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    Published on: December 4, 2009

    The New York Times reports this morning that Cargill is conducting a “large-scale test to see whether animal vaccines are an answer to one of the nation’s most persistent food-safety problems” - E. coli contamination.

    According to the Times, “Scientists are fairly sure that vaccines ... will not, on their own, wipe out the dangerous strain of E. coli known as O157:H7. But if they prove effective, they could significantly reduce the amount of harmful bacteria that cattle carry into slaughterhouses, which means that safeguards already in place there would have a greater chance of eliminating the remaining germs from the beef supply.

    “While studies have shown varying degrees of effectiveness, many researchers believe E. coli vaccines can reduce the number of animals carrying the bacteria by 65 to 75 percent. That may be enough to prevent the surge of E. coli that typically occurs each summer, when the germ thrives and reports of illness increase.”

    Needless to say, there are concerns - mostly about who will pay for the extra cost of vaccinating the animals, and whether the vaccinations will increase the cost of beef.
    KC's View:
    Maybe I’m insane, but as a consumer, I’m happy to pay extra for beef that has been vaccinated so there is less chance that it may be contaminated with E. coli.

    If the price of beef goes up a bit, just explain it to me, and be transparent about why the vaccine has been used. This is my definition of meaningful value-added.

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    Interesting piece in USA Today saying that some “fruit, vegetable and seafood wholesalers are worried that their perishables will spoil at airports next year because of a new security law requiring crates of goods to be checked for bombs before going on passenger airplanes ... Boxes of fresh food could sit in airport warehouses for hours, losing freshness and potentially facing unsanitary conditions while cargo handlers stack them up and test for bombs.”

    According to the story, the government is implementing “a 2007 law requiring freight to be screened before going in the belly of a passenger plane with suitcases. U.S. passenger planes carry 12 million pounds a day of freight ranging fish to computers.”
    KC's View:
    Hopefully, with a little bit of time and experience, some of these fears can be alleviated. But as someone who spends a lot of time on airplanes, I never mind when there is a little extra security at airports; I’m always amazed when people moan and complain when security folks want to take a second look at this bag or that briefcase...after all, they’re trying to ensure that we’re safe while in the air.

    The only thing that concerns me sometimes is the inconsistency. How come my Kindle and extra computer batteries have to be taken out of the bag at O’Hare, but almost no place else? I’m happy to comply, but it does make one wonder what other inconsistencies are taking place.

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    Retail Forward is out with its monthly ShopperScape survey, and here are nine statistics worth noting:

    1. “More than half of shoppers (53%) plan to maintain near-term spending levels about the same as last year, which is only the second time since February 2008 that more than half of shoppers planned to do so.”

    2. “The percentage of shoppers planning to curb their near-term spending declined to 37% in November, the lowest percentage since February 2008.”

    3. “Few shoppers (10%) plan to spend more than last year, but that’s the largest share since September 2008.”

    4. “Fewer shoppers feel better off about their household income this November (23%) compared with last November (27%).”

    5. “More shoppers feel better off about their debt levels—credit cards and monthly mortgage and car payments—compared with last November.”

    6. “Shoppers feel particularly more positive than last year about their investments and to a lesser extent their home values, although those feeling worse off still far outnumber those feeling better off.”

    7. “Nine percent of shoppers plan to spend more this holiday compared with last year.  That’s an improvement from the 7% last year, but down from the 14% in 2007.”

    8. “Forty-two percent of shoppers intend to spend about the same amount as they did last year—up from the 35% in 2008 but less than the 48% in 2007.”

    9. “Forty-three percent of shoppers plan to spend less this holiday compared with last year.  That’s fewer than the 53% last year, but more than the 33% in 2007.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    In California, the Press-Enterprise reports that Tesco plans to expand its Fresh & Easy campus near Riverside by more than 700,000 square feet, bringing its facilities to a total of nearly 2 million square feet on 88.4 acres.

    The expansion, according to the story, “will add space to the company's warehouses, parking, office space and kitchen, allowing it to serve 550 Fresh & Easy grocery stores in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona. Today, it could supply up to 235 stores and employ up to 1,250 people.

    “The company has opened 132 stores and employs about 670 at its Meridian distribution center.”
    KC's View:
    Some people keep suggesting that Tesco could be close to pulling the plug on Fresh & Easy...that the experiment has been an utter disaster. And I have to admit that the last few Fresh & Easy stores that I’ve seen have not been impressive, and the customers with whom I’ve chatted haven’t exactly been enamored with the concept. (They think it does some small things right, but generally do most of their shopping elsewhere. Based on some of the conversations that I’ve had, one recommendation might be that rather than expanding its kitchens, Fresh & Easy might want to invest in some new chefs.)

    But this doesn’t sound like a company looking for an exit ramp. It sounds like a company that is going to keep working at it until it gets the business model right.

    Even if that takes more time than Tesco expected.

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    • Walmart said yesterday that it donate $1.1 million in order to give free toys, books, Walmart gift cards and gift packages to more than 10,000 military children and families. The company also said that it will lay 16,000 wreaths at national cemeteries across the United States to honor fallen veterans.

    Reuters reports that Walmart is “cutting prices on popular video games by $10 each and offering a $50 gift card with the purchase of a Nintendo Wii video game console as the retailer tries to lure shoppers to its U.S. stores ahead of the Christmas holiday.”

    The story notes that and Target have responded with equivalent price cuts.
    KC's View:
    Tell you a story about Amazon’s definition of price cuts.

    Back before Thanksgiving, I got Mrs. Content Guy a Wii and Wii Fit for her birthday. (She’d been talking about getting one; it wasn’t some sort of hint.) I didn’t even think twice about shopping around. I went to Amazon, saw that their price was discounted from full retail, and bought it; I didn’t have to pay for shipping because I am an Amazon Prime member.

    What I didn’t realize was that there was a $50 Amazon gift card that came with the purchase. I was on the run, and didn’t pay attention. But this is where something happened that never has happened before.

    I got an email from Amazon noting that while I had earned a gift card, I had not cashed it in...and that there was an expiration date that I needed to be aware of. Needless to say, I used it immediately for additional Christmas shopping...and yet again, Amazon proved that it is my retailer of choice. Compare this to most such programs, where if you don’t use the coupon or gift card, you’re just out of luck.

    Why would I shop anywhere else for anything that I can get from Amazon?

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    • The Times of London reports that “Tesco is planning scores of new supermarkets across Britain before a proposed clampdown that would restrict its ability to expand.” According to the story, Tesco has filed double the number of planning applications - for convenience stores, superstores, metro stores and supercenters - as Sainsbury and Walmart-owned Tesco combined.

    The new law referenced in the article comes as a result of a study done by the UK’s Competition Commission, which recommended a test that will make it harder for chains to expand in places where they are dominant.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    • ReachEverywhere announced that its Shopper iPhone application has added new functionality - the ability to access information from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about products pre-selected by the user. According to the statement, “If a shopper puts an item on their list that associated with a recall, she will automatically see the warning information for that product. ReachEverywhere is using proprietary keyword matching technology to automatically show relevant product recalls for the shopping list.”

    • The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Kroger Personal Finance is out with a new product - health insurance for pets. This new insurance offers coverage for “emergencies and illnesses for dogs and cats. At $9.95 a month per pet, the insurance is priced much lower than the grocer's existing well-care offers - full coverage including annual visits and services at $29.95 a month for dogs and $24.95 for cats.”

    The story notes that Kroger is one of only 11 US companies offering such insurance, despite the fact that there are 70 million pet owners in the US.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    • Rite Aid Corp. reports that its November sales were $2.43 billion, down 2.1 percent compared to the same period a year ago, on same-store sales that were off 0.8 percent.

    • Target Corp. says that its November sales were up 1.5 percent over the year-ago period to $5.69 billion, on same-store sales that were down 1.5 percent.

    • Del Monte Foods said that its second quarter sales were up six percent to $958.9 million, with earnings up 24 percent to $62.6 million.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    Let’s end the week with a really nice story from an MNB user:

    After being on vacation for two weeks I returned to stock up at Aldi's and was truly amazed at all the new higher end products that are on the shelves for the Holiday Season. Then when I was going through the check out there was a mildly handicapped gentleman in front of me buying a few things and it turned out he had no money to pay for the few items. When I realized this I was going to offer to pay, but the cashier was quicker than I and voided the charge as an error and let the man have the merchandise. I was blown away by the generosity and the ability of the cashier to exercise this decision.

    Good for the cashier. Good for Aldi for creating an environment that makes such decision-making possible.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    In Thursday Night Football, the based-in-New Jersey NY Jets traveled to Toronto to play the Buffalo Bills...and defeated them 19-13.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 4, 2009

    I don’t know about you, but if I were running Microsoft’s new retail division, with plans to open up stores all over the country, this is the last way I’d want to see one my new units described:

    Blink an eye, and the Microsoft Store could be mistaken for an Apple Store.

    The sign over the doorway has no letters, only a Windows logo instead of an Apple silhouette. Wood bar tables display desktops and laptops, and Zunes and Windows Mobile phones replace iPods and iPhones. The walls are painted stark white to showcase the products. Where Apple store have customer-service areas called "Genius Bars," Microsoft's have "Answer Bars" at the back.

    Staff wear Apple-style shirts in primary hues. Staff members may even look familiar; some were recruited from Apple stores.

    That was the description offer by the Seattle Times of the new Microsoft store in Scottsdale, Arizona.

    Now, I realize I am totally in the tank for Apple, never having worked on a Windows-based machine. Not ever. But it seems to me that when Microsoft decided to follow Apple into the retail business, it needed to create an environment that was different from the now familiar Apple Stores. After all, its very entry into retail was seen as a “me, too” effort.

    So what it needed to do, at least in my view, was come up with something that would remind people of the Apple Store. Because that, al by itself, would remind people of the competition.

    To quote one of Apple’s old commercials, what Microsoft needed to do was “think different.”

    But apparently it didn’t.

    Now here’s an interesting story from Reuters Life, reporting that a new Swedish study says that “men who bottle up their anger at being unfairly treated at work are up to five times more likely to suffer a heart attack, or even die from one, than those who let their frustration show.”

    In other words, letting it all hang out may not always be socially acceptable, but it is the right thing to do...medically speaking.

    Which probably is what Tiger Woods’ wife was thinking as she advanced on the Escalade while wielding a golf club....that this was going to be good for health. If not necessarily for Tiger’s.

    Tony Kornheiser is back on the radio, with a local morning show in Washington, DC, which also is streamed on the internet and can be heard on iTunes. This week, with both the Tiger Woods situation and the adventures of Michaele and Tareq Salahi to talk about, he has been in rare form.

    I was listening to his Monday show on Tuesday, driving home from a speaking engagement in Boston, and was laughing so hard that I didn’t even notice that the fuel warning light was on in my car...and finally had to coast downhill to make it to a gas station.

    Now that’s good radio.

    Mrs. Content Guy and I, joined by our 15-year-old daughter, had the great opportunity to go to the second-to-last concert in Jimmy Buffett’s Summerzcool tour, at the Mohegan Sun in upstate Connecticut. as always, we had a great time - Jimmy was loose and funny and played for well over two and a half just doesn’t get any better than that.

    Amid all the shaky economic news, there was a bit of relief this week. Apparently, if you actually give all the items listen in “The 12 Days of Christmas,” it will cost you $21,465.56 this year...up just 1.8 percent compared to a year ago.

    PNC Financial Services says that there was a 27 percent decrease in the cost of a partridge and a pear tree, which you now can get for a mere $159, and there has been no change in the $4,413 it costs for 10 leaping lords.

    One big price hike: the cost of five gold rings is up 42 percent.

    My wines of the week:

    • the 2003 Barnard Griffin Reserve Merlot, from Washington State’s Columbia Valley, which is extraordinarily smooth and wonderful.

    the 2007 Atteca “Old Vines” from Spain, which is bright and juicy without being sweet...just fantastic.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend...I know I will, because I’m going with my best friend to the New England Patriots-Miami Dolphins game at Landshark Stadium. (You know me. How could I let the season go by without visiting the stadium named for jimmy Buffett’s beer?)

    See you Monday.

    KC's View: