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    Published on: June 15, 2009

    Time has a piece about in-store health clinics, and frames the growth of this health care option in some fairly persuasive terms:

    “For all the complexities of the U.S. health-care crisis, most Americans experience the problem in a straightforward way: it's just too hard to schedule face time with your family doctor, and it costs too much when you finally get in the door. Of the approximately 1 million physicians working in the U.S., just 30% provide primary care. If you do get an appointment during the week, you'll probably have to take off time from work and carve out at least a few hours to sit in a waiting room. And if you get sick on a weekend, good luck.

    “That, of course, is assuming that you have a doctor in the first place, not a given in a country where up to 50 million people lack health insurance. Even for the insured, ever changing corporate health plans may mean that a physician you see one year is not available to you the next. In times of illness, more and more people just show up in emergency rooms, which increases crowding and slashes revenues as bills to the uninsured go unpaid. In the past 13 years, at least 190 ERs have responded by shutting their doors.

    “Enter the retail health clinic. In the past decade, more and more pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, supermarkets such as Kroger and Publix and big-box stores like Wal-Mart have made space for clinics that treat minor ailments, administer vaccines and examine kids who need medical forms to enroll in camp. In those nine years, storefront clinics have logged at least 3.4 million visits. Today there are about 1,200 such clinics, pulling in some $550 million in annual revenue, by one estimate. Doctors, worried that the clinics will dig into their bottom line, are resisting the trend, but it's hard to argue that the innovation wasn't needed … Family doctors…argue that retail clinics undercut the concept of a ‘medical home,’ a care provider who knows your history and can act as a director for all your medical needs. The clinics counter that with as many as 60% of their patients reporting that they don't have a primary-care provider, there's not much to undercut.”
    KC's View:
    When I read the Time description of traditional health care systems, it just seems so obvious that the model is broken in so many ways.

    Incidentally, there was a great op-ed piece written last week in the Wall Street Journal by Safeway chairman/CEO/president Steve Burd, who addressed the broader health care issue. He wrote, in part:

    “At Safeway we believe that well-designed health-care reform, utilizing market-based solutions, can ultimately reduce our nation's health-care bill by 40%. The key to achieving these savings is health-care plans that reward healthy behavior. As a self-insured employer, Safeway designed just such a plan in 2005 and has made continuous improvements each year. The results have been remarkable. During this four-year period, we have kept our per capita health-care costs flat (that includes both the employee and the employer portion), while most American companies' costs have increased 38% over the same four years.

    “Safeway's plan capitalizes on two key insights gained in 2005. The first is that 70% of all health-care costs are the direct result of behavior. The second insight, which is well understood by the providers of health care, is that 74% of all costs are confined to four chronic conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity). Furthermore, 80% of cardiovascular disease and diabetes is preventable, 60% of cancers are preventable, and more than 90% of obesity is preventable.

    “As much as we would like to take credit for being a health-care innovator, Safeway has done nothing more than borrow from the well-tested automobile insurance model. For decades, driving behavior has been correlated with accident risk and has therefore translated into premium differences among drivers. Stated somewhat differently, the auto-insurance industry has long recognized the role of personal responsibility. As a result, bad behaviors (like speeding, tickets for failure to follow the rules of the road, and frequency of accidents) are considered when establishing insurance premiums. Bad driver premiums are not subsidized by the good driver premiums.”

    The Safeway argument seems to be that bad health is largely preventable, that good health ought to be rewarded, and that as a culture we need to put systems in place that allow people to make better decisions and be more pro-active about their personal well-being.

    (I wonder why Safeway hasn’t gotten into the in-store health clinic business? It would seem to be a perfect fit…but maybe there’s something I’m not seeing.)

    Burd’s argument is compelling. It emphasizes personal responsibility, but seems to put into place the infrastructure necessary to support positive behavior and good decisions.

    And helps to fix a system that seems to be broken.

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    In New York, the Democrat & Chronicle features a joint interview with Danny Wegman, chairman/CEO of the company that bears his family name, and Colleen Wegman, president of the company.

    Colleen Wegman says that after a period of price-cutting and consumer concern about the recession, “We feel that consumer confidence is coming back. Produce is in season, and people are coming back to that and to the items that might be a little more convenient that they'd really shied away from in the past six months.”

    And Danny Wegman addresses the employees-first approach that has made the company so distinctive over the years: “Our goal is that we want to be the best at serving the needs of our customers, but we feel the only way to do that is if we are the best place for our people to work. That's how we look at every decision: How does it affect our people?

    “One thing that's really helped with our people is Work-Scholarship Connection, and we began that back in 1987 because we did not have many minorities working for us and the graduation rate at the time in city schools was 30 percent.

    “This is something we need to do as a community and as a nation. The only way for kids to be successful is to go out and work. If they don't do that, they will never see that there is a bright future for them; the future they'll see without work is one of prison or dying, and the hot jobs are selling drugs. So when they have a chance to work somewhere and see that there's a real career opportunity ahead of them, it really changes their lives.”

    In many ways, it seems like the Wegmans’ enthusiasm for the business has been contagious. Jokes Colleen Wegman, “I tell my boys they can do whatever they want, as long as it's working at Wegmans. But honestly, when someone loves what they do so much, it's contagious. My grandpa, my dad and I all share that same love of the business, so it doesn't feel like work for us. We love what we do.”
    KC's View:
    And it shows.

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that former Marsh Supermarkets CEO Don E. Marsh is countersuing the company, asking for at least $2.1 million in what he claims is owned compensation.

    It was just two months ago that the company sued Marsh, charging him with using company funds and property for personal purposes while he served as CEO of the company. The company said that an IRS audit revealed that Marsh used company funds to bankroll vacation homes and lavish travel for himself, family members and female employees with whom he had personal relationships, and of spending tens of thousands of dollars for personal use and allowing vendors to provide him and his family with perks including trips to the Olympics, Wimbledon and the Grammy Awards. And it accused him of shredding documents related to his behavior before leaving the company.

    The original suit asked for unspecified damages, and sought to recover salary, insurance and benefits payments made to Marsh since he sold the company for $88 million to an affiliate of investment fund Sun Capital Partners.

    "Unfortunately, the out-of-state venture capitalist group that acquired Marsh has attacked me personally with false and flagrant accusations and has refused to honor the terms of my employment agreement with the company," Don Marsh said in a written statement. "I have no choice but to fight back."
    KC's View:
    Actually, it sounds like Don Marsh may have as much of a problem with the IRS as he does with Sun Capital…so he’s going to be fighting a two-front war.

    Marsh already has lost in the court of public opinion. There are few people that I’ve ever heard defend him, and the general feeling seems to be that he continued to treat the company as a private fiefdom even after it went public. Which you cannot do. It isn’t fair to shareholders, and it is illegal. Not to mention in incredibly bad taste, especially these days.

    How far the mighty have fallen. Don Marsh was once viewed as a visionary within the supermarket industry, someone who had outsized ambitions and who defined the notion of what it was like to be an independent retailer. Now, he’s become a legal case and in some people’s view, a case study in arrogance.

    That’s a shame.

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    Advertising Age reports that its Brand Index suggests that while Starbucks, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts wage war over the quality and price of their coffees, the result seems to be that all three are seeing an increase in “buzz.”

    While Ag Age concedes that an increase in “buzz” does not necessarily translate into higher sales or bigger market share, it also reports that “43% of adults asked where they were most likely to purchase a ‘premium coffee drink’ said Starbucks, 15% picked McDonald's, 11% sided with Dunkin' and 31% had no preference.”
    KC's View:
    An increase in “buzz” may not necessarily translate into higher sales or bigger market share…but it doesn’t hurt.

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times reports that People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has found a new target – the guys at the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle who throw fish back and forth as part of the street-theater that attracts tourists and consumers to a seafood nirvana.

    Here’s how the Times reports the story:

    “The Pike Place Fish Market is the legendary home of the flying fish: Halibut as big as a wrestler's thigh, spiky medallions of crab, the smooth, rainbow flesh of Chinook salmon, all become rapid-fire marine rockets in the hands of Seattle's fishmongers -- who are as famous for the speed of their fish as for its freshness.

    “But did anyone ever think of the fish?

    “Asserting that the practice of lobbing fish above the heads of patrons and tourists at the market and other venues is disrespectful to creatures that already have gone through a lot, an animal rights group is protesting plans to stage a flying-fish exhibition at an upcoming national veterinarians conference in Seattle.

    “Ultimately, they would like to see the practice banned at the fish market too. They argue that tourists would not be nearly so eager to snap photos if dead kittens or gutted lambs were sailing over their heads.”

    Jeremy Ridgway, one of the managers at the market, tells the Times that he is “bewildered” at PETA’s suggestion that they are being “callous” about the fish, and he describes the fish tossing “as merely the quickest way of getting fish from display cases to the counter.”
    KC's View:
    Not to sound callous, but I’m not a cat guy…so the whole flying dead kitten thing doesn’t offend me so much.

    (Okay, that was a little callous. It also was a little joke. Some will say very, very little. But I couldn’t help myself.)

    There’s a point up to which I find PETA’s ambitions to be honorable, even noble. Animals should not be treated cruelly, even as they are prepared for slaughter. I get that. Any thinking, feeling human being gets that.

    But these fish are dead. So it isn’t like there is any cruelty involved. And when you think about it, the act of cutting open a fish, de-boning it, cooking it and then eating it (preferably with a little of Emeril’s Essence or the appropriate Tom Douglas rub used in its preparation, accompanied by a nice white wine) is a lot more cruel. (Does it make me an evil person that I get hungry just describing that meal?)

    Except that, of course, the fish is dead. And food. Which makes the whole cruelty thing kind of moot.

    Of course, this isn’t really about not throwing fish or kittens. This is about pursuing an agenda that wants people to live a completely vegetarian lifestyle…which, while I respect that choice when other people make it, isn’t something I need or want to be lectured about. And I don’t think that this makes me, or any of the millions of people who agree with me, evil or callous or cruel.

    Now, pass the salmon. Please. I’m hungry.

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    Fast Company is out with its list of the 10 most innovative people in food, and there are a couple of interesting choices on the list:

    Number six is Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation with Kraft, who created the company’s iFood Assistant application for the iPhone, “which offers Kraft devotees with iPhones thousands of recipes and more, proves not only that brands can create meaningful mobile experiences but also that customers will pay for them. Kraft’s cooking app ($0.99) cracked the iPhone’s top 100 apps list, rising at one point to the No. 2 slot in the lifestyle section, and helped the $42 billion company better understand its customers and what they’re shopping for.”

    Number nine is Becky Frankiewicz, vp of portfolio card marketing for Frito-Lay North America, who Fast Company describes as “leading the shift for Frito-Lay’s Smartfood and Baked Lays brands to appeal to women, using design and taste to communicate that healthy snacking isn’t an oxymoron. New packaging is more elegant, appealing, and signals health benefits, and new technology lets flavor be baked into each crisp.”
    KC's View:
    The fact that these rankings include two CPG executives demonstrates how the world is changing, and the premium that companies should place on innovative thinking and exceptional implementation.

    BTW…the number two person on the list is Dan Barber, owner and chef of New York City’s Blue Hill, which I’ve written about before in this space. Not only has the content Guy and Mrs. Content Guy been there, but several weeks later President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama went there. (Not sure if it was because they read my recommendation on MorningNewsBeat…but you never know.) Anyway, I mention this again because the CIES World Food Business Summit is in New York this week, and any food industry executive who cares about food ought to try to get a reservation there. It may be impossible, but they should try…because it quite simply is one of the best restaurants they’ll ever go to.

    Published on: June 15, 2009 has agreed to write check for $51 million to Toys R Us to settle a longstanding lawsuit that charged the e-tailer with allowing other companies to sell toys on its site at the same time that it had an exclusivity arrangement with Toys R Us. Amazon had argued that Toys R Us didn’t keep appropriate in-stock levels, but the courts agreed with Toys R Us…and now the two companies have reached a financial settlement.
    KC's View:
    This may be the right legal conclusion, but I cannot help but remember that Toys R Us turned to Amazon after it had a disastrous holiday shopping season when it failed to fulfill so many orders that it almost completely blew its online credibility.

    Oh, well. Amazon can write the check, and find some solace in the fact that it likely will be around long after Toys R Us has bitten the dust. Long tail virtual retailing has a much longer prospective life span than the likes of Toys R Us, in my humble opinion; then again, maybe I’m prejudiced because I’d rather visit the proctologist than a Toys R Us.

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    • The St. Petersburg Times reports that Albertsons will pay $200,000 “to resolve false advertising complaints last summer that will translate into $20 settlement checks to shoppers who claim they were misled.

    “The supermarket chain angered many shoppers across Florida when it hired liquidators to stage inventory ‘blow out sales’ at 53 stores being sold or closed, while advertising lower prices at 40 other stores that were not being closed.

    “Supermarket liquidators, who buy the stock and hope to profit by selling it at progressively lower prices over a period of weeks, frequently raise prices at the start of a going out of business sale because discounts supported by the stores' suppliers are no longer part of the deal. Many Albertsons regulars were enraged that even prices they were used to paying day in and day out went up before they were discounted by liquidators. Albertsons ads for stores that were not closing, however, continued to promote the discounted vendor prices, but did not mention they would not be honored at stores being closed.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    MNB reported last week that the US Senate had passed a bill allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco, and I thoroughly endorsed the idea.

    One MNB user responded:

    As with many other things it boils down to the almighty buck. The government subsidizes tobacco farmers, there’s plenty of money to be made on the products, etc. Now with the new taxation laws they’re counting on the true addicts to cough up (pun intended) money for lots of stuff.

    I have battled tobacco addiction for what seems like forever. I will likely end up like your mother did and my older daughter will be feeling the same as you do since she’s been after me to quit for at least 20 years. Many attempts were made without much success. I don’t like being overly dictated to by the government, but there are times when I wish it would just be banned/unavailable (wow, did I just say that?). I realize it’s too late for me now, but it would prevent others from starting. It’s a powerful addiction and I wish I had never started.

    I think my mom quit with the help of acupuncture. I hope you keep trying, and I hope you finally beat it. It’s never too late.

    On the broad subject of government priorities in the health/nutrition arena, “sin taxes,” and the importance of personal responsibility, MNB user Liz Schlegel wrote:

    Recently saw Van Jones, who works with President Obama on green jobs stuff (he is one helluva guy) -- He made the point that to achieve meaningful change, we have to get the policy right, and we have to get the public investment right. A key role of government is to develop policy to reward appropriate behavior - carrots and sticks. Taxes are our stick (think of so-called "sin taxes" on cigarettes and liquor). Policy is about who wins - which industries get tax credits or infrastructure. Just look at rail vs. roads and think about that from a policy perspective, or nuclear vs. solar.

    Granted, he was talking about energy and climate change, but I believe the principle is the same. Where are we investing our dollars? Does ADM get tax credits? Is unhealthful food better treated on the policy level? Is it easier to get subsidies to grow genetically modified corn than it is to raise organic cucumbers?

    Granted, it can be taken too far but it's a useful lens through which to view health (or any) government interventions. What behavior is being rewarded as virtuous, and what is being made less attractive?

    Carrots and sticks drive people - it's how business (and human nature) works.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Personal responsibility, application of technology and transparency in information are critical to cost management in health care. Turning the "herd" toward a healthier standard will require time, carrots and sometimes a stick. Given the size (numbers and waistlines) of the Boomers needing larger portions of available health care dollars something has to give, and soon. A 4,000 + calorie a day diet for a growing population strains both the food and medication supplies worldwide. Farm production has peaked, unless new methods and altered strains of grain are developed demand will soon exceed supply, same is true for medication supplies. A growing percentage of medications are now produced overseas by countries that have their own middle class demanding affordable food and medicine for themselves. Competition for all resources will change the landscape in more ways than currently realized but, sales are sales and next quarter is the primary focus in business. The consumer wants quality, quantity, quick access and affordability today, tomorrow is a long way away. How to address these facts is the challenge for all.

    Just an old farm kid with some food for thought……

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    I cringe every time I read things like this blaming the government for the priorities and policies they pursue. The government is made up of the people that we elected. I wish that all of the talking heads would quit blaming the government for the programs and policies that they disagree with If they feel they must point fingers, blame the people who voted, or even better the people that didn’t vote.

    The politicians were elected to do the will of the people that elected them. (see democracy) Blaming the government for creating policy is like blaming the guy who cooked your cheeseburger for your high cholesterol.

    As far as if we can pay for it... we are the wealthiest nation in the world, it is just a matter of who will pay for it, that’s what it always comes down to. The rich and powerful, the hungry and poor, I’m sure the working middle class will carry the load again.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Regarding the government idea about putting more phys ed in schools, bike paths, etc: Not to put too fine a point on it, but isn't this basically reverting to form from 'back in the day' when there was an hour of P.E., and kids brown-bagged a sandwich, fruit, cookie and bought a milk carton, and rode a bike or walked to and from school?

    Oh, sorry, that was before activities like dodge ball were outlawed because they taught aggressiveness or risked someone's psyche if they were among the last picked for a team, or before we covered the playgrounds in flubber (or eliminated PE entirely) out of fear of lawsuits should Johnny trip and fall, or before school districts grabbed the money for food/drink contracts that mostly brought in less-healthy foodservice alternatives, or before hyper-competitiveness crowded out running around with friends after school and replaced it with more lessons and studying (and technology replaced actual exercise with virtual combat for the boys and social combat (Facebook, of course) for the girls)?

    I've never been accused of supporting inflated government and certainly our economy is waaaay out over its skis, but in this case, if the government can find a way within reason to help kids learn how to run and sweat and fall down and get back up, I'm for it. It would take 50 years for school districts to get there on their own (if ever) and we're spending lots of money on a lot of dopier ideas now anyway.

    I wrote about a week ago about Walmart trucks that use as fuel leftover fat from its fryers, and wondered if they smell like French fries as they go down the road.

    This prompted MNB user Chelle Blaszczyk, of Natural Ovens Bakery, a Division of Alpha Baking, to write:

    We do use reused vegetable oil in some of our semi trucks and I can tell you that yes, you can smell French fries when the truck is moving. And the other interesting thing is that the trucks do better with the healthier oil; the partially hydrogenated oils are not good for the engine or our bodies.

    Go figure.

    Finally, I made a quick reference last week to a survey that said that Angelina Jolie was the most powerful woman in America, supplanting Oprah Winfrey, who had been atop the list for years.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    I thought sure Mrs. Content Guy was #1…

    See, if I’d thought of that line, I would have earned serious points. But no, somebody else had to think of it. Nuts!
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2009

    • In the National Basketball Association finals, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 to take the series 4-1 and win the franchise’s 15th championship.

    • In the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Detroit Red Wings 2-1, taking the series and the National Hockey League championship.
    KC's View:
    Being a Mets fan, I’m not even going to talk about baseball. It is too painful.