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    Published on: August 18, 2009

    by Michael Sansolo

    Even though I get paid to write and talk about how people eat and cook, I have to admit something terrible: I’m getting overwhelmed. It’s just that everything is too complicated these days.

    Years ago, comedian Jack Mason had a wonderful routine on food. Mason would tick through a litany of foods that science had determined were the worst things you could ever eat. That is, until science found something even worse.

    Today, even Mason, who has a wonderful gift of making any explanation sound incredibly complicated, is flummoxed. On a YouTube video about food choices, he sounds off against the never-ending run of competing studies on whether foods are good or bad for you. Chemist and activist Linus Pauling, Mason says, spent years of his life promoting the importance of taking massive doses of vitamin C and lived to be nearly 100. “Turns out, he would have lived to 200 without it.”

    Mason may have a point.

    Just think of what we’ve heard lately. Eating fish prevents or at least slows dementia. Wine makes us healthier and maybe improves our sex life. Eating chocolate helps limit the damage and risk of death from heart attacks. And, in possibly my favorite, a friend of my son’s—and a pre-med student at that—explained how the food coloring in blue M&Ms have been linked to healing spinal injuries.

    Don’t believe me; check any of those headlines on Google. You don’t have to look far as all of these studies came out in just the past few weeks.

    Now think for a second what these messages say to our shoppers. While certainly there are some who will chow down on handfuls of M&Ms as preventative medicine before entering the X-games, I’m betting a vast majority rolled their eyes and ignored the news. They have simply heard too much from too many with too little reason to believe.

    Sorry to say, that’s a problem. Unless you have been living under a rock, health is a big issue. And amid all the screaming and confusion surrounding the issue, health care costs are out of control and something must be done. But let’s not dwell on the politics or legislation. Instead, let’s examine the impact on this industry because the impact is coming.

    The New York Times reported this Sunday on the wellness initiative at the Cleveland Clinic. The hospital no longer hires smokers and the rules aren’t likely to stop there. Delos M. Cosgrove, the clinic’s chief executive, says if he could he would also stop hiring obese people. Pointing out the costs obesity puts on the health system, Cosgrove says the nation needs to rethink its weighty problem. “We should declare obesity a disease and say we’re going to help you get over it.”

    The line from such thinking to the aisles of supermarkets is very, very short. But as usual, there is opportunity in this challenge. Re-read MNB from last week to absorb the words of Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey, who pledges to return his company’s focus to healthy eating. Whole Foods may be having issues at the moment, but Mackey is onto something big. (Of course, he also found out last week the danger of getting political when he came out in the Wall Street Journal against the Obama administration’s health care reform plans, only to enrage liberal Whole Foods shoppers who started using words like “boycott.” Talk about things getting complicated…)

    Shoppers don’t know who to trust. They face the constant barrage of news telling them all the products that are killing them plus all the products saving them and they react like Jackie Mason, without the comic touch. They get confused, frustrated, overwhelmed and angry.

    Now think of the opportunity to help them sort through the confusion, to help them make better choices and to better understand the nutrients and attributes of various foods. Sure it’s tough for even supermarkets to sort through the clutter of news, but that’s what shoppers ache for us to do: to simplify their lives and satisfy their desires.

    Great comedians get rich mocking the complicated. Good businesses do the opposite.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    The New York Times reports this morning that the US Department of Justice has indicted three men – a Miami man and two Russian co-conspirators – who, it says, were responsible for the theft of more than 130 million credit card and debit card numbers between late 2006 and early 2008, a scam that affected the computer systems of retailers that included Hannaford Brothers and c-store chain 7-Eleven, as well as Heartland Payment Systems, a payment processor.

    According to the indictment, at least some of those credit card numbers were sold online to people who used them to make unauthorized purchases. The Miami man, Albert Gonzales, is already in custody because of charges in another identify theft case; it is unknown how or if the Justice Department will be able to arrest and try the Russians in the case. The Times writes that “each defendant faces the possibility of 35 years in prison, and more than $1 million in fines or twice the amount made from the crime, whichever is greater.”

    Some interesting notes in the Times story:

    • “Prosecutors called it the largest case of computer crime and identity theft ever prosecuted.”

    • “Mr. Gonzalez once worked with federal investigators. In 2003, after being arrested in New Jersey in a computer crime, he helped the Secret Service and federal prosecutors in New Jersey identify his former conspirators in the online underworld where credit and debit card numbers are stolen, bought and sold.”

    And perhaps the most sobering line from the article:

    • “Although some states require card issuers to notify customers about security breaches, it is unclear whether all individuals whose card numbers were stolen in this case have been notified and offered new account numbers.”
    KC's View:
    Want to know something else that’s scary? Gonzales is only 28 years old, according to the Times story…which means she’s squeezed a lot of larceny into a relatively short lifespan using a technological facility that most of us can barely understand.

    Perhaps the most important lesson from this case comes from how Hannaford dealt with it – the company got a lot of criticism for holding back on informing its customers about the breach of its systems, and creating a situation in which at least some of its affected shoppers found out about the problem with their cards by reading the Boston Globe and other newspapers.

    That’s never how you want your shoppers to find out.

    Now, Hannaford probably has a good defense – that to have told its customers any sooner might have jeopardized the federal investigation into the breach. But this is a tough one, and the company had to worry that its shoppers might feel that among other things, their confidence had been breached.

    That’s never how you want your shoppers to feel.

    One can only imagine how often these things happen. (Though maybe it is better not to think about it too much…we’d all go back to hiding cash in our mattresses.) It seems like several times over the past few months we’ve gotten new debit cards to replace existing cards in our wallets, with a note saying that this was just a precaution because of a feared breach of bank or retailer systems.

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    The Reader’s Digest Association, publisher of the iconic magazine that for decades has owned much of the “wire” at supermarket front ends, announced yesterday that it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

    CEO Mary Berner said that despite the filing, it would be “business as usual,” with no layoffs, no salary cuts and virtually no impact on day-to-day operations. She said that the move was strictly a “balance sheet issue.”
    KC's View:
    The idea that Reader’s Digest thinks it can do business as usual and survive in the long term strikes me as a joke at best, and delusional at worst. My guess is that you would have to hunt very hard to find anyone under the age of 30 who reads Reader’s Digest on a regular basis or find it relevant to their daily lives – and it is almost impossible to imagine that they don't need to make major changes to their business model in order to have an extended and healthy life span.

    They may have convinced themselves at Digest headquarters that this is just a balance sheet issue, but anyone with a computer knows that the world has passed Reader’s Digest by.

    “Business as usual?” In 2009, any executive who utters those words ought to be shown the door. Because those words are a recipe for complacency, disaster and irrelevance.

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    Advertising Age reports that despite apparent success with a negative ad campaign that targeted rival Progresso, Campbell Soup has decided to halt the use of a comparative ad that suggested that its Select Harvest soups were loaded with fresh ingredients, while the competition’s tasted mostly of chemicals.

    According to the story, the negative ads seemed to be working – Campbell’s soup sales were up. But now, its marketing experts say that having built awareness for the brand with an in-your-face approach to advertising, now is the time to stress Select Harvest’s positive attributes – and therefore build sales even more as the category enters the traditionally hot soup season in the autumn months.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    A site called reports that a Connecticut Frito-Lay factory “now generates its own electricity with a combined heat and power system that enables the 75-acre site to ease the demand on the country's Northeast power grid.”

    According to the story, the plant is one of the manufacturer’s core facilities around the country, and processes a quarter of a million pounds of corn and potatoes each day to make a variety of chips.

    The plant is said to feature “a gas turbine that produces electricity, and waste heat from the process is used to produce steam, which in turn is used in the manufacturing of snacks. The system, housed in a roughly 5,000-square-foot building, is expected produce 100 percent of the electricity and about 50 percent of the steam used at the plant.”

    The company reportedly got a $1 million grant from the state to defray some of the retrofitting that needed to be doe to the plant.
    KC's View:
    To be honest, I have very little idea what any of this means, except that it sounds like Frito-Lay is doing something positive for both the environment and its own bottom line. It is the kind of move that certainly ought to be promoted throughout the supply chain, because more and more customers are going to want to support companies making these kinds of investments.

    It is a narrative that goes beyond the quality of the brand. It is a narrative that consumers want to hear.

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    MNB reported yesterday that Tesco, concerned that its market share in the UK was suffering from a small but steady erosion as its chief rival, Walmart-owned Asda Group, saw growth in its market share, had decided to double the Clubcard points offered on purchases at its stores.

    Apparently, that’s not all being doubled at Tesco, where the slogan is “Every little helps.”

    The London Evening Standard reports that the ATM at a west London Tesco store began malfunctioning the other day, handing out twice the amount of money being requested by users.

    Apparently, London shoppers were not above taking advantage of the situation. Within minutes of the first incident, the news spread and there soon was a line of more than 50 people trying to get money out of the ATM; thousands of pounds were withdrawn before the problem was fixed.

    Tesco said it shut down the machine as soon as it became aware of the problem, and would not be trying to recoup the funds accidentally handed out.
    KC's View:
    Maybe it is just my Jesuit education, but if an ATM gave me twice the money I asked for, I cannot imagine any circumstances under which I would call all my friends and tell them about it, nor can I imagine responding to such a call from someone I knew.

    Last time I checked, that’s called stealing. I have vague memories about there being a rule or a commandment or something that says that you’re not supposed to do that.

    One day you’re grabbing a little illicit money from the local ATM…and pretty soon, you’re stealing credit and debit card numbers. (Am I wrong, or is it just a short leap from one to the other?)

    On the one hand, this is a funny story. On the other hand, in the darker reaches of my soul, it worries me…because it says something about people that isn’t very heartening.

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    Online Media Daily reports that a new study from consultancy dunnhumbyUSA and comScore suggests that online advertising increases sales of CPG products by an average of nine percent, and that 80 percent of online ad campaigns “resulted in statistically significant sales increases for the advertised brands.”

    According to the analysis, “CPG companies have traditionally lagged behind other sectors such as financial services and automotive. Last year, the CPG and food products category accounted for only 6%, or $1.5 billion, of the $23.4 billion spent on online advertising last year -- up from 4%, or $925 million, in 2007.”
    KC's View:
    Which, in view of how much time is being spent online by most shoppers, seems like an absurdly low number that is rooted in habit rather than effectiveness.

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    • The Guardian reports that “supermarket giant Tesco has become the first UK retailer to display the full carbon footprint of milk — one of the top-selling products in its stores. From today, all Tesco own-label full-fat, semi-skimmed and skimmed milk ranges will display the carbon footprint label as part of an on-going drive to help shoppers make ‘green’ purchasing decisions.”

    Tesco has promised to label some 500 products with carbon footprint information by the end of the year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    USA Today reports that the American Beverage Association “has begun a $2 million ad campaign to oppose a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks,”, and has joined forces with the National Restaurant Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association to launch Americans Against Food Taxes.

    One estimate suggests that a penny-per-ounce tax could reduce consumption by more than 10 percent and raise $100 billion over 10 years. But opponents say that such a tax would be a misuse of the tax code to regulate what people eat and drink.
    KC's View:

    Published on: August 18, 2009

    Sweet Tea = Liquid Sugar”
    • “Hamburgers = Spare Tire”
    • “Doughnuts = Diabetes”
    • “Dunkin’ Doughnuts = Death”
    • “America Dies On Dunkin’”

    It was these last two pronouncements that created the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – because there was a county commissioner who owned a doughnut shop, and a couple of local lawyers who owned a local Dunkin’ Donuts franchise. They threatened to sue, and eventually Newsom’s bosses forced him to resign.

    Newsom says that he doesn’t regret his actions, that he saw doughnuts being served almost everywhere he went in a county with a 25 percent obesity rate and where 39 percent of all adults are overweight. Railing against the, he said, was as much his job as educating the public about flu shots.

    My comment, in part:

    The San Francisco Chronicle had a story over the weekend saying that “obesity is the elephant in the room of health care reform, a public health catastrophe that kills more than 100,000 Americans a year, cost the nation $147 billion last year and threatens to shorten U.S. life expectancy for the first time since the Civil War.”

    In a lot of ways, experts tell the Chronicle, it almost doesn’t matter what health care reforms may be passed by legislators this year because the system will continue to be swamped by increased rates of diabetes and other obesity-related diseases … I have to admit that I am sympathetic to Dr. Newsom’s prescription, and I say that as someone who has struggled with weight issues almost all of my life.

    Could he have done it more diplomatically? Perhaps with signs along the lines of “apples = long life,” or something like that? Sure…but I’m guessing that Dr. Newsom thought that he actually owed his patients (the taxpayers who were paying his salary) the truth – unvarnished, unmitigated, even politically incorrect.

    The problem, of course, isn’t with people who occasionally indulge in a doughnut. The problem is that if you eat a couple of doughnuts every day, the likelihood increases that you’re going to end up with a weight problem. And that’s the battle that Dr. Newsom thought he needed to fight.

    Good for him. And shame on the government bureaucrats who thought that the job of running the county health department meant being less concerned about real health issues and more concerned with political considerations.

    I think it is fair to say that not everyone agreed with me…or at least, didn’t agree with what they thought I was saying.

    MNB user Kelly Cox Semple wrote:

    He was not "telling the truth about obesity." He may have been telling some truth about the connection between food and health (albeit in a clearly inflammatory and not wholly accurate manner). But there are several critical truths that his messages ignore.

    1. Some people eat poorly and are not afflicted with medical maladies.
    2. Some people eat well and are afflicted with medical maladies.
    3. The above points are true irrespective of body size.
    4. Not all fat people eat poorly.
    5. Not all thin people eat well.
    6. Not all fat people are sick.
    7. Not all thin people are healthy.
    8. (And this is a really important one.) It is not possible to tell if a person eats well and is healthy simply by visually assessing that person's body.

    The truth is that this man was only punished for his bully pulpit because he attacked a business interest and rocked a political boat. Were it not for that, those signs would merely have been one more socially acceptable message in a society saturated beyond full with the singular theme that fat is evil -- and the pervasive misconception that food is the enemy.

    A thought about the much-maligned doughnut. Does everyone who believes fat=unhealthy genuinely think that every fat person everywhere eats multiple doughnuts every day? Do they think it's simply not possible that there are thin people out there who are doughnut addicts? And it's downright disheartening to know that, if I say that I rarely eat doughnuts (and when I do, I have one), the assumption is that I'm lying. Because everyone knows the "truth" about obesity is that fat people gorge on doughnuts.

    If you chose to include this on MNB, by all means, attach my name to it. I'm fat. I'm also healthy (doctor-certified), nutritionally balanced, college educated, well-employed, hard working, successful, happily married with a wonderful family, and a whole bunch of other things that fat people can't possibly be. Most of all, I'm not ashamed of my size.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Really? Whose truth? His? And to whom does this Dr, believe he's speaking? 10 year olds? Lets give him the benefit of the doubt, shall we? 14 year olds? Does the Dr think that fat people haven't and don't hear ALL KINDS of condescending, holier-than-thou, bilge from. . . Well, now lets see. . . EVERYBODY they've ever had to deal with who felt the need to tell them 'what their REAL problem is'? What's really amusing is that, although the message is always the same (Your too fat / disgusting), you wouldn't believe how many 'True Answers' fat people hear about their 'problem'. "It's Hi-fructose corn syrup", "It's too much carbs", "It's not enough veggies", "it's too many empty calories", "it's calories in / calories out", "it's too many doughnuts / cheeseburgers / Twinkies / burritos / WHATEVER". If one listens to all this crap long enough one might start to think that NONE OF THESE PEOPLE HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT. I'm afraid, Mr. Coupe, that this includes you.

    'Obesity Prevention'? 'People who eat a doughnut a day'? Yes there are other phrases for obesity prevention. Juvenile Eating Disorder is one and Malnutrition is another. With the 'prevention' you call for applied under the aegis of a rabid media 'Obesity Epidemic' social panic campaign AND a media totally fixated on 'super thin' as the beauty ideal, neither of these alternate phrases can be seriously written off as unrealistic. According to virtually ALL news media, "Fat = Death so get thin NOW or you’re gonna DIE! Deader than Death itself! At least do it for the Kids!". Popular media? Is practically a guide to the Pro-Ana lifestyle (Pro-Anorexia or the girls who think anorexia is a GOOD thing). Dr's are putting children on restrictive diets and mutilating their digestive tracks because parents don't want little Jr. or Ms. to end up looking like 'that kid in the paper'. That ONE kid in the paper. Not even noticing the HUNDREDS of kids they see around them every day THAT DON'T LOOK LIKE THAT ONE KID IN THE PAPER. Children need food to grow. There was a time when a fat child was considered a good thing. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most parents in Sir Lanka would LOVE to have such a non-problem with their children as for them to be too fat. Maybe more of them would survive to be teenagers. As for a doughnut a day? Perhaps you should take a job behind the counter at a doughnut shop for a week. You might be surprised how many skinny people come in for that doughnut-a-day and have done for YEARS. Of course, this might not convince you. You could just write it off as, 'Well, those fatties must be doing something ELSE wrong'. We get that a lot. With practically ANYTHING we decide to put into / around / or near our mouths in public being scrutinized, It's always wrong, too much, not good, or it 'can't be ALL (s)he's eating. They must have more stashed at home'. And we're supposed to be GRATEFUL when people like your poor, persecuted, Dr. talks down to us like we're children. How's about we try this; what say, maybe this Dr should try treating his patient's with RESPECT? Or, failing that, simply treating his patients effectively. You wouldn't believe how many Drs take one look at a fat patient and just couldn't be bothered with treating them at all.

    Do I sound a bit annoyed in this response? Maybe a little irritated? Might be because I, and people like me, are being blamed for everything from the gas crisis to climate change and the world food crisis to having the poor manners to intentionally crowd fellow travelers on airplanes and thusly being punished by being made to pay twice or get off the plane.

    Now fat people are being scapegoated as THE cause of the national healthcare crisis. Tripe like this tends to have that effect of pissing people off. Especially when it's fully and unabashedly directed right at them.

    There's an Advice Columnist, Miss Conduct of the Boston Globe, who has a line from one of her responses to someone trying to justify their fat-hate (and that's, pretty much, exactly what this is) in her advise column that I like to quote- "If you think that fat people have no self-discipline, consider the fact that they haven't killed you yet."

    I get the fact that you are angry. But there is one thing that I do want to respond to in your email…

    I understand that in some ways, it appears that by focusing on obesity issues too obsessively, we run the risk of creating a nation of people with eating disorders. I say that as someone with a family member who was once hospitalized for anorexia/bulimia, and as someone with a teenaged daughter who I watch all the time for signs of a weight obsession.

    My feeling is that there must be a middle ground in here somewhere.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I disagree with your thoughts on Dr. Newsom. He deserved to be fired, not because of his impact on the brands he highlighted, but because he was being a sensationalist and not a doctor.

    Picking on specific foods will not help anything. Someone who gives up donuts and overeats mac and cheese, or mashed potatoes will not see any improved health outcomes. The problem with demonizing specific foods is that many people may be like me and eat a hamburger once per month or less, and same for a doughnut. The obesity problem has everything to do with overeating and much less to do with specific foods. Why not "your grandma's homemade chocolate chip cookies = heart attack".

    Say I have an employee who spends too much time reading newsletters (say two hours per day) and doesn't get his priority work done. Say one of those newsletters happens to be MNB. Would you support a sign outside my office stating "Reading MorningNewsBeat = getting fired"?

    It's about moderation and balance, not demonizing specific foods. Dr. Newsom gets and A+ for being sensational, but he gets an F for providing helpful wellness education.

    Actually, I would support your firing of a person who spent so much time reading online newsletters – even MNB! – that he or she didn’t get work done. (Of course, MNB is designed not to take too much time to read, and to provoke thought and discussion that helps people work smarter…so I’m not too worried about that.)

    Another MNB user wrote:

    That’s so interesting…and daring of that doc. He knew he was picking a fight with folks who would shut him down and proceeded. An interesting thing…the DD Medium Coffee, ordered “regular” has three tablespoons (not teaspoons) of sugar in it. A friend of mine saw a nutritionist who told him that his morning & mid-day habit had 22 grams of carbs from sugar in each serving. When Roger kicked his coffee habit and started taking it sugar free he lost 10 pounds in three months…and nothing else changed. Never mind the doughnuts, sugar kills.

    Didn’t we have a story the other day about a sugar shortage in the US, and how some manufacturers were lobbying the government to increase allowable sugar imports? If the government is going to be consistent with its own health care proposals, I guess it should allow no such thing.

    MNB user Bob Hodgin wrote:

    We have coaches around the country who are working with doctors to provide education to parents for prevention and solutions for overweight and obese children; however, you would be amazed at how many of our coaches tell us of doctors who are doing little to address the issue and provide education or information to the child and parent. So, I applaud Dr. Newsom for putting his neck on the line. Perhaps as obesity rates continue to climb we need more “in your face” approaches.

    Dr. Newsom clearly was in your face in his approach. But he also obviously was dangerously close to some raw nerves, as well.

    I still think his impulse was right. But maybe it could have been leavened with some compassion. (Though I suspect that this statement also will inflame some folks, who will argue that they don't need compassion, and that I’m being condescending just by using the word.)

    Sometimes, you can't win.
    KC's View: