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    Published on: September 25, 2009

    There are numerous published reports saying that unionized employees of Safeway and King Soopers in Colorado Springs have rejected what have been called “final offers” from the two chains, following a similar decision by Denver-area workers for the two companies.

    The unionized workers also have authorized a strike against Safeway and King Soopers.

    According to a story in The Coloradoan, Safeway has said that the final offer was tendered “after five months of negotiating, which included 17 bargaining sessions. The final contract presented by Safeway includes pay raises, shorter dependent wait times for health-care coverage, access to a new first-class health-care program and a shared responsibility funding approach toward pension benefits.” The King Soopers contract offer reportedly “increases wages, improves health care with no cost to the employee and includes nearly $40 million to help stabilize a pension plan with early retirement at 55 years old. Previously, early retirement was 50 years old … The contract includes average wage increases of $8,000 over the next five years, depending on how many hours an employee has worked.”

    The chains have said that they are taking applications from temporary workers, who could be used in the event of a strike or a lock-out.
    KC's View:
    I simply cannot believe that during a recession and a time of high and growing unemployment, the union will go on strike and that the two sides won’t come to some sort of accord.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    The New York Times reports that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the city’s Planning Commission have embraced a plan to offer tax incentives to companies that build full-service grocery stores in poor areas of the city and “devote a certain amount of space to fresh produce, meats, dairy and other perishables.”

    The Bloomberg administration has been highly focused on what it sees as quality of life issues, passing legislation that bans the use of trans fats by restaurant chains as well as pushing vendors and bodegas to sell more fresh foods in downtrodden areas where people’s nutritional well-being tends to be ignored in favor of fast food.
    KC's View:
    Some will say that this is the worst kind of social engineering…though it is ironic that it is a Republican leading this charge. (A lot of people would suggest that Bloomberg isn’t really a Republican.)

    But it is hard for me to see how this is a bad thing. Businesses get tax incentives, poor people get more access to fresh food, and hopefully they eat better, live healthier, and put less stress on the health care system. Sounds like the proverbial win-win-win to me.

    Interestingly, there is a story in the Los Angeles Times about Central Avenue in South Central Los Angeles, a street that moved from being a prosperous African-American middle class neighborhood where West Coast jazz was born to one that is home to poverty, gangs and crack houses.

    “So this morning,” the Times writes, “at the haggard corner of Central and 20th Street, there will be no lack of fanfare when civic leaders open the doors of a project that carries with it more hope and expectation than it might elsewhere: a new supermarket. Superior Grocers is the first full-scale market to open in the community in at least five years.” In addition, a Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market is slated to open at Central and East Adams Boulevard sometime next year.

    The benefits are economic…but hopefully, also cultural and nutritional.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    In Washington State, PCC Natural Markets has been recognized with the “2009 Green Washington Award,” which is given to companies in the state that “demonstrate leadership, innovation and a commitment to sustaining the environment and clean technology.”

    In writing about the award, Seattle Business magazine says that “for many retailers, being green means merely complying with new environmental regulations. But for those progressive retailers in the upper echelons of the ecological movement, such as Seattle's homegrown PCC Natural Markets chain, being green is part of their core identify - a bar that is raised each time it is met."
    KC's View:
    This is the kind of narrative that certainly appeals to PCC’s core customer base…and that appeals to a growing demographic.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal reports this morning that UK retailer Waitrose will test a small-store format – between 2,000 and 4,000 square feet – next year, a move that will put it squarely in competition with small stores operated by Tesco, Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury.

    According to the story, Waitrose – owned by the John Lewis Partnership – believes that it could eventually have as many as 300 small stores in the UK.

    Also announced by Waitrose was a deal with HBC chain Boots, which will have it selling some of its food items in that chain’s drug stores, while it carries some Boots items in its stores. And, the company said it will open nine stores in ‘Welcome Break’ service stations located on major UK highways.
    KC's View:
    Smart. Go to the shopper. Where she wants it, when she wants it, how she wants it.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    The New York Times reports on the return of the paper coupon, which during recessionary times is being used even by those who normally wouldn’t, such as affluent and young shoppers. Research company Knowledge Networks/PDI estimates that coupon use by affluent families was up 13 percent in January-February 2009, compared with the same months the year before, while coupon use by young people was up 14 percent during the same time frame.

    “Coupon redemption in America peaked in 1992,” the Times writes, “at the end of a recession, when 7.9 billion coupons were redeemed, according to Inmar, a coupon processing company. By 2006, that number fell to 2.6 billion and stagnated there through 2008.

    “As the economy worsened and consumer sentiment plunged, coupon redemption ticked up 10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, compared with the period a year ago — the first jump in coupon redemption since the early 1990s. In the first half of this year, coupon redemption climbed 23 percent. Some 1.6 billion coupons were redeemed, leading Inmar to forecast that more than three billion coupons will be redeemed this year.”
    KC's View:
    This isn’t a huge surprise…in fact, it would be a lot more shocking if coupon use were down during a recession.

    The question is whether coupon usage will continue to grow, or even stabilize at these increased levels, if indeed a new frugality takes hold among US consumers that lasts way beyond the end of the recession and a rebound in employment figures. (You have to link the two, since employment is expected to lag the official “end of the recession” by as much as a year.)

    I tend to think that where we might see growth will be in targeted coupons/discounts that are delivered in digital form, as opposed to paper coupons that are simply dropped in consumers via FSI. It is hard for me to believe that there is much of a future in this latter category…simply because there is so much waste and so little information known about the shoppers getting the coupons.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    Tesco-owned Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets said that it has opened its first LEED Gold Certified store, in Cathedral City, California. LEED certification is established by the U.S. Green Building Council and verified by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

    According to the story, “Fresh & Easy’s Cathedral City store achieved LEED certification for energy use, lighting, water use and incorporating a variety of other sustainable strategies, such as using 90 percent recycled steel for the building’s structure. On average, Fresh & Easy stores use 30% less energy than a typical supermarket and utilize technologies like solar tracking skylights, automatically dimming lights, and LED lighting. Fresh & Easy recycles or reuses all its shipping and display materials and uses environmentally-friendly trailers to transport food. The company is a pilot member of the LEED Volume Certification Program and has invested in a 500,000 sq ft solar roof installation on its distribution center in Riverside, California.”
    KC's View:
    See my comments above on the PCC story. Ditto.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    • Walmart reportedly has agreed to pay $3 million to settle allegations that some of its Massachusetts store managers forced some employees to work through meal breaks or take less than the required 30 minutes – which would be violations of state labor laws.

    The state Attorney General’s office said that Walmart had cooperated fully with the investigation, and Walmart said that it was happy to have resolved the case.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    In Arizona, the East Valley Tribune reports that unionized employees of Safeway and Fry’s have authorized a strike against the two chains, though none has been scheduled at this point.

    Management and labor have been negotiating – thus far, unsuccessfully – for about a year to come up with a new pact to replace a four-year deal that expired in October 2008. A contract extension will end on October 2, 2009.
    KC's View:
    See my comments on the Colorado labor situation. Ditto.

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    Costco Wholesale Corp. said yesterday that it will exclusively sell Jamba Juice gift card packages, offering two $25 cards for $39.99. The move follows a pattern established by Costco last year, when it sold Starbucks gift card packages at a discount during the end-of-year holiday season; it also consistently sells Apple iTunes gift cards for less than their total value.

    In addition, the move also is part of a broad effort by Jamba Inc. to extend the reach of its brand beyond the more than 700 stores spread around the US.

    The cards are expected to be available in mid-October.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    • Unilever reportedly has come to an agreement to acquire the personal care business owned by Sara Lee, for approximately $1.87 billion (US).
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    • Drugstore chain Rite Aid said that it had a second quarter loss of $120.4 million, down from the $227.4 million loss that it had during the same period a year ago. Q2 sales were $6.3 billion, down from $6.5 billion last year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    Timothy Joseph Russert, the man made famous as “Big Russ” in the bestselling book by his son, Tim Russert, “Big Russ and Me,” died yesterday of natural causes. He was 85.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    We continue to get email about our agreement with a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban of the sale of flavored cigarettes, a move that some believe could help prevent at least some young people from smoking. I think that’s a good idea and simple common sense, but a lot of people think that this could lead to a new Prohibition and I was accused of being an idiot, a moron, and it was implied that I was akin to Nazi enablers.

    MNB user Steven Barry wrote:

    You cannot use reasons of common sense as it can only be applied here if every one agrees, which in this case we all do not so by definition, this can not be common sense. Nice try though. It’s actually offensive to suggest that it is common sense because it completely disregards my opinion along with others all together as if we never counted to begin with. So when you’re attacking other people’s liberties, please stop using the typical liberal excuse of “common sense”. It really is offensive.

    Common sense says that if you are a coal miner all of your life, you will most likely have breathing issues your entire life. Not always, but we all agree most likely.

    Common sense says that chances are that if you sleep around with out wearing protection, you will most likely catch something that you probably do not want and subsequently may die from it.

    Common sense says that there are about 3 Million extra curricular activities and occupations that pose a very high risk of long term disablement or death and the longer and more often that you do these things, chances are (again we all would agree commonly), these things will kill you eventually if something else does not do so first including natural death.

    Please stop using “common sense” to impose your will or ideology on others.

    And by the way, I quit two years ago on my own and still believe that business owners, have the constitutionally protected right to allow smoking or any other “legal” behavior in their places of business. But, that’s for another day!!

    Well, now I stand accused of being a “typical liberal.” Is that worse that being a Nazi enabler? (These days, they might as well by synonyms.)

    I disagree with your premise. There are a lot of common sense notions that not everybody agrees with…in my humble opinion. (You, of course, have the right to disagree.) But if it makes you feel better, let me suggest that banning these cigarettes is a matter of uncommon sense. Which is why so many people disagree with it.

    And by the way, banning smoking from so many bars and restaurants around the world is one of the smartest things that has happened in terms of health over the past few years. Perhaps it would best be called uncommon sense made common.

    In my opinion.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I just finished reading all of the e-mails you posted as a follow up to your commentary on the banning of flavored cigarettes. I have followed MNB for about 6 months now and always enjoy your colorful commentary whether I agree or disagree.

    On this particular topic, I tend to disagree with your stance. I am 26, and in my youth (middle school/high school years) I was an occasional cigarette smoker. It was never a real habit for me and thankfully I was able to stop easily once it was no longer accepted in my social circles, but many of my close friends were then and are now addicted to cigarettes. None of us started smoking cigarettes for the flavor. The way I saw it, and this is just one suburban kid's experience, was that young people started smoking cigarettes either as a rebellious act (began at 6th through 8th grade), as a means to gain social acceptance or prowess greater than one's peers (began at 6th grade until alcohol came on the scene) or to fit in with those around them who were acting out (enter peer pressure, 6th grade through infinity). Regardless of the way young people around me started, cigarette smoking was usually facilitated by a smoking family member (think older brother/sister or cousin) who was also a smoker. Smoking became a common bond for those who used and more people started smoking to be accepted by certain groups, a rites of passage sort of thing.

    My point is this: in my experience flavored cigarettes have not played a role in convincing young people to smoke (neither did Camel Joe). It is my belief that passing this legislation is a (relatively) meaningless step towards preventing young people from wanting to smoke and preventing cigarettes from getting in the hands of young people. As many other MNB users commented, I more so see this as the government flexing its muscles and as a step towards future legislation banning other things perceived as "unhealthy". I think that if the legislators who worked so hard to pass this ban on flavored cigarettes were serious about getting people to stop smoking they would have spent the time and money educating young people on the consequences of smoking and not so young people the consequences of buying cigarettes for minors. I think this legislation is an inefficient means of achieving its goal, which is an admirable one.

    Okay, so that all being said, I could be wrong on the overall significance and influence of flavored cigarettes. Like I said, this was just my experience, and I haven’t done any research aside from just living it out.

    One other thought, I think that people who want to smoke should be able to smoke. However, I think that they need to be of a certain age, or, at least, educated on the consequences of smoking before making that decision.

    Your experience growing up seems fairly typical…though I cannot relate. I am the oldest of seven (a real Irish Catholic family), and none of us ever smoked…in part because we were all so disgusted by my mother’s addiction.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Government hands off! Crossing a busy street is dangerous too, but the government hasn't put up walls along every street preventing people from taking a chance and crossing a street.

    If the FDA wants to outlaw flavored cigarettes, why have they ignored menthol? That's, by far the greatest selling flavored cigarette--probably about 20 or 25% of total cigarettes sales. The answer is that the government is in a convenient partnership with the tobacco industry to drive public revenue collection through gross over-taxing of those who can least afford it and they do not want to give up 20% or 25% of that revenue stream. It's a huge regressive tax that politicians love because the can collect it without the hassle of passing a bill and without fear of being voted out. Smokers never have to tally it up annually on their 1040 and see just how much the government is bilking from them for the right to smoke. Fact: Smokers skew toward less education and lower socio-economic demographics. Just the group of people the government is purportedly helping the most and giving all the tax breaks to.

    The whole stinking (no pun intended) situation is nothing more than hypocrisy on many levels!

    Re: crossing the street. Last time I checked, there are such things as cross walks. In a lot of cities, you cross in the middle of the street, or against the light, and you get a ticket.

    But maybe that’s just another example of government run amok?

    Still another MNB user wrote:

    Keep posting both sides. I agree with you on the issue, but I also agree with your opposition to a certain extent.

    I know the following goes too far if taken literally, but I always say that these kinds of legislation aren't necessary. Don't make seatbelt or helmet laws, because if people are stupid enough not to wear them then they deserve to die before they reproduce and pollute the gene pool with more stupid people. I know, I know, a little over the top, but the statement sure gets peoples' attention.

    I don't think the same argument can be made for the tobacco issue, since it takes so long to affect peoples' health. But there are still enough facts out there that tobacco is bad for you that anyone who uses it is pressing their luck and shouldn't be coddled by the rest of us. They need to reap what they sow, it is just too bad that healthcare costs go up because of it.

    And, from MNB user Lewis Campbell:

    While I normally hold the opinion that government intervention in the lives of Americans should be minimized, I couldn't agree with you more on the issue of the ban on flavored tobacco. Your comments were spot on and again illustrate why your column is a must read each and every day. Keep up the good work.

    Thanks. I needed that.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 25, 2009

    I like mine with lettuce and tomato…

    Regular and longtime readers know that there is an abiding affection in the MNB community for hamburgers…which is one of the things that led to the great “ultimate burgers” list that we all pulled together late last year.

    Now, the Chicago Tribune writes about how the hamburger is being adopted respected chefs and high-end restaurants – either by putting it on existing menus or opening establishments specifically dedicated to one of the greatest of all meals.

    One of the advantages of such moves, the Tribune writes, is that “they understand meat better than a typical burger slinger. And use higher quality. Indeed, few things in life are as satisfying as unwinding in a hoity-toity establishment with a burger -- grease running erotically down your hands, drawing jealous stares from diners pretending to enjoy buckwheat blini with compressed Asian pear.”

    Chefs such as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Bobby Flay have opened burger establishments (Flay has opened four!), and there are a numerous restaurants where they don't even have burgers on the menu but will make them on request. (The Trib reports that the Spiced Pear in Newport, R.I., makes a particularly delicious one.)

    Part of the reason for the burger boom is financial – it would appear to be the perfect recession food – but there also seems to be a gastronomic component as well. Because a burger is, in fact, a burger, it is easy to compare and easy to make a statement with one’s approach to this most basic of culinary delights.

    By the way…if you want to check out our Ultimate Burger list, go to:

    We’ve been having a lot of discussion here on the site about the decision by United Airlines to begin selling privileges formerly accorded only to its most loyal frequent fliers. The decision by United, which I think undermines the whole premise of its loyalty program, is part of a general trend by almost all airlines to find ways to nickel-and-dime fliers to death with fees for everything from checked baggage to food. (One airlines reportedly was considering a fee for use of on-board lavatories…but never decided to pull the trigger on that one.)

    Well, there is a story in USA Today this morning that puts this trend in an economic context, saying that US airlines are making a small fortune on these fees – collecting almost $4 billion in checked bag fees alone during the first six months of this year, almost double what it collected during the first half of 2008.

    There’s no way that the airlines give up these revenue streams. They’re already hooked on it, and are trying to find new sources so they can get a fix, any fix.

    But it doesn’t change my essential opinion of the United decision. It’s dumb, really dumb.

    Then again, they have other problems. One united guy I was talking to during a recent trip bemoaned the fact that so many people have been laid off by the airline, and he predicted that United gets bought by Continental Airlines by the end of the year.

    There’s a new product that I’ve tasted this week that I think is going to be a big hit: PopChips, which essentially are potato chips that are popped like popcorn rather than being baked or fried. They are delicious – especially the Original and Barbecue varieties – are relatively low in calories and fat. Check them out at

    Tasted a lovely red wine this week…the 2005 Holthill Reserve Shiraz from Buronga Growers in southeastern Australia. It is very smooth and perfect with steak…and, of course, a thick, juicy cheeseburger.

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

    KC's View: