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    Published on: October 16, 2009

    Revealing interview in Fortune with Dr. Margaret Hamburg, commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in which she lays out her plans and priorities. Some excerpts:

    Her goal for the FDA: “I want to restore faith and trust in the FDA as a science-driven agency. I want to be a vocal advocate for the resources we require. It's stunning how underfunded we are given the importance of what we do. ... I think, as a nation, it is critically important that we strengthen our commitment to regulatory science to make it a robust and respected discipline in the broader scientific enterprise.”

    Transparency & crisis management: “I think it's important to break down the perception of the FDA as a bureaucratic ‘black box.’ That's why the transparency initiative we've undertaken is so important ... I also think we have to recognize that we live in a world where there will always be risk and crises, but I think there is a great deal more we can do to prevent these problems. During a crisis we have to not be afraid to communicate rather than circle the wagons, which has happened before. We have been taking a very clear-eyed look at past problems to learn from those mistakes.”

    The nutrition mission: “Obviously sodium and fats and sugar are hugely important in contributing to disease -- obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. By our activities in the area of nutritional labeling we can not only inform consumers about how to make healthy choices, but we can also help move the industries to develop production strategies that reduce some of those contributors to disease.”
    KC's View:
    If the new management at the FDA is willing to be more transparent, more communicative, and more oriented toward science, then that is a good thing for consumers...and, ultimately, for business.

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    So here’s how war breaks out between two of the nation’s biggest and most influential retailers.

    On Thursday, Walmart.com lowered the price on 10 soon-to-be-published books expected to be best-sellers - by authors such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz, and politicos such as Sarah Palin - to $10.

    Amazon.com matched the price within hours.

    And then Walmart.com lowered its prices on the books to $9.

    As of this moment, Amazon seems to have matched the $9 price.

    The Wall Street Journal suggests that this seems to be the beginning of a clash of titans. "If there is going to be a 'Walmart of the Web', it is going to be Walmart.com," Walmart.com CEO Raul Vazquez tells the paper. "Our goal is to be the biggest and most visited retail Web site."

    And, the Journal writes, “An Amazon spokesman, in a statement, said the company's approach ‘has always been to offer customers low prices every day, which includes the holiday shopping season.’

    “Amazon has managed to encroach on Walmart's general-store status online by steadily increasing the range of products it sells. While it is best known for selling books and music, Amazon second-quarter North American sales of ‘general merchandise’ -- including everything from diapers to vacuums -- were for the first time larger than its sales of media. It recently acquired shoe and apparel seller Zappos.com. And taking another cue from Walmart, Amazon has steadily increased its range of private-label goods.”
    KC's View:
    This certainly is good for readers. It probably isn’t very good for independent bookstores. And I cannot imagine that this is good for authors, with whom, to be honest, I feel the greatest sympathy.

    On the other hand, it is likely to be a fun battle. How low can they go?

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    The Financial Times reports that the world’s second largest retailer, Carrefour, is pulling out of Russia just four months after opening its first hypermarket there. The company said that it was withdrawing because of the “absence of sufficient organic growth prospects and acquisition opportunities in the short-and medium-term.”

    Carrefour opened a second store just last month. As recently as last week, it denied that it was considering pulling out of emerging markets such as Russia.. Management says that it is not planning to pull out of any other markets, though it is always in the process of evaluating its portfolio.

    Walmart has long been rumored to be interested in Russia, but has not made a move there.
    KC's View:
    Hard to believe, but apparently Russia is a tougher market for Carrefour to business in than Philadelphia, where the French retailer actually lasted about five years.

    I would have put my money on Philly. Go figure.

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    Shop.org is out with its annual State of Retailing Online, and the belief is that positive results during 2008 indicate that this year is likely to be a good one as well.

    According to the survey, online retailers adjusted to the economy in a variety of different ways. Nine in ten retailers (91 percent) focused on preserving margins, while 88 percent of retailers amplified promotions or increased “value” messaging. Slightly more than half of retailers (53 percent) lowered prices as a result of the economy. And, one-third of online retailers (33 percent) said they increased market share during the downturn.

    And, Shop.org says, “Four out of five online retailers (80 percent) believe the U.S economy will improve within the next year, and half (50 percent) think their web business will actually fare better than expected in the next 12 months. That said, retailers are being cautious internally: even though the overall sentiment about online retail is strong, thirty-eight percent said that they have actually lowered expectations around the Web business, even though the overall sentiment about the channel is strong.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    Business First of Columbus reports that Kroger-owned Turkey Hill Minit Market plans to expand into Ohio by opening two ground-up units and acquire and rebrand five On The Run stores from the Gilligan Oil Co.

    Pennsylvania-based Turkey Hill already operates 249 stores - all of but of them located in its home state. (The other is in Indiana.)

    • CVS said yesterday that it will give customers in its Extra Care program a $1 coupon for every four times they use a reusable shopping bag. One wrinkle - customers will have to use the same bag, since a scannable card will be attached to the handle so that the chain can keep track of how many times it is used.
    Advertising Age reports that Kellogg Co. has acquired technology that allows it to use lasers to etch its logo into individual Corn Flakes - and that it plans to use it in the UK as way of combatting so-called “fake flakes” - private label product that some people believe is made by Kellogg’s but actually is not.

    According to the story, if the technology proves effective, it could be expanded to other products such as Special K and Frosted Flakes.

    • Published reports say that Anheuser-Busch InBev plans to sell its eastern and central Europe operations to a private equity firm as a way of paying down the debt acquired when InBev bought A-B.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    Safeway said that its third quarter earnings were down 35 percent to $128.8 million, from $199.7 million during the same period a year earlier. Q3 revenue was down seven percent to $9.46 billion.

    CEO Steve Burd told analysts yesterday that he believes the economy is improving, which should be good for Safeway, because customers are starting to buy more lattes and premium wines; when the recession started, he said, people switched to regular coffee and cheaper vintages.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    In game one of the best-of-seven National League Championship Series, the Philadelphia Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-6.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 16, 2009

    There is hope for the planet. A new survey by Junior Achievement indicates that Steve Jobs is the nation’s most admired entrepreneur, way ahead of Oprah Winfrey, Tony Hawk and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.

    This makes me happy. it is a positive thing when kids admire someone like Jobs as opposed to an entertainer, albeit an entertainer with enormous influence. But Jobs is the real deal - he runs a company that creates products that have a tangible influence on kids’ lives, and it is a good thing when they recognize that. Maybe they’ll channel that admiration into their own entrepreneurial efforts, and create the next product that will have iPod-like impact.



    Ironically, it was announced this week that The Walt Disney Company, looking to revitalize its retail stores, has turned to Jobs and the Apple retail division: the New York Times reported that “at a time when many retailers are still cutting back or approaching strategic shifts with extreme caution, Disney is going the other way, getting more aggressive and putting into motion an expensive and ambitious floor-to-ceiling reboot of its 340 stores in the United States and Europe — as well as opening new ones, including a potential flagship in Times Square.” The goal, according to the Times, is to create stores that are more like “entertainment hubs,” offering recreational and interactive activities.

    Here’s one quote from the story that I love: “The world does not need another place to sell Disney merchandise — this only works if it’s an experience,” said Jim Fielding, president of Disney Stores Worldwide.

    Also in the story is the note that Jobs’ role in the reinvention was to push Disney - where he serves on the board of directors - to “dream bigger.”

    Both are sentiments worth taking to heart in almost any retail environment - the importance of always dreaming bigger, and to realize that an experience always works better than a commodity.



    This is just one guy’s opinion, but the oatmeal served by Jamba Juice is infinitely better than the oatmeal served by Starbucks. I’ve been on the road a lot lately, so I’m grateful to have either...but sometimes you gotta make a judgement call.



    It won’t be for everyone, but I really liked the new Ricky Gervais movie, “The Invention of Lying.” This is what I would call a serious comedy - it is very funny, but has more than just jokes on its mind. It postulates a kind of alternate universe in which nobody knows how to tell an untruth...and what happens when one man discovers how that being able to lie offers him some unusual advantages. Some will find the set-up a little long, but I never got bored...and Gervais remains an unsentimental but bemused critic of the human condition.



    My wines of the week: the 2006 Gloria Ferrer Chardonnay Carneros, from Sonoma. Just dry enough, and lovely to sip.

    And the 2007 J Lohr South Ridge Syrah, which made me grateful for the colder weather that makes a terrific syrah just about perfect.



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

    Slainte!
    KC's View: