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    Published on: March 5, 2010

    Tops Friendly Markets announced yesterday that it has entered into an agreement to sell six recently-acquired Penn Traffic stores to Price Chopper Supermarkets of Schenectady, N.Y. These stores were part of the January 29, 2010 bankruptcy court-approved acquisition of a majority of Penn Traffic’s assets.

    “As part of our initial evaluation of all Penn Traffic locations, it was determined these stores were on the outer edge of our geographic footprint and would best be served by another retailer with more familiarity with those markets,” said Frank Curci, Tops’ president and CEO.

    Five of the six stores are located in northern New York State. They include Canton, Gouverneur, Massena, Potsdam, and West Carthage. There is one store located in Lincoln, N.H.

    The transaction is expected to be complete in approximately 30 days. Terms of the sale were not disclosed.
    KC's View:
    Hopefully everybody is happy and customers will be well served by both food chains.

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    The Boston Globe reports this morning that the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) has issued a 24-hour strike notice designed to end months of collective bargaining with Ahold-owned Stop & Shop and possibly trigger a strike if an agreement is not reached by noon today.

    The bargaining covers the contracts of almost 36,000 employees throughout New England, which expired last month.

    According to the story, “The main points of contention, according to UFCW Local 1445 -- one of five union locals involved in the negotiations -- are higher health insurance contributions and a lack of wage increases. The company also wants to reduce the pension for newly hired full time workers and reduce holidays for new part-timers.”

    Stop & Shop is said to be ready to hire temporary workers if a strike occurs.
    KC's View:
    In case the UFCW hasn’t noticed, we’re in the tail end of a recession right now. I’m not suggesting that they allow themselves to be walked over, but talking seems smarter than walking at this point in time.

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    The Philadelphia Business Journal reports that Mayor Michael Nutter is looking to close a multi-million dollar budget deficit in the City of Brotherly Love in part with a “Healthy Philadelphia Initiative,” which the Journal writes “would impose a 2 cents per ounce tax on retailers on their annual sales of sugar-sweetened beverages, which would include any beverage sweetened by sugar - soda, juice, athletic drinks, iced tea and coffee and flavored milk, like chocolate. The tax would roll in January 2011 and generate $38.6 million in revenue the first year and $77.2 million per year thereafter, a portion of which would be used to battle the city’s obesity rate and promote healthier living, officials said. The city would spend $20 million from the initiative beginning in July 2011 to promote healthy eating and physical activity in the city, where 64 percent of adults and 57 of children were overweight or obese as of 2008.”
    KC's View:
    I’ve already gotten an email from an MNB user about this, and would like to share it...

    That amounts to $2.88 on a 12 pack of 12 oz soda.   It is $2.56 on a gallon of chocolate milk.  But it will only hit residents of Philadelphia who aren't savvy enough (or unable) to buy these items in the suburbs.  For that and other reasons I think their revenue projections are pie in the sky - come to think of it, pie is made with sugar, right?  Better tax that too!

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a number of companies are working with some business schools to develop courses of study in the areas of sustainability and social responsibility. According to the story, these courses look to go beyond case studies and be more hands-on and practical.

    “This new push is part of a larger effort among corporations to integrate social concerns beyond donations and once-a-year volunteering,” the Journal writes. “The effort is being met with both gratitude and skepticism from business schools, which say that despite the emphasis on integrating these hot-button topics into the curriculum, it's business as usual at recruiting time. Few hiring managers, they say, ask students about corporate-responsibility training or indicate it's a priority.

    “Still, for their part, companies say that working with business schools is important to ensure a new generation of workers sees corporate responsibility as a bottom-line booster, not just something to feel good about.”

    The companies being most aggressive in this area, the Journal notes, are the ones that have seen a bottom-line impact of sustainability efforts and understand that “green” has a double meaning. One example: Dave Stangis, “who heads up efforts on Campbell's impact on childhood obesity and sets metrics around sustainable agriculture, spends a few days a week with professors and students at business schools like the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, Columbia Business School, and Drexel University's LeBow College of Business. He's working with Wharton students to produce a study on sustainable agriculture, packaging, and employee engagement based on an internal Campbell report.”
    KC's View:
    Sustainability and social responsibility are both part of being a transparent corporation, which I think is where industry is going. It makes sense to teach it as a fundamental discipline...and it ought to be part of the hiring process.

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    The Dallas Morning News reports that Lubbock, Texas-based Market Street supermarket chain has adopted the NuVal nutritional labeling system, which assigns a number between 1 and 100 based on a proprietary algorithm.

    The story notes that while the system is designed to address obesity issues, it is being adopted to help Market Street cope with heightened competition - Aldi plans to open at least 27 Dallas-area stores this year, Walmart dominates the region, and Kroger, Tom Thumb and Whole Foods all have a significant presence there.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    The New York Times reports on the fact that rabbit seems to be growing in popularity - it “is typically raised on smaller farms, not in some giant industrial rabbit complex. The meat is lean and healthy, and makes an interesting break from chicken. For people learning to butcher at home, a rabbit is less daunting to cut up than a pig or a goat. And those who are truly obsessed with knowing where their food comes from can raise it themselves ... Rabbit is also becoming popular among those with an interest in raising farm animals but without much space or experience. Sure, rabbits can be fragile. They get scared and have heart attacks. Heat or the cold can knock them off. They can be bad parents, abandoning their babies or worse.”

    They also breed like...well, rabbits, which means that the meat is plentiful.

    However, there are downsides to rabbit. For one thing, they can be tough to cook...because they aren’t tough at all, but rather are fairly fragile: “The bones are tinier and more fragile than those of chickens, making splintering a constant concern. The meat sticks and clings in an endless number of small nooks and crannies. Like chickens, rabbits have parts that cook differently. But it’s hard to roast the whole animal at the same temperature without making some meat too dry or tough.”

    And there’s the other problem: “It’s a rabbit, the animal entire generations know as the star of children’s books and Saturday-morning cartoons, and as a classroom mascot.”
    KC's View:
    One can only imagine what PETA would say about killing a rabbit by scaring it into having a heart attack.

    I have no problem with eating rabbit. But I have absolutely no interest in killing one myself.

    I’ll leave that to Elmer Fudd.

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for a boycott of Ahold-owned Stop & Shop because of the company’s policy of cooking live lobsters in microwave ovens.

    On its website, PETA notes that lobsters “have a sophisticated nervous system and feel a great deal of pain when they are cut or cooked alive. And because lobsters do not enter a state of shock when they are hurt, they feel every moment of their slow, painful deaths when they are cooked alive.” PETA says that it is inappropriate “to do something to lobsters that you would not consider doing to conscious dogs, cats, or humans."

    "It is an undeniable fact that lobsters feel pain," says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. "What remains to be seen is whether Stop & Shop executives can feel compassion."
    KC's View:
    I’m not in favor of animal cruelty, but it seems to me that real crime here is against gastronomy - I’ve never heard of cooking a lobster in a microwave. Maybe I’m wrong about this, but it seems to me that the best way to cook a lobster is to slip it into a nice warm jacuzzi-like environment, pour in a little wine and gradually raise the temperature until that baby is nice and pink.

    You can also grill or steam a lobster. But microwave it? It just doesn’t seem right...

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    Natural Products Expo East has been selected as the new home for All Things Organic, the organic community's leading business and educational gathering place in North America.  In making the announcement, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) stated that the conference will co-locate with Expo East, a partnership that will extend for at least seven years.

    Beginning with this year's event October 13-16 in Boston, All Things Organic will be the branded organic pavilion for North American organic companies exhibiting at Expo East to distinguish organic businesses from other natural companies at the show. The All Things Organic™ conference program will be incorporated into the Expo East educational programs as a dedicated organic session track developed by OTA. In addition, OTA's Annual Meeting will be held at Expo East, and OTA's Leadership Awards Dinner and Dance will be held October 15 in junction with the co-location. Furthermore, OTA's International Reverse Trade Mission will help position the event as an international gathering place for organic interests.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    Fast Company reports that Caribou Coffee, the nation’s second-largest chain of cafes, is making branding adjustments to compete more effectively with the larger Starbucks, which seems to be getting its mojo back after a tough recession. Included in its efforts is a brand new logo which has “a hand-scribbled typeface, feel-good doodles, and a friendly, cursive new logotype. It might be a bit cute, but it's a world away from their jittery, over-caffeinated, and down-right aggressive old logo--can't I sleep at all? ... Plus, the new caribou is jumping to the right instead of to the left. “Into the future,” Caribou says.

    Full disclosure: Caribou Coffee is an MNB sponsor. And a note: If you’re interested, the new logo is on display in its DrumBeat.

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “has asked a variety of food companies to recall more than 30 products, from vegetable dips to soups, that contain a commonly used food additive that has tested positive for salmonella.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    • Rite Aid reports that its february sales dropped 4.5 percent to $2.4 billion, on same-store sales that were down 3.2 percent.

    • Target Corp. said that its February sales were $4.6 billion, up six percent from $4.3 billion during the same month a year ago. Same-store sales were up 2.4 percent.

    • Wal-Mart de Mexico reports that its February sales were the equivalent of $1.64 billion, up 11 percent from the same month a year earlier, on same-store sales that were up 4.5 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    I suggested, with tongue only slightly in cheek, that I sort of wish that Costco CEO Jim Sinegal were running the economy - he runs a profitable and efficient company but also believes in values like health care.

    One MNB use responded:

    Yes!  Let’s get experienced business people running our government!  We’d actually get something done!

    That was the original intent of the founders of this unique country – for people in the private sector, to take a few years “to serve the public”.  It was actually a plan of “giving back to the community” by serving, at a lower pay rate than the person was earning in the private sector as a business owner.  Then, return to the private sector.

    It was never – EVER- intended for government servants to make a career out of it!  And by creating careers out of being “public servants”, create unique AND SEPARATE social security and health plans for themselves, different from the rest of the citizens!   This is what we have today.  (And don’t get me started on the pay raises they vote for themselves!!)

    We see the “results”.  Government inefficiencies are now expected, they are a joke, and a travesty really.  It’s gotten to the point where the “public servants” in government are so out of touch with the real world.  They are supposed to be reflecting “the will of the people”.  That would be US, you, and I, and your readers, right?  When 79% through polls say they don’t want a bailout of banks and auto companies AND THEY PUSH IT THROUGH ANYWAY, and when about the same percent of the people – the majority – don’t want the “health care bill” pushed through, are they going to push it through ANYWAY?

    You touched a nerve, can you tell?  But what self respecting successful business owner is going to stop and ‘serve the public’ at this point?  In CA, we have Meg Whitman from eBay running for governor – she’s getting my vote from what I know about her now!

    One, one should always be careful about selective polling numbers.

    Two, not all business executives are created equal.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    As a 23-year vet of Price Club/Costco I can emphatically say that what we do is all about our customers and employees.  Yes we have our issues like everyone else but the company philosophy is the same today as it was when I started as a teen.  The company is the best choice for any college age student to work for because of the commitment to the employee, a better wage, better hours as a food retailer and consistent work weeks.  From Jim Sinegal down the exec line they get it... and we ALL benefit (even those competitors that have our card in their wallet).

    More comments about the possibility of cutting back on mail delivery in the US...

    MMNB user Kevin Watkins wrote:

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

    Except for maybe that Netflix envelope that arrives just in time for a Saturday night screening.  At least for the immediate future...

    That is a short-term concern. Downloading will make DVDs obsolete. But that’s a different debate.

    MNB user Kerley LeBoeuf wrote:

    We retired to a rural community in eastern Virginia just off the Chesapeake Bay. Population of Lancaster County, VA - 11,500. # of Post Office buildings in the county - nine.

    A model of inefficiency.

    I was in a library yesterday, and was thinking how libraries may be endangered by the internet. Maybe the post office ought to think about closing down many of their buildings and opening postal counters in libraries all over the country. Just an idea...

    MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

    I was commenting to my wife the other day that I’ll be 57 this year and am sneaking up on 60 in a hurry. That said, we wouldn’t miss a few days of mail at all. I can’t say the same for my Mom, though. She’s been living with us for 10 years now, and it’s become kind of a joke everyday about ‘did anyone get the mail?’ to which I usually reply, ‘Did it come again today? Didn’t they just deliver some yesterday?’

    And my wife has threatened to install a shredder in the kitchen, just so we don’t have to haul the junk (most of our mail) to the office to shred the credit card offers then haul it back to the garage for recycling. Most of the stuff we want delivered to our house can be done less often, like bills, or on demand, like stuff we order online. Perhaps the postal service should look at tweaking their business model to accommodate more commercial package delivery and less spam. The public will want that for quite a while.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    The US Government under President Obama (or any future Prez) may very well allow the USPS to scale back a day. There is no possible way that a President and a Political Party that believes government growth, not in the private sector growth, will allow government jobs to disappear. The goal of the USPS (as with every government function) is not to function efficiently or at a profit but to provide jobs and services to those they govern. As with ALL governments, the objective is to control the populace they govern. There is no reason to feel that because we are in the USA that the end goal of Government as a whole is any different.

    I cannot share your total cynicism.

    Sure, government run amok can be a problem. Both sides of the aisle are guilty of intrusiveness at different levels. But I have to believe that there are people of all political persuasions who get into government not to exploit the system, but to actually make the world a better place.

    To think otherwise would be to give into despair. Which certainly is tempting sometimes. But not today.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    Michael Sansolo and I have been spending a lot of time over the past few weeks doing publicity for our new book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies. We are both flattered and humbled by how much people seem to like it - the sales are good, keeps reordering it, and the user reviews have been generous. There are a lot of blogs out there that have been featuring interviews and profiles about the book, and I thought I would share four of them with you:

    Click here... ...and here... ...and here... ...and here.

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 5, 2010

    There was a terrific piece in the Los Angeles Times the other day that taught me two important lessons.

    The first one came from the subject of the story - a young woman named Jacquelyn Carr who came to Los Angeles to find fame and fortune. She had an apartment, a car and a job. Living the dream. But she lost her job, and her parents were unable to pitch in on her rent. She had to save money. So she did something radical for a resident of the City of Angeles - she sold her car and decided to start taking the bus. The change has meant that her life is both less convenient and far more textured - she has been exposed to different levels of the city’s population that might have been invisible before, and she has learned to appreciate these people. It is a terrific story and worth reading in its entirety; it reminded me how important it is for all of us to not allow ourselves to be trapped in any sort of bubble. Good lesson.

    The other lesson is this. I have many times said here on MNB, not without considerable regret, that I feel strongly that the newspaper business is dying. But in reading that Times story, it occurred to me that when newspapers fade away, it will mean that these kinds of stories - simple and unhurried and thoughtful and unexpected - will not be written much anymore. We will be poorer when that happens.

    Sunday night is the Academy Awards, so I might as well take a shot and do some predicting.

    Best Picture: The Hurt Locker
    Best Actor: Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart
    Best Actress: Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia
    Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds
    Best Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique, Precious
    Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker

    (I have not seen Precious yet, so that is just a guess based on what I’ve been reading.) But I’m good with all these movies and actors winning, if that’s what happens. We’ll see.

    During my Pacific Northwest travels of the past week or so, I’ve had a wide range of different foods...

    At Lola’s in Seattle, I had a wonderful breakfast - the green egg scramble (which I ordered in observance of Dr. Seuss’s birthday), scallions, dill, fontina, garlic fried potatoes, and bacon - which was hearty and delicious.

    At Henry’s Tavern in Portland, Oregon, I had a terrific Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon sandwich washed down by a Widmer Drop Top Amber Ale.

    At Deschutes Brewery & Public House, also in Portland, I had the excellent Cinder Cone Red Ale (which they say they are discontinuing from the menu, which is a shame), and balanced it out with the first Elk Burger I’ve ever eaten, served with Roasted Shallot and Thyme Aïoli, Gruyere Cheese and Sweet Field Greens. I hope it isn’t the last Elk Burger I eat, because it was fabulous.

    And, at a Burgerville, still my favorite fast food joint, I had a Yukon & White Bean Basil Burger, topped with basil aioli, fresh tomato and leaf lettuce on a nine grain bun - unlike anything you’d get at Mickey D’s. I also had a delicious Triple Berry Blast smoothie - which was great.

    A good week.

    I was looking forward to Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, but must admit I was disappointed by it. It is amazing to look at, with nail-biting tension, and created with the skill and care that you’d expect from one of America’s great directors. But it left me empty somehow, like it was much ado about nothing. I’m not sure why, but it just didn’t turn me on.

    I don’t read many celebrity-authored books, but I made an exception for Craig Ferguson’s “American on Purpose,” which is a memoir by the Scottish host of the late night television program. The book, which strikes me as painfully honest in the telling, takes Ferguson through a life filled with abusive teachers, crazy drug use, dysfunctional relationships, and alcoholic dementia. In doing so, he never loses his sense of humor - “American on Purpose” is frequently laugh out loud funny, and definitely worth reading.

    Because of my travel schedule, I was unable to attend the public memorial for author Robert B. Parker in Boston, but the Washington Post website reprinted the eulogy delivered by his son, David. It is extraordinarily touching, but there was one passage in particular in which David Parker explained what he had learned and absorbed from his father. It is worth reprinting here, because it just seems like the definition of how to be a man...of how to be a complete person:

    “Like his, my intimate relationships are abiding, loyal, deep and passionate. Like him, I think that what one does, one should do well. If we like eating we should eat well, we should cultivate our senses, we should dress well and learn what suits us, we should play at things that matter and not be idle or trivial.

    We should travel and know something of the world, we should learn another language. We should view all things, except romantic love, skeptically. We should puncture piety, challenge orthodoxy, we should be secular. We should be cultured without being effete, erudite without being pompous, smart without being glib. We should follow our own law consistently. People we love should know that we won't let them down. We should be funny.”

    Works for me. On every level.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: