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    Published on: May 3, 2010

    There was a wonderful piece on “60 Minutes” last night about chef Jose Andres, who has an “avant-garde approach to cooking” that focuses on "molecular gastronomy" - a cooking technique that embraces science and technology.

    "Eating has to be fun, has to be a social event, but where you have fun that you are relaxed. But at the same time that you are relaxed, doesn't mean that you cannot be putting a lot of thought behind what eating, what the food means to you," Andres told correspondent Anderson Cooper.

    Food writer Ruth Reichl says that when one eats a meal by Andres, one should “expect wonders. Food is going to do things that you never imagined. It's going to come floating at you. It's going to explode. It's going to have textures that you didn't ever think that would be in your mouth ... It's a kind of magic. It's like a circus of the mouth.”

    Andres is “GQ magazine's chef of the year, runs restaurants on both coasts and has been nominated for outstanding chef in America by the James Beard Foundation. But, the program suggests, “he is probably prouder of the kitchen he has volunteered at for the last 17 years in a tough Washington D.C. neighborhood,” called the DC Central Kitchen. Andres started volunteering there just weeks after moving to the US: “He was drawn to their model: a 12-week culinary training course for people with little hope - former prisoners, drug abusers and homeless. Now they distribute fresh meals daily prepared from one ton of donated surplus food.”

    You can watch the video here .
    KC's View:
    If you don’t smile while watching this story, then you’d better check your pulse.

    And if this doesn’t make you hungry...well, you’d better check into a hospital.

    This was just a delightful story...and since it is a rainy Monday morning here in the northeast, I thought it was the best way to begin the week.

    But there is an important business point here, especially for the retail food industry, where sometimes people forget that they are in the business of making food fun, enticing, and embracing. Not everyone needs to be in the business of “molecular gastronomy,” but I just love it when a food retailer pushes beyond the traditional, the conventional and the mainstream...and actually surprises the consumer.

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    The New York Times yesterday had a long 2,000-word piece about the continuing debate about the health impact of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a grass-roots movement looks to persuade US food manufacturers to switch from HFCS to sugar, which they are convinced is healthier because it more easily metabolized by the human body.

    Let’s see if we can break it down into fewer words...say, a total of 280.

    Some scientists and experts - including some unexpected names such as Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University - believe that the biochemical studies do not support the demonization of HFCS. Others cite studies like the one that “found that rats that gulped lots of drinks with high-fructose corn syrup gained more weight than those that had the sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same,” as the Times writes.

    But the real lesson from the story seems to be that popular opinion may make the science irrelevant. A lot of consumers think that HFCS is a “creepy” ingredient, and they are using technologies such as Facebook to spread the word....and they are being successful to an extent that the Corn Refiners Association has not been. The proof is in the pudding - or the ketchup. The Times cites as one example of consumer influence the fact that ConAgra is reformulating its Hunt’s ketchup with sugar, not HFCS ... making it just the latest in a series of manufacturers making such changes.
    KC's View:
    To be honest, I have no idea who to believe on this one - the arguments are fairly convincing on both sides. Just because the anti-HFCS folks have a better Facebook page does not necessarily make them correct...nor does it make them wrong.

    As a consumer, I think I’d tend to vote with the sugar folks...just because it seems to be more natural. But I could be wrong on this.

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune carries the results of an Associated Press survey of 44 leading economists, revealing that two thirds of them believe that “the recession created a ‘new frugality’ among consumers that will outlive the recession.” This isn’t just people who lost their jobs - it is people with steady incomes, moderate to low debt, but who remain cautious about spending because of recent events.

    According to the story, “To be sure, many shoppers, especially the wealthy, are buying into the recovery. Partly on the strength of consumer spending, the economy emerged from recession last year and has been growing steadily, if moderately, since. Major retailers logged solid sales in March. Employers have begun to add jobs, including a net increase of 162,000 in March. The stock market has risen 70 percent from its low in March 2009.

    “Yet many who became penny-pinchers during the recession are in no mood to start shopping again with abandon for clothes, cars and home additions. They've discovered the peace of mind that comes with rebuilding savings, shopping more prudently and learning to live with less.”
    KC's View:
    No surprise here. Just more anecdotal evidence that the world has changed and the repercussions continue.

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    The New York Times reports that while technologically driven “retail innovations help companies identify their most profitable client segments, better predict the deals shoppers will pursue, fine-tune customer service down to a person and foster brand loyalty ... these and other surveillance techniques are also reminders that advances in data collection are far outpacing personal data protection.

    “Enter the post-privacy society, where we have lost track of how many entities are tracking us. Not to mention what they are doing with our personal information, how they are storing it, whom they might be selling our dossiers to and, yes, how much money they are making from them.

    “On the way out, consumer advocates say, is that quaint old notion of informed consent, in which a company clearly notifies you of its policies and gives you the choice of whether to opt in (rather than having you opt out once you discover your behavior is being tracked).”
    KC's View:
    The problem - or at least potential problem - seems to be that there is no real regulation of how much personal information is gathered and how it is used and shared with various organizations. The notion that dossiers can be constructed by marketers that then share this information and create enormous databases of information is, to be honest, more than a little scary. There are benefits to consumers, but also potential downsides.

    If nothing else, it seems like I’ve seen this scenario before - in one of many science fiction movies that positioned the individual against the state.

    Life imitates art.

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    USA Today reports that the National Milk Producers Federation is asking for the second time in a decade for the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to rule that the word “milk” be reserved for products that are the result of “"mammalian lacteal secretions” - in other words, coming from cows, goats, sheep or water buffalo.

    If the FDA were to agree to such a rule, it would mean that liquids from plants - such as soy milk - could no longer carry that sobriquet.

    "We had to do something," says federation spokesman Christopher Galen, adding that the FDA is "letting the bastardization of dairy terms proliferate.”

    According to the story, the FDA seems disinclined to get involved.
    KC's View:
    This strikes me as a silly argument. Most people realize that soy milk doesn’t come from cows...and it doesn’t strike me that banning the use of the word “milk” on soy products will help the sales of cow milk.

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    BI-LO announced last week that the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of South Carolina has confirmed the Company's Plan of Reorganization, dated April 13, 2010. BI-LO expects to emerge from bankruptcy in May.

    In a prepared statement, Michael Byars, the retailer’s president/CEO, said, "This is a great achievement for BI-LO and is a reflection of the Company's current performance and our commitment to our customers, suppliers, and Teammates. BI-LO will emerge from bankruptcy financially stronger, with less debt, and as a more competitive company in the marketplace ... With our improved balance sheet, we will continue our commitment to the communities we proudly serve and provide our customers with the lowest possible pricing to deliver the best overall value, the freshest products and the same top quality brands they have come to expect, all with friendly, helpful service from our 15,000 Teammates.”

    The company said that “the bankruptcy is sponsored by Lone Star Funds and includes a $150 million new equity investment by Lone Star and $200 million in committed term loan financing from Credit Suisse. In addition, GE Capital will provide for a $150 million revolving credit facility for BI-LO post-emergence to fund working capital and other normal business needs. The company expects to have between $40 and $50 million of cash borrowings on the revolving credit facility immediately after emergence.”  

    The Sun News talks to Marianne Bickle, who chairs the Department of Retailing at the University of South Carolina, about what BI-LO needs to do. “I would encourage any company - not just Bi-Lo, but any company - to constantly look at how they can reinvent themselves, especially if they're coming back from some really difficult years ... Maybe they shouldn't be a Publix. Maybe they shouldn't make themselves look like a Wal-Mart, inside the Wal-Mart or inside the Target. This is a wonderful opportunity for Bi-Lo to be something brand new."
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the owner of the Hollywood Video movie rental chain plans to close all its more than 2,400 stores, essentially conceding that it is unable to compete with alternative distribution services ranging from Netflix to Redbox.

    The company, Movie Gallery, had already declared bankruptcy and announced that it would close more than half its stores, but this new development puts the final nails in the coffin. Still unknown is whether the company will keep open its 184 Canada stores.
    KC's View:
    Yet another reminder of how fast the retailing world can change...and how reality can come crashing down and make certain kinds of retail formats virtually obsolete. Every retailer should take note.

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    • Haggen Food & Pharmacy and TOP Food & Drug said that they have become the first grocery stores in the Pacific Northwest to offer antibacterial reusable bags, which offer another level of safety for consumers against the spread of foodborne illnesses.

    The antibacterial bags at Haggen and TOP Food stores are said to be “the first in the world that are treated with AP360, an antimicrobial product that controls harmful and odor-causing bacteria (MRSA), mold, mildew and fungus. It is produced from natural resources that are abundantly renewable. Chitin, the active substance, is derived from the shells of crabs and contains unique antimicrobial properties.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that “Procter & Gamble Co. is waging one of the most aggressive market-share wars in years, cutting prices, accelerating product launches and spending more on advertising in an effort to win over shoppers slowly reawakening from their recession-induced coma. The moves are aimed at winning back market share lost during the recession to lower-priced rivals, including private-label brands. They also are a sign that consumers aren't yet healthy enough to fully absorb the wave of product upgrades coming at them without some help.”

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that on May 15, Kraft Foods will sponsor 2,000 house parties across the country, “giving guests a first chance to sample not one, but six new products -- product line extensions more precisely -- and share their reactions with each other. The products range from 100-calorie packets of cheese cubes to Kool-Aid fizz tablets to a new deluxe homestyle version of the iconic Kraft macaroni and cheese that is oven-baked. All the products are just being put out on store shelves this month to coincide with the huge house-party push.”

    This is just the beginning of Kraft’s house party movement - it expects to have as many as 10 mass house party events by the end of the year.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    Last week, MNB took note of a Los Angeles Times report that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has approved regulations that establishes nutritional guidelines for restaurants, saying that eateries that do not meet these standards cannot offer toys as prizes for children.

    "This ordinance prevents restaurants from preying on children's' love of toys" to sell high-calorie, unhealthful food,” Supervisor Ken Yeager told the Times. "This ordinance breaks the link between unhealthy food and prizes."

    The ordinance will not be implemented for 90 days, to give the area’s restaurants time to comply with the guidelines.

    I believe that while it is incumbent on people who sell food to provide clear and extensive nutritional information. And then let parents make the decisions, or teach their kids to make good decisions. My feeling: This bill is absurd, and a great example of why legislation and legislators get a bad name.

    MNB user Brian Polk wrote:

    This is another example of government sticking their noses into something where they are neither needed nor wanted. “Amen” to your comment about parental involvement. No one wants to discuss the real issue of where responsibility really rests, and it isn’t the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors or any other government agency. The asylum will be run by the inmates if we don’t push back … and soon.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I agree with you, the bill is absolutely ludicrous.  I do feel that the trouble with leaving it up to parents to decide is that parents may be misinformed, or undereducated overall – particularly with regard to nutrition ... On the average, Americans without a high school diploma have considerably lower earning power and job opportunities in today's workforce ... By no means am I a “social safety netter” – I don’t agree with most social welfare programs.  However, as an adult who was raised in ‘poverty’, my Mom lacked the knowledge to make better food choices for me, no less the means to buy better quality/grade of foods to feed her children ... The time/effort should be spent on providing education for parents on how to make better food choices. Consider, the Golden Arches offers Apple Slices vs. Fries for a happy meal – parents just don’t choose the former.

    MNB user David Bernstein wrote:

    I completely agree with your commentary about teaching kids to make good decisions when it comes to healthy food.  But from a business perspective, I don’t think McDonald’s will be any worse for the ware.  It seems like their biggest problem is that they don’t have a kids’ offering that complies with the new rules (and I don’t see a Salad Happy Meal coming anytime soon).  Taking away “value added” elements, whether by choice or by force, is never a good idea in theory.  But I can’t help thinking this will end up like peanuts and free baggage on airlines – we moan and complain, but at the end of the day we still fly, and we will still take our kids to McDonald’s.

    On the subject of the new Arizona immigration law, one MNB user wrote:

    I just have one thing I had to say after listening to all the "secure our borders" fellow "Americans" going on and on about immigration reform...

    It's too bad that the North American Indians didn't have tougher illegal immigration laws in place 300 years ago...

    I took note last week in “OffBeat” of a new Harvard Medical School study suggesting that if a person naps after learning something, it actually makes it easier to commit to to memory. The study results reveal that while people are asleep, their brains tend to work on making connections and processing links relevant to the information they’ve just learned.

    Which led one MNB user to write:

    My boss had to come in my office and wake me up after I read MNB this morning, but I think I'm smarter now.

    I’m glad. This is my mission - to promulgate the importance of good food, good wine and ample nap time.

    Guy’s gotta have a goal.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 3, 2010

    • Rory McIlroy, a 20-year-old golfer from Northern Ireland, won the Quail Hollow Championship with a 10-under 62, four-shot victory over Masters champion Phil Mickelson. Tiger Woods did not make the cut.

    • Super Saver, ridden by Calvin Borel, won a 2 1/2 length victory at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
    KC's View: