food and fuel," Brett Merrell, senior vice president of marketing, said in a statement.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    Ethisphere is out with its annual list of the world’s most ethical companies, a group of companies that it says is distinguished by their individual; approaches to corporate citizenship and responsibility, corporate governance, innovation that contributes to public well-being, executive leadership and regulatory track record.

    Among the food industry and retailing companies making the list are Danone, Ecolab, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Marks & Spencer, McDonald’s, Safeway, SC Johnson & Co., Starbucks, Stonyfield Farms, Trader Joe’s and Unilever.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    The Washington Business Journal reports that Balducci’s LLC has sold its six remaining stores – three in the Washington, DC, area, as well as stores in Scarsdale, New York, and Westport and Greenwich, Connecticut – to an investor group ld by Jim Demme, a longtime food retailing executive.

    Demme reportedly also was part of the group that bought Kings Super Markets from Marks and Spencer in 2006.

    Terms of the new deal were not disclosed.

    It was just a couple of weeks ago that Balducci’s closed three of its stores – one in Connecticut, one in the DC area, and one in New York City.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    • Weis Markets said that its Q1 net income was up 82.4 percent to $16.5 million compared to the same period a year ago. Sales for the period were up 1.8 percent to $606.2 million, on same-store sales that were up 1.6 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 17, 2009

    Sometimes, I just feel old. And out of touch.

    That happened this week. I will try to describe the circumstances as delicately as I can.

    I was in a hotel room in Seattle, working on MNB and flipping the channels among the various news channels. The main story of the night was about the tax revolt parties that took place on Wednesday this week, the “teabag” parties that got so much attention.

    Now, let’s be clear. As a child of the sixties and seventies, I have no problem with political protest of any kind. It’s a good thing. (Secession talk seems a little extreme, but who knows?)

    What I was having trouble understanding, though, was the conversation taking place about the phrase “teabagging,” which had been used by some of the anti-tax protestors, referencing, of course, the Boston Tea Party that protested taxation without representation.

    According to the folks at CNN and MSNBC, this word had another connotation that was not, shall we say, political or even historical in nature. And the folks at Fox News seemed offended that the people at CNN and MSNBC were libeling the tax protestors by even bringing up the double meaning.

    Now, I didn’t think there was any libel being committed. It just seemed that MSNBC and CNN were pointing out something that seemed to them to be an irony.

    No matter. I guess you can read it either way, depending on your irony thermostat. That’s not my point here.

    What bothered me what that I had no idea what the hell they were talking about.

    So I did what I always do in such situations (which happen a lot). I went to Google.
    And found out in about 12 seconds what the other connotation of “teabagging” is. (I won’t be sharing it here. You need to know, check it out yourself.)

    I was curious, though. I started asking people I know if they knew what the phrase meant. And everybody - everybody - did.

    I feel so old and so out of touch.

    I also was in Denver this week, and had dinner at the Breckenridge Brewery, where nobody threw any phrases at me that I didn’t understand. I understood was the 2220 Red Ale – a cold crisp beer that was perfect with the bison cheeseburger served with cracked peppercorns, provolone and grilled onions.

    Man, it doesn’t get any better than that. And makes me want to add Breckenridge to last year’s list of the great burger places around the country.

    Speaking of which…Mrs. Content Guy and I went to one of the burger joints that did make the list – the Burger Bar, in Norwalk, Connecticut – for the first time last weekend…and it was wonderful…a casual joint with thick, juicy, flavorful burgers and terrific sweet potato fries. Yummm…. My compliments to the MNB user who added Burger Bar to our comprehensive list.

    BTW…if you haven’t seen it yet, go to Google and type in “Susan Boyle.” Just take my word for it.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: