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    Published on: June 12, 2009

    The United States Senate yesterday voted overwhelmingly (79-17) in favor of "The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control" bill, which will give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the responsibility for regulating the sale, production and marketing of tobacco products.

    The Senate bill now must be reconciled with a version passed by the House of Representatives – a process that could happen as soon as today. Once that occurs, the bill goes to the desk of President Barack Obama, who has promised to sign it.

    According to the MSNBC story, “cigarette makers will no longer be able to advertise near schools or sponsor entertainment or sporting events. Also, larger warning labels will be required. And claims on packs like ‘low tar’ or ‘light’ will be prohibited because those could falsely suggest a healthier cigarette.”

    The New York Times reports that the Congressional Budget Office estimates that “the new law would reduce youth smoking by 11 percent and adult smoking by 2 percent over the next decade, in addition to reductions already achieved through other actions, like higher taxes and smoke-free indoor space laws.” The new law, the Times writes, “stops short of empowering the FDA to outlaw smoking or ban nicotine - strictures that even most antismoking advocates acknowledged were not politically feasible and might drive people addicted to nicotine into a criminal black market. But the law would give the FDA power to set standards that could reduce nicotine content and regulate chemicals in cigarette smoke. The law also bans most tobacco flavorings, which are considered a lure to first-time smokers.”

    It is expected in some circles that once the bill becomes law, it will be challenged in the courts on constitutional grounds as infringing on freedom of speech.

    KC's View:
    While I worry that the FDA may be stretched too thin by these new responsibilities, I firmly believe that this is the right thing to do. Tobacco is nothing if not a drug, and it is a drug that kills…and my heart breaks a little bit every time I see a young person smoking a cigarette, because I simply don't understand.

    As always, I need to say that I have no objectivity on this issue. My mother died of lung cancer after being addicted to cigarettes for more than three decades. (She finally quit…but less than five years later was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread everywhere. She survived for more than three years because she was a tough broad – I say that with love – but I cannot ever forget what tobacco did to her, and what she did to herself by using it since she was a teenager.) If one thing positive came out of her addiction, it was that my six brothers and sisters and I never smoked…it was just too disgusting a habit that repulsed us all. My kids don't smoke, because they saw their grandmother shrivel up in front of them.

    If FDA regulation can stop just some kids from smoking, and save some families from having to go through this, then it is a good thing.

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    The Baltimore Sun has a story suggesting that Ahold-owned Giant of Landover is making strides after years of apparent decline related to consolidation of many of its operations with Stop & Shop’s in Massachusetts, plus heightened competition from Wegmans, Whole Foods, Harris Teeter and others.

    According to the story, customers seem to be noticing that there is a better selection (especially in organics), brighter lighting, and wider aisles…not to mention self-scanning technology that allows people to scan their items as they place them in their shopping carts. There is still some dissatisfaction with prices – Wegmans is perceived as having lower prices on most things – but shoppers are being lured back.

    KC's View:
    First of all, there doesn’t seem to be much question that Giant is getting better … especially compared to an operation that the Sun describes as having “lost some of what had made it popular, such as good service and personal relationships between customers and employees.” For a lot of people I know in the DC market, Giant’s decline was related to the fact that it no longer seemed to be a local chain…but perhaps it has been so long since Giant had that reputation that it no longer has to live up to those expectations.

    (The other thing that mystifies these same DC shoppers is that Safeway hasn’t managed to make more of Giant’s decline…but that may speak to the plethora competition more than it does to the quality of Safeway’s stores.)

    Giant also no doubt is benefitting from the fact that more people are eating at home, and the recession has people shopping locally more often rather than making destination shopping trips to other stores. The key will be how the company does what Walmart keeps talking about – creating stores that will retain the customer base as the recession recedes, which it will do. Eventually.

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    The Allentown Morning Call reports that Wegmans has joined the “Take Marlin Off The Menu” campaign, which was launched by marine advocacy groups that include the International Game Fish Association, the National Coalition for Marine Conservation, and The Billfish Foundation.

    Wegmans actually stopped selling marlin last September because of concerns about declines in the species’ population, but the new step represents another step in sustainability advocacy for the supermarket chain.

    According to the story, while Wegmans does not disclose specific sales numbers, it concedes that marlin was not a big-selling item…but says that it did take a financial hit when it discontinued sale of the product. Wegmans has been suggesting that shoppers try mahi instead.

    ''As an industry, we have a great deal of influence in what Americans eat,'' Carl Salamone, Wegmans vice president of seafood, tells the Morning Call. ''Every day, in supermarkets across the country, consumers ask seafood professionals what's great to eat. That's when we can point consumers to fish and seafood that is flavorful and good for our environment. Because when the marlin are gone, we all lose.''

    KC's View:
    Some companies lead. Others follow. I have a great deal of respect for Wegmans in so many areas…but I think its approach to sustainability issues distinguishes and differentiates it.

    Good for Wegmans.

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    The Connecticut Post reports on efforts by Ancona’s Market – a single-store independent in Ridgefield, Connecticut – in incorporate “green technology and eco-friendly store design” in its operations.

    According to the story, the initiatives are being led by Joe Ancona, grandson of the store’s founder, who “grew up in the business, and after earning a bachelor's degree in architecture and master's of business administration degree … returned to the market three years ago.

    “His architectural training is in sustainable supply and environmentally friendly designs that are community and socially responsible. His personal interest is in natural foods that promote a healthy lifestyle. From re-usable cloth grocery bags to polished cement floors -- which don't require the stripping and waxing with toxic chemicals that vinyl floor tiles do -- Ancona has made the market environmentally friendly.”

    In addition, Ancona has made a real commitment to local purchasing. “Ancona's Market now purchases much of its seasonal produce from The Hickories, a family-run, third-generation farm in Ridgefield,” the Post writes. “In the fall, the market will be selling Ridgefield-grown, grass-fed, hormone- and antibiotic-free beef.”

    "By buying locally, you're supporting area businesses and think of all the transportation expense and effect that's saved when your spinach comes down the street rather than across country," Ancona tells the paper.

    KC's View:
    It is a constant refrain here that in order to compete, you have to do things that are different from what the competition is doing. Ancona’s is doing that – and finding that by focusing on sustainability in a number of areas, it is being green-smart in both environmental and economic ways.

    I drive by Ancona’s all the time because the video producer I work with lives nearby; I must sheepishly admit that it has been some time since I’ve ventured in. But now I’m going to make a point of it next time I’m in the area.

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    Good piece in the Wall Street Journal that challenges the current view that plastic grocery bags ought to be banned completely because they are an environmental blight on the planet.

    “Nothing is simple in the push to protect the planet,” the Journal writes. “There is growing evidence that the production, use and disposal of plastic bags put less burden on natural resources than paper bags. Meanwhile, a knock against plastic bags – that they can't be conveniently recycled -- is becoming less persuasive as more cities start accepting plastic bags in curbside recycling programs.”

    The Journal goes on to note that “what most studies agree is most beneficial to the environment … is for shoppers to bring their own reusable bags to the grocery store. A reusable bag is better for the environment regardless of what it is made from, as long as it is used at least four times, according to a 2004 study by the French retailer Carrefour.”

    But at the very least, the Journal illustrates that this is not a simple debate, and that “paper or plastic” is a question without easy answers.

    KC's View:
    Look, I don't think there’s any question that reusable bags are best for the environment because less trash is less trash. That isn’t hard to process. (I keep getting emails from people who ask about germs and bacteria carried in reusable bags, and I keep wondering if these people don't have washing machines. A good cotton canvas bag – and the MorningNewsBeat bags made by EcoBags, a site sponsor that I have no problem plugging – can be used many, many times and washed whenever it gets dirty.)

    I also think that without the environmental awareness created by this debate, there would not be so many efforts being made to improve recycling efforts.

    Look, this is a healthy debate. Better to have it than not. And we’re making progress…slow and steady.

    And if you are a retailer, you really ought to consider selling bags like the MorningNewsBeat canvas bags. They’re terrific. (Yes, that was another plug.)

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    • The Arizona republic reports on the opening of the new Supermercado de Walmart, a Hispanic-themed supermarket opened this week in west Phoenix.

    “Judging from the reactions of customers,” the Republic writes, the new store “is a popular addition to west Phoenix.

    Interviews with shoppers in the store suggest that they are happy with the prices, the Hispanic foods, the specialty meats, and the produce department in the former Walmart Neighborhood Market that has been renovated to Hispanic tastes.

    KC's View:
    Actually, this isn’t my view…because I haven't seen the new store.

    But one of our intrepid MNB users did make a visit, and filed this report:

    I just happened to be in town and availed myself to join in the festivities. As expected, it was jammed, with lots of “suits” (Bentonville visitors or competition ), vendors, and shoppers, the atmosphere festive, and parking lot packed….Giant loaves of bread, mariachi’s, free tastes, colorful bi-lingual walls, bakery, great meat and Aguas Frescas counters, tortilla factory, cocina, produce stacked high and prolifically, good prices, and tailored brand mix at the shelf. It was a fun experience, but in reality… almost too sterile. No music over the loudspeakers, the walls looked like a more colorful Fresh & Easy than a welcoming Mercado. Call me jaded, but I regularly go into the wonderful Hispanic markets in Southern California and Phoenix, and in my estimation, the Superiors, Vallarta’s, Pro Ranch Markets, El Supers, and Cardenas of the area are more spot on than our Bentonville buddies… BUT this IS Walmart and they’ll persevere. In Phoenix, who they’ll hurt are the Bashas’ format Food City, which just happens to be right across the corner…

    Thanks for that report.

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    Bloomberg reports that in a speech this week to the British Retail Consortium, Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy said that consumer confidence seems to be “slowly seeping back,” and that while it is impossible to predict how long the recession will last, retailers must preparing now for eventual prosperity…because loyalty established now will persist in good times if retailers are smart about it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    ….will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 12, 2009

    It was funny to see, since I was so negative about the PF Chang Chinese food restaurant chain this week, that Marketing Daily had a piece about two guys who are traveling around the country to visit different Chang units in seven different cities.

    One of the cities is New York…and at the risk of being called a snob (again), I can't imagine why anyone would go to a PF Chang’s in a city with so many fabulous and authentic Chinese restaurants.

    But, to each his own.

    There was another story during the past few weeks about a guy visiting every Starbucks in the country, and getting annoyed because Starbucks is closing so many down. (You’d think he’d be happy about that.)

    What I really want to know is, who are these people? And how come they don't have lives?

    It was interesting to catch up with the recent issue of Newsweek in which it did something exceedingly rare – cast a critical eye on Oprah Winfrey and the influence she seems to have on the American public. The charge was that Winfrey tends to promote questionable (at best) theories about medical and scientific issues without ever scrutinizing their validity and the motivations of those who promote them. Furthermore, it is suggested that by offering certain people – like Suzanne Somers and Jenny McCarthy – a platform from which they can preach about certain issues without fear of contradiction, she actually is putting people in danger.

    One has to be careful about criticizing the second most powerful woman in the world – a recent poll showed Winfrey slipping to second behind Angelina Jolie, for what it’s worth, which is nothing – but it seemed to me that the article actually was illustrative of the continuing tension between science and what might be called non-conventional science, some of which doesn’t strike me as science at all. It is important not to categorize all of these alternative approaches to medicine the same way, but it probably is safe to say that some of this stuff is quackery.

    I cannot help but think that one of the things the article and Oprah’s recent career illustrate is that people are hungry for cure-alls and quick fixes, for magic potions that will resolve their emotional problems, tighten their skin, reduce their paunches, darken their hair, enlarge their brain power and clarify their thinking. That’s worth acknowledging if you are in the retail business, because it speaks to people’s aspirations and how they can be marketed to; it may be possible to talk to people in these terms, but to do so in a reality-based way that stresses personal responsibility.

    I’m not sure that the bloom is off the rose that is Oprah Inc., but experience teaches that sometimes it is the first story – like the one in Newsweek - that begins the avalanche that sometimes can bring down a person or a career. I’m not rooting for that to happen, because ultimately she seems like a person of strong values who is a positive role model. But I do think she needs to be careful.

    BTW…when the redesign of Newsweek was launched a few weeks ago, I hated it. Really hated it. In fact, I downloaded the magazine to my Kindle because I was curious … and thought it was interesting that it was far more readable on the Kindle than on paper.

    That said, I’m moving off that position…a bit. The redesign is growing on me, though I’m still not totally on board.

    But I can’t wait to read the latest edition, which was guest-edited by Stephen Colbert. It looks hysterical.

    Which leads me to suggest that if you did not see “The Colbert Report” programs this week that were produced in Iraq, you should go online and download them. Not only were they mostly very, very funny (there was just one skit that fell flat, a piece with Tom Hanks), but they also drove home the fact that there are thousands of servicemen and servicewomen still stationed in Iraq, still in mortal danger.

    Colbert was terrific…recalling Bob Hope as he strolled around the stage with a golf club, and managing to walk the fine line between his usual comic persona and genuine respect – even awe – at the soldiers in his audience.

    Great stuff.

    Speaking of stars…I was amazed, watching the Tony Awards last Sunday, how much star quality Neil Patrick Harris has. Sure, we all know him as Doogie Howser and from “How I Met Your Mother,” and my kids know him from the “Dr. Horrible” webcasts. But during the Tonys he owned that stage…joking and singing and dancing and absolutely in control of the proceedings, every bit the host that Billy Crystal used to be for the Oscars.

    This is a big star in the making.

    I have a movie for you to see on DVD…”Last Chance Harvey,” a lovely little romantic comedy with Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson (who always reminds me of my friend, the equally fabulous Anne O’Broin). It wasn't much seen when it hit theaters last winter, but it is almost the perfect DVD movie. Hoffman plays a divorced New York jingle writer who, on the verge of losing his job, flies to London for his daughter’s wedding only to find out that she wants her stepfather (James Brolin) to walk her down the aisle. He’s devastated and without a clue about how to put his life back together…until a chance encounter with airport employee Emma Thompson gives him a last chance for redemption. This isn’t high art or overly profound…but it is a nice little portrait of two people who fit into a demographic group not often treated seriously in the movies. (Maybe I like the movie because I’m in that demographic group…) Rent it, and thank me later.

    A couple of weeks ago I wrote glowingly about the new Robert B. Parker western, Brimstone,” and one MNB user wrote into say that he’d loved it, too…and wished that Parker could publish a novel a week.

    Well, Parker almost does…he usually comes out with three books a year (which leaves me in awe considering how long it is taking me to finish my end of the book that I’m co-writing with Michael Sansolo).

    Almost simultaneously with “Brimstone,” Parker published another book, “Chasing The Bear” (Philomel, $14.95), which is described as a novel for young people. In fact, “Chasing The Bear” really is more of a novella that details the younger days of Spenser, the iconic Boston detective he has written about in 36 books (with yet another one slated to be published later this year). It is only a young person’s novel in that the language is cleaned up and there isn’t any sex; “Chasing The Bear” is sort of a tasty afternoon snack for those of us who devour new Parker novels as soon as they come out. I loved it.

    Here’s my wine of the week: the Astica Cuyo 2008 Malbec from Argentina, which is delicious with spicy food…and costs only seven bucks, which makes it perfect for these recessionary times. Yummm…

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


    KC's View: