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    Published on: April 30, 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 brought to you this morning by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    This is going to be a short one this morning. As I record this, I’m getting ready to go in for an emergency root canal … and between the Vicodin for pain and the Xanax for my dentist phobia, I may not be real cogent.

    I would refer you to a column by Siobhan Phillips that ran on this week all about so-called “ethical eating.” She started from the premise that while ethical eating is a good idea, it may simply be impractical for a lot of people.

    An excerpt:

    “I had wondered about the elitism of ethical eating ever since I started reading about the movement in books like ‘The Omnivores Dilemma,’ ‘Fast Food Nation,’ and ‘Food Politics.’ When Alice Waters told Americans that they could dine better by forgoing ‘the cellphone or the third pair of Nike shoes,’ my monthly cellphone bill totaled zero and I owned just one pair of sneakers. When Michael Pollan urged citizens to plant a garden, I was living on the 10th floor of an urban apartment building. When Barbara Kingsolver wrote in ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ that sustainable cooking could be thrifty, her recommendations included a plot of land and a second freezer that I didn't own. My kitchen had the dimensions of a medium-size walk-in closet. And I was better off than many in my neighborhood.”

    In other words, living up to the expectations of people like Alice Waters and Michael Pollan isn’t always a matter of choice. It often is a matter of circumstance.

    I happen to have enormous respect and admiration for people like Alice Waters, but emulating her lifestyle and approach to food just would take too much energy. Is this laziness? Maybe, to a degree. But it also is a function of having a life to lead, of having a business to run, of having children to raise, of having a marriage to tend to…not necessarily in this order, by the way. (I need to say that because tomorrow is my 26th wedding anniversary…assuming I survive the root canal, which at the moment seems dubious…and putting Mrs. Content Guy last probably isn’t the best idea.)

    The best approach that retailers can take, I think, is to present options. Actually, you have to do more than present them. You can explain them, you can educate people about various levels of ethical and sustainable behavior … but you shouldn't take a holier-than-thou approach to these communications. Most people, I firmly believe, want to do the best they can…though sometimes those decisions are compromised by the realities in which they find themselves. But if we help people understand why certain decisions make sense, how to integrate them into their lives, and what the repercussions will be…I think we can get a point where more people eat sensibly, cook intelligently, and behave sustainably.

    In the end, as in most things, it is all about common sense and transparency. Speak with the shopper instead of at the shopper, and you go a long way to creating a sense of community. Which is a great first step, I think, toward better living in a better world.

    For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    The Washington Post this morning reports that the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying that the world probably is on the verge of a swine flu pandemic, raising the alert level for the second time in three days. A number of developments have occurred in Texas, where the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Future Connect and MarkeTechnics conferences are scheduled to take place next week

    The first swine flu death in the US has been reported – a 22 month old boy from Mexico City who died in a Houston hospital.

    In addition, the Post reports, Texas Gov. Rick Perry issued a “disaster declaration” and a statement saying that :”Texans need to know there is no cause for panic, and Texans can be assured that the state will take every necessary precaution to protect the lives of our citizens.” The Post reports that “officials suspended high school sports events statewide until May 11 and shut more schools, sending more than 53,000 students home for at least two weeks.”

    The Fort Worth public schools have been closed for 10 days because of swine flu concerns.

    Vice President Joseph Biden told the “Today Show” this morning that people should avoid getting into enclosed spaces such as airplanes and subways, suggesting that these are perfect places for the flu to be spread. (The general consensus seemed to be that Biden went off the reservation in making that comment, and that most public officials wouldn’t go that far.

    The Post reports that “the number of known cases in the United States hit at least 91, with infections confirmed in at least six new states -- Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Arizona, Indiana and Nevada -- more than doubling the number of states with confirmed cases.”

    KC's View:
    The more I think about it, the more I wonder about the wisdom of supermarket chains sending people to congregate in places where swine flu conceivably could be passed along…especially when a lot of those people are going to come back to their companies and spend time in supermarkets, ort spend time with people who will be working in supermarkets.

    After we posted MNB this morning, FMI issued the following statement:

    “The leadership of FMI is communicating directly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Dallas County Health and Human Services to actively understand developments related to swine flu and the impact on public health.

    “Given advice provided by these organizations, FMI remains committed to holding Future Connect and Marketechnics in Dallas next week.

    “FMI and our conference facilities are taking all recommended precautions to provide a safe and clean environment for our attendees.”

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    Advertising Age reports that a new survey from Mintel says that “new food and beverage product launches fell 51% to 2,660 during the first quarter of 2009 compared with the same period a year ago, taking a bite out of potential ad spending.” The drop “comes on the heels of a 32% decrease in all product launches during the first quarter of 2008.”

    The first quarter of 2008, or course, is when economists now say tat the recession was beginning…even though they didn’t acknowledge that fact until almost a year later.

    "Faced with low consumer confidence and reduced spending, many food and beverage manufacturers cut back on product development and new-product launches," said Lynn Dornblaser, director-consumer package goods insight at Mintel. "Many companies face internal budget cuts that affect everything from new-product ideation to development and marketing."

    Dornblaser suggests that things may be turning around, as manufacturers see that the dearth of new product introductions has created an environment in which they can have a real impact with something that can grab shoppers’ attention.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    • Walmart US CEO Eduardo Castro-Wright told a Barclays conference this week that shoppers seem to be spending more money on discretionary items such as sporting goods and housewares such as towels and sheets – the result, he said, of people having more cash in their pockets because of tax cuts and lower gasoline prices.

    Casto-Wright also said that Walmart is seeing an influx of new shoppers who make more than $50,000 a year, and that 17 percent of its traffic came from that demographic group. People making more than $50,000 a year, he said, tend to have an average transaction 40 percent higher than less affluent shoppers.

    • The Columbus Dispatch reports that Walmart has to write a check for $1.7 million to the state of Ohio, as it repays a tax credit that it received in 2001 for creating and maintaining jobs at an optical lab near Columbus. However, when it closed the lab last month, it violated the terms of the tax credit and the retailer had to repay the money.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    The news that Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter is switching political parties and becoming a Democrat has been applauded by union supporters, but Specter tempered their enthusiasm by saying that the switch will not affect his opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA).

    The EFCA would make it easier for unions to get certified, with workers able to opt for unionization by signing a card rather than going through a mandatory secret ballot. Opposition to the bill have been counting on the fact that there were enough votes in the Senate to stop it from becoming law.

    "My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats than I have been for the Republicans," Specter said in the statement announcing his move to the Democrats. "I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employee Free Choice [card check] will not change."

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    • Safeway announced that its employees in the Spokane, Washington, area have ratified a new four-year labor agreement that covers 12 stores and about 785 workers.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Procter & Gamble plans to restructure its beauty and grooming division and “make a greater play for men and could develop new products for high-end retailers, salons and spas.” The recession has caused the division’s sales to flatten, the Journal says that the goal is to reorganize it in a customer-centric way around gender rather than around product categories, as has typically been done.

    • As has previously been reported, Toys R Us has officially confirmed that it is introducing the “R” Market concept, which will offer snacks, beverages, paper products, HBC, cleaning supplies and other grocery items near the entrance of more than 260 of its 585 locations. More locations are expected to be added later this year.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    • Starbucks announced yesterday that its second quarter total revenue fell 7.6 percent to $2.33 billion, with domestic sales down 6.8 percent and overseas revenue down 12 percent.

    Q2 net income fell 77 percent to $25 million from $108.7 million a year earlier.

    Furthermore, US same store sales were down eight percent, and US average transactions were down three percent.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 30, 2009

    The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) decided this afternoon that it is cancelling next week’s Future Connect and MarkeTechnics conferences in Dallas, citing concerns about the swine flu pandemic. The organization began informing sponsors and speakers during the mid-afternoon.

    In a note posted on the FMI website, association CEO Leslie Sarasin said, “The increased urgency of the alerts from health officials today and the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services confirmed our decision to not host a large gathering where attendees would be in close proximity. We seek to support their recommended precautions and prevention steps and would not want to contribute to spread of the virus in any way.

    “We agonized over this difficult and critical decision, but are certain that the number one priority of America’s food retailers, wholesalers and suppliers right now is to look out for the health and safety of their customers, employees and the communities they serve across the country and around the globe.

    “In particular, we recognize that Future Connect is a program about leadership, and at this time our industry’s leaders must be in their communities to be actively engaged in a time of potential crisis.”

    The move is a marked change from just earlier today, when FMI said that it was “committed” to holding the conference, and that it had made that decision in concert with local and national health authorities.

    It in unclear as of this posting whether the conference is being cancelled outright, or postponed until another time. In her posting, Sarasin said, “We are evaluating our options for rescheduling these events and will look forward to sharing more details about the plans for holding the events in the near future.

    This was the first year for the Future Connect concept, and represented a shift for FMI, which decided to have its traditional exhibit floor every other year, alternating with an education-only format.

    (ORIGINAL STORY POSTED @ 3:09 pm. UPDATED @ 3: 49 pm)

    KC's View:
    FMI really had to bite the bullet on this one, and while it is possible that concerns may have lessened by next week, the trade association could not take the chance. The simple fact is that it seems too risky to bring so many people together under one roof at a time when person-to-person contamination seems to be the big concern…and the people attending are pretty much all folks who interact with other people who interact with customers, who interact with…well, you get the picture.

    Just imagine what would have happened if Future Connect had taken place, and the spread of swine flu could have been traced back in part to the fact that FMI hadn’t called off the meeting. The safety of the food supply has had enough questions raised about it in recent months, and it would have looked just awful for the industry if it had gone ahead with its conference plans.

    As MNB has been saying this week, it would have been irresponsible to continued with the Future Connect plans for next week, and made far more sense to err on the side of caution…