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    Published on: November 30, 2009

    According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), on the Black Friday weekend - the days after Thanksgiving, which marks the traditional start of the end-of-year holiday shopping season - 195 million shoppers visited stores and websites, up from 172 million last year. However, the average spending over the weekend dropped to $343.31 per person from $372.57 a year ago. Total spending reached an estimated $41.2 billion.

    “Shoppers proved this weekend that they were willing to open their wallets for a bargain, heading out to take advantage of great deals on less expensive items like toys, small appliances and winter clothes,” says Tracy Mullin, NRF’s president/CEO. “While retailers are encouraged by the number of Americans who shopped over Black Friday weekend, they know they have their work cut out for them to keep people coming back through Christmas. Shoppers can continue to expect retailers to focus on low prices and bargains through the end of December.”

    According to the report, “Shoppers’ destination of choice over the past weekend seemed to be department stores, with nearly half (49.4%) of holiday shoppers visiting at least one, a 12.9 percent increase from last year. Discount retailers took an uncharacteristic back seat, with 43.2 percent of holiday shoppers heading to discount stores over the weekend and another 7.8 percent heading to outlet stores. Shoppers also visited electronics stores (29.0%), clothing stores (22.9%), and grocery stores (19.6%). As millions of shoppers gear up for Cyber Monday, one-fourth of Americans shopping over the weekend (28.5%) were shopping online.”
    KC's View:
    It seems certain that most holiday shoppers are going to be walking into stores with a list, and if a product is not on the list, it likely is not going to be purchased. In other words, the same set of circumstances that most retailers have dealt with over the past year or so.

    This certainly mirrors our experience. As in recent years, we spent the weekend in Chicago...but unlike past years, we did not come home with any Christmas presents. We looked a bit and created a list, but figured that we’ll wait a bit and see if we can do better over the next couple of weeks.

    And, of course, we’ll be doing much of our shopping online...

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    Meanwhile, is projecting that “96.5 million Americans plan to shop on Cyber Monday this year, up from 85 million in 2008,” as they look to take advantage of promotions especially designed for the occasion.

    According to the survey, “nearly nine in ten (87.1%) retailers will have a special promotion for Cyber Monday, up from 83.7 percent last year and 72.2 percent in 2007. The most popular promotions are expected to be specific deals (42.9%), one-day sales (32.9%), and free shipping on all purchases (15.7%). Half of retailers (50.0%) will distribute promotions and deals to shoppers through a special Cyber Monday email.

    “While some Cyber Monday shoppers will choose to shop from the office, the large majority will shop from living rooms and kitchens all across the country. According to the survey, 91.5 percent of Cyber Monday shoppers – or 88.2 million Americans – will shop from home on Cyber Monday while 13.5 percent, or 13 million people, will shop from work.” The reason: more Americans than ever before have high-speed/broadband connections at home, which makes it unnecessary to shop from the workplace.
    KC's View:
    Don’t know about you, but I’ve been deluged with emails about Cyber Monday promotions. It would be annoying, but I’m very, very handy with the delete key.

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    The New York Times yesterday had a piece about a Boston-based company called Full Yield, which “is undertaking its own version of health care reform by using a simple, low-tech premise: Eat healthier food and you’ll become healthier. The idea is to help companies move their employees to better diets that, the logic goes, will ultimately reduce their visits to the doctor’s office and the operating room — thus cutting costs.”

    The story says that the program - which is backed by companies such as Stonyfield Farms and Danone - has at its core “a line of Full Yield-branded food intended to take the guesswork out of what constitutes a healthy diet, while also reducing the need for cooking, which so many workers say they have no time for. Consisting of fresh items made with natural, whole ingredients, the food will be sold in corporate cafeterias and in the prepared-foods section of local supermarkets ... Part two of the program involves tracking those employees’ progress by collecting a variety of data about them and partnering with insurers to analyze it ... As part of the program, the Full Yield will give employees access to nutrition coaches by phone, as well as personalized online health pages containing the biometric data, exercise and eating tracking tools and information on things like how to cook whole grains and make salad dressing.”

    The goal of the program isn’t to prevent overeating, but rather to get people to eat the right things, which many experts believe will go a long way toward combatting problems such as diabetes, heart problems and cancer. And it is not without critics, who maintain that there needs to be a greater focus on the problem of overeating...and that one cannot eat one’s way to good health.
    KC's View:
    This is a very interesting article, and worth reading in its entirety. It reinforces a series of approaches that we’ve been pushing for some time here on MNB - that you can’t address the nation’s obesity issues without doing so in a holistic way. If you are going to try to make kids eat healthier at school, you have to teach them about nutrition and make sure they take physical education; you also have to get parents on board, and get them to believe in the power of exercise and the importance of good nutrition. And it simply makes sense for companies to make an investment in the health of their employees by offering healthier food in the workplace.

    The story also makes a very good point by citing Safeway CEO Steve Burd on the importance of making employees personally responsible for their own health - and health care costs.

    Good story. Read it by clicking here

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    The January 2010 issue of Consumer Reports has a story saying that its “latest test of fresh, whole broilers bought in 22 states reveals that two-thirds of birds tested harbored salmonella and/or campylobacter, the leading bacterial causes of food-borne disease ... The recent test shows a modest improvement since January 2007, when the magazine found these pathogens in 8 of 10 broilers, but the numbers are still far too high. The findings suggest that most companies’ safeguards are inadequate. Consumer Reports also found that most disease-causing bacteria sampled from the contaminated chicken were resistant to at least one antibiotic, potentially making any resulting illness more difficult to treat.”

    The story says that “campylobacter was in 62 percent of the chickens, salmonella was in 14 percent, and both bacteria were in 9 percent. Only 34 percent of the birds were clear of both pathogens. That’s double the percentage of clean birds Consumer Reports found in its 2007 report but far less than the 51 percent in the 2003 report.”

    And, the report goes on: “Perdue was found to be the cleanest of the brand-name chicken: 56 percent were free of both pathogens. This is the first time since Consumer Reports began testing chicken that one major brand has fared significantly better than others across the board ... Tyson and Foster Farms chickens were found to be the most contaminated; less than 20 percent were free of either pathogens ... Store-brand organic chickens had no salmonella at all, but only 43 percent of those birds were also free of campylobacter.”

    “USDA has been pondering new standards to cut the prevalence of bacteria in chicken for more than five years but has yet to act,” says Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives at Consumers Union. “Consumers shouldn’t have to play roulette with poultry; the USDA must make chicken less risky to eat.”
    KC's View:
    That sound you hear is consumer confidence in the food system being eroded just a little bit more.

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    The Georgia Secretary of State apparently is trying to bury Walmart’s hopes of selling caskets and cremation urns in the Peach State, sending a letter to the company saying that if any resident buys funeral merchandise from the company, it will be in violation of state law.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes that Walmart “is required to be registered with the state to sell funeral merchandise,” and at the moment, it is not. Walmart is not commenting on the issue, and the paper notes that Costco - which got into the discount funeral paraphernalia business a few years ago - does not sell to Georgia residents.

    The Journal-Constitution offers some back story on the issue: “Georgia’s funeral industry has long fought free market sale of caskets and urns and for good reason. Casket sales drove profits for funeral homes, which typically marked them up 200 percent to 400 percent, according to the national organization Funeral Consumers Alliance.

    “In 1984, the Federal Trade Commission passed a law requiring funeral homes to accept caskets from third party suppliers, opening to competition the funeral home and merchandise business, worth an estimated annual $11 billion nationwide. But in Georgia, it wasn’t until 1998, when a federal judge threw out a 1991 state law, that casket stores ... became legal and the bereaved were no longer captives of the funeral home industry. In the years since, few casket stores have survived across the state. Funeral homes, forced into competitive pricing, cut or matched casket prices (often making up the difference by charging more for services) and used other tactics to thwart competition.”
    KC's View:
    Maybe I’m wrong about this, but I think of Georgia as a fairly conservative, pro-free market kind of state...and so it comes as some surprise that the legislators there would act in a way that would actually thwart competition.

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    Interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about how local restaurant owners/chefs have decided to bolster their bottom lines by conducting cooking classes for local residents, who in turn are using the sessions as a way of learning how to stretch their food dollars during a recession in nutritious, economical and tasty ways.

    "I can't believe the reception the classes have been getting," says David Maish, of David's Bistro in Antioch, Illinois. "People say this is the most fun they have had all year. They are not just learning something, but they are having fun and filling their tummies too."
    KC's View:
    It is a small trend, but a noteworthy one. in most cases, the people taking these classes are going to have to turn to the supermarket to get the ingredients they need...which will further take them away from the restaurants where they are taking the lessons. One could argue that this isn’t very smart of the eateries, which are hurting their long-term cause in the battle for share of stomach.

    But the better question is why more supermarkets aren’t engaging in this battle more aggressively and ambitiously. If restaurants are going to teach people how to cook and eat better, why don't more supermarkets?


    Published on: November 30, 2009

    The New York Times reports that the recession has created an environment in which more than 36 million people are using food stamps: “A program once scorned as a failed welfare scheme now helps feed one in eight Americans and one in four children. It has grown so rapidly in places so diverse that it is becoming nearly as ordinary as the groceries it buys ... Virtually all have incomes near or below the federal poverty line, but their eclectic ranks testify to the range of people struggling with basic needs. They include single mothers and married couples, the newly jobless and the chronically poor, longtime recipients of welfare checks and workers whose reduced hours or slender wages leave pantries bare.”

    And, the Times writes: “There are 239 counties in the United States where at least a quarter of the population receives food stamps ... While use is greatest where poverty runs deep, the growth has been especially swift in once-prosperous places hit by the housing bust. There are about 50 small counties and a dozen sizable ones where the rolls have doubled in the last two years. In another 205 counties, they have risen by at least two-thirds. These places with soaring rolls include populous Riverside County, Calif., most of greater Phoenix and Las Vegas, a ring of affluent Atlanta suburbs, and a 150-mile stretch of southwest Florida from Bradenton to the Everglades.”
    KC's View:
    Consider this yet another entry in our ongoing discussion about hunger in America.

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    • A year after a New York Walmart suffered a Black Friday tragedy when over-stimulated shoppers looking for Black Friday bargains trampled a temporary employee to death, USA Today reports that a Walmart store in Upland, California, had to be closed for several hours before sunrise when some shoppers began fighting over deal merchandise.

    The store reportedly was shuttered at 2:44 am and reopened at 6 am, Walmart had gone to a 24-hour schedule over the weekend to relieve some of the traffic.

    There were no reported injuries.

    • Canada’s Supreme Court reportedly has ruled that Walmart was within its rights when it decided to close a store in Jonquiere, Quebec, where workers had voted to unionize.

    The company had maintained that the store was only doing marginal business to begin with, and that the demands of the newly unionized employees made it impossible for the unit to be profitable.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    • Numerous published reports, including one from the Pueblo Chieftain, say that “the results from mail-in voting on the latest contract offer from King Soopers and Safeway isn't expected until Dec. 14,” which point the immediate future for Denver-area supermarket chains will become clearer.

    According to the story, “The two-year contract offer includes annual raises totaling $1.30 an hour for the highest-paid workers, signing bonuses of $150 to $1,000 in the form of gift cards paid upon ratification, $40 million in additional payments to an underfunded pension plan, reduced waiting periods to get medical benefits and new preventative health care benefits. Union members have previously rejected several contract offers from Albertsons, King Soopers and Safeway, including final offers from King Soopers and Safeway, and have voted at least twice to authorize a strike against Safeway.

    “Previous offers were for five-year contracts that did not include the signing bonuses and did include somewhat smaller raises. Negotiations began in April; workers from all three chains have been working without a contract for months.”

    • The Boston Globe has a piece about a newly remodeled Star Market in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, which is serving as “parent company Supervalu’s test lab for energy-efficient technologies it hopes to use next in California. A few stores in the Supervalu chain, which includes Shaw’s supermarkets, already use some but not all of the technologies.

    “Energy efficiency could mean huge savings for the company, which estimates its annual electric bill for more than 200 Shaw’s and Star Market stores at nearly $35 million.”

    Among the technologies being used in the store are LED lighting and “a fuel cell that strips hydrogen out of natural gas, causing a chemical reaction and producing energy to power lights, keep the store toasty warm, and run the refrigerators.”

    • The Roanoke Times reports that the former 58,000 square foot location operated by Ukrop’s in that Virginia city is currently in foreclosure, and will be sold to the highest bidder on December 11.

    As reported by the Times, “This auction brings full circle the more than two-year run of Ukrop's in Roanoke. The Richmond-based grocer opened here in June 2007, but in December, Ukrop's executives revealed that the store could not sustain itself long-term if its business did not improve. The Roanoke Ukrop's shut its doors for good Oct. 24, leaving behind an upscale storefront designed specifically for this family-owned grocery chain that closes on Sundays and does not sell alcohol.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    • Pat Quinn, who founded the Quinnsworth supermarket chain in Ireland that were sold to Galen Weston’s Associated British Foods and eventually became Tesco stores there, passed away last week in Canada at age 72.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    We had a piece last week about a Fast Company story on Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s brand of “Conscious Capitalism,” and I commented that my big problem with the concept is the application of the word “gospel” to it, which seems pretentious.

    MNB user Scott Johnson wrote:

    Mackey seems to make sense to me. Mackey’s critics seem to stumble repeatedly over the very thing that I like most about him – he’s not a “granola socialist”.   Instead he believes a company can have a soul, do good in the world and make a profit!  To do anything less than all of the above is frustration at some level and bodes for the futility of either a pointless or a temporary existence.

    To be clear, I’m not criticizing Mackey’s approach - as a child of the sixties and seventies, I believe in all that stuff.

    MNB user Jeff Folloder had some thoughts about an email exchange from last week, in which one reader criticized the Content Guy for his online shopping habits, saying that such purchases do not support the local tax base:

    I was ... ruminating over one of your reader's comments regarding sales taxes and local services.  It struck me as a bit disingenuous, so I used the ol' Internet to pull up the 2009 Houston city budget.  Houston budgeted almost 1.35 billion dollars worth of expenses.  Projected revenue matches that amount.  Sales tax revenue is projected at $170 million, or just 12.6% of the revenue.  While that is not an insignificant number, there are a host of other areas that could see nominal increases to make up the loss.  I've never bought into the buy local because it's local paradigm.  I buy where I get the greatest combination of value, convenience, selection, etc.  But this may be a debate not worth engaging in.  Something tells me that we are inching toward a major shift in the way *everything* gets taxed.

    And another MNB user chimed in:

    I love shopping at the Mom & Pop hardware store down the street that's been open for almost 70 years.  They have every size screw ever made and still use handwritten receipts.  But they don't have everything I need, so I have to drive 14 miles down the freeway to Home Depot because my city has decided big box stores are a threat to Mom and Pop.  They are LOSING my sales tax dollars by not giving their residents CHOICES.

    And internet shopping, like it or not, offers even more options.

    I also said last week that if I had a company with actual employees, “I’m not even sure I’d mind if people wanted to do a little online Christmas shopping at work. Hitting the stores can be stressful, and if my employees wanted to engage in some stress-reduction techniques, I’m not sure I’d object. Sure, there are limits...and the work has to get done...but the lines between work life and personal life have become blurred, and the rules have changed to a great degree.”

    One MNB user responded:

    I think you say that because you work at home office (maybe even in sweats and a t-shirt!)  For those who work in an office outside home, or a corporate environment, I think it’s not appropriate for employees to shop on company time.  It’s a form of stealing, and ultimately, we all pay….the cost of goods and services cover all those ‘hidden costs’.

    Reasonable employees understand if someone needs to leave early for a personal reason (from doctor appointment to soccer game…)  And conscientious employees don’t abuse that.

    I read your blog on company time the majority of the time, because it relates directly to my job.

    Please understand...I wasn’t advocating the notion of people spending all their time at work shopping on the internet.

    But I recognize that a lot of people these days work 10, 12 and 14 hours a day, and sometimes do so without a break...because that’s what it takes to get the job done. If some of those people needed to spend a few minutes online ordering a Christmas present for a child or a distant relative, it just seems silly to suggest that such a person is stealing from his or her employer.

    Companies that enforce a more restrictive approach may find it hard to attract the next generation of employees...which will expect a more lenient and flexible work atmosphere.
    KC's View:

    Published on: November 30, 2009

    In Week Twelve of National Football League action...

    Miami 14
    Buffalo 31

    Washington 24
    Philadelphia 27

    Indianapolis 35
    Houston 27

    Carolina 6
    NY Jets 17

    Seattle 27
    St. Louis 17

    Tampa Bay 17
    Atlanta 20

    Cleveland 7
    Cincinnati 16

    Jacksonville 3
    San Francisco 20

    Chicago 10
    Minnesota 36

    Kansas City 14
    San Diego 43

    Arizona 17
    Tennessee 20

    Pittsburgh 17
    Baltimore 20

    Green Bay 34
    Detroit 12

    Oakland 7
    Dallas 24

    NY Giants 6
    Denver 26
    KC's View: