retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    Kansas Gov. Katherine Sebelius, in what is likely to be one of the last actions of her tenure, has vetoed legislation passed by the State Legislature that would require that dairy products from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH or rbST) carry a disclaimer that says, “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined there are no significant differences between milk from cows that receive injections of the artificial hormone and milk from those that do not.”

    The goal of the disclaimer is to lessen the impression that cows not treated with the artificial hormone that induces them to produce more milk are any safer than cows that are.

    In her veto message, Sebelius said that the bill “provides for changes in dairy labeling that could make it more difficult to provide consumers with clear information. The milk labeling provisions negatively impact a dairy producer’s ability to inform consumers that milk is from cows not treated with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBST).”

    The veto is considered a victory for the coalition of 29 groups including farmers and consumer advocates who opposed the legislation.

    Sebelius is President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS); the nomination has been approved by a Senate committee and now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

    KC's View:
    As said previously here, the proposed label was actually designed to obfuscate the issue, not clarify it…which is not what labeling is supposed to do.

    This is, I think, the right decision.

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    Bruno’s employees who are members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) reportedly have taken steps to authorize a strike that could take place if the bankrupt retailer is sold.

    According to the UFCW statement, “The current contract between Bruno’s and Local 1657 includes a no strike/no lockout clause. Accordingly, a strike would only be authorized in the event that US Bankruptcy Judge Benjamin Cohen rules in favor of Bruno’s motion to void the existing contract, and a new owner refused to negotiate a contract with the workers.”

    Bruno’s assets are slated to be sold off next week.

    “We are eager to work with any buyer that will commit to retaining a majority of current employees with fair wages and benefits,” ,” said Elaise Fox, president of UFCW Local 1657. “However, we will not stand idly by if a new owner uses Bruno’s self inflicted financial woes as an excuse to pad its corporate bottom line by destroying thousands of good jobs.”

    KC's View:
    Somehow, it seems likely that any new owner of Bruno’s is going to want something other than the labor status quo…

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    Agence France-Presse reports that Walmart plans to adjust its cost-cutting plans in China after pressure was applied by the government and trade unions there.

    It was about two weeks ago Walmart said that it would trim its staffing levels in China, especially at midlevel management positions, as a way of keeping costs in line, and would give affected employees the option of relocating to areas where it is opening new stores, or to take new positions that might pay them less money.

    However, the plans hit a roadblock when by Chinese labor unions objected. And China, ironically, is the only one of Walmart’s markets where it allows labor unions to operate…and it only did so under pressure from the Chinese government.

    Now, Walmart is saying that it won’t force pay cuts on employees affected by the change.

    KC's View:
    You have to figure that down in Bentonville, the folks are saying, ‘You see? This is what happens when the unions get any sort of role in our business.”

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    • Ahold-owned Peapod announced that it has expanded its online shopping service to Madison, Wisconsin.

    In the statement released about the expansion, the company said that “Peapod serves more than 300,000 customers each year and is owned by Royal Ahold, an international food retail and food service company from The Netherlands. The acquisition (which took place in 2001) has allowed Peapod to employ a more integrated bricks-and-clicks business strategy: expanding its partnerships with Ahold U.S.A. stores (Stop & Shop and Giant); leveraging the buying power of Ahold to make higher volume, lower-priced purchases; lowering distribution and transportation costs; and boosting inventory management to reduce out of stocks.”

    Peapod currently serves 22 U.S. markets in communities in the states of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York and New Jersey.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Mayor Richard Daley believes that political opposition on the City Council and from labor unions is sufficient to block Walmart from opening a store on the city’s South Side, even though he also believes that such a store would generate needed sales tax revenue and local jobs for neighborhood residents.

    • Walmart said yesterday that it has “expanded its business with minority- and women-owned companies by more than 25 percent in 2008, according to recently verified figures. In the midst of a struggling economy, where businesses across the country have been forced to close or drastically reduce capacity and workforce, Wal-Mart increased its combined direct and second tier spend to more than $8.1 billion with minority- and women-owned businesses.

    “In 2008, Wal-Mart's direct spend with minority- and women-owned businesses was more than $6 billion, with second-tier spending totaling more than $2 billion. Second tier spend is an accounting of suppliers that subcontract with prime suppliers on Wal-Mart business. Wal-Mart's spend numbers are verified by CVM Solutions, a third-party enterprise supplier management company. Wal-Mart's direct spend with diverse suppliers was more than $4.8 billion in 2007, totaling more than $6 billion when accounting for second-tier spend. The nearly $2 billion overall increase in the 2008 total is a reflection of the company's commitment to diversity, its customers and local communities.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    • The New York Times reports that in a meeting with major credit card company officials yesterday, President Barack Obama said that he will support legislation that would restrict the companies’ ability to impose higher fees and interest rates on shoppers – legislation that is likely to be fast-tracked through the Congress though the Senate is likely to be a harder sell than the House of Representatives.

    President Obama also reportedly called on the companies to communicate with consumers in a clearer, more transparent fashion.

    • There are a plethora of published reports saying that Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent told a shareholders meeting this week that the company “will not waste this crisis.” Kent noted that Coke got through the Great Depression, and said that “there's no reason we cannot apply the same courage to navigate through the current crisis.”

    While Kent acknowledged that it is possible that the company will miss earnings targets in the short term, he pointed to opportunities in emerging markets such as China as being the best way for the company to grow over time.

    Agence France-Presse reports that Unilever is committing to an “ambitious” plan to cut the salt content in all of its products by the end of 2010 so that it is in line with recommended sodium intake levels. In its statement, Unilever said it would use spices and aromatic herbs to maintain flavor while cutting back on salt.

    • Associated Grocers of New England has reached an agreement to acquire Manchester Wholesale Distributors. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    • Supervalu yesterday reported a $201 million fourth quarter loss, down from a profit of $156 million during the same period a year ago. Q4 sales increased four percent from a year earlier to $10.82 billion, on same-store sales that were off two percent.

    Supervalu also reported full-year net sales of $44.6 billion and a net loss of $2.9 billion.

    • reported that its first quarter profit was up 24 percent to $177 million, from $143 million during the same period a year ago. Q1 sales were up 18 percent to $4.89 billion.

    • Penn Traffic said that it lost $17.6 million last year, a marked improvement over the previous fiscal year, during which it lost almost $42 million. Annual revenue was $872.3 million, down from $895.9 million a year ago.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    Yesterday, MNB reported on the finalists in the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Store Manager Awards competition.

    One of them was identified by FMI as “Randy Sentachi, store manager of a Save Mart store in San Francisco, CA.”

    However, we are reliably informed that Sentachi actually is the store manager of a Lucky story in San Francisco…but that since Save Mart owns Lucky, that’s probably how things got confused.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 24, 2009

    When I checked into the Statler Hotel at Cornell University this week, the night before I spoke to a food industry management class there, I was greeted by a piece of paper that had the effect of making me feel woefully inadequate.

    The paper was a welcome note from a student in the School of Hotel Administration, Ben Okun, who graduates next year and no doubt will have a wonderful career. In the note, he describes his courses of study and, as you might expect, raves about Cornell.

    But here is the paragraph that brought me down to earth:

    “When I’m not busy in Statler, I use my free time to pursue other challenges. I am currently teaching myself Mandarin Chinese, which I hope to use while traveling in the future. To satisfy a more artistic endeavor, I am also teaching myself to play the piano and guitar. You may also catch me on the tennis courts on North Campus reliving my high school competition days.”

    And I’m thinking myself, he’s carrying a full course load and simultaneously teaching himself Chinese, guitar and piano?

    When I went to college, admittedly during the last century, I taught myself how to drink. (Gave myself an A+, by the way…I was a helluva a teacher and a helluva student.)

    My hat goes off to Ben Okun – obviously quite a motivated young man – even if he’s made me feel like a non-achiever.

    There seem to be a lot of reminders in my life lately about age and lack of achievement. The age thing came up again when we went to see the movie “I Love You, Man,” a pretty well-reviewed comedy about a guy who suddenly realizes that he doesn’t really have any male friends and needs to find one to serve as best man at his wedding.

    Doesn’t happen very often when I go to the movies, but about halfway through, I was ready to walk out. Not that I was offended by it, not even the parts designed to push the envelope. I just didn’t think it was funny.

    Maybe I’m just losing my edge.

    Wow. Apple said this week that there have been more than one billion downloads from its online App Store since it was opened last July.

    I don't know either of these gentlemen, but I have to say that I was pleased this week when Jon Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, won the Pulitzer Prize for his biography of President Andrew Jackson, and Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson won the Pulitzer for commentary.

    Both men have become favorites for what I think is a measured, common sense approach to their craft. While this wasn't part of Meacham’s prize, I’ve particularly liked the way he writes and thinks about the connection between faith and governance, a subject he approaches with a degree of thoughtfulness not often seen in the media.

    Interestingly, the announcement of Robinson’s award reminded me of how much I miss Tony Kornheiser’s daily radio program, which he’s decided not to do as long as he has a job on “Monday Night Football.” He would have taken enormous pleasure in Robinson’s Pulitzer, and he would have spent an entire show on it…but he also would have had a unique take on the reasons he’d gotten it.

    It’s the same way with “American Idol,” a show I never watch…but that I enjoyed listening to Kornheiser obsess about on the air.

    The radio misses Kornheiser. I hate to root for him to lose the “MNF” gig…but radio would be better for it.

    I was only in New Orleans for about 20 hours this week, but managed to consume during that time a platter of red beans and rice and a bowl of gumbo (at some hole in the wall place I cannot remember the name of), beignets and coffee at Café du Monde, and a Fried Peace Maker Po-Boy at the Acme Oyster House, which consists of fried oysters, fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato and Tabasco-infused mayonnaise. (Didn’t do wonders for my cholesterol level, but what the hell.) Add to that a few Abita Ambers, and it was a good 20 hours.

    I love my job.

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


    KC's View: