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    Published on: April 5, 2010

    The New York Times has a piece about Heather Rogers, author of “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution” (Scribner, 272 pages, $26), in which she argues that “green capitalism is actually undermining ecological progress.”

    According to the story, Rogers believes that “corporate America has led us into thinking that we can save the earth mainly by buying things like compact fluorescent light bulbs, hybrid gas-electric cars and carbon offsets.”

    “The new green wave, typified by the phrase ‘lazy environmentalism,’ is geared toward the masses that aren’t willing to sacrifice,” Rogers writes. “This brand of armchair activism actualizes itself most fully in the realm of consumer goods; through buying the right products we can usher our economic system into the environmental age.”

    The Times writes that “Rogers offers plenty of evidence that consumers who load up their shopping carts with organic food, for instance, may be unwittingly subsidizing big farm companies that are eradicating forests and defiling the soil in some developing countries. She says their governments aren’t as concerned about the environment, and well-intentioned nongovernmental organizations don’t have much clout.”

    In the book, Rogers visits organic farmers in upstate New York and, the Times writes, “laments that they can’t make a living because it is so expensive for them to comply with the federal certification requirements for organic foods. ‘What isn’t being talked about is that many of the small organic producers who are expected to lead the reinvention of the food system can barely make ends meet,’ she says.”
    KC's View:
    The book is not out for a few weeks, but it sounds like it may be worth taking a look at.

    It sounds like some of her criticisms and observations may be valid, but on the other hand, would we be better off if we used less efficient light bulbs and cars? Hard to imagine.

    On the other hand, the Times points out that Rogers’ premise isn’t just about what we buy, but how much we buy...and that shoppers may have a great impact on the environment simply by buying less stuff. Sounds reasonable, though hardly what people want to hear.

    It also cannot be ignored that some retailers have turned the green movement into money-saving tactics that serve their broader strategies. (Interestingly, as I write this, I have “Morning Joe” on in the background, and there was just a Walmart commercial that I hadn’t seen before with a company trucker named Mike talking about his ability to drive smarter routes with fuller trucks helps “people save money and live better.”)

    As for the federal certification issue...I am sympathetic, but I’m not sure what the alternative is. Should we have a system that does not require fealty to specific standards and enough transparency to insure that the farmers are being accurate and honest? I don’t think so...but if the system puts farmers out of business, that sort of defeats the purpose.

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    The US Department of Labor reported at the end of last week that the US economy aded 162,000 jobs in March, the most in three years, though roughly a third of those jobs were part-time gigs with the government as Census takers. The unemployment rate remained at 9.7 percent.

    The New York Times quoted Bart van Ark, chief economist at the Conference Board, as saying that “Having lost 8.2 million jobs over a period of two years, it's a drop in the bucket. It's too early to say we have a sustainable recovery ... We can be a little bit more optimistic.”

    President Obama seemed sanguine about the numbers. "We are beginning to turn the corner," he said. "This month more Americans woke up, got dressed and headed to work in an office or factory or storefront. More folks are feeling the sense of pride and satisfaction that comes with a hard-earned and well-deserved paycheck at the end of a long week of work."
    KC's View:
    Politicians are going to be either positive or negative about the numbers, depending on their persuasion. It does, however, seems fair to say that 1) things seem less dire than they were a couple of years ago, 2) “less dire” is small comfort to people who have lost their jobs, seen their houses decrease in value, or have gone through their savings trying to feed and house their families, and 3) it is going to take a long time to create a sustainable recovery from a situation that took decades to create.

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    Interesting interview with Andrew Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, in Sunday’s New York Times in which he made a couple of observations pertinent to any business executive.

    About staying in touch... “I was about 24, I ended up with Unilever, and the first job was selling ice cream in Liverpool ... I learned more in those nine months than I think I’ve ever learned since. Unilever used to test their graduates as they came in — they wanted to see if we had the stamina to hang around doing the more routine stuff. Are you going to be patient, and not be recognized as the bright young thing all the time?

    “So I was given this job working for Wall’s Ice Cream, one of the subsidiaries of Unilever. I had 600 small shops to look after and a Ford Escort ... The biggest thing I remember from those days, other than the utter loneliness of being a salesman with customers who abuse you all the time, was how much of what comes out of corporate offices is of absolutely no purpose, and how far removed some people are from the front line.

    “I was out there expected to sell this ice cream in the middle of winter in Liverpool. It was pretty tough, and I was in there trying to sell these two-pound ice cream cakes because head office said that’s what we had to sell. I remember saying that if I ever get somewhere, I will never forget how this feels and this sense of remoteness. I now routinely test myself to make sure I’m not forgetting.”

    Career advice for the young... “Leave home. Go as far away as possible from what you know. I think you’ve got to be tested, and you’ve got to test yourself. So my best career advice would be life advice. Go and find out who you are and what you can deal with and put yourself in some positions that will be distinctly uncomfortable. Forcing yourself out of your comfort zone is a great learning in life.

    “The second would be: keep asking questions. There’s a lot of perceived wisdom in most industries that haven’t hasn’t been challenged for years. The trick in business is not to care too much. Because if you care too much, you won’t ask questions and you won’t challenge because you’ll care too much about your position and what someone’s thinking about you. I was always relatively cavalier in my early career because I always thought if I don’t make it in business, I’ll go and do something else anyway. I always have given 100 percent to everything I’ve done, but I’ve always had a slightly maverick side that actually stood me in great stead, because it enabled me to ask those difficult questions and be the burr under the saddle.

    “The third one is: have a sense of humor. It’s a lot easier to get through most things if you’ve got a smile on your face. It doesn’t have to be a chore. So just lighten up.”
    KC's View:
    It all sounds like very good advice. Attention should be paid.

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    Advertising Age reports that the Boston Beer Co. is taking an unusual approach in its latest ad campaign - it is emphasizing how small it is and specifically that it has just 0.9 percent of US beer market share.

    The reason: “It's not every day companies spend their media budgets heralding their general puniness,” Ad Age writes, “but it's not a good time to be a major player or seen as one in the beer industry. Virtually every premium brand with the scale to be perceived as mainstream -- Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Corona Extra and Heineken Lager -- saw sales declines last year, and Samuel Adams -- while boasting a fraction of those brands' total sales -- is nearly as ubiquitous.”

    According to the story, Sam Adams is looking to recapture some of the boutique aura it used to have and “retain its relevance in a world where the number of craft-beer options has increased exponentially.”
    KC's View:
    I happen to think that the new Sam Adams campaign is pretty effective - not least because it has Jim Koch, the company’s founder, as a primary spokesman for the company. There is a level of authenticity that Sam Adams has that seems to serve it well...

    Plus, the beer is great...and that may be the most important thing of all.

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    Stater Bros., grocer to California’s Inland Empire, is going to the beach.

    The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the food retailer and Coca-Cola last year “jointly raised about $600,000 to help the California State Parks agency plant 1 million trees in burned parks, including Rancho Cuyamaca. Now they are targeting five state beaches, including San Onofre and South Carlsbad, with the ‘Care for our Coast’ campaign.

    “Shoppers at all 167 Stater Bros. stores in Southern California will be able to make a $1 or $5 donation to the cause at checkout counters through April 25. In addition, the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Southern California will donate $1 to the beach enhancement project when customers buy $10 of the company’s participating products through May 11. The money will pay for beach cleanups, weed removal, maintenance, extra safety training for seasonal lifeguards and other efforts at select beaches in San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    The University of Rochester announced that Danny Wegman will will deliver the commencement address for the College of the University of Rochester on Sunday, May 16, and also will receive the George Eastman Medal, which recognizes outstanding achievement and dedicated service. The medal was created in honor of Eastman, one of the University's great benefactors and the founder of Eastman Kodak Company.

    "Danny Wegman's distinguished business career is intertwined with his stellar commitment to our community, especially to educational opportunity for Wegmans' employees and for students in the Rochester city schools," said University President Joel Seligman. "He is a civic leader who is shaping future generations. Wegmans' reputation for exceptional quality and performance is richly deserved, and the community deeply appreciates Danny's dedication to its welfare.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    QSR reports that Denny’s has unveiled a new value menu that will offer different value meals for two, four, six and eight dollars. The menu is designed to position Denny’s directly against fast feeders with value menus, “moving consumers beyond the idea that fast food is their only affordable option,” according to Nelson Marchioli, Denny’s president/CEO.

    There are four items in each of the four price categories, such as a stack of pancakes or cheese fries for $2, all the way up to “Spicy Cowboy Chopped Steak, two sides, dinner bread, and drink” for $8.
    KC's View:
    And for $10, they’ll give you an optional cholesterol test or a stomach pump.

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    It was nice to see that some companies had a sense of humor last week, and celebrated April Food’s Day with a sense of humor, tongues firmly in cheek. Some samples of what we saw:

    • PCC Natural Markets in Seattle created a new home page for the day, featuring products such as “free range and locally raised marshmallow chicks,” “gluten-free water“kombucha floats,” offering lessons in how to boil water, and recommending the use of plastic bags, high fructose corn syrup - all with style and panache.

    • At the Byerly’s store in Golden Valley, marketing director Greg Mack arranged for an unexpected bit of musical theater at the checkouts, with local student actors performing a song called “Mealtime Hero” - to the delight of both customers and employees, none of whom knew what was planned.

    • On its blog, Starbucks promoted two new drink sizes - Plenta, coming in at 128-ounces, and Micra, a two-ounce drink.
    KC's View:
    And, of course, there was the annual MNB April Fool’s entry, which I was pleased to discover fooled a whole bunch of folks on Thursday.

    As John Prine once wrote, “It’s a big old goofy world.” And not only do I like it when other people have a little fun in it, but I intend to have about as much fun as I can for as long as I can ... and appreciate it when you all are willing to indulge me.

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently recognized the Food Lion Family of Banners and Bottom Dollar Food with a ninth consecutive ENERGY STAR award. The award, for sustained excellence, is the company’s seventh consecutive honor in this category. The company was one of 50 companies recognized in the Sustained Excellence category and among 110 overall award winners.

    • Without admitting any guilt, BJ’s Wholesale Club last week agreed to write the state of Maryland a $40,000 check, which will then be divided among more than 2,000 shoppers. According to the Baltimore Business Journal, “The state’s Consumer Protection Division alleged the Massachusetts-based wholesale club operator provided consumers ‘Buy One Get One Free’ coupons for certain goods, but the coupons’ fine print limited the coupons’ value to an amount that was, in some instances, less than the cost of the item.”

    • The New York Times had a brief piece yesterday saying that “Americans eat 31 percent more packaged food than fresh food, and they consume more packaged food per person than their counterparts in nearly all other countries. A sizable part of the American diet is ready-to-eat meals, like frozen pizzas and microwave dinners, and sweet or salty snack foods ... The Japanese eat a large amount of packaged frozen seafood, but it undergoes very little processing and has few chemical additives. Some Europeans eat a similar amount of packaged food per capita as Americans, but much of it is bakery bread and dairy products, rather than things like frozen toaster pastries and artificial nondairy creamer.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    John Forsyth, perhaps best known as the voice behind “Charlie’s Angels” and the patriarch Blake Carrington on “Dynasty,” but also a respected actor on Broadway (“The Teahouse of the August Moon” and replacing Henry Fonda as the title character in “Mr. Roberts”) and film (Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Trouble with Harry” and “Topaz,” as well as “And Justice For All” and “In Cold Blood”), died last week at age 92.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    MNB had an email last week from a reader who was critical of Daymon Worldwide in the wake of the decisions by Supervalu and Safeway to no longer do business with the private brands giant.

    Another MNB user, who works for Daymon, offered this response:

    On Wednesday you had a comment in your views from a reader commenting about Daymon Worldwide and “their kind” (I’ll assume he is referencing other service providers/consultants who work in-house with retailers/companies).  It sounded to me like an indictment of Daymon, in-house brokers and anyone else who acts as a consultant trying to add value in a different way and is now “old thinking” based on  Safeway and SuperValu’s recent decision to no longer work with Daymon.  I didn’t agree with the statements made and would like to offer an alternative to think about while addressing a few comments made.

    The first comment was, “don’t you think that leading retailers like Walmart, Target and Walgreens would use these guys if they had real value”.  True that not all retailer’s work with in-house brokers, but a large amount of the best retailers with great Private Brand programs in the world do.  When you think of the best Private Brand programs in the supermarket industry in the US, I’m sure you’d start the list with folks like Wegmans, Kroger, Topco and Costco, all of whom work with some form of in-house brokers.  Many of these and other successful retailers also work with other consultants who help them accomplish their goals in areas where they can offer specific expertise, like supply chain.

    Another comment was, Daymon brings value to retailers that are financially “sick”.  Daymon is now a 40 year old company, would it make sense for them still to be around if they only worked with financially “sick” retailers?  If that was the case, my guess is that they would have no long term relationships, right?  Daymon has worked with multiple, successful retailers and suppliers for more than 20 years.  Also, I wouldn’t include any of the above retailers into the “sick” bucket.

    Another comment was, “in-house brokers bring no value except administrative help”.  I would ask your readers to check the facts on private brand growth. Retailers who work with Daymon are growing their programs at a faster pace than those who don’t.  All the work done to drive a Private Brand program isn’t just high level strategic work and some times it does require some administrative, education and execution work.  Sometimes this ability to educate and execute are what make the difference in taking a program to the next level.  Also, being the Worldwide Private Brand experts you’d think Daymon would know all the Best in Class attributes of a successful Private Brand program in many different classes of trade.  Do you know all those attributes?  Do you know what new services Daymon is providing to help their supplier and retailer partners that have evolved in the last couple of years and are the most innovative?  Although the general model of in-house brokers hasn’t changed, the services Daymon and others provide have changed significantly.  If you don’t know what the latest in private brand value and innovation is, maybe Daymon or “their kind” could help you?

    Lastly, were inferences that Daymon doesn’t introduce new supply options and that “kick backs” are given to fund the bottom line.  Although some brokers do give what you call kick backs, Daymon does not promote this and prescribes to a strategy of adding value through their key asset, great people.  With these great people, their expertise and focused resources Daymon works with their partners to drive a great Private Brand program and innovate in areas most important to those partners.  Daymon also believes in bringing suppliers and retailers closer together and not acting as any type of roadblock.  What your writer failed to mention was how Daymon directly works for the suppliers to drive their sales and help them accomplish their goals.  If Daymon was such an added cost, how could so many retailers be able to work with them and still be competitive?  Why would SuperValu and Safeway have stayed with Daymon for that long (over 5 years)?  I’m also a little confused on the motivation Daymon would have to not bring new supply opportunities that would help retailers grow their brand, that doesn’t seem logical as Daymon’s goal is to drive sales for the supplier and retailer (and to grow their own bottom line).

    I’m sure it’s become obvious by now that I’m a proud and passionate Daymon associate.  I’m not trying to sell you that Daymon is perfect or the perfect partner for everyone, because I don’t believe we are.  What I can tell you is that Daymon owns the most intelligence on Private Branding in the world.   When you agree to partner with Daymon we are totally dedicated to help you accomplish your goals, but like all partners we need clear, common goals and measures.  Like other consultants or experts in their field we have relationships that begin and some that end.  Some will choose others paths to accomplish their goals outside of Daymon expertise and that’s doesn’t make them right or wrong, good or bad.

    So here’s my alternative to the idea that working with Daymon/in-house providers and consultants is “old thinking”.  Maybe “old thinking” really is that trying to do everything by yourself means you are in control.  That looking for outside ideas and expertise doesn’t apply to me and that having empowered partners working to achieve common goals is a myth that only puts you at risk.  I feel that those interested in being great surround themselves with others who are great, have expertise, passion and can challenge them with what’s new, how to think differently and what is the best of what others are doing (a reason why many elite athletes have coaches and trainers).  This constant challenge and focus on continuous improvement is usually what makes leaders, athletes and organizations .great in the long run.  Old thinking may be that you can do that all by yourself.  I’ll vote that the latter is the real “old thinking” but I’ll leave it to you and your readers to decide.

    Two quick observations here.

    One is that whatever the reasons for Supervalu and Safeway to take their private brand operations in-house, it strikes me as at least possible that it will not be long before at least one of the companies discovers that Daymon was bringing more to the table than they realized ... and perhaps reconsiders its decision.

    Two, one of the things that Daymon said when addressing the changes was that it would do its best not to have any layoffs...that it would move people around as best it could to assure that nobody would lose a job (though obviously there could be exceptions if people are unable or unwilling to move). There are a lot of companies that have suffered reversals over the past couple of years, but I would suggest that the nation’s economy would be in a lot better shape if more companies had taken an approach similar to Daymon’ opposed to using a chain-saw to eliminate people and positions.

    On the subject of stagnant consumer spending, one MNB user wrote:

    I may have a more cynical view of why your typical grocery customer is in a “holding pattern” on increased spending. I believe that it is due to financial survival. Jobs are not rebounding, the government continues out-of-control spending on bailouts/stimulus/entitlements, and I’m guessing  that most of your readers are not on the receiving end of these programs. Therefore, her grocery spending is inhibited by what all of this will cost her family when she has to pay for the government programs for all of her neighbors. I think that this is the new reality!

    Regarding a film festival - featuring movies about the environment and the food supply - being sponsored by Whole Foods to celebrate what it calls “Earth Month,” one MNB user wrote:

    I just hope the festival doesn't become one big forum to bash commercial agriculture. Without commercial ag we cannot hope to feed the billions of people that populate the world. Local, organic and sustainable are great practices, just not yet practical on a large enough or economical scale. Many times those who advocate these practices - because they generally come from comfortable means - forget that there are millions of families everywhere who have to choose between putting food on the table or filling a prescription or paying the electric bill. Those disadvantaged families would starve - or go even hungrier - without commercial agriculture.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I appreciate the passion that Whole Foods has for the environment. I think most people want to do the “right thing” when it comes to the environment as our choices will effect not only us, but our children and our children’s-children, etc.

    However, the movies Whole Foods intends to screen are hardly based on facts. Food Inc. and Fast Food Nationn are truly propaganda films disguised as documentaries. Soylent Green and Silent Running are just what is stated in the article, “science fiction” and certainly were intended to promote a slanted agenda. It’s great to make people think but I’m hopeful that someone will counter this effort to push a biased agenda with a more balanced, truthful approach. That said, sensationalism seems to sell, as we can all witness nightly with shows  like  Bill Maher or Glen Beck, Keith Olbermann or Hannity. I’d love to see some truthful balance and civility return these important discussions. I fear we’ve become so divided that many are willing to protect their position without any regard for getting to the truth. As for me……as Sgt. Joe Friday from the television show “Dragnet” used to say, “Just give me the facts…….”

    These days, “facts” and civil, reasonable discourse don’t sell newspapers, tickets or generate ratings. Which is sad.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    For Whole Foods to promote a one-sided controversial film like Food Inc. is disingenuous and irresponsible.   While I will always contend that improvements can ALWAYS be made in EVERY facet of the food industry, to hold up as an unbiased, balanced, and responsible source of information is ludicrous.

    Responding to a story last week about the scarcity of “local” seafood in places such as Florida, and concerns about w global shortage of seafood because of over-fished oceans, one MNB user offered:

    Since I moved to Britain over two years ago, eating fish has become a larger part of my diet, and I rarely eat it less than twice per week. I think living on an island, as opposed to the American mid-west, makes fish just naturally a much larger part of everyone's diet. But the over-fishing is a concern over here, too. I mean, restaurants boast how they use haddock or cod for their fish and chips, and if that isn't what's used, well, people turn away. But that's why there are some sustainability issues with haddock, cod and many other fish. And the increase in prices at the supermarket goes to show how scarce these fish are becoming.  But that's where finding alternative fish is the solution. Other fish populations are thriving, possibly even growing, with the reduction of the other fish populations. It then becomes the restaurants', supermarkets' and media's responsibility to educate people on alternatives. So there's some fish you haven't heard of before. Is it a white fish or an oily fish? Is it flaky like lemon sole or meaty like monk fish? How do you prepare it? Shoppers need to know these things. Over-hunting an animal to the point of extinction is not new. Britain lost all its bears, beavers and wolves due to over-hunting. Just because the seas seem so endless doesn't mean there isn't a finite amount of certain fish in there, too.

    MNB user Jim DeLuca wrote:

    When I was living in Massachusetts, I clearly remember the Georges Bank overfishing debacle that decimated the Cod fish population due to the same reasoning that we can't let the fishermen's livelihood be diminished.  Well, bye-bye cod and haddock and more; very limited  fishing income for anyone without risking life and limb by going far out to sea for days at a time.

    The NY Times magazine ran a big article comparing the fishing issues in Massachusetts with those in Sydney Australia.  The fishermen there lived in nice houses on the bay and only had to day fish so could return to their homes at night.  They earned a very good living.  Their boats were really nice.

    The difference was that in Sydney, fishermen were licensed and the number of licenses was limited; kind of like NYC cabs. So, not so many fishermen could make a living in Sydney, but all that could purchase a license, also got a decent lifestyle. And the fish stock stayed healthy.

    Fear of job loss is not a good way to plan for the future.  Democracy includes the responsibility to protect the seas for future generations.

    Commenting on Walmart’s ability to absorb and learn from its competitors, last week I said I was reminded of what Shylock says in “The Merchant of Venice” at the end of his “I am a Jew speech”:

    “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.”

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    Every now and then I go through a patch when you’re not the first thing I read in the morning… And then you remind me why you nearly always are.  Great comment and the Shylock quote is brilliant on a couple of levels.  But most of all just love that you quoted Shakespeare.

    Shakespeare is like The Godfather - a source of great wisdom applicable to almost all situations.

    There’s nothing like a great Shakespeare production. There’s also nothing like a horrible Shakespeare production - I once saw an execrable version of “Richard III” starring William Hurt, and a laughable production of “Macbeth” starring Charlton Heston and Vanessa Redgrave. (Though I always figured the backstage political discussions between Heston and Redgrave must have been entertaining.) But I also saw Meryl Streep and Raul Julia do “The Taming of the Shrew” in Central Park,” and Ian McKellen in “Acting Shakespeare,” and they were two of the most memorable theatrical events of my life.

    It also is great to know that Shakespeare lives not just on the British stage and in the rarefied air of certain highfalutin theatrical companies, but also in middle America. For example, an old friend of mine, Tania Myren, runs the Susquehanna Shakespeare Festival in central Pennsylvania...and there are companies like this all over the country and, I suspect, all over the world.

    This speaks well of our culture, I think. Such companies deserve our support. Maybe we would all do better if we paid attention to what Portia tells us in “The Merchant of Venice”

    The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
    It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
    Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
    It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 5, 2010

    In the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, Butler defeated Michigan State 52-50, and will play Duke University, which defeated West Virginia 78-57, in tonight’s championship game.

    And, in the opening game of the 2010 Major League Baseball season, the Boston Red Sox defeated the defending World Champion New York Yankees 9-7.
    KC's View: