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    Published on: October 12, 2009

    The New York Times Magazine yesterday published its annual food issue, offering a number of interesting pieces about America’s approach to food:

    • There is a profile of British chef/author/restaurateur Jamie Oliver, who is bring one of his pet projects to Huntington, West Virginia, part of an area that has been designated as the least healthy part of America, based on data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    “Nearly half the adults in these five counties (two in West Virginia, two in Kentucky and one in Ohio) were obese, and the area led the nation in the incidence of heart disease and diabetes. The poverty rate was 19 percent, much higher than the national average. It also had the highest percentage of people 65 and older who had lost their teeth — nearly 50 percent.

    “All of which makes Huntington the perfect setting for the next Jamie Oliver Challenge … this British celebrity chef has made it his mission in recent years to break people’s dependence on fast food, believing that if they can learn to cook just a handful of dishes, they’ll get hooked on eating healthfully. The joy of a home-cooked meal, rudimentary as it sounds, has been at the core of his career from the start, and as he has matured, it has turned into a platform.”

    Oliver made a well-publicized effort to change the way British school children eat, to missed results – while some got it, others pushed back: “What’s really happening is about more than old habits dying hard or the love of frying. The reason the world is still waiting for the Messiah is that most people don’t actually want one, no matter how many fresh fruits and vegetables he’s carrying. Oliver expects some of the same pushback in Huntington, whether it comes from recalcitrant teenagers, petty bureaucrats or parents who don’t like being told they’ve failed. It remains to be seen whether the contest between being threatened and resentful versus forthright and true can trump the American intoxication with show business: will this much-maligned area let a Member of the British Empire play Pygmalion and win?”

    But here’s where Oliver’s approach to cooking and food is refreshing: “Oliver cooks and eats all kinds of meat and feels free to use butter, cream and cheese, in sane amounts. He is not a diet cop; he’s about scratch cooking, which to him means avoiding processed and fast food, learning pride of ownership, encouraging sparks of creativity and finding a reason to gather family and friends in one place. If you can make pancakes or an omelet, a pot of chili or spaghetti sauce and know how to perk up some vegetables, you can spend less and eat a more healthful meal that’s delicious.”

    • Columnist Mark Bittman has a piece about online grocery shopping, and where he’d like to see this technology go:

    “The one time I tried shopping online I was sent a free watermelon — how does that happen? — but that didn’t make up for the even-less-than-supermarket quality of the food. This is my fantasy about virtual grocery shopping: that you could ask and be told the provenance and ingredients of any product you look at in your Web browser. You could specify, for example, ‘wild, never-frozen seafood’ or ‘organic, local broccoli.’

    “You could also immortalize your preferences (‘Never show me anything whose carbon footprint is bigger than that of my car’; ‘Show me no animals raised in cages’; ‘Don’t show me vegetables grown more than a thousand miles from my home’), along with any and all of your cooking quirks (‘When I buy chicken, ask me if I want rosemary’). You would receive, if you wanted, an e-mail message when shipments of your favorite foods arrived at the store or went on sale; you could get recipe ideas, serving suggestions, shopping lists, nutritional information and cooking videos. If poor-quality food arrived — yellowing broccoli, stinky fish, whatever — you would receive store credit without any hassle. You might even, I suppose, be able to ask the store to limit the amount of impulse purchases that you make — forget that second pint of Ben & Jerry’s or those Cheez-Its you have trouble resisting.

    “These are services I’d be willing to pay for. And suppose this online grocer also sold precut or preseasoned vegetables, meat, fish and so on that were made with high-quality ingredients. (Surely I’m not alone in believing that the worst carrots are selected to be formed into “baby” carrots or that premarinated meats feature not only inferior meats but also inferior seasonings.) Maybe I could order my precut broccoli to be parboiled for two minutes, shocked, tossed with slivered garlic and packaged with a lemon. It would be ready for me to refrigerate until I’m ready to eat, and then, in five minutes, I could sauté, dress and put it on the table.”

    • And Michael Pollan had a short piece in which he published readers’ suggestions of rules for eating well, many of them passed down through the generations. Among the best:

    “Never eat something that is pretending to be something else.”

    “Eat foods in inverse proportion to how much its lobby spends to push it.”

    “After spending some time working with people with eating disorders, I came up with this rule: ‘Don’t create arbitrary rules for eating if their only purpose is to help you feel in control.’ I try to eat healthfully, but if there’s a choice between eating ice cream and spending all day obsessing about eating ice cream, I’m going to eat the ice cream!”

    “It’s better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”
    KC's View:
    Supermarkets should plaster this last one above every grocery store door in America. It is the perfect summation of what supermarkets should be about – their message, their products, their philosophy of business.

    Published on: October 12, 2009 reports that the Baltimore City Public School System has adopted a policy of Meatless Mondays, which it hopes will educate the system’s 80,000 students that there are meal options other than meat.

    In addition, the school district is working with area farmers to source locally grown produce, and “has also begun a teaching farm and is developing building resources to establish gardens at each of the 200 schools in the Baltimore public school system.”
    KC's View:
    The good news about this policy is that it seems holistic while not being absolutist. It is educating kids about options without going overboard, and it is seeking to educate without just imposing policies. Not sure what Baltimore’s attitude is toward regular gym classes in school, but if they are aggressive on physical education it would mean that they are attacking the problem from a variety of directions. Which makes sense.

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    The Wall Street Journal has an interview this morning with Carrefour CEO Lars Olofsson, who is looking to reposition the world’s second largest retailer as a low price alternative. Some excerpts:

    • “If Carrefour had some difficulties in the last 10 years or so, it is because they lost focus on the consumer. Not everywhere - in my view, we're best-in-class internationally - but in Western Europe. Then new laws in France basically forbade retailers to compete by price. So Carrefour went for quality, which I think was good for the image of the company but negative in terms of its price reputation. The pricing laws have loosened, but Carrefour from then on wasn't the most competitive.”

    • “Carrefour wasn't consistent in the execution of its strategy. There has been this ambiguity between going for the bottom line or for the top line, and that means the whole organization hasn't been aligned in one clear direction.”

    • “In the 1960s, hypermarkets were food-oriented, and then we complemented food purchases with nonfood products. But in the last 15 years, category killers, or specialty stores, came in, so now we have to find another reason to be in nonfood products.”
    KC's View:
    One of the things that Olofsson tells the Journal, when asked if he does any of the family shopping, is, “I do some shopping every once in a while. I choose a Carrefour store, and it takes only a half an hour before employees find me.”

    CEOs, of course, probably don't have a lot of time to go shopping. But I’ve always felt that in every supermarket organization, it ought to be a rule that everybody in senior management does all the family food shopping once a month. Everybody. No exceptions.

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    In California, the Sun reports about how Stater Bros. has managed to navigate the recession. Last January, CEO Jack Brown cut prices on 4,000 SKUs – and within six months, data showed, 1.9 million new customers had begun shopping at Stater. “When we saw that trend I ordered another 6,000 prices cut, and that's where we are today and our customer counts are ever higher," Brown tells the paper.

    However, Brown also points to the company’s reputation for great employees and customer service as being critical to its success: “They cannot match our people. When you go into our stores you will see the nearest, cleanest professional of any store in Southern California. It's kind of a secret weapon. The quality of the Stater Bros. family member is the secret to our success.”

    It is a success that has kept Stater alive and vital for almost three quarters of a century, and, as Brown notes, “There have been 20 major chains leave (Southern) California, or sell or merge during the history of Stater Bros.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    The Los Angeles Times reports that there are calls in Southern California to regulate the opening of convenience stores in South Los Angeles, which are an outgrowth of restrictions imposed last year on the opening of fast food restaurants in the neighborhood.

    According to the story, “Motivated by new data focusing on convenience stores, civic activists and a City Council member favor limiting the development of new convenience stores. A study by Santa Monica think tank Rand Corp. published in the research journal Health Affairs last week said calories from snacks were a likely culprit of higher obesity rates in South Los Angeles. The authors also found that South Los Angeles had a dramatically higher concentration of the type of small convenience store that sells caloric snacks than other sections of the city.”

    Margaret Chabris, spokeswoman for Dallas-based 7-Eleven, tells the Times that her company objects to the premise – and not just because 7-Eleven and other c-stores are moving to expand their fresh food sales. “Convenience stores, whether they be a 7-Eleven or other, provide needed products and services to communities, especially lower income or areas with high crime," she says. “Sometimes larger supermarkets won't venture into the tougher neighborhoods, but mom-and-pop stores, locally run convenience stores, will. They provide food, groceries, paper products, money orders, ATM services and over-the-counter medicine around the clock. They can also be a safe haven when someone on the street or in the neighborhood is in trouble and needs a place to go or make a phone call."

    Coincidentally, the Detroit Free Press has a report about how 7-Eleven is testing in Dallas “a new plastic wrap developed by supplier Fresh Del Monte Produce to keep single bananas yellow and firm for five days - more than double the two-day shelf life for an unwrapped banana.

    “If it's a success, 7-Eleven could roll out plastic-wrapped bananas to most of its 5,787 stores by early 2010. Fresh Del Monte created the wrap, which slows respiration by keeping most oxygen and moisture out. The bananas, green when wrapped, will ripen more slowly.”

    Which could expand the company’s already considerable banana sales - it expects to sell more than 27 million bananas this year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    • The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on the unveiling of a new Wegmans in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, that opened yesterday, attracting more than 1,500 people for a 7 am opening, including some people wearing “Wegmaniacs” t-shirts.

    According to the story, “While customers celebrated that the store at Routes 422 and 29 had opened at last, so did employees. At a time when the economy is still reeling, Wegmans is one of the few businesses that has created jobs. A total of 550 employees were chosen from an applicant pool of 6,147.”

    USA Today has a story suggesting that the recent demise of Gourmet magazine does not mean that America’s love affair with food is over. Rather, the world has changed so that people “who love to cook now have a dizzying array of choices when they're looking for information and recipes. They can search online, watch cooking shows, flip through personality-driven magazines, read food blogs. It's a world of celebrity chefs, social networking and recipe cyber-swapping, specialized niche websites and blogs, ingredients of all sorts easily ordered online.”

    • Kraft Foods announced that it plans to invest more than $22 million in a French biscuit R&D center in France, that will develop new products for some of the company’s European brands.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    • Wal-Mart de Mexico announced that its third quarter net profit was up 18 percent to the equivalent of $290 million (US), on sales that were up 11.9 percent to $4.84 billion. Q3 same-store sales were up 4.7 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    • Winn-Dixie announced that Robert Mould, most recently the vice president of category management - center store for Bi-Lo, has been named its new vice president of grocery.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    We had a story last week about North Carolina planning to begin taxing state employees who either smoke or who are obese, a move that supposedly could save as much as $13 million in next year’s budget, and I continue to believe that some sort of health accountability – leavened with compassion – is a way to control costs, yet making sure everybody has skin in the game.

    MNB user Don Seaquist wrote:

    Rewarding healthy changes to one’s lifestyle is a better approach to controlling costs. North Carolina should change their approach to a much needed change to their health plan.

    If you devise a system based on punishment rather than reward you will not achieve the wanted/needed results. And after all, that is the point of wellness programs, to increase the health of participants thereby decreasing costs. The best way to control costs is to never have the benefit claim in the first place. Punishing creates anxiety, which we have plenty of already.

    The line from our first story today – “better to pay the grocer than the doctor” – isn’t just a great line. It is a metaphor for dealing with problems before they ever become problems.

    Some people, of course, feel that such a skin-in-the-game approach is discriminatory, but MNB user Stewart Sundholm wrote:

    I don’t see how it’s 'discriminatory' to incent folks to lead healthier (and in the end less of a burden on society) lives. Right now, we pay inflated health care costs, in part to 'balance the risk pool' against those that don’t. Isn’t THAT discriminatory?

    MNB user had some thoughts about Tesco’s Fresh & Easy division in the US:

    While Tesco is struggling to some degree with their stores in the U.S. market, Fresh & Easy, let’s not forget that this is a new format and will take some time for consumers to catch-up to it. Back in the early 90’s the industry laughed when another company added food to their discount model. The rest is history, 5 years later, Walmart had become the #1 grocer in the country. Not saying that Fresh & Easy will do that, but they are surviving in Southern CA and Phoenix while local grocers, e.g., Basha’s are hanging on for dear life!

    KC's View:

    Published on: October 12, 2009

    In the MLB Divisional Series over the weekend…

    The Los Angeles Angels swept the Boston Red Sox 3-0 in their best of five series, sending the Sox home for the winter and sending the Angels to the American League Championship series, where they will play the New York Yankees, who also finished the weekend by sweeping the best-of-five series against the Minnesota Twins.

    Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Phillies have a 2-1 series lead in their best-of-five series with the Colorado Rockies to see who will go to the National League Championship Series to play the Los Angeles Dodgers, who swept their series with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    In Week Five of National Football League action…

    Cincinnati 17
    Baltimore 14

    Washington 17
    Carolina 20

    Dallas 26
    Kansas City 20

    Tampa Bay 14
    Philadelphia 33

    Cleveland 6
    Buffalo 3

    Pittsburgh 28
    Detroit 20

    Oakland 7
    NY Giants 44

    Minnesota 38
    St. Louis 10

    Atlanta 45
    San Francisco 10

    New England 17
    Denver 20

    Houston 21
    Arizona 28

    Jacksonville 0
    Seattle 41

    Indianapolis 31
    Tennessee 9
    KC's View: