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    Published on: March 12, 2010

    There is a bill before the New York State Assembly that would ban the use of salt by every restaurant in the state, with violators hit with a $1,000 fine for every salty dish they serve.

    The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), says specifically, "No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food.” It goes much farther than a push by New York City to get restaurants and packaged goods manufacturers to cut their use of salt by 25 percent.

    Ortiz says that the bill is designed to save lives, and is no different from bans on trans fats or bills requiring the posting of calorie information on menu boards.

    Critics, however, say that the result of such a ban would be tasteless food, and note that good restaurants - unlike fast feeders - are moderate in their use of salt ... and that the problem is addressed through moderate usage, not an outright ban.
    KC's View:
    Why don’t we cut to the chase and just ban food?

    Earlier this week it was a proposal to tax all soda and pizza as a way of getting people to lose weight and cut down on health care-related costs. Now it is all salt. Hard to guess what it will be next ... but it almost certainly will be something.

    Before I address the salt proposal, I’d like to share the following email that I received yesterday:

    It's interesting that your posture on these asinine tax proposals seems to arise from your taste buds, rather than your brain. During your six-week rant on childhood obesity, you wanted to tax everything in sight, especially soft drinks and candy. But mention pepperoni, and you're all denial, backtracking and bluster. You should run for Congress.

    Fair enough. This email seems a mite hostile and even a little personal, but if I’m going to dish it out I’d better be able to take it.

    First of all, I’m not sure it is accurate to say that I’ve been engaged in a six-week rant about childhood obesity. I’d like to think I’ve been ranting about it for years.

    I’d have to go back and re-read everything I’ve ever written on the subject - and I have no intention of doing so - but I’m not sure I’ve always been in favor of taxing everything in sight. At best, I’d like to think I’ve been conflicted...I see the point of both taxes and regulation, though I’d prefer to get to the end result without them, simply because that seems the more effective approach. However, it certainly is possible that you can throw quotes back at me in which I’ve endorsed such taxes wholeheartedly, so I won’t argue the point too strongly.

    This doesn’t mean I’m not capable of personal growth, even if that means some people will describe it as “denial, backtracking and bluster.” (I also plead guilty to the charge that sometimes I think with my stomach and not my brain. When it comes to thinking, sometimes my brain comes in third or even fourth. Depends on the situation.)

    For some reason (perhaps because I was thinking with my stomach), the pizza and salt proposals made me think of these issues in a different light. Simply throwing a tax on everything that a) people like and b) might not be good for them all the time, does not seem to me to be a thoughtful and mature way to legislate and lead. At some point, you have to trust that people will make the right decisions for themselves...and have to accept the fact that people sometimes have the right to make the wrong decision for themselves.

    On the other hand, it is hard for me to get too upset about things like bans on trans fats, especially when there seems to be evidence that you can eliminate them without ruining the way things taste, and potentially have an impact on the obesity and health care issues. I am not in favor of the nanny state, but I also recognize that sometimes government should step in to protect people from things that may hurt them and about which they may have little or no idea.
    (Most people didn’t even know what trans fats were a couple of years ago...a situation that I’m not sure has changed significantly.) The best public policy is not necessarily no public policy, though I recognize that this is an increasingly popular opinion that gains traction every time someone advances a boneheaded idea like a tax on pizza.

    I guess what I am trying to say here is that yes, the line does move. I don’t want a nanny state, but I’m not willing to simply say that government has no role in any of these situations.

    The problem is that some people want government to have nothing to do with any of this stuff, and would be perfectly happy in a world where people could smoke anywhere, and in which there were no regulations about ingredient panels on food packaging. Knees are perfectly capable of jerking in both directions.

    Am I sure where the common sense middle ground is? No. Will we always agree on where the line ought to be drawn? Not likely.

    But does that mean there should be no lines, no common sense middle ground where public policy can and should have an impact on private behavior? I don’t think so.

    I do know one thing, though. I will not be running for Congress. (Just the trail of commentary on MNB would be more than enough to disqualify me...)

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    Fast Company had a terrific little piece the other day about “Seven Keys to Building Customer Loyalty and Profits,” the basics of which are worth considering:

    • “Are your doorknobs sparkling brightly?” The point here is that customers remember the first and last moments of every shopping and service make sure that they are vivid and memorable.

    • “Set your clocks forward.” E-tailers like Amazon and Zappos have set the bar high for fast and effective customer service. Even if you don’t compete with them, you compete with those standards. So you have to be fast and faster.

    • “Allow your customers to connect with a real person--online or off.” Personalizing the service experience makes it more effective, whether in the store or on the internet.

    • “Remember each customer's roles, goals, and preferences.” Some tracking systems are technology-based. Some are just employees with good memories. Regardless, customers respond to employees who remember them.

    • “Anticipate a customer’s needs.” This is a corollary to number four. If an employee can anticipate what a customer wants rather than reacting to a specific request, that is a huge plus for a retailer.

    • “Don't leave the language your team uses up to chance.” Fast Company writes that it is critical to “develop and rehearse a list of vocabulary words and expressions that fit your business brand perfectly--and ban, companywide, the ones that don't.”

    • “Be patient when filling positions.” The suggestion here is that it is “better to hire for innate traits” rather than for specific skills,” even if it takes longer. The wait is almost always worth it.
    KC's View:
    All excellent bits of advice to be taken very seriously.

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    The Denver Post reports that “a growth boom in the Latino grocery-store sector could be poised for a slowdown in the next decade” as, over the next 100 years, “Latinos born in the United States will, for the first time, begin to outnumber foreign-born Latinos.”

    Experts say that many first generation Latinos want the familiarity and security of a supermarket that offers products from their home countries, while second generation Latinos are more acculturated and willing to shop anywhere. According to the story, “A survey by New American Dimensions and the Food Marketing Institute shows that foreign-born Latinos are about twice as likely as Latinos born in the U.S. to seek stores with Spanish-speaking employees, store signs in Spanish and Spanish-language advertising.”
    KC's View:
    Yet another example of how there is no such thing as a stationary target. The target always is moving.

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    CNN reports that a Santa Monica, California, restaurant called The Hump has been charged by federal authorities with serving whale meat - an endangered species that is illegal to eat in the US even though it is considered a delicacy in Japan.

    According to the story, “the misdemeanor charge carries a federal prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $200,000 for the company.”

    The investigation, CNN notes, was instigated by the team that produced “The Cove,” a documentary about the killing of dolphins in a Japanese fishing village that won an Academy Award earlier this week.
    KC's View:
    My first reaction was to think of the old Marlon Brando-Matthew Broderick movie, “The Freshman.” (The serving of endangered species as meals was central to the plot, if I recall correctly.)

    My second reaction was more visceral:

    Lock ‘em up and hang ‘em high.

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    USA Today reports that during the most recent salmonella outbreak in this country - which sickened more than 200 people around the country - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was able to use frequent shopper data to cross reference shoppers and purchases and figure out the source of the contamination.

    The data apparently was supplied to the CDC by retailers with the customers’ permission, and the CDC says that it was a major break in the investigation.

    However, there are concerns. The story quotes Katherine Albrecht, director of Consumers Against Supermarket Privacy Invasion and Numbering, as saying that she is concerned that if loyalty cards are seen as a panacea in tracing food safety issues, eventually they will be made mandatory...a possibility that she says “sends chills up my spine.”
    KC's View:
    I appreciate the concern, but I simply cannot imagine a time in which the use of loyalty cards would be mandatory.

    However, UPI reports that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is urging retailers to be more aggressive in their use of loyalty card data to warn customers about recalls and food safety issues.

    "This valuable tool should be used by all retailers to alert their customers when they purchase food products that are later recalled," CSPI says in a statement.

    I understand privacy concerns. But it is hard for me to see the downside of this.

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    Research consultancy Interbrand is out with a list of the world’s most valuable retail brands, and it is topped by Walmart, followed by Target, Best Buy, Home Depot, Walgreens, CVS, Sam’s Club, Dell, Coach, and

    According to the report, “The most striking shift in this year’s report is that despite the weakened economy, the Top 25 companies grew their brands’ value over last year. They not only survived, they prospered. However, the next 25 as a group lost value.

    “Broadly speaking, falling companies slashed prices, lost focus and chose not to renew their brand through investment or innovation. Rising companies had their brand proposition fully in place to take advantage of the downturn, invested in brand and convinced the customer of their relevance and worth.”
    KC's View:
    I must admit that there is one part of the report that puzzles me. How does Dell make the top 10 for retail brands, and Apple doesn’t even make the top 50? Can’t remember the last time I went into or even saw a Dell store, and Apple stores do nothing but grow and reinforce that brand’s equity and reputation for innovation and service. In fact, best I can tell after downloading the report, the word “Apple” doesn’t even appear in its pages.

    I do think the observation about how growing brands invest in their businesses - and how diminishing brands tend to play defense - is a valuable one.

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    Yesterday, MNB took note of a Business Week report saying that Trader Joe’s is considering a move into the Portland, Oregon, market. It is looking to acquire an old Wild Oats store that Whole Foods is looking to sell as part of its antitrust settlement with the federal government related to its purchase of the Wild Oats chain.

    Most of which was accurate. The only thing that Business Week - and, by extension, MNB - got wrong was the location...we only were off by 3,000 miles or so.

    The actual location - reported accurately everywhere but Business Week and MNB - is Portland, Maine.

    We thank the dozens of MNB readers who wrote in to point our the geographical error. And apologize for the screw-up.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    • The Business Journal of the Greater Triad Area reports that Harris Teeter is sponsoring a contest in North Carolina designed to teach kids the importance of recycling. According to the story, “the contest encourages students in participating schools to collect plastic bags and turn them into the school. Representatives from each school will bring the bags to their local Harris Teeter store to be counted and recycled. Prizes will be awarded to the 15 schools — a first through fifth-place finisher in each of three regions — who collect the most bags. Harris Teeter has 21 stores in the Triad.”

    • Published reports say that a Nash Finch warehouse in Fargo, North Dakota, has been substantially damaged by a fire.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    Merlin Olsen, who played his way into the NFL Hall of Fame as a defensive lineman with the Los Angeles Rams from 1962-1976, has died of mesothelioma, a form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs. He was 69.

    After his playing career ended, Olsen was both a successful actor - he was a regular on “Little House on the Prairie,” with Michael Landon, - and a television pitchman, doing commercials for FTD florists.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    A note regarding my piece yesterday about the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) “Top of Mind” survey, from CGF’s Richard Lewis:

    Thank you for covering our survey.

    A slight clarification, if I may. The issue is "the retail/brand offer". The slash is important because we are asking the question of all brand owners, whether their brand is associated with products they make or with a retail banner. Otherwise, your point is dead on. The brand offer ought perhaps to be as pressing a concern for "national brand" owners (for want of a better term) as it appears to be for retailers: in this time of SKU rationalisation, there is everything to play for and shelf space to be won. The lesser priority given by manufacturers may reflect their confidence that consumers are not ready to give up their most trusted brands in favour of retailers' private brands. This is more true in some parts of the world than in others. Meanwhile, some of those private brands are also quietly building trust ... It's something of a cliché, but you have to keep winning trust and loyalty every day, whatever business you're in.

    MNB user Jim Godwin had a tongue-in-cheek thought about the proposed tax on pizza:

    Instead of taxing pizza and hurting all of us, why not put a 50% tax on large size clothes? (Width, not height) You need a 50 inch waist? It's gonna cost you! This leads to two alternatives; lose the weight and fit into the non-taxed smaller sized clothes, or walk around naked. Option two (naked) would lead to enough ridicule and cat calling to also possibly lead to the desired weight loss.

    At least, I think his tongue was firmly in cheek...

    Regarding my crack the other day about the restaurant in NYC making cheese with human breast milk, in which I commented that if I’m going to drink breast milk, I’d like there to be an actual nipple involved...

    One MNB user wrote:

    So you didn’t end up sleeping on the couch ….!

    I am encouraged that your daughter spoke up about it to you, sounds like a great relationship between dad and daughter, and it gives me hope for the next generation!  Maybe her generation will be the one where pay scales are equal for equal jobs!

    Interesting comment by the reader about people being grossed out by human milk, yet not by cow’s milk.    It made me think….but I still wouldn’t try the cheese, unless it was my own milk.  And I have no intellectual explanation why at this point.

    My daughter gives me hope for the next generation every day.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I couldn’t help but wonder why no one didn’t address the bigger issue here- those parents need to be educated that breast milk can be frozen ( for up to 3 months) and there are actually hospitals that will pay $ for quality breast milk for AIDS patients. And their child will have a stronger immune system if she is able to get mommy’s milk until she’s two. I wish I had had that much milk coming in to store for when I went back to work for my kids. Don’t waste it in food experiments!

    MNB user J. Schindler wrote:

    I guess I was more focused on the fact that "the New York City Health Department has advised him not to sell or give away products made from human breast milk, even while conceding that there is no specific law against it."

    My thoughts were that soon the USDA will be holding a public hearing to determine what price class such milk should carry under the federal milk orders, and whether it qualifies as "organic".   The Ag Dept. will surely investigate to see if the containers were kept refrigerated, and if any rBST free claims are properly qualified.

    And - is it just a coincidence that the man owns a restaurant named "Brasserie"?  I don't think so!

    Not sure if the breast milk is organic. But I’m reasonably sure that he can legitimately claim that it came from local sources...

    MNB user Jeff Folloder wrote:

    I think that anyone with a passing sense of awareness can see that your editorials are written with a certain "informed, casual edge" (call it ICE).  Just about every media outlet was chirping about the breast milk thing.  TV news, sports talk radio, blogs, etc.  And most folks were snarking around the virtual water cooler with comments nearly identical to yours.  You said it "out loud".  So what?

    MNB user Connie Montgomery wrote:

    The people who found your comment on the Nipple joke offensive, must not have a sex life.  

    Mine is kind of stale at my age, but I not only do not find the comment offensive, I could not stop laughing!  What a great one-liner!

    That is what I love about your comments; the open thoughts.  Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but like one comment noted, with so much "sex" involved on the TV and other media sources; why not!

    I too tend to get myself in trouble from time to time by saying my actual thoughts!.  Usually someone has a good one-liner to come back at me, just like that one.

    Don't stop what you do or how you thing; that is what makes you so SPECIAL!

    Also--I loved your book and don't mind hearing about it.  It really has great points in it and has prompted me to want to go back and find some of those movies to see again or for the first time on some.  A wonderful perspective of how we are influenced daily by television and movies.

    Thanks. I appreciate it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 12, 2010

    A few weeks ago, I noted with a certain amount of disbelief that there has been some discussion in the state of Utah about the possibility of eliminating the 12th grade, on the premise that most high school seniors fritter away that year anyway and that eliminating one year of high school could help put a dent in the state’s budget deficit.

    Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that “a small but growing number of school districts across the country are moving to a four-day week, in a shift they hope will help close gaping budget holes and stave off teacher layoffs, but that critics fear could hurt students' education.”

    The cynic in me believes that the chief motivation here has less to do with keeping teachers employed and a lot more to do with addressing budget problems. Now, there are those who say that students will learn just as much in four days as in five, or in three years as in four. But I believe this is nonsense. It is a rationalization designed to obscure the real motivation.

    The people who make such suggestions seem to be blind to the fact that in much of the world, countries believe that their people will get ahead by teaching their kids more, not less. If we are to be competitive - if we are to continue to justify the term “American exceptionalism” - we cannot step back from the importance of education.

    I’m not sure whether the people who make such suggestions are blind to the growing global competition that threatens to make the US a second-rate power if we stop emphasizing the importance of education. Or maybe they just are not paying attention ... and are making such recommendations because of short-term concerns rather than a consideration of long-term implications.

    Then again, maybe it isn’t surprising. We live in a country where a lot of people think it is okay to take their kids out of school for a week to go skiing, to go to DisneyWorld, or to go on some other vacation. The message of such decisions, I have always believed, is that education is not as important as those other things.

    Maybe such people think it is okay to not be exceptional. But somehow, I suspect, when these chickens come home to roost, they will be the first people to whine about the decline of America and look for someone on whom they can place the blame. Someone, of course, other than themselves.

    The Puget Sound Business Journal reports on a new study by TeleNav, a navigation services provider with 13 million subscribers, which says that the most popular destination searched for on such systems is Walmart...followed closely by Starbucks, Target, Best Buy and Bank of America.

    This is interesting to me. I can understand why people would use GPS systems to look for the nearest Starbucks, or McDonald’s, or Dunkin’ Donuts. (These days, I use our Garmin to look for the closest Caribou Coffee... I am nothing if not loyal to my sponsors.)

    But the others sort of mystify me. They just seem more like destinations that people would know about, rather than the subject of an impulse...which is what I often use my Garmin for.

    But maybe that’s just me.

    The news about New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes - he is out two-to-eight weeks with a thyroid condition - is dispiriting at best. As a Mets fan, I was unhappy with the lethargy of the club during the off season...and held onto the possibility that maybe they didn’t need to make any moves because everybody will be healthy this year.

    But, noooooo....

    Reyes and outfielder Carlos Beltran will start the season on the disabled list.

    Here we go again.

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) is out with one of its regular holiday-related studies, this one about St. Patrick’s Day.

    “As consumers gear up for private parties and special outings to celebrate the Irish holiday,” the report says, “celebrants will spend an average of $33.05 on decorations, party favors and green attire, up slightly from $32.80 last year. Total spending is expected to reach $3.44 billion.”

    Which is interesting.

    As proud an Irish American as I am, however, I must admit that I don’t pay that much attention to St. Patrick’s Day.

    I have a description for most of the carousing that goes on: Amateur Hour.

    There’s another two words I would use to describe much of the partying that goes on to celebrate this Irish holiday: An Excuse.

    Oh, I almost forgot...

    In the UK, the Guardian reports that “at the age of 50, women's verbal memory outperforms their male counterparts by a significant margin, a report by the Institute of Education, University of London suggests. A survey of more than 9,600 middle-aged British men and women showed that women outscored men in two listening and recollection tests.”

    Which means. Mrs. Content Guy, that it isn’t just me.

    The new Robert Crais novel is out, “The First Rule,” which focuses on Joe Pike, who normally serves as a secondary character in the books Crais has written about private eye Elvis Cole. Pike plays the kind of role that Hawk plays in Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels, except that over the years Crais has fleshed out the character more than has Parker (who prefers to leave Hawk as something of an enigma).

    The book pits the taciturn Pike against Serbian gangsters, and it is a page-turner ... Crais is the model of consistency. I do prefer the Elvis Cole novels, if only because he is a more colorful character. But “The First Rule” is a good read, and I recommend it.

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

    KC's View: