retail news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Time has an interesting story about a new kind of eating disorder - orthorexia, which is defined as “a controversial diagnosis characterized by an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy.”

    Here is how the diagnosis is described: “As the list of foods to steer clear of (bye-bye, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup) continues to grow, eating-disorder experts are increasingly confronted with patients ... who speak of nervously shunning foods with artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and rigidly following a particular diet, such as vegan or raw foods. Women may be more prone to this kind of restrictive consumption than men, keeping running tabs of verboten foods and micromanaging food prep. Many opt to go hungry rather than eat anything less than wholesome.”

    The reason that the Washington-based Eating Disorders Coalition is pushing for orthorexia to become an “official” diagnosis as a psychiatric condition is that this would allow treatment to be covered by insurance. However, Time writes that “most doctors think a separate diagnosis is unwarranted. Orthorexia might be connected to an anxiety disorder or it might be a precursor to a more commonly diagnosed condition, says Cynthia Bulik, director of the eating-disorders program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.”
    KC's View:
    This is way above my pay grade. You’d think that treatment for any sort of obsessive-compulsive behavior would be covered by insurance with a special diagnosis, but as we all know, insurance companies specialize in trying to deny coverage, not providing it.

    It seems to me that one of the real problems here is that there is so little balance in how our culture approaches food - it’s no wonder that people’s attitudes range from confused to obsessive. A healthy attitude toward food allows one to enjoy good wine and great desserts in moderation; an unhealthy attitude toward food can be focused on only eating fast food, or only eating broccoli (as in the case of one patient described by Time).

    Then again, maybe this is just a reflection of our culture in general - it is one that seems to reward polarization with attention, and dismisses context and nuance and balance as irrelevant. It affects what we put into our heads, so it is no wonder that it also affects what we put into our stomachs.

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Fast Company has a fascinating interview with Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm, in which talks about the need for a more sustainable food culture. Some excerpts:

    • “We don't know what real food is as a culture, as a society. We're not ready to pay for it. We have this illusion that food not only can, but should be, cheap. I call it an illusion because we do end up paying it, through our bodies and also our planet. We really have to restore to help the financial state of our farmers. There is a whole host of consequences to eating unsustainably, but we don't measure them because they're externalities. They don't appear on our income statements, but they're real costs. One in three kids born after 2000 will be a diabetic, and that's one in two if it's Hispanic or African American. Two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight, and we're spending billions to deal with those problems. Those are the consequences of cheap food. It's not cheap at all.”

    • “When you shop, you're really voting for the kind of world you want. What we should understand is, whether you're in the airport, in a supermarket, in a convenient store or a restaurant, every time you select one item, it has a ripple effect far, far, far beyond that momentary product. It is power. We should use that power for good. I'm living proof of that. We started with seven cows. And millions and millions of people have voted with their dollars for Stonyfield, and now it's a $340 million company. We are what we eat, but more importantly, we are what we buy.”
    KC's View:
    The notion of context is so important. Another example of this is the USA Today story the other day about a new study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) saying that “obese children are more likely to die prematurely than their healthy-weight peers.”

    The premature death of children seems like the highest possible price to pay for what essentially is a kind of ignorance.

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has decided to begin “ambushing and haranguing” McDonald’s executives at public events as a way of convincing them to adopt more humane ways of slaughtering chickens.

    “This seems to get under their skin much more than the protests,” says Dan Mathews, PETA’s senior vice-president of campaigns. “We want to make them squirm, so at corporate functions they are not able to walk up to the podium without having to look over their shoulders wondering if a PETA person is there.”

    He says that PETA plans to continue staging such ambushes until McDonald’s changes its policies - something that the fast feeder seems to have no intention of doing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    The San Francisco Chronicle reports that some 400 “unionized workers who clean about 200 Safeway supermarkets in Northern California for four janitorial contracting firms staged a brief work stoppage Wednesday amid negotiations to renew a contract that expired at the end of October.”

    The paper notes that Local 1877 of SEIU United Service Workers West is handling the negotiations for the renewal of a contract originally agreed to in 2006. The union says that the four contracting firms want to cut beginning wages and change health care contribution levels.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Internet Retailer reports that “Meijer Inc. jumped into e-commerce late in the game in the third quarter of 2007, but in 2009 its web sales reached $20.7 million, the company’s second year of triple digit growth ... The company says it found online success not by offering a typical web site, but by incorporating features that differentiate the site to keep it relevant and interesting for shoppers. For example, offers interactive elements such as a Product Advisor tool that enables customers to query other shoppers while they browse. Interactive games in 2009 included its Back To School Scramble that featured daily giveaways for players. The company credited the game with boosting conversion on featured items by 18%.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    • The Financial Times reports that Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy is blasting the British government’s plan to create a watchdog role responsible for moderating and settling disputes among retailers and manufacturers, saying that the natural tensions between the two sides actually creates better stores and lower prices for shoppers.

    The government is taking the action because the industry players were unable to reach a voluntary agreement on their own.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    • CVS Caremark said yesterday that it plans to open nine stores in Puerto Rico this year, its first move into the US territory.

    • Family Dollar Stores said this week that it plans to extend the hours in most of its more than 6,000 stores, saying that a test in about 15 percent of its units had proven to be successful.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    • PepsiCo says that its fourth quarter earnings almost doubled to $1.43 billion, on Q4 sales that increased 4.5 percent to $13.3 billion from $12.74 billion.

    Annual sales for the company were pretty much flat at $43.2 billion, on profit of$5.95 billion, up from $5.14 billion a year ago.

    • Coinstar, which among other things owns and operates the Redbox DVD rental kiosks, reported a fourth quarter profit of $5.5 million, up from $4.2 million during the same period a year earlier. Q4 sales were up 44 percent to $328 million.

    For 2009, Coinstar reported a full-year profit of $55.8 million on revenue of $1.1 billion, up from $14.1 million and $761.7 million, respectively.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    • The Food Industry Association Executives (FIAE) announced that the FIAE Board of Directors has approved the hiring of James V. Olsen, the president/CEO of the Utah Retail Grocers Association, to be its new president, effective April 1, 2010.

    He succeeds Barbara McConnell, who is retiring after 15 years with FIAE.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Fred Morrison died Tuesday at age 90. His contribution to the culture? Morrison invented the Frisbee.

    Little known fact: Morrison hated the name “Frisbee,” which was given to his invention by the Wham-O Manufacturing Co. when it licensed what Morrison called the "Whirlo-Way" and "Pluto Platter” in 1957.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Responding to yesterday’s story about a Tim Horton’s store in Canada banning a customer from entering the unit because he was complaining about the product and being abusive to employees.

    MNB user Neil G. Reay wrote:

    There is a fine line between serving customers and protecting your staff. For some customers, your staff make fair game for venting their inner anger and frustration, and “firing” the customer does more for morale than placating him. If he hates the coffee, why does he still come in? Is the complaint an attempt to just get free coffee or a donut?  (I have known people of this sort, who always look for a comp or discount). Is he having a bad day, and looks for someone to yell at who is not supposed to respond in kind?

    If there is a real problem with the coffee (poorly made or too old), fix the processes and improve the training. If he is unique in his complaints and is abusive to the staff, fire the customer for the sake of your staff and other customers. Customers should always be listened to for opinions and legitimate complaints, but know when you cannot solve the problem because it lies outside of your control.

    In a prior job, we used to get regular complaints for a group of customers (maybe it was a club) with the comment that they had bought an entire case of our frozen food for a party; the food was bad and everyone got violently ill; and could we please send a free replacement case of product. Sometimes a complaint just doesn’t pass the smell test – if they want to get violently ill again, they are either dumb as a post or a crook.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Wow!  One upset customer at one coffee shop tarnishes an entire nation! As one of your Canadian customers, I feel his pain.

    Actually most Tim Horton’s are models of customer service, staffed by remarkably cheerful folks who handle incredible volumes of caffeine and sugar deprived customers night and day.

    I’m not a huge fan of their coffee either, hence my choice to visit an independent shop every morning for an organic blend roasted fresh on site.  The coffee isn’t great but the customer experience is consistent.

    I expect that if I encountered the same bellyacher every morning I would, as a loyal customer, feel uncomfortable and hope that the management might suggest other alternatives to the complainant.

    At least in Canada there is a good chance that said complainant would not be armed....

    And more about the Audi commercial about the “Green Police” than ran on the Super Bowl, and the subsequent debate here on MNB, one member of the community wrote:

    One more comment on the "Green Police", which appears to have turned into a debate on government control.

    Government's purpose is to provide infrastructure and protect our borders. Period.  Let's not forget that Washington is a collection of lawyers whose knowledge of economics, the environment, and health care is limited to what they receive from the lobbying groups that keep them in office. Most of the politicians are there only because they outspent the other candidates.  The economy will take care of itself (faster if left alone), the environment is fine if you look at real data that has not been manipulated, and we have the best health care in the world.

    To be fair, one man’s “government control” is another man’s “intelligent leadership.”

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Your rebuttal was spot on. You were wrong in the light bulb issue, but as I read your comments one thing rang true on every point you hit. And that is everyone of the initiatives, or plans you responded to, as possibly useful, government should have a role in.As I read this I felt another twinge of money escaping from my hard earned wages. What is wrong with the government finding a way to let the private sector explore and develop these initiatives? I'm sure the natural response will be who? But if there is an opportunity for profit, or an opportunity to create a company to satisfy a need, you will find an American entrepreneur who will be happy invest and develop. As long as they are given the same latitude, we as Government afford ourselves. If we throw self imposed (Government directives) at them they will not succeed, and we will have to flip the bill. We should concentrate on imposing safety and health guidelines and enforcing them so we protect citizens, not build things from the ground up. Our founding fathers are rolling in their graves!

    But another MNB user chimed in:

    It is amazing how a car commercial’s visceral response can sum up the political divide we have in this country. You have to love the fact that Audi could work a classic Cheap Trick song into the commercial anyway.

    And, from MNB user Ron Pizur:

    Why can't people just accept the catchy use of the song and the funny elements of the commercial?

    Some would argue that the commercial wasn’t funny. Others would say that they people who didn’t find it funny don;t have a sense of humor. You choose.

    And MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

    How absurd that we can watch a tongue in cheek commercial during a football game and post game arguments and commentary sink to a level where we are discussing Nazi’s and Hitler and people vowing to never buy an Audi. My money says they never have before and wouldn’t have in the future anyway. For the record, I will. In fact I am currently driving my fifth one and there will be a sixth because the make a great product. Is it expecting too much for people to judge a product on it’s quality rather than on and advertising campaign?

    One thing is for sure. If a commercial is to be judged by whether you remember the product after you see it, then the Audi commercial seems to have been successful.

    And I agree with you. Most of the people who seem outraged by the commercial likely weren’t Audi customers anyway.

    Still, it is fascinating discussion.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    Monday is celebrated as Presidents’ Day here in the US, observing the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, our first and sixteenth presidents. It is a national holiday ... which means that I’m taking the day off to hang out with my daughter, who has the day off from school.

    See you Tuesday.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 12, 2010

    To be honest, I have developed a certain level of cynicism about medical studies and doctors’ recommendations. Too often, they reflect the conventional wisdom of the moment, and are likely to be contradicted within weeks by yet another study.

    However, I do make exceptions. Like when the study tells me something I may not have known, but am really, really glad to learn.

    Like this one.

    Reuters reports that “researchers from the Department of Food Science & Technology at the University of California, have found beer is a rich source of silicon and may help prevent osteoporosis, as dietary silicon is a key ingredient for increasing bone mineral density.”

    Drink beer. Develop strong bones.

    Works for me.

    Reuters seems to be on a roll this week. It also had a story the other day about how the consumption of alcohol seemed to promote heart health in Spanish men, reducing the instances of heart disease in people who drank as opposed to people who did not.

    The sample seems fairly sizable - more than 15,000 men over a decade of study.

    That’s the good news.

    The bad news...Spanish women did not seem to enjoy the same benefits of alcohol consumption.

    One of the great pleasures of my life is that every once in a while, I get to taste something extraordinary and way out of price range. This week, it was the 2007 Barnett Vineyards Rattlesnake Hills Cabernet Sauvignon that goes for $135 per bottle. Now, I have no idea what makes this wine so expensive, and I’m not nearly schooled enough to be able to tell the difference between it and a cab half its price.

    But it was delicious.

    The other wine I want to recommend to you this week is a lot less expensive - about nine bucks a bottle. But the 2008 Los Ailos from Argentina, which is 60 percent Syrah and 40 percent Malbec is rich and smooth and just a little bit spicy. And yummy.

    Every once in a while, I get reminded that life is so much a matter of perception. For example...we were at dinner last night commenting on the fact that Sunday is Valentine’s Day, and my daughter - showing a flash of sardonic wit that reminded me of, well, me - said it shouldn’t be called Valentine’s Day. “It should be called ‘Singles Awareness Day,’ she said.

    Laugh out loud funny, I think.

    I just finished watching a six-part documentary called Monty Python: Mostly The Truth - The Lawyer’s Cut, and I recommend it heartily to anyone who loves the Pythons...or just wants to get a sense of how and why this groundbreaking comedy troupe evolved. What is remarkable about it - beyond the clips that remain hysterically funny more than 40 years later - that the individual interviews with the five surviving Pythons show people who seem remarkably candid, generally sympathetic and charitable, and fully at ease with their individual and group achievements.

    It is a wonderful piece of work. I loved it.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend.

    KC's View: