retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB reported on a Los Angeles Times story saying that a lawsuit has been filed by a New Jersey man, supported by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), charging that the restaurant chain Denny’s serves meals that are “dangerously high in sodium” that puts "the restaurant chain's customers at greater risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke." The suit seeks to force Denny’s to both list the sodium content for all of its menu items as well as warn patrons about the health hazards of consuming so much sodium.

One example cited by the Times: “Doctors recommend against eating more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. Order a Denny's double cheeseburger and you'll consume 3,880 milligrams in one sitting.”

Denny’s has responded to the suit by saying it is "frivolous and without merit,” and that it offers plenty of options for people with specific dietary needs.

My comment: No idea here whether this lawsuit will be successful, but Denny’s ought to be paying closer attention to how these things tend to develop in 2009. Management there can go into denial mode and talk about frivolous lawsuits, but that doesn’t change the fact that these charges will take on a viral nature…and Denny’s will look like it is both 1) unresponsive to current health/nutrition trends and 2) non transparent in its dealings. And, eventually, they’ll have to list sodium content on their menus.

MNB user John E. Stiles wrote:

Sounds like the lady that ordered coffee at McDonalds then complains that it’s too hot or people that smoke who then sue the tobacco companies. I have eaten at Denny’s, they have plenty of healthy alternatives on their menu. Your opinion blows my mind, people need take responsibility for their decisions. If someone has high blood pressure then DO NOT ORDER something that normally has high sodium levels. If a person is overweight and wanting to lose weight DO NOT EAT that donut.

Give me a break KC, why not just tell the guy to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your actions.

Actually, if you read what I wrote, I never suggested that the guy should win his lawsuit. In fact, I said I had no idea how it would turn out. And I agree that people ought to take personal responsibility for what they eat and how they behave.


I do believe that we live in an environment where a higher level of transparency is demanded by customers…and if customers demand it, retailers ought to deliver on it. If Denny’s says how much salt is in that cheeseburger and someone with high blood pressure then eats it and has a stroke in the parking lot, that does not strike me as Denny’s fault. But doesn’t 3,880 milligrams in a double cheeseburger sound a little high?

I know that I’ve changed my choices on those occasions when I’ve gone into fast food restaurants in NYC, where calorie counts on the menu boards are required – simply because coming face to face with cold numerical reality serves as a wake up call. Somehow, I can’t get my head around the idea that this is a bad thing.

MNB user Steven Ritchey seems to have the right idea, in my view:

I don’t frequent Denny’s, in fact I can’t remember the last time I ate in one. But, I know and I think most of us do know that a double cheeseburger isn’t going to be good for you on several levels. Just like the bacon cheeseburger I ate Friday night. I knew it wasn’t good for me in several ways, cholesterol, sodium, fat content weren’t particularly healthy I’m sure, to name a few things, I did it because it sounded good and it was good.

I can see putting nutritional information on menus, but I happen to agree with Denny’s about the lawsuit. I know the food isn’t good for me, all the nutritional information does is quantity in stark numbers how bad it is for me.


And the bigger issue remains that in a transparent society, any company that looks like it is anything less ends up looking like it is hiding something. And that isn’t smart marketing, in my view.

MNB had a story yesterday about more private label sales in the organic segment, which led one MNB user to write:

So your story today says consumers will buy more organics when the price is reasonable - welcome to the blatantly obvious! I have said for years (within my local circle) the company that figures out how to sell reasonably priced organics it going to kick everybody's butt in the grocery business.

Hey, it takes a special talent to be a master of the blatantly obvious.

But actually the story wasn’t just about sales of low-priced organics…it was about the emergence of more private label items in the category. Which if it seems obvious and inevitable, is something of a new development…or at least enough so that the Wall Street Journal took note of it.

MNB user Frederic Arnal wrote:

I was part of the development and launch of Topco Associates' (with our Daymon Associates partners) Full Circle brand in the late 1990's. At that time, there was no national brand equivalent to play off as a value alternative so we positioned it as desirable in its own right... "a return to a natural way of eating".

It was designed to meet a growing consumer desire for food products that were free from artificial ingredients, pesticides, excessive processing and was responsibly grown.

From what I see in the marketplace, Full Circle is still meeting that challenge today.

MNB took note yesterday of a USA Today report that Unilever plans to announce today that it plans to remove trans fats from all its soft-spread brands. Which led one MNB user to write:

Unilever doesn't benefit with news that it has (finally) decided to remove trans fats from its products. Trans fat removal is kinda ancient history now. Where have these folks been to be so late in the cleanup game? This news is counterproductive for them - if anything, I am struck instead with an image that they care little about the health of consumers and, it seems, that they don't read much either.

That’s pretty much what Mrs. Content Guy’s reaction was. It wasn't my first response, but this may be widespread enough (pun intended) that Unilever should pay attention.

We wrote yesterday that the apparent success of Whole Foods’ decision to give low interest loans to small and local businesses that are in synch with its mission, which prompted one MNB user to write:

KC, this obsession with Whole Foods is very obvious. I really do not see how you can say the decisions they make will be genius years from now when every decision they are making someone is already doing. WF does nothing for the consumer that is not already being done and that will not promote them. Banning plastic bags was not a smart move, there are now people shopping Central Market instead of their store. They are losing the numbers game, their prices are through the roof, the average Joe cannot afford to shop there…..point being… I will be surprised to see Whole Foods in its current format even in business years from now. They do not know how to compete and the smaller yet more in-tune chains are taking advantage.

Fair enough. You could be right.

MNB wrote yesterday about the NY Mets winning two out of three games from the Houston Astros, and joked that we’d been unable to confirm reports of pigs flying over Minute Maid Park.

Which led MNB user Kevin McKamey to write:

Yes, the rumor is true. Pigs were flying around Minute Maid Park over the weekend. Hopefully they will stick around long enough for the Astros to beat the Cubs three out of three this week!

Just FYI…the Cubs beat the Astros last night 5-1, as Alfonso Soriano delivered a walk-off grand slam home run in the 13th inning.

On a sports issue we haven't written about, MNB user Carl D. Morley wrote:

I am a faithful reader of Morning News Beat. I can tell you are a true baseball fan. I just had to address some disturbing news I heard this morning. Bud Selig is considering reinstating Pete Rose.

I know this is a very divisive issue. While on statistics alone there is no doubt that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame, and should be a part of baseball. But this is exactly a symptom of what is wrong with baseball and America. There is a saying that "As baseball goes, so goes America".

Ball players and owners have always tried to get away with as much as they can. It has always been the responsibility of the Commissioner of Baseball to protect the integrity of the game. Commissioner Selig has functioned as an owner would have reacted. Whatever makes money for the game and the owners. The last Commissioner to functioned truly in that position was Bart Giamatti. He was the one who banned Pete Rose. I believe had he been Commissioner we would not have had the steroid era in baseball.

I love the game of baseball, and as much as Pete Rose's statistics cry out for his
inclusion in baseball, what's more important? I say the integrity of the game…

I agree that Rose should be remain banned from the game,…and I’m perfectly happy to see MLB impose a ban on any player shown to be have used steroids. That may be illegal and draconian, but I’m okay with it.

This raises another issue. The NFL has conditionally reinstated Michael Vick, who has emerged from prison after his conviction for running a dogfighting ring.

They are different sports, but let’s consider the point. Should Vick be allowed to play in the NFL?

My first response to this is that he has served his time and probably deserves a shot if he can find a team to hire him…but I don't want him on my team.

But I’m at least a little uncomfortable with that position.
KC's View: