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: May 8, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times this morning has a piece about “eco kosher” cuisine – food that provides a way for observant Jews “to strengthen their ties to their faith and to live out a Jewish imperative to protect the Earth.”

    According to the story, “growing numbers of people are choosing to express their values through the food they put on their tables, altering the most basic day-to-day decisions about nourishment … The movement has become so popular in recent years that synagogues increasingly are forging relationships with farmers, farm education programs are starting up and Jewish ‘sustainability’ conferences are attracting sold-out crowds. At a three-day gathering in Northern California in December, volunteers even learned how to kill, pluck, salt and rinse their own turkeys.”

    The Times reports that this higher level of consciousness is a kind of evolution in thinking that has its roots in the Bible but has been affected by recent events: “For many Jews, the question was once whether to follow the Torah's dietary laws. The book of Leviticus, for example, requires that meat come from animals that chew their cud and have split hooves in order to be considered kosher. But for ‘eco-kosher’ Jews, those laws have come to represent only part of the equation -- particularly as they relate to the consumption of meat.

    “Kosher meat has long enjoyed a reputation -- among Jews and non-Jews alike – for high quality and an expectation that it is produced in an ethical manner. But that status was badly shaken last year by allegations that the country's largest kosher slaughterhouse, in Iowa, abused workers, animals and the environment.”

    And so Jews, their faith shaken to some degree by food safety violations, had to find a new path.

    It is not just people of the Jewish faith. The Times writes that the American Presbyterian Church “has designed a curriculum for high school students and young adults titled ‘Just Eating? Practicing Our Faith at the Table.’” And, the “General Assembly of Unitarian Universalists Assn … last year selected ‘Ethical Eating: Food and Environmental Justice’ as a four-year topic of study and action by its 1,000 congregations.”
    KC's View:
    Seems to me that the notions of not taking food for granted, of finding sustainable ways to feed ourselves with a focus on quality, are noble of spirit and even transcend specific approaches to the spiritual.

    They say that consumers are undergoing change snow, and that it is difficult to know whether these changes will be long-term or sort-term. But it is important to remember that some of the changes taking place having nothing to do with recession, but rather are focused on a deepening appreciation for the benefits – spiritual and physical – of the dinner table.

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    Here’s an interesting little tidbit from Seattle…

    Amazon.com reportedly has helped to raise more than a half-million dollars in funding for a website called “Foodista.com,” which is described as “a collaborative project to build the world's largest, highest quality cooking encyclopedia.”

    According to the Foodista site, it is designed to organize cooking information into recipes, kinds of foods, preparation methods, and kitchen tools, and make it easy for chefs of all kinds of find relevant and useful information.

    Foodista reportedly was launched late last year by two Amazon veterans, Barnaby Dorfman and Sheri Wetherell.

    KC's View:
    It is an overused word, but “synergy” is the first thing I thought of when I saw this story. After all, Amazon sells consumer packaged goods, is testing the sale of fresh products in Seattle, sells cookbooks and kitchen tools, and is investing heavily in alternative forms of providing information, such as the Kindle.

    This is yet another reason that food retailers need to be embracing the online channel and figuring out ways to connect the dots within their own businesses … because consumers are connecting the dots in terms of how they live their lives and do their shopping.

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    • There are numerous published reports about how Tesco is investing the equivalent of more than $200 million (US) in a “relaunch” of its Clubcard loyalty program, hoping to attract one million new customers to the chain at a time when its market share numbers are slipping and Sainsbury, Asda and William Morrison Supermarkets seem to be picking up steam.

    According to the stories, the relaunch will provide greater benefits to the some 15 million people in the UK who already have Tesco Clubcards, in some cases doubling the amount of money available on vouchers that can be used in the retailer’s stores as well as on certain airlines, restaurants and amusement parks.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    Reports out of Kansas City say that Associated Wholesale Grocers there has reached an agreement to acquire many of the assets of Affiliated Foods Southwest, the Arkansas wholesaler that filed for bankruptcy earlier this week.

    Associated reportedly has begun servicing a number of Affiliated customers.

    Terms and specifics of the deal have not yet been disclosed.

    "We are pleased that the Board of Directors of Affiliated Foods has chosen the proposal we submitted. AWG's offer provides the best opportunity for independent retailers throughout Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana to grow their business and meet the needs of their customers," Jerry Garland, AWG's president and CEO, said in the release. "AWG's resources will be focused on providing the retailers a smooth transition with little disruption in product availability."

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    • Walmart is being sued by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which charges that a Fresno Sam’s Club store discriminated against some Hispanic employees. The EEOC says that some Mexican employees were subjected to verbal harassment related to their ethnicity, and is looking for compensatory and punitive damages; the EEOC also said that it is open to settling the case.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    • The latest Retail Forward ShopperScape survey suggests that there may be a certain leveling off in consumer confidence, as people begin to believe that the worst of the recession has passed.

    Still shopping patterns have changed and may continue to. Retail Forward notes that “concerns about how the recession will affect the household in the future (38%) ranked second to ‘my household’s current financial situation’ (44%) as the primary reasons why shoppers plan to spend less.” And, “more than one-quarter (27%) of shoppers planning to spend less indicate they are curbing spending in an effort to simplify their lifestyles. Affluent households ($100k+) are most likely to cite this reason for cutting spending. This could signal a shift toward more mindful purchasing among upper income households.”

    • It apparently is time to start stockpiling guacamole.

    There are reports that a little critter called the redbay ambrosia beetle is moving across the southeastern United States and seems aimed directly at Florida, where it is expected that it could spread a fungus called laurel wilt disease that could severely damage the state’s avocado trees.

    Florida is the country’s second largest avocado producer, trailing California, which has not yet been hit by the fungus.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    • CVS Caremark reported first quarter earnings of $738.4 million, down from $745 million during the same period a year earlier. Q1 total revenue was up 10 percent to $23.39 billion from $21.33 billion a year ago, and the company’s retail business saw its sales go up13.9 percent to reach $13.5 billion in revenue, on same-store sales that were up 3.3 percent.

    • Sara Lee Corp. said that its third quarter profit was down 22 percent to $165 million, and that total Q3 sales were off almost seven percent to $3.03 billion. The company blamed a “softness in its North American foodservice business” and a stronger dollar for the results.

    KC's View:

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    No surprise here. Yesterday’s article and commentary about how Walmart CEO Mike Duke finds himself at the center of a cultural storm - accused of being “bigoted and discriminatory” for his support last year of a state initiative preventing same-sex couples from being adoptive or foster parents – generated lots of reaction, most of it negative about what I wrote.

    To recap, the story noted that Duke’s support of the initiative became public knowledge when opponents found his signature on a petition calling for a statewide referendum on the issue; it passed in November with 57 percent of the vote.

    MNB noted that there seem to be a couple of problems for Duke, who has a reputation within the organization for religious and cultural conservatism. Walmart has been working overtime in recent years to present itself to the world as a more open and accepting employer and corporate citizen, and in some circles, this position appears to run counter to that public relations effort … and creates at least the perception that it is only a public relations effort.

    This creates the possibility of a schism between Walmart leadership and the company’s employees – not to mention current and potential customers - who happen to be part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. And it also seems to put Walmart firmly on one side of the gay rights issue at a time when five states – Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts, and, just this week, Maine – allow gay marriage, and it appears that New Hampshire is close to joining the list.

    And just so we are clear on my commentary, let me excerpt it here:

    I love issues like this one – it takes gender politics, civil rights and the role of religion and ties them up in one big messy package that is almost certain to explode in my face.

    It is dangerous for this aging, former altar boy to start quoting scripture, because almost certainly people who know far more about the Bible than I will offer competing verses. But when I read this story, I have to admit that a New Testament verse immediately leapt to mind: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

    Of course, I make a living making judgments, so I’m going to ignore that admonition to some extent. And then you guys can take your best shot.

    I think that in the best companies, corporate culture is a direct reflection of the people at the top. They reflect their passions and beliefs and interests … that’s why the best companies are run by leaders, not managers. They’re paid the big bucks not just for their skills, but their sensibilities.

    I recognize that it must be difficult for some folks to deal with issues like same sex marriage or same sex adoption or even the fact that the LGBT community has a name and a face and growing political and cultural clout. It must be tempting, overwhelmingly so at times, to want to draw a line and say, this far and no farther. Or to find a way, any way, to force a return to simpler times when issues like this one didn’t exist or at least didn’t find their way onto newspaper front pages or onto the Internet for all to see.

    But I think that Walmart and its CEO find themselves on the wrong side of history on this issue. I don't think it is out of any sort of malevolence, though some would argue that there certainly may some ignorance.

    We all face issues – within our families, or circles of friends, our workplaces and our communities – that are hard to understand, hard to integrate into our mindsets. But we have to start with compassion and tolerance, to whatever degree we can muster it, even if we have to fake it. And that goes especially if you are the CEO of a public company with responsibilities to be a good shepherd of a wide-ranging and diverse flock.

    Whatever happens, here’s the lesson: nothing is a secret anymore. Everything is transparent. Act accordingly. Because actions have consequences.


    MNB user Ross Cully wrote:

    One can be compassionate and still disagree with a point of view (intolerance?). Christians often don't live this out, but to pass judgment on the specific condition of Mike Duke's heart as being uncompassionate while expressing a point of view is a reach. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…even his friends that don't share his worldview. That is what Jesus did and that is what Mike Duke and every other Christian should do…love all even though you may not agree with all.

    Seems like a double standard when the LGBT community is praised for their tolerance while uncompassionate toward the worldview of a follower of Jesus…


    MNB user Al Kober wrote:

    Compassion and tolerance cannot and never should, override conviction. Be companionate?. Yes. Be tolerant? Which really means accepting every one opinion even if they are wrong? Tolerant of the person, yes. Tolerant of the position. No, Not if it is contrary of, or in conflict with, your convictions.

    Good for you, Duke. Stay true to your convictions. Do right no matter what!


    Another MNB user wrote:

    If you are going to quote "soundbites" of scripture you really are leaving yourself open for feedback.

    You may want to browse some more of the Bible in addition to the many publications you read every day.

    There are multiple, very specific, views on this matter. You can't pick and choose.

    "Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God". - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10


    I’m not going to get into a Bible debate here, because I’m almost certainly going to lose.

    But I would point out that we all pick and choose. Because, if I’m not mistaken, there are parts of the Bible that sanction the selling of women into slavery and the putting to death of anyone who works on the Sabbath. Most people don't take those seriously…

    Still another MNB user wrote:

    Are CEO's to leave their values and beliefs at the door? Who is being intolerant? Since when is it not Ok to have a contrarian view and be respected for it? Also, history has already been written on this one and the word from the authority is clear. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Not my definition but the definition of the creator of the universe and all that are in it.

    MNB user Roxanne Resch wrote:

    I'm completely offended by this piece of advice you're offering your readers. You're saying that it’s better to keep personal views and opinions to yourself to avoid offending others. In this country, we value independent thinking and welcome different viewpoints and as a person who makes a living from giving an opinion, I would think you would support a person's right to their own.

    Actually, I don't think that’s what I’m saying. I am reporting that a public position taken by a public person has created at least some backlash against his public company. I am suggesting that this position might be on the wrong side of history, and that current legislative trends could make that position uncomfortable or even untenable for the company. And I am saying that every executive has to be aware that every position he or she takes has the potential of being put on display for people to examine and debate.

    There’s nothing wrong with being willing to offend people. It’s just that this approach might be at odds with running the world’s biggest retailer. And if we don’t at least discuss the intersection of private lives and public positions in a transparent world – and what is appropriate and what is not – then we make a serious mistake.

    Like I said, this issue takes gender politics, civil rights and the role of religion and ties them up in one big messy package that is almost certain to explode in my face.

    But that’s okay. I’m willing to take that risk. Because forgetting for a moment about the morality and/or immorality of various positions, this actually is a serious business discussion that needs to take place.




    Yesterday, we reported that Supervalu Inc. announced that it has hired Craig Herkert, 49, who has been running Walmart’s Western Hemisphere operations outside the US, to be its new CEO, succeeding Jeff Noddle, 62, who has been in the job since 2001.

    Again, my commentary incited some email…though not all of it was critical of me this time.

    I wrote:

    One can imagine that at least some of the independent grocers that Supervalu serves might be distraught by the idea that their wholesaler will now be run by a man who worked for the company that has done its level best to put many of them out of business. It is our guess here that there will have to be some strategic diplomatic missions to certain retailers to assure them that things are going to be okay.

    This hire underlines the fact that Supervalu is a very different company now--one of the largest retailers in the nation--and this hire suggests the increasingly importance on retail management. It's a massive change for such an old and storied wholesaler…and it may be tough for its wholesaler customers to swallow.

    Now, there is certainly an argument that coming from Walmart, Herkert could be ideally positioned to help independents compete with his former employer. But one can also expect that some of Supervalu’s competitors will be out there looking for disenchanted customers that they can lure away. (I also would guess that there could be a few Supervalu executives getting calls from headhunters now that this move has been announced.)

    It also occurs to me that this is not the first time that a Walmart executive has been enticed to leave the Bentonville Behemoth to run a major wholesaler. If I’m not mistaken, Mark Hansen ran Walmart’s Sam’s Club division for a couple of years before he went over to run Fleming…and we all know how that little experiment worked out. (I’ve met people who even now reserve a few minutes each day to curse Hansen and his tenure at Fleming.)

    Herkert may indeed be “the ideal executive” to run Supervalu. But there will be those who will think that this may not be the perfect fit – especially because Jeff Noddle is a tough act to follow - and that will make his job a lot tougher.

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune quotes the always on-the-money Burt P. Flickinger III as saying, “To retire at 62 is too soon. It's absolutely critical to Supervalu as a competitor, as an employer and a company facing one of its most challenging times in its history, that Jeff Noddle stay on for at least a full year.”


    MNB user Ken Wagar responded:

    There seems to be a bit of angst in your reporting of the CEO change at Supervalu with respect to Jeff’s possible retirement that I don’t share.

    I have known Jeff and Linda Noddle for almost 30 years and was once a direct report of Jeff’s for a two year period. He is first of all a gentleman and he has accomplished more on behalf of Supervalu than I would have ever dreamed. He has my utmost respect.

    On the other hand it often takes a different type of leader to operate a company than the entrepreneur that built the company and in my opinion it often takes a different type of leader with different skills to successfully operate a company long term than it does to transition a company to a new organization and a different structure. Jeff led this company on a complete transition from wholesaler and distributor to major retailer and did a remarkable job but it is likely time now for a leader with greater retail experience and knowledge of today’s retailing environment.

    Besides that, Jeff surely deserves a great retirement if that is what he chooses to do.

    Linda often joked about Jeff’s lifestyle being “all things in moderation”, yet he led Supervalu through an “extreme makeover”. I wish him well and hope that he continues to chase his dreams be they continued leadership of Supervalu or retirement and the enjoyment of the success he has achieved.


    MNB user Mike Griswold wrote:

    Supervalu’s challenge since acquiring the Albertson’s stores has been to transform from thinking like a Wholesaler to a thinking like a Retailer. Jeff understood this transformation, but not everyone on his team did. Herkert’s challenges will be to help Supervalu behave as the 3rd largest food retailer, and at the same time maintain and grow a very healthy wholesale business.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Jeff Noddle will definitely be a tough act to follow. It didn’t take me long after I started here four years ago to figure out he is a great leader as well as a wonderful person. He is intelligent, knowledgeable, ethical (how rare these days) and personable. He genuinely cares about the employees. He’s passionate about his work and values. I’ve found that his decisions are well thought out (not knee-jerk reactions) and encompass the big picture. It’s certainly not easy to make tough decisions and maintain balance, but he manages to do so.

    I’ve been through a transition like this before and quite frankly it scares me; however, the odds of winning the lottery prior to Jeff’s retirement is slim. Have to go with the flow and wish him well. He has more than earned it. I’m happy for him, but it will be a sad time for me and many others I’m sure. I just hope the change isn’t too radical.


    MNB user Bob Hermanns wrote:

    I would think the independent retailers serviced by Supervalu as well as the associates in Supervalu's corporate divisions would be pleased that Jeff's replacement has a strong, successful retail background. One of Supervalu’s challenges continues to be stimulating sales in the banners. Although Wal-Mart is a competitor, they are excellent retailers and a great place to learn.

    The comparison to Mark Hansen is unfounded and has no bearing on this article. Regardless of Hansen's actions at Fleming this post was about Craig Herkert (a successful retail leader from Wal-Mart) assuming the top spot at SuperValu.


    Not everyone objected to the Mark Hansen reference, however…

    Mark Hansen is not the only example… how about Mark Schwartz-Kmart, Big Y, Builders Square… all poorly run under him. That having been said, there seems to be more positive comments around Craig’s leadership style and career history than not.

    I can see your point on the independent customers potentially being unhappy, but don’t forget he joined Wal-Mart in 2000 (most independents were all ready feeling the pains of competing with Wal-Mart long before that) and his entire career there has been international responsibility. Of course, given our comments on the two Mark’s… it’s could be the old “guilty by association”. I would think the bigger question is- can he facilitate the centralization of the retail banners and obtain better results than the current leadership and do it in a way that inspires collaboration as opposed to the Us vs. Them that is the current theme between the banners and MN.

    PS: #1 - I hate to disagree with Burt Flickinger, but… while I, along with many in the industry think very highly of Jeff Noddle as well as agree with it being a critical time for Supervalu; There are many people within the organization that think Jeff has relied too much on his direct reports for information and guidance on retail and is very out of touch with what the reality of the situation is. The few I spoke to yesterday were less concerned about the potential of Jeff leaving and more concerned about the strategy and tactics Craig would take going forward and if it would have a positive outcome for customers and performance.

    PS #2 - I would think that the few Supervalu Execs you refer to should be very proactive about seeking other employment. Those few that were hoping to be Noddle’s successor and those that were riding the coat tails in anticipation of that possibility. Like all companies, Supervalu has some good talent in the building and then, some not so good.


    Nothing like a cold dose of reality on a Friday morning…




    And finally, regarding yesterday’s stories about women’s growing financial clout and workplace power, one MNB user wrote:

    I think if men were smart they'd start demanding work schedule flexibility as well. I've been in several meetings lately that ran late… well past 6pm. There were young men in these meetings (30's) who very apologetically… almost sheepishly… said they had to leave soon to pick up children from daycare or attend ballgames. Whatever. But they seemed so apologetic, when they were really just asking to be excused from an overlong unproductive meeting so they could go be a parent.

    I think in this case women are more skilled at setting boundaries, and are given more leeway by management. Perhaps it's time for men to demand and get the same treatment?

    Please withhold my name, as we have a lot of overlong unproductive meetings here. 🙂


    KC's View:

    Published on: May 8, 2009

    I have to be honest here: I rarely even glance at People magazine, mostly because I find that I don't really care about anything that the people inside have to say. That’s just me; I understand that there are plenty of people out there for whom the magazine is light entertainment, and that’s fine.

    However, I could not help but notice a story from People that got some traction on the Internet this week, detailing the fact that actress Kirstie Alley, who famously lost 75 pounds a couple of years ago while working as a spokesperson for Jennie Craig, apparently has gained it all back and then some. The reason seems pretty clear: once she lost her endorsement deal, she stopped exercising and started eating things like pasta drenched with butter.

    She’s apparently ready to lose the weight all over again…and while I hate to be cynical, I suspect she’s hoping that there might be a new endorsement deal in the works.

    Now, I don't care if Kirstie Alley is 145 pounds or 228 pounds. Doesn’t really matter to me, and she should probably figure out the weight at which she is both happiest and healthiest.

    But what’s interesting about this story is that it is such a public rendition of a scenario that I suspect thousands of people go through every day. Hell, I’ve done it myself. You go crazy losing weight, but because you are focused on short-term results and “dieting,” you don't create a sustainable lifestyle with a healthy approach to food that has long-term implications.

    That’s one of the things that the food industry ought to be doing, it seems to me. Moderation and creating a sustainable lifestyle are things that the food retailers and manufacturers can help consumers do. They have the range of products, they have the information, and they have access to the customer…and in many cases, they even are trusted to an extraordinary extent.

    Kirstie Alley ought to be the poster child for how not to lose weight…indeed, how not to think about weight and food.




    Despite the fact that he didn’t do nearly as much for the NY Jets as I’d hoped, I actually have a lot of sympathy for Brett Favre. It must be tough at the relatively young age of 39 to be in a position where your mind and spirit think you still can play the game, your body isn’t so sure, and most of the pundits are positive that you’re done.

    Forget about the fact that he retired, unretired, retired again, and now seems to be flirting with unretiring one more time. Forget about the fact that for most people, this dance is becoming tiresome, and threatens to dilute all the good will and loyalty he’d built up in Green Bay over his long career.

    He doesn’t want to give in, doesn’t want to give up. At some level, that is to be respected. Life is too short to stop doing what you love before you’re ready to give it up.

    That said, I’m glad he’s torturing other teams and other fans, and that the Jets have moved on. Better the tsouris should be centered in Minneapolis or Green Bay or anyplace other than the New York metropolitan area.




    On the other hand, I have no sympathy at all for Manny Ramirez. None. Don't expect me to believe that this is the first time he’s done steroids, either…because that simply makes no sense at all.

    I wish that he and A-Rod and all the other steroid users would pack up their needles and get out of my game.




    Go figure. The French are better at sleeping and eating than almost everyone else.

    A new study from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has concluded that French people spend an average of almost nine hours a day in bed, and two hours a day eating and drinking. (Though the French being French, I wonder how much of that time in bed is actually spent sleeping. Just asking.) That’s more than all of the other 29 countries surveyed by the group.

    What was interesting to me was that Americans are not that far behind – they sleep, on average, 8.5 hours a day, and eat/drink daily for about an hour and 15 minutes.

    Of course, some Americans must be getting more than others. For example, I get about four hours of sleep a night…not by choice, but because that’s what the work demands. Which means, I guess, that somebody out there is getting the four and a half hours that I’m not using, and adding them to their eight and a half, getting a grand total of 13 hours of sleep each night.

    I hope they’re enjoying it.




    Had a beer this week that I’d never had before and that I liked a lot – Great Lakes Burning River Pale Ale. The name may be a tad cumbersome, but the taste is excellent: rich and hearty and perfect with a hamburger topped with onions, peppers and andouille sausage, which happens to be what I was eating.




    And here is a red wine that you definitely have to try – the 2006 Inama Carmenere Piu, a blend of 75 percent Carmenere, 20 percent Merlot and 5 percent Raboso Veronese. It is medium bodied but rich rolling across the tongue…the wine magazines call it “drinkable” and “plump,” but I’ll stick with “yummy.”




    There’s a new Jimmy Buffett song on iTunes and elsewhere on the Internet, and it is the perfect prelude for the coming hot weather months: “Summerzcool.” A sample lyric:

    What’s up with this recession?
    I refuse to participate.
    The answer to your burning questions
    Are dancing on your tailgate.

    It’s time to go to summer school.
    Remember what is and is not cool .
    Oh summer school.
    There’s a time and a place to act like a fool.
    At summer school…





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

    Sláinte!!
    KC's View: