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    Published on: March 3, 2010

    The Los Angeles Times reports that a new report sponsored by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University says that “the health-related costs of food-borne illnesses total $152 billion a year, including the costs of medical bills, lost wages and lost productivity. That total is more than four times that of earlier estimates calculated by the US Department of Agriculture.

    “The findings come as regulatory efforts to patrol the country's food sector are growing amid reports of a string of costly - and sometimes fatal - outbreaks of food-borne illness involving peanuts, jalapeno peppers, spinach, beef and other foods.”

    Previous research, according to the Times, “looked at the fallout from only a handful of food-borne pathogens and didn't include as many long-term effects from such illnesses, including how they can affect a person's quality of life.” The new report looked at some 27 pathogens, some of which, “such as norovirus or salmonella, are responsible for making a million or more Americans sick each year; others, such as botulism, sicken far fewer people.”

    The problem is that while the US House of Representatives has passed a bill that would create far greater safety-related oversight of the nation’s food industry, and a version of this bill has passed a US Senate Committee, it is going nowhere in the full Senate, which is preoccupied, ironically, on health care legislation meant to address the high cost of health care.
    KC's View:
    It is frustrating that Congress can’t get this bill passed and onto President Obama’s desk. There seems to be generally bi-partisan support for it (the bill passed the Senate committee by a unanimous vote), and it would deal both with health care costs and food safety issues. It won;t be a magic bullet, but it can’t hurt.

    Oy.

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    New York-based Price Chopper has announced an innovative expansion of its popular Fuel Advantage program, which rewards consumers with a 10¢ per gallon savings on up to a 20 gallon fill-up for every $50 spent in groceries. For the next three months in a pilot program, users of Price Chopper’s AdvantEdge card also will be able to use it top save money on a pass usable on Capital District Transportation Authority (CDTA) buses.

    “This new program ... gives us the opportunity to help our customers save money not only on groceries and fuel, but on mass transit passes through CDTA as well,” says Price Chopper President and CEO Neil Golub. “We relish the opportunity to collaborate with a progressive local business that is as dedicated as we are to reducing carbon emissions.”
    KC's View:
    I love this idea. At a time when many people are talking about reducing carbon emissions, Price Chopper is walking the walk. This may have more symbolic power than anything else, but symbols are important. This program extension simply makes sense - and I hope that it works well for them and that the concept gets extended beyond the 90 day pilot period.

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    There is a lot of coverage today of a proposal made yesterday by US Postmaster General John E. Potter to to adjust delivery schedules, raise prices and control labor costs - including the elimination of Saturday mail delivery in the US - in order to stem the tide of financial losses facing the system.

    As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “Without the restructuring, the agency potentially faces $238 billion in projected losses in the next 10 years ... The recession has worsened the Postal Service's financial condition, and mail volume continued to fall as more letters and documents are sent electronically. It saw a 13% drop in volume in the year ended Sept. 30, more than double any previous decline, and lost $3.8 billion. In the three months ended Dec. 31, 2009 - a period that is typically the strongest of the year because of holiday shipping - the Postal Service recorded a 9% drop in volume from a year earlier and a loss of $297 million.”

    However, despite those numbers, there is significant resistance to the Post Office plan. Again, from the Journal: “Congress must approve the elimination of Saturday mail delivery and lawmakers haven't been receptive to the idea. Any changes to employee work schedules, which would result from eliminating Saturday delivery, need to be negotiated with postal workers' unions. Labor leaders Tuesday came out against the plan ... The loss of Saturday delivery would deal a blow to the biggest postal clients, companies that mail ads to consumers. The segment makes up as much as a third of annual postal revenue.”
    KC's View:
    There are a lot of people who will have a sentimental reaction to this proposal, but as I wrote when Potter first suggested this possibility more than a year ago, it seems to me that sentimentality has no business being part of this discussion. The Postal Service is running on an increasingly obsolete and irrelevant business model that hasn’t changed significantly - except for the vehicle - since the days of the Pony Express.

    Cutting a day of mail delivery is putting a band-aid on the problem, and not addressing the real issue, which is that digital mail and information delivery is replacing the physical version. I have no idea what the fundamental business proposition ought to be...but I’m pretty sure that cutting out Saturdays ain’t it.

    You could cut deliveries to three days, and people under 30 would be unlikely to care. Or notice.

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    A lawsuit filed yesterday in a California court maintains that some fish oil capsules sold as health supplements for their Omega-3 fatty acids content have illegally undisclosed and unnecessarily high levels of contamination with polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds.

    The lawsuit names eight makers and sellers of fish oil, shark oil, fish liver oil and shark liver oil supplements that have PCB contamination above the so-called “safe harbor” limits set for human PCB consumption under California’s Proposition 65, which requires consumers to be warned about such exposures. One of the plaintiffs is the Mateel Justice Foundation, which has been aggressive in trying to enforce the tenets of Prop. 65.

    “Consumers who want the health benefits of fish oil shouldn’t also have to take the health risks of an extremely toxic man-made chemical,” said David Roe, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “And they don’t have to, since preliminary test results show that some fish oil brands have only 1/70th as much PCB contamination in them as others.”

    The defendants include retailers CVS, General Nutrition Corp. (GNC), and Rite Aid.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    BloggingStocks.com reports that Walmart “has created an initiative it's calling ‘Global.com’ that will try to standardize the online and brick-and-mortar interactions customers have in the global markets where it operates.” The analysis suggests that Walmart “is basically trying to out-do Amazon.com here, which already has a global footprint that provides the same experience no matter where the customer is located. The only problem: it has no physical stores (which is an advantage; a large one). While Walmart has been trying to integrate its Walmart.com U.S. division to more closely work with its actual store locations, Amazon.com has been having some of the best quarters in its entire history recently. Walmart's impressive effort here to integrate the merchandising between its offline and online stores would give it a unique position among large retailers.”

    Reuters reports that Walmart will pay $11.7 million to settle a gender discrimination suit, filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), charging that the retailer had hired men for warehouse jobs in Kentucky while denying jobs to equally or better qualified female applicants. While it will write a check, Walmart is not admitting any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    A new market share report from the Kantar World Panel says that Tesco’s UK market penetration rose to 30.4 percent from 30.1 percent in the same period a year ago. Walmart-owned Asda Group saw its market share drop to 17 percent from 17.2 percent a year ago, while Sainsbury ‘s market share was 16.3 percent, up from 16.2 percent a year ago.

    William Morrison Supermarkets saw the biggest share increase, to 12.3 percent from 11.7 percent. The UK’s discount retailers - Aldi, Netto and Lidl - saw their combined market share drop to 5.7 percent from 5.9 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    Smoothie retailer Jamba Juice said yesterday that it is introducing a line of Hot Blends beverages to supplement its traditional chilled line. here’s how the company describes them:

    “Made with the highest quality ingredients and blended hot with the customer’s choice of organic nonfat, 2% or soymilk, the Hot Blends™ beverages come in four frothy flavors: Original Spiced Chai™ Tea, Perfectly Chocolate Chai Tea, Heavenly Green Tea, and Classic Hot Chocolate.  For those who prefer their tea steeped, Jamba Juice will also offer a profile of six Mighty Leaf organic whole leaf teas—allowing customers to enjoy uncomplicated, natural teas that pair perfectly with Jamba Juice oatmeal and newly introduced baked goods including the Tart Cherry and Orange Dark Chocolate Chip Scones.”
    KC's View:
    All of which sounds like Jamba Juice is getting more aggressive about competing with the national chains that have been fighting over consumer coffee choices.

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    • The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that Supervalu will eliminate 80 jobs from its Virginia office and distribution center, a result of the Ahold acquisition of Ukrop’s Super Markets. Ukrop’s was a Supervalu customer, but Ahold will be doing business with C&S Wholesale Grocers.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “a shortage of tomatoes from weather-battered Florida is forcing restaurants and supermarkets to ration supplies amid soaring prices for America's most popular fresh vegetable.” Some restaurants and fast food chains have been eliminating tomatoes from their sandwiches and other recipes for the foreseeable future - when 70 percent of the tomato crop was destroyed by cold temperatures, it increased the cost of a 25 pound of tomatoes from $6.45 a year ago to $30 today.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that on a new study, published in Health Affairs, saying that “from 1977 to 2006, American children have added 168 snack calories per day to their diets, a study finds. They're munching cookies after school, granola bars on the way to piano lessons, chips after an hour of soccer practice and peanut butter and crackers while waiting for dinner. For some, those extra 1,176 calories a week could amount to as much as 13 1/2 pounds of body fat a year,” and account for as much as 25 percent of their daily calorie intake.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    • Costco Wholesale said this morning that its second quarter profit was $299 million, up from $239 million during the same period a year ago. Q2 sales were up 11 percent to $18.36 billion, excluding membership fees, which rose about 9 percent to $386 million. Same-store sales in the quarter increased 9 percent.

    • United Natural Foods said yesterday that its second quarter earnings were up 15 percent to $15.7 million, up from $13.6 million during the same period a year ago. Q2 revenue increased six percent to $898 million.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    Yesterday, MNB reported that Publix Super Markets had in its most recent fiscal year annual net earnings of $1.16 million, compared with $1.09 million in 2008.

    Not sure if it was because the “M” is located so close to the “B” on the keyboard, or whether it was just that I was writing on east coast time while traveling on the west coast, but clearly this was a goof.

    Publix had earnings of $1.6 billion...not $1.6 million.

    No excuses. I screwed up. And I apologize to anyone with Publix stock who saw my erroneous number and fainted.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 3, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View: