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    Published on: March 22, 2010

    Safeway announced late last week that it will take a more hands-on position in dealing with its private brands portfolio, saying that it will create a new program called Safeway Direct Connect that is designed to enhance the ability of private brand suppliers to work with the retailer.

    In a confidential letter to suppliers, Joe Ennen, senior vice president of consumer brands for Safeway, said that the company is focused on “improved execution” that will “come from a significantly expanded retail support organization for suppliers”; improved access to Safeway decision makers and Safeway sales data; and a support system that will be made up of executives better positioned to deliver resources to suppliers.

    As part of the decision, Safeway said it would be ending its relationship with Daymon Worldwide , effective May 28, and will no longer outsource any of its private brand building responsibilities to outside companies.
    KC's View:
    There have been some suggestions - including a story in the Wall Street Journal - that with the recession receding, private brands will be less important than they were when people were counting every penny.

    As always, such speculation is overly simplistic. In some cases, people will return to national brands that have a certain resonance for them, but in other cases - because so many people still have a recessionary mindset - they will stay with private brands that they have found to be either equivalent or differentiated enough to be preferred.

    It seems to me that the retailers that continue to focus on private brands and put marketing muscle behind them will be successful ... and those that are complacent will be less so.

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    The New York Times reports that New Jersey authorities have arrested a 16-year-old boy for allegedly using a phone connected to a Walmart public address system to order all black people to leave the store last Sunday. He had been identified through the use of the store’s security camera system.

    According to the story, “The boy, whose name was not released because he is a minor, was charged with bias and intimidation and harassment in connection with the episode last Sunday. If convicted, he could face up to a year in a juvenile detention center, officials said.”

    Walmart has apologized for the incident and said that it is making the phones less accessible to the public.

    “We’re pleased this matter is resolved,” the company said in a prepared statement. “We again apologize to all of our customers and associates who had to listen to something so offensive.”
    KC's View:
    I hope this kid’s parents were appalled when they found out what their son did. (If they weren’t ... and if they are more angry at Walmart and authorities than they are at their son ... then we begin to understand what the problem is.)

    He’s 16. I hope that Walmart and the authorities use this as a teachable moment. A year in detention strikes me as an absurd sentence for what I agree was a stupid and reprehensible thing to do. There’s got to be a more sophisticated way to deal with this.

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    HealthDay News reports that there is a study in the current edition of Hepatologysuggesting that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) could be connected to liver scarring, also known as fibrosis. “Could” is an important word here, since the study only looked at people who have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and there are a lot of qualifiers used by the study’s authors.

    "We have identified an environmental risk factor that may contribute to the metabolic syndrome of insulin resistance and the complications of the metabolic syndrome, including liver injury," says Dr. Manal Abdelmalek, associate professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center and a member of the research team. And, he adds, “"Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is present in 30 percent of adults in the United States. Although only a minority of patients progress to cirrhosis, such patients are at increased risk for liver failure, liver cancer, and the need for liver transplant. Unfortunately, there is no therapy for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. My hope is to see if we can find a factor, such as increased consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, which if modified, can decrease the risk of liver disease."

    No such qualifiers are used by the Corn Refiners Association, which said in a press release that “fructose has not been proven to be a cause of NAFLD in humans, and NAFLD subjects are compromised individuals with significant health problems which have very little to do with fructose intake ... Moreover, associative studies of this kind are widely judged to be of low scientific value when trying to establish cause-and-effect, data from studies like this that are dependent on recollection of the study subjects are notoriously imprecise, and these studies are full of confounding variables and exceedingly difficult to control.”
    KC's View:
    I’m just an old country pundit, but I tend to assign a greater level of credibility to people who say “this may be a problem and is worth taking a closer look at,” as opposed to people who say “this study has no value,” especially when the latter group is made up of those who have a financial stake in their position.

    Then again, it probably is asking way too much to expect the Corn Refiners to take any other position.

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    The Chicago Sun Times reports on a new survey suggesting that employers are more likely than ever to penalize workers for engaging in unhealthy behavior. According to the story, “A survey by Lincolnshire-based Hewitt Associates found 64 percent of employers said they impose or plan to impose penalties on smokers. Fifty percent plan to or already require workers to participate in disease-management and lifestyle-behavior programs -- or face a penalty. The survey also found 45 percent plan to or already require workers to agree to biometric screening or face a penalty, and 25 percent require participation with a health coach ... Of companies using or planning to use penalties, 81 percent said the penalty will be higher premiums. Seventeen percent said they are increasing deductibles, and 17 percent said they are increasing out-of-pocket expenses.

    The story also notes that a number of employers are willing to use a carrot as well as a stick: “Fifty-eight percent said they offer incentives for participating in health and wellness programs. Of those employers, 24 percent extend those incentives to spouses and other family members.
    Sixty percent said they offer cash incentives to employees who complete a health risk questionnaire, up from 35 percent in 2009.”
    KC's View:
    I am fully in favor of such moves. People have to take personal responsibility for their own behavior .. especially behavior that has an impact on other people.

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    The Los Angeles Times reports that The Hump, the Santa Monica, California, restaurant charged by federal authorities with serving whale meat - which is an endangered species - has closed its doors.

    The restaurant posted a notice on its website calling the move a "self-imposed punishment,” and said that ownership “hopes that by closing its doors, it will help bring awareness to the detrimental effect that illegal whaling has on the preservation of our ocean ecosystems and species.”

    The serving of whale meat was discovered by a sting operation run by the same activists behind The Cove a documentary about animal abuse that won an Academy Award this year.

    According to the Times, “The activists used a tiny video camera to record their payment of $600 for the omakase, or chef's choice, which included eight pieces of whale. The activists bagged samples of the meat and sent them to the Marine Mammal Institute, where they were determined to be sei whale, an endangered species.”
    KC's View:
    That "self-imposed punishment” probably was chosen in the hope that the government won’t look for the maximum punishment in the case, which is one year in prison and a fine of $200,000.

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    • The Times of London reports that Tesco is being criticized in the UK for charging higher prices at its One Stop c-store chain - which tends to have stores in poorer neighborhoods - than it does at its own Tesco-brand stores.

    According to the story, “A random sample of 120 items checked by the Times showed that prices at One Stop are 14 per cent higher than in other Tesco stores. One Stops are also subject to less local competition than Tesco Express stores, suggesting that the company has deliberately not converted stores where a lack of local competition enables it to charge higher prices.”

    The Times notes that “the One Stop chain was acquired by Tesco in 2003. About 450 of the shops were converted into Tesco Express — the supermarket’s convenience format — but the remaining business, largely unacknowledged by Tesco, has expanded in the past five years.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said on Friday that it will begin spot testing foods labeled as organics, looking for traces of pesticides that should not be there.

    Such testing was mandated by a 1990 law, but the inspector general of agriculture reported last week that such testing was not being carried out, and also said that there has been poor oversight of the organic industry between 2006 and 2008 by USDA’s National Organic Program.

    The Organic Trade Association (OTA) said that it welcomed greater oversight.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that PepsiCo is developing a new kind of “designer salt” that is lower in sodium content, and that it believes will eventually make its potato chips healthier.

    According to the story, “The designer salt is one of the latest and most intricate efforts yet by a food company to vault ahead of concerns among government officials about the possible health effects of the widespread use of sodium in processed foods.”

    It is expected to be a couple of years before the new salt is on the market.
    KC's View:
    To me, the phrase “vault ahead of concerns among government officials” is the important one. It is far better for companies to look around the corner to see where things are going, and then get there first, rather than resisting the inevitable, whining and fighting and complaining.

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart has forged what is called “an unusually detailed merchandising partnership” with DreamWorks Animation SKG as the latter company prepared to release “How To Train Your Dragon” on March 26.

    According to the story, “Wal-Mart worked with DreamWorks to design and choose the kind of licensed goods that would be sold around the family movie about a young Viking boy who tames a dragon, slated to hit U.S. theaters next Friday. It also had a hand in selecting who would make the merchandise, including putting plaything maker Spin Master Ltd. in charge of the toys. Wal-Mart will be the exclusive U.S. retailer of nearly all licensed Dragon products, excluding the later DVD release, among other items ... As part of its enhanced role, Wal-Mart committed to setting up elaborate merchandise displays in stores—including 20-foot Viking ships, which will hit 2,500 Wal-Marts next week. It is also co-financing a lavish advertising campaign that includes commercials in 4,600 movie theaters depicting a dragon swooping into Wal-Mart.”

    Financial terms of the deal - one of the first times that Walmart has taken just an active role in a licensing arrangement - were not disclosed. But Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO of DreamWorks Animation, seems pleased with the arrangement: “When you have the world's largest retailer creating a blockbuster event at this scale, you just get down on your knees and thank the movie and toy gods.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that Walgreen has begun offering physical exams to children and teenagers for $35, which is $25 lower than the usual cost. The physicals will be available from now until the end of September, making them appropriate for school, sports and camp.

    • The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that “Kroger has launched its first private label line of beauty, bath and hair care products made of natural ingredients. Called mirra, the line includes shampoos and conditioners; hair styling products; body washes and mists; facial and skin care lotions, cleansers and cleansing cloths; eye firming and age defying creams; and cosmetic brushes.”

    • The Montreal Gazette reports that “Loblaw Cos Ltd. says it will focus on the Quebec market this year, renovating some of its stores and converting 2,000 part time job into full-time positions ... The Canadian food giant will also be reorganizing its Quebec management and launching a marketing campaign to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its low-cost Maxi banner.”

    • Star Market at Chestnut Hill, a new supermarket in Newton, MA designed by SUPERVALU Store Design Services, has received two A.R.E. Sustainability Awards for its cutting-edge use of environmentally responsible technology. It is the first supermarket in the nation to use all LED fixtures for its interior and exterior lighting, which reduce energy consumption by 50 to 65%, are recyclable and can last 10 times longer than conventional light sources.

    The A.R.E. (Association for Retail Environments) Design Awards were presented at the annual GlobalShop conference in Las Vegas, where 47 store projects were recognized for the innovation and quality of their designs. Star Market at Chestnut Hill was presented with the Outstanding Merit award and the Innovation in Energy award in the Sustainability category, which was a new category in this year’s competition.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    • Unilever announced that Vindi Banga, president of global foods, home and personal care, will leave the company at the end of May.

    Michael Polk, president of the Americas for Unilever, will replace Banga, and will himself be replaced by Dave Lewis, who has been chairman of Unilever’s U.K. and Ireland region.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    I was off giving a speech last night, so I missed something important. MNB user Bruce Christiansen didn’t:

    So March 21, 2010 marks the beginning of health care & change in America.  Oh, not because of some piece of legislation that finally made its way through congressional shouting matches.  No, it's because of the broadcast of a sneak preview of a new TV series....Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  I watched it and was riveted (I am a self confessed foodie, so I'll take whatever nerdiness I earn for being riveted by that).

    He went to a public school in Huntington WV which has been identified as the most obese town in the most obese county in the most obese state in the most obese nation in the world.  There is so much to say about the show...from menus, USDA "nutrition" guidelines, attitudes, leadership, and culture that I won't try to do it in one E mail.  But a few things stood out to me...starting with pizza for breakfast, chicken nuggets for lunch, etc, etc, etc, and no unprocessed food in any food lockers to be seen.

    The big kicker for me was that Jamie violated the lunch guidelines by serving brown rice with his chicken (you know, the kind with bran and fiber in it), and was required by USDA guidelines to also add a bread because brown rice didn't make their list of "approved" starches.  Yep, these are the same guys that are responsible for a big part of food safety as well (oh, and now are in charge of my health care...feeling pretty good about that).

    The other thing the program showcased was just how difficult this food revolution is going to be, and that it will be fought person by person, lesson by lesson.  Jamie was clearly not welcomed there, and in my opinion a big part of the reason for that was we Americans have a difficult time with the notion that we suck (including me).  That's right we suck.  We have the best food production system in the world and we suck at making food choices, and it's across the home, at school, at work, everywhere.  And we often settle for whatever food manufacturers push our way.  If we don't learn how to suck less at food choices it's not going to matter what public policy is, what the legislation looks like, or anything else.  Because we will simply start to live less long.  So, kudos to Jamie for having the stones to start a revolution.  I'm on board.  Finally some change I can believe in.  As for the knuckleheads in Washington (they are the ones that approve of pizza for breakfast but disapprove of brown rice as a starch), they can keep doing their knuckleheaded things and I'll be OK....until they want to raise my taxes.  Then I will be a soldier in that revolution as well. 
    Thanks for what you do.

    My pleasure.

    In “OffBeat” on Friday, I wrote about our new Garmin GPS gizmo, which is one of those products that I cannot imagine how we survived without. (My kids told me after the piece ran that they’ve been bugging me to get one for years, but that I resisted. I have no recollection of this.)

    MNB user Bob Hermanns wrote:

    Three years ago while traveling extensively for Park City Group my wife gave me a Garmin for Christmas.  Once I used it I never took it out of my suitcase.  I found it most beneficial when I arrived in an unfamiliar city at night when printed directions are difficult to read and freeway and street signs are not always prominent.

    You’re right. I’m thinking of getting a second one so that I have one to take on the road with me.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    KEVIN! Please be careful trusting your Garmin.  Too many stories on the news here in Oregon about people following the Garmin blindly into the wild and getting stuck in the snow for days.  Unfortunately there have been deaths.  Don’t get me wrong I have one and use it but it is for paragliding.

    I don’t go many places with “wilds,” so I’m not too worried. But thanks for the warning.

    Still another MNB user wrote:

    First – I couldn’t LIVE without my portable Tom Tom nav unit!!! It travels with me everywhere, into rental cars and around town at home.  Great for finding routes when there’s traffic or an accident too!  I would never buy the in car unit, they charge ridiculous amounts extra (in my current car, it added $4500, and the  portable Tom Tom was about $250).   I’ve rented Garmins, and Magellan units, before I received the Tom Tom as a gift, and I prefer the Tom Tom, for ease of use.

    Okay, maybe my second one should be a Tom Tom. I’ll check ‘em out.

    I loved this story from an MNB user:

    Reading about your first journey with GPS reminded me of a road trip I made with my sweet 80-year-old dad last summer. I was taking him across a few states to see his youngest grandchild graduate from high school. He got such a kick out of watching the GPS screen… enjoyed watching how it showed the streams, lakes, and rivers as we passed.  And he was completely amazed as it guided us through large cities. After a particularly tricky area, Dad wondered aloud, “I wonder where that lady who’s giving us directions is actually sitting.”

    So cute. And clearly shows how not every consumer has kept up with technology and understands it.

    It also shows that it almost doesn’t matter if you understand it. Technology like the Garmin and the Tom Tom doesn’t have to be understood to be used.

    Thanks to all the MNB users who contributed their memories of Fess Parker, Davy Crockett, and the coonskin caps that clearly were an important part of their youths. There were almost too many of them to post...but I share your smiles and your memories.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 22, 2010

    After a weekend of upsets in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament, the following teams have moved into the round of 16...with games to begin next Thursday:

    University of Northern Iowa
    Michigan State University

    Ohio State


    Kansas State


    West Virginia


    St. Mary’s
    KC's View: