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    Published on: December 11, 2009

    The Wisconsin State Journal has a terrific story about Metcalfe’s Market, a two-store, family owned retailer with units in Madison and Wauwatosa, where they’ve hired a new executive chef.

    But more importantly, her role goes beyond what many store chefs do.

    "I'm not the deli chef," says Leah Caplan, who is well known in the area for her culinary expertise. "I'm sort of the chief food officer of the store. Everything from sourcing local products to deciding, ‘Does this popcorn taste good? Is this something we want to carry?'"

    According to the story, “Caplan's assignment at Metcalfe's goes beyond coming up with a tastier potato salad for the deli. Besides offering recipes for takeaway foods, Caplan also is the liaison between the store and local suppliers of meat, vegetables, cheese, fish and other items ... Caplan said her goals are ‘very basic’: to incorporate as many local products as possible. Other immediate projects include working on new offerings in the cafe and expanding the artisanal cheese selections.”
    KC's View:
    I love the idea of supermarket having a different kind of CFO - a Chief Food Officer.

    It is not a title that I have run into before, at least not as far as I can remember. But when you think about it, Chief Food Officer is a title that ought to exist in every food retail company where they take seriously the products that they sell.

    Bravo to Metcalfe’s!

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    The Arizona Daily Star reports that unionized grocery employees in Arizona have approved a new three year contract with Safeway and Kroger-owned Fry’s Food Stores that, according to the story, “does not include employee-paid premiums for health insurance. Also, it includes wage increases and sufficient funding to maintain the workers' pension fund, the union said.”

    Negotiations between the two sides had taken more than a year, and they came perilously close to a standoff last month when the chains made an offer that required health care premium contributions by new employees, the unions rejected it, and the chains started hiring temporary workers to be used in the event of a strike or lockout.
    KC's View:
    Hope some of the common sense that finally took hold can be exported to the northeast to Colorado, where management and labor still have not resolved their differences.

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    Business Week reports on France’s Auchan chain, which is headed by Gérard Mulliez, described as that country’s version of Sam Walton, “a frugal, plain-talking, small-town entrepreneur who parlayed a single storefront into a sprawling empire.”

    The magazine writes, “Mulliez is patriarch of a secretive family that controls one of the world's biggest retail operations, with more than 7,000 stores and annual sales of some $95 billion. The family's two-dozen-plus companies include Auchan, a Wal-Mart-like big box; Decathlon, the world's biggest sporting goods retailer; and the European and Latin American operations of Midas muffler. And they're gaining ground against competitors, especially in emerging markets, which hold the key to growth as sales in the U.S. and Western Europe have flattened ... Even most French people don't realize the extent of the family's holdings. True, $95 billion in sales pales next to Wal-Mart's $405 billion. And it's a good distance behind the $145 billion sales of the global No. 2 retailer, France's Carrefour. But it's neck-and-neck with Britain's Tesco and Germany's Metro, which round out the world's top five retail groups.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    The Chicago Tribune reports on the price wars taking place among the Windy City’s supermarket chains, noting that “while market-share leaders Jewel and Dominick's have been slugging it out, each promoting lower prices on many goods, other chains, including Wal-Mart, SuperTarget and Meijer, are making their pitch.”

    After doing a survey, the Tribune concludes that Walmart, in fact, has the lowest prices because of its EDLP policy ... though it has far fewer stores in the region that Jewel or Dominick’s.

    The tradeoff, of course, is that companies like Jewel and Dominick’s do much better in customer service surveys than Walmart does ... but in this economic climate, that may be seen as less desirable than a consistent low-price program.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    • Whole Foods announced yesterday that it has launched a new website “optimized for web enabled mobile devices. The site was created to provide customers the features of while on the go ... Users can access Whole Foods Market's selection of over 2,000 recipes, store information including hours, driving directions, store specials and a calendar of events for their local store ... The mobile site also features a store locator where customers can use a ZIP code search to find the nearest Whole Foods Market store.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    McDonald’s said yesterday that it will roll out a new breakfast dollar menu, beginning next month, with offerings that will include the Sausage McMuffin and a Sausage Burrito.

    And, the Chicago Tribune writes that the fast feeder has added at more than 400 locations a Big Mac snack wrap that “features a sliced burger patty, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles and onions, but no sesame-seed bun.”

    The moves are seen as a hedge against concerns about sales declines.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    • The California Grocers Association (CGA) announced that supermarkets chains around the state - including Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets, Raley's, Ralphs, Safeway, Save Mart, and Vons - have combined to donate close to sixty tons of food to the state’s WE Can Food Drive, responding to a call by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver.

    • Wendy’s announced yesterday that after 29 years it is pulling out of Japan, conceding the nation’s fast food hamburger business to McDonald’s, which has long dominated the segment there.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    Sometimes I get surprised. Actually, it happens a lot. And did yesterday.

    Despite my concerns, nobody wrote in to object to the notion that I wrote a column about lessons learned from Playboy Radio. (No, not those kinds of lessons. i was talking about the importance of not just telling people what they want to hear, and just listening to people who agree with us.)

    MNB user Dave D'Arezzo wrote:

    I agree Kevin.  I had to chime in, because it seems you’ve been getting pounded by people lately that have no sense of humor.  I heard Faith Popcorn speak to a group of MBA brand-managers types about the need to stay exposed to alternative thought.  She suggested, and I followed, subscribing to The Utne Reader.  My conservative friends rib me about reading it, but I’ve learned a lot over the years (wow has it been 20 years!?) and it’s help me stay grounded and more open minded.  It also reminds me every time I pick up an issue that not everyone is like me.  In fact some might say, thank God they aren’t.  From a purely selfish standpoint, it gives you a view into future trends and shifts in attitudes that may take years to play out.  I don’t always agree with the editorial positions, and sometimes it can feel negative, but you’ll hear passionate arguments on very important challenges.  You should pick up an issue next time you’re in buying your Playboy.  I know, you read it for the articles. (kidding!)

    MNB user Philip Bradley wrote:

    Terrific!  It's a mistake we ALL make far too often (listening only to people who we know agree with our point of view).  You could write on this subject once weekly and it wouldn't be enough!

    P.S.  the way you used the Playboy radio call-in show as an example was not only clever but interesting--I had no idea there was such a thing as Playboy radio!

    Reacting to a statement by a retailer yesterday in which it spoke of “sharing prosperity,” I had an immediate reaction to the use of the word “prosperity”:

    Prosperity? Qu'est-ce que c'est??

    To which one MNB user responded:

    Now we know you’re a Yankee. You’ve been ‘infected’ by the Canadians. In the south, we say “Es lo que es”.

    No apologies here. Born in Greenwich Village and proud of it.

    We had a story yesterday about Superquinn making a deal with Florida’s state Department of Agriculture, which will lead to the direct shipment of strawberries to Ireland....and I thought it raised interesting questions about the whole notion of eating local and food globalization. (I also said I didn’t think strawberries were grown in Ireland, which has an impact on the whole import question.)

    Lots of reaction to this story.

    MNB user Liz Schlegal wrote:

    Just a quick comment on the Florida strawberries and SuperQuinn. I don't want you to think that the Irish are somehow strawberry-deprived. Ireland actually has plenty of strawberries in season -- May/June. The last time I was in Ireland at that time of year, they were everywhere - farmer's markets, grocery stores, alongside the highway.

    The question I have is about seasons -- is this so Ireland can have strawberries more times of the year (because of Florida's longer growing season)? And is this good for Ireland? The true cost of strawberries in winter is, of course, not factored in --  and those of us involved in the local and Slow Food movements are trying to get folks to eat local foods grown in season, rather than expand the globalization of factory farming and unit-based (instead of taste-based) food production.

    Strawberries are lovely. But we need to think seriously about whether growing them for distance-shipping -- with all the accommodations to cost and taste that is required -- is a good use of human time and talent. There are many things that are more important.

    Thanks, as always, for all you do. You are using your time and talent very well, and you educate me every day.

    MNB user John F. Welsh wrote:

    Yes, there are excellent strawberries grown in Ireland. Berries from County Wexford are hawked all over the island, but the season is short and quantities are limited which necessitates importing for Superquinn and other supermarkets. If you ever have the good fortune to travel the back roads and highways in Ireland during the berry season, you will see farmer's-market type sheds along the roads where Wexford berries are being sold in different quantities at low prices. It is impossible to pass them by.

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    I am all for sustainability and often buy organics and consider “local” in my food purchase decisions. While I lean this direction, I have a lot of friends who are almost militaristic about a strict adherence to it. What some people lose sight of in these discussions is that if we all ate local and organic only most people would starve to death. Not all produce can be grown everywhere, all year round or grown organically. Not for the kind of price the average consumer would be able to afford or without serious structural changes to our entire food production process. Advances in food science, agriculture, irrigation, pest control and yes, even genetics, provide higher yields, more hearty crops and simply more food. Still, millions starve to death around the world every year. Our population growth can not be sustained without these advances. British demographer and economist Thomas Malthus figured this out over 200 years ago saying, "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man". What he didn’t know at the time was the scientific and technological pace of change that was about to come. This is not different from our discussion today…and as a side benefit of importing food, we also get some tasty treats from far away lands that I thoroughly enjoy.

    This is precisely the discussion that I hoped this story would generate.

    One final note here, if I may.

    There’s been some discussion here on the site about what some folks think is a lack of sensitivity, illustrated in this case by a joke I made about Slim Fast cans that had to be recalled because they contained a bacteria that caused vomiting and diarrhea. I joked that for people buying Slim Fast, this could be considered value-added.

    Now, the overwhelming majority of the emails I received thought this was a pretty funny line. There were a couple of people who though I was making a joke about fat people (though I thought I was making a bodily function joke), and one person who thought I was targeting people with bulimia (nothing could be further than the truth...I have a family member who was institutionalized for an eating disorder, I have a teenaged daughter, and I am very sensitive about this issue...though I also am raising my daughter to have a sense of humor).

    Anyway, I continue to get a lot of emails about this discussion, which I’m not going to post because they are highly supportive...and while I appreciate it, I think that it could seem a little over the top.

    However, there is one email I do want to post, because it a) is relevant, and b) made me laugh out loud:

    For the record, I am one of the unfortunate Slim Fast users who was actually made sick by this product and I laughed at your joke. I wasn't offended at all. I laughed all the way to the bathroom.

    Higher praise I cannot imagine.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    In Thursday Night Football action, the 2-11 Cleveland Browns shocked the 6-7, defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, defeating them 13-6. Experts said that while the game was unlikely to change the probable firing of Browns coach Eric Mangini when the season is over, it probably did end any hopes of the Steelers returning to the Super Bowl this season.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    Gene Barry, who played the elegant lead in three successful television series - “Bat Masterson,” “Burke’s Law,” and “The Name of the Game” - as well as earning a Tony nomination for the Broadway musical “La Cage Aux Folles,” died Wednesday at the age of 90.

    Barry played the lead in the original “War of the Worlds” in 1953, and had a small cameo in the Steve Spielberg-directed remake in 2005.
    KC's View:
    All three of the rotating leads from “The Name of the Game” have now passed away - the others were Robert Stack and Tony Franciosa - but I vividly remember that late sixties television series for a series of innovations. The idea of rotating leads was itself a new idea, but it also had scripts that featured things like Orson Welles reading excerpts from Thomas Wolfe’s “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and it also had a terrific sci-fi episode about Los Angeles having to be moved underground because of horrible pollution, which was directed by a young fellow named Steven Spielberg.

    I hope that “The Name of the Game” finds its way to DVD one of these days.

    Published on: December 11, 2009

    Last weekend, I had the good fortune to go with my best friend to the Miami Dolphins-New England Patriots game at Landshark Stadium in South Florida. It was an exciting game, with the Dolphins upsetting the Patriots; while I had the Pats in my football pool, I never complain about an exciting football game that goes down to the final minutes, especially if I happen to be in the stands.

    Before the game, we were hanging out, having a Landshark Lager (of course), and I spotted an interesting promotion that seemed so emblematic of the ways in which marketers can rely on methods that are out of touch with reality.

    There was a kiosk from which a couple of people were trying to get people to take out subscriptions to the Miami Herald by offering a Dolphins blanket as a giveaway.

    Wait a minute. We’re in South Florida, and they’re trying to get people to use an outmoded form of media by giving away a blanket that people would have t take back to their seats to hold for the duration of a game being played in 75-degree heat?

    No wonder they weren’t getting a lot of takers.

    Now, to be fair, when I engaged the woman working the booth in conversation (and I’m sure the last think she needed was some wisenheimer Northerner challenging her when all she wanted to do was her job), she explained, very patiently, that some houses in South Florida don’t have heat, and that a blanket could be very useful. And, she said, there are people who rely on the newspaper - like her 94-year-old father.

    All of which is well and good. Except that I’m not sure I’d build a promotion on the hope that senior citizens occasionally might get cold while reading an actual print newspaper.

    It always is tempting ... reassuring, really ... to fall back on old world methods to reach an old world audience with old world products. After all, when you venture into the new world, there always is the worry that you’re going to fall off.

    But, as they say, nothing ventured...

    If you haven’t seen it, go out of your way to check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert, which is playing this month on HBO.

    This is a fabulous program that will get you tapping your feet and humming along as some of the true legends of rock perform at Madison Square Garden. Some of the selections will be familiar - Simon and Garfunkel doing “The Sounds of Silence” and John Fogarty doing “Fortunate Son.” Mrs. Content Guy fell in love with Sam Moore singing “Soul Man.” And Bruce Springsteen, doing a series of duets with a range of rock stars, proved that he is someone who takes the heritage of rock and roll very seriously, while wearing his mantle as rock’s biggest star very lightly.

    Great viewing. Great listening.

    BTW...I love Billy Joel, but there is a marked difference between him and the Boss when they appear on stage together, even though he is just four months older than Springsteen. (They’re both 60.) Joel has gained a lot of weight and lost his hair, and he limps a little bit while walking to his piano; he also seemed to be having a little trouble remembering the words to some of the songs. Springsteen, on the other hand, can best be described as a muscular rock star - he is full of energy, glistens with sweat as he performs, and radiates enthusiasm.

    As I’ve said here before, I love my Kindle. One of my favorite features, it sends up, is the ability to download samples from books that I’m curious about, so that I can read a few chapters before making a buying decision. Some people say that when you stop going into bookstores it eliminates the pleasure of browsing, but that’s not my experience.

    Right now, I’m deciding between a number of books:

    • “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright.
    • “In Praise of Slowness,” by Carl Honore
    • “The Last Best Hope,” by Joe Scarborough
    • “Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years,” by Michael Palin
    • “Denialism,” by Michael Specter
    • “Googled,” by Ken Auletta
    • “Spooner,” by Pete Dexter

    The hard part? I want to read all of them.

    I was a huge fan of the old “The Making of the President” books by Theodore H. White (his “In Search Of History” also is a longtime favorite of mine). So I very much enjoyed reading “The Battle for America 2008: The Story of an Extraordinary Election,’ by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson.

    Maybe you have to be a man of a certain age to get this new TNT series, but I really liked “Men of a Certain Age,” the new Ray Romano-Scott Bakula-Andre Braugher project that debuted this week. All three actors play men approaching fifty with varying degrees of trepidation, panic, desperation...and even a sense of humor. Guys our age have all had that moment when we look in the mirror and wonder where that wrinkle came from, how all that gray popped in overnight, or how come there seems to be a little less hair in one corner of our forehead than there used to be.

    “Men of a Certain Age” is strong television. it’ll be interesting to see where it goes as the program evolves.

    My wine of the week: the 2006 Lackey Shiraz from South Australia, which is a highly affordable (about fourteen bucks), robust and smooth red wine - as good with a steak as with risotto.

    Enjoy, and thank me later.

    That’s it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: