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    Published on: May 6, 2010

    Now available on iTunes…

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    Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe and this is MNB Radio, available on iTunes and brought to you this week by Webstop, experts in the art of retail website design.

    This week, if I may, I want to return to a subject that I addressed here last week ... mostly because I fear I may not have made myself entirely clear.

    Last week’s MNB Radio commentary talked about a new Stop & Shop that has opened in my town, a perfectly nice conventional supermarket that is vastly superior to the barely mediocre Shaw’s store that used to occupy that space. I said last week that my concern for the Stop & Shop is that it is facing competition from an existing Stew Leonard’s (the original), an about-to-open Whole Foods, and a soon-to-open Fairway Market. I said that the challenge to Stop & Shop is that being conventional - not too big, not too hard to shop - may not be good enough anymore. Being better than good enough is their central challenge.

    I got a few emails questioning my premise, suggesting that I was comparing apples to oranges...and that a more valuable commentary would have been to address the chasm that sometimes exists between inspired and uninspiring traditional or conventional stores.

    That’s a reasonable point. It is fair to say that some conventional stores outshine others - and that to be successful one does not necessarily have to adopt the theatrics and animation, not to mention the focus on fresh foods, that you might find at Stew Leonard’s, Whole Foods and Fairway.

    I guess what I was really saying is this. I hate the word “conventional.” I know it is a format term, but I always think of it as an adjective. And I hate it.
    In order to stand out, retailers have to do something special. They have to have something going for themselves that nobody else has. Call it anything you want - my favorite term of art is “differential advantage.” But what it comes down to, I believe, is what should be a compulsive unwillingness to accept the word “conventional” as a description of anything a company is trying to achieve. Conventional questions and conventional thinking yield conventional results.

    The retailers I admire - the people I admire, whether writers or filmmakers or chefs or politicians or even business people - generally are the ones with a distaste for the mainstream, the traditional, the good-enough ... and the conventional.

    For companies like Stop & Shop, the real challenge is to find ways to create a culture and a store that transcend the adequate... to create a shopping experience that inspires the shopper.

    That ought not be the province just of the outliers, the exceptions. In my view, that ought to be the whole purpose of operating a retail business. Whether it is an apple, or an orange.

    For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    The National Fisheries Institute is out with a statement in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that it “is an ecological and human disaster that will surely effect not only the fragile habitats where shrimp and oysters are harvested but the very core of the community that brings these iconic delicacies from the waters of the Gulf to the tables of America.

    It is important to support fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen by letting consumers know the safe healthy seafood sourced from these waters continues to be just that, safe and healthy. Already the seafood community has spoken out in support of the precautionary closure of the federal waters along parts of the coast. Ensuring consumers continue to have access to seafood maintained with the level of quality and safety expected from the Gulf of Mexico is paramount.

    “Perspective on the Gulf, in relation to seafood sourcing and the overall U.S. seafood supply, is also important because only 2% of the seafood most Americans consume is harvested from the Gulf ... While Gulf seafood remains safe and healthy, the potential impact of the spill on this region, its resources and its community should not be minimized. However, the broad impact on sourcing should also not be exaggerated. Wholesale shortages and exorbitant price fluctuations are not expected as a result of this spill. The mix that is the U.S. seafood supply is sourced from all over the world, a structure that ensures disruptions in production does not cut consumers off from seafood because of one event.”
    KC's View:
    It is amazing to realize that Louisiana produces only about one percent of the seafood we eat in the US, that only four percent of the shrimp we eat comes from Louisiana, and that 83 percent of the seafood we eat comes from overseas. And I say that having produced a video project in which I followed seafood from a plant in Patagonia, Argentina, to to a distribution facility in Galicia, Spain, from which it was sent in frozen form to places in the United States.

    BTW...apparently one exception is oysters - two thirds of which are harvested off the Gulf Coast. So if the oil spill situation gets much worse, not only will it be bad for the environment, but it won’t be great for Americans’ libidos.

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    The NuVal Nutritional Scoring System is out with new research from the Harvard School of Public Health concluding that “people who eat food with more favorable scores under the NuValTM Nutritional Scoring System have a lower risk of chronic disease and have a better chance of living a longer, healthier life.”

    According to the press release, the study “examines the rate of major chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease between 1986 to 2006 in more than 110,000 men and women subjects. Data was collected through food frequency questionnaires, which provides detailed diet information of the participants ... In the end, the study concluded that the average NuVal score of a diet proved to be a slightly better predictor of chronic disease risk and all- cause mortality than the Healthy Eating Index 2005. Put simply, the study revealed that those who frequently ate foods that scored higher on the ONQI scale tended to live a longer life.”

    The NuVal system uses a proprietary algorithm to rate all the products in the supermarket on a scale of 1-100; the higher the score, the healthier the food.
    KC's View:
    Pardon my sarcasm with the headline...but if we accept on fact the notion that the NuVal algorithm is legitimate, then it is hardly a leap of faith to accept that a healthier diet helps you live longer. Seems likely, in fact, that if you eat products with three stars in the Guiding Stars program, you are likely to live longer than if you eat products without stars.

    Kudos to both of them. It simply proves the point that we’ve been making forever...that food stores need to be both a resource for information and a source of product.

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF), which was formed last October as a CEO-led organization designed to reduce US obesity levels by 2015 - announced what it calls “an unprecedented, innovative alliance with leading media companies Discovery Education and Meredith Corporation to help parents, educators, and children address the problem of childhood obesity.”

    HWCF says that it “is launching web-based outreach campaigns with both Discovery Education and Meredith to encourage and promote physical activity and healthy eating, especially among children. The online campaigns address rising levels of childhood obesity; it is estimated that by the end of this year, 20% of children in the United States will be obese. About one-third of American kids are currently overweight.

    “The two complementary outreach programs are uniquely designed to support children whether at home with their families or at school with their teachers.  A simple interface empowers users to easily transition between the websites creating a virtually seamless user experience educating parents and children, no matter where they are, about healthy food choices, eating tips, and physical activities.”

    “The success of our mission to promote healthier weight depends on bringing stakeholders together to work on common goals,” said David Mackay, President and CEO of Kellogg Company and Chairman of the Board of HWCF. “We are united in a collaborative and focused effort to help children and adults achieve better energy balance between calories in and calories out.”  
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    Bloomberg Business Week has an interesting story about how a wide variety of companies are trying to control health care costs by encouraging their employees to get into shape. One of the ways they are doing so is by requiring employees to cover a larger percentage of their premiums and health care expenses. But that’s not all.

    According to the story, “companies such as Intel, Papa John's International, Timberland, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and International Paper are signing employees up for memberships on Web sites that provide information about nutrition and fitness. They're conducting health screenings and tracking staffers' workouts. Some companies are even giving workers pedometers to track how many steps they take.” And, the magazine adds, as companies increasingly turn to technological solutions “they are trying online services from Virgin Group's Virgin HealthMiles, Limeade, and RedBrick Health. These services have helped increase employee participation in wellness programs by offering incentives that range from cash to health-insurance discounts in exchange for meeting health and fitness goals.”

    Does it work? Bloomberg Business Week writes that “technology-enhanced wellness programs, many of which incorporate online assessments, can only go so far to improve workers' health. ‘The jury is still out on whether technology will increase behavior change’ such as exercising more and eating better, says Dr. Jeffrey Dobro, a physician consultant at Towers Watson. It typically takes about two or three years for a company to see a positive return on investments in wellness plans, especially if they're starting from scratch, he says.
    KC's View:
    I am one of those people who believes that companies are entitled to get employees to have some skin in the health care game. It works for me.

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    Almost three out of four Americans say that they are living a simpler life – spending less, being more frugal, not trying to keep up with the Joneses – as a result of the recession, and that “almost half (45.2%) say they are happier because of it (39.4% say they aren’t; 15.3% aren’t sure),” a new study from American Pulse says.

    In addition, some 36 percent of those polled say that they view “being able to pay my bills on time” is a “luxury.” And almost 85 percent of surveyed Americans said that they are not ready to start spending on luxury products or services.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    The Chicago Tribune reports that a new product from Mead Johnson Nutrition Co. - a formula for toddlers transitioning from baby formula or breast milk that comes in both vanilla and chocolate flavors - is drawing the ire of “blogging moms and nutritionists” who believe that “it gives kids an early start toward obesity.”

    Mead Johnson maintains that the new formula is no sweeter than the chocolate milk or orange juice that a lot of parents give their children, but critics say that it will create cravings for sweets in kids at an extremely early age.

    Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, tells the Tribune, "You want kids to be interested in eating a very, very wide range of foods because variety helps create nutritional balance. You don't want them to think that every food needs to be sweet or salty."
    KC's View:
    It has been a long, long time since we’ve had infants and toddlers in the house, but I have to say that I cannot imagine any circumstances under which I would want my child to be drinking sweetened formula. It just seems like an inherently bad idea - like giving up on the idea that a child might like a variety of foods made without sweeteners before the kid has even had a chance to try them.

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Yum Brands’ “KFC brand is plotting a deeper move into France, hoping that the Colonel's recipe will strike the taste of a broader swath of French consumers.

    “This week, KFC launched its first round of national television advertisements in France as it gets set to open its 100th store there, giving it the scale needed for a broad marketing push. KFC plans to have 300 stores in France by 2015, and sees a possible tenfold increase over time.”
    KC's View:
    Sacre bleu! No wonder some of the French people are, at best, ambivalent about Americans. We keep sending fast food chains serving crappy food to a country where great cuisine is like a religion.

    Unbelievable.

    One can only imagine what the French will make of the Double Down.

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    The Huffington Post reports that celebrity chef Mario Batali has announced that all of his 14 restaurants in the US will “embrace Meatless Monday,” featuring “at least two vegetarian options, whether entrees or pastas or pizzas.”

    This is, apparently, a burgeoning movement. According to the story, “Batali is joining early adopters, political leaders and celebrities such as Michael Pollan, Al Gore, Sir Paul McCartney, Simon Cowell and Gwyneth Paltrow; the entire Baltimore Public School System, nearly 30 college campuses and 100 blogs; and 8 international programs spanning Brazil to Taiwan.”

    "The fact is, most people in the U.S. eat way more meat than is good for them or the planet," Batali says in a prepared statement. "Asking everyone to go vegetarian or vegan isn't a realistic or attainable goal. But we can focus on a more plant-based diet, and support the farmers who raise their animals humanely and sustainably. That's why I'm such a big believer in the Meatless Monday movement."
    KC's View:
    As long as Batali doesn't stop offering that wonderful black pasta made with squid ink, he can go meatless any day he wants.

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    • Loblaw Cos. said that a change in regulations in the province of Ontario will allow it to grow its drugstore business. The Financial Post writes that “Loblaw wants to more than double the amount of its in-store medical clinics to 200 from 84 in the next two years, and is pilot testing a modified drug store concept to fit within its smaller outlets. About 500 Loblaw stores have in-store pharmacies, roughly half of its store base.

    “We see this as a big part of our opportunity to drive drugstore business,” Allan Leighton, president and deputy chairman, said, according to the Post, adding “you can sit on your hands or you can get very front-foot about it ... We intend to be very aggressive about it...we have been on this for the last four or five months.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    • Price Chopper Supermarkets/Golub Corporation announced today that Greg Zeh, most recently the company’s Vice President of Information Systems has been promoted and given the additional title of Chief Information Officer.

    • Costco announced that Dick DiCerchio will retire June 4 as the retailer’s senior executive vice present and chief operating officer. DiCerchio was with the company for 27 years.

    • Eileen Scott, former CEO of Pathmark Stores, has joined ICC/Decision Services as Chief Operating Officer, effective immediately.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    Yesterday, we reported that Ernie Harwell, the smooth and familiar voice of the Detroit Tigers for 42 seasons, and who called more than 8,000 games over a 55-year career, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. He was 92.

    I noted that I’d learned something from the various obits that I did not know - that Harwell called the “shot heard round the world” in 1951 when the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit a home run off the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Ralph Branca, sending the Giants to the World Series and ending the Dodgers’ season.

    Well, part of the reason I didn’t know it was because the famous call of that home run was done on the radio by Russ Hodges...a fact of which I was reminded in about two dozen emails that I got yesterday. The thing is, I knew that Russ Hodges made the famous call...but I was in Las Vegas writing MNB at 3:00 am, and I guess the synapses weren’t firing. At least, that’s my excuse...and I’m sticking to it. But you have my apologies for making the mistake.

    According to most of the emails I got, the Harwell home run call was on television...

    I’ll tell you one thing. One of the reasons that I love MNB is the volume of emails I got about Ernie Harwell...lovely emails that recalled his voice, their childhoods, and the magic of the game that, as the late, great Robert B. Parker once said, “is the most important thing that doesn’t matter.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 6, 2010

    In her column yesterday, Kate McMahon addressed the sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) debate, concluding that the pro-sugar folks seem to be making a much better case for their argument using social media...and that in the end, the loudest voice often will be the one that sways the most people.

    MNB user Ken Wagar responded:

    Boy did Kate’s comments this morning conflict me!!!!! Particularly her statement “I'm probably going to go with the loudest voice that seems most in tune with my priorities.” I clearly understand the broader point of manufacturers and processors needing to listen and react to consumer desires but is it really all just about the loudest voice? Isn’t this how we got to where we are in the political world and with issues going nowhere such as immigration reform, abortion, and a 1000 other issues?

    I hope that I never decide to drop my desire for accurate information and research to be usurped or replaced by a simple response to the loudest voice.

    While I will agree that there is an important lesson in Kate’s comments for the food industry I would also say that there is an even more important message about people, communication and the dangers of “the loudest voice on the internet” that impact our lives far beyond the issue of marketing food products.
     
    Frankly her quote of going with the loudest voice scares the hell out of me.


    Keep in mind that in this case, “loud” wasn’t meant literally. Kate was simply pointing out something that businesses need to know - that mastering the use of the internet and social media is critical if one is to make a persuasive case to the consuming public.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Thanks for the article regarding HFCS this morning.  As a huge fan of MNB, I always enjoy your commentary.  As a Registered Dietitian, I'd like to address the HFCS issue.  My opinion is completely objective.  Other than being a Registered Dietitian, I don't have any interest in this debate.  I guess I'm trying to say that no matter which side I take, there's no benefit to me.

    Chemically speaking, HFCS is nearly identical to plain old table sugar, or sucrose.  Here's basically how HFCS is produced:

    Corn is milled to produce corn starch.  This corn starch is then processed to make corn syrup, which is almost entirely glucose.  Enzymes are then added, which changes the glucose to fructose.  And viola, you have HFCS.  More enzymes can then be added to change the type of corn syrup.  The end result is a syrup form of sugar that is nearly chemically and calorically identical to sucrose (because HFCS contains some water, it actually contains 3 calories per gram compared to sucrose, which contains 4 calories per gram).

    This is all very, very basic biochemistry.  We've used plain old corn syrup for over a hundred years (think Karo syrup).  HFCS is basically one chemical step past Karo syrup. 


    Here's the thing: HFCS is not making us fatter.  It's not causing diabetes.  It's not causing Alzheimer's or autism or whatever the current sexy media tag line happens to be.  Overeating, from a variety of sources, has made America fatter.  The idea that you can pinpoint one single food, substance, or activity and say, "Yep, that's it!" is the very attitude that's gotten us in this obesity epidemic.  We're constantly looking for that magic bullet to both demonize and praise; the ones that caused and will cure the obesity problem in America.  It isn't there.  Move more, eat less.  That's it.

    Please don't misunderstand; I'm not promoting the consumption of HFCS.  As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be opposed to seeing it removed from the food supply--as long as it's done in a politically responsible and prudent manner.  The legislation of the food supply is an entirely different discussion; one this soap box won't address.

    Here's my issue with HFCS: The foods that contain HFCS are, generally speaking, very highly processed foods that are high in sodium, unhealthy fats, and offer very little nutritional value.  In addition, many of these foods contain ingredients that are genetically modified and contain a lot of additives that we haven't really evaluated regarding their long term effect on health.  In other words, it's not so much the HFCS part I'm concerned with.  I'm more concerned with the sum of the parts--the fact that many HFCS containing foods are pumped out of a factory, not out of the ground.  Red meat has been demonized for years; I'll take locally raised, grass fed beef that, yes, does contain some saturated fat, over something in a plastic tub that was produced in a factory and has an ingredient list so long it takes a PhD to read.

    I don't totally avoid HFCS, though I do try to limit my intake.  The same is true of any added sugar, though.  Both HFCS and sucrose are empty calories.  Neither supply any nutritional benefit.  This isn't to say they shouldn't be consumed, just moderated.

    So at the risk of riding the nutritional fence, I'll say this: It really is all about moderation.  I'm a dietitian, but you know what?  I really like cookies and cake and beer and all kinds of other foods that offer little to no nutritional benefit.  I also really love fresh greens and locally raised meat and fruit.  I moderate my intake of all these things.  Once our country, and possibly more important, our legislators, adopt a similar mind set we'll all be a lot better off.


    And another MNB user chimed in:

    I work for Frito Lay (Pepsico), but am also an avid fan of Dr Pepper. As far as the debate goes, I side with HFCS. In fact, it's kind of funny to me that a big debate on health calls for sugar! To me, they are both empty calories, and I don't think having one or the other will come close to materially affecting the rates of obesity or diabetes. The business person inside of me says the companies should be lauded for finding a cheaper way to produce the same sweetness.

    With that being said, as I mentioned earlier, I am an avid Dr Pepper fan. And as any Dr Pepper fan worth his salt (or is that sugar?) could tell you, the issue of sugar vs. HFCS is nothing new. I don't know if you've heard of it, but there's a small phenomenon down here in Texas called Dublin Dr Pepper, a brand within a brand if you will. One bottling plant in tiny Dublin, TX refused to switch to HFCS when everyone else did years ago. Their bottles proudly display "Imperial Sugar cane" labels on the outside. Well, people get pretty passionate about the stuff. I can still remember the year when I gave up Dr Pepper for lent. I had an ice cold Dublin Dr Pepper waiting for me in my fridge for forty days and forty nights…. Well, let's just say it truly was a glorious Easter morning! There's something magical about the stuff.

    To sum, I think the debate is a bit misguided when it implies that real sugar is somehow "healthier" because it's natural. And HFCS is great for the manufacturers in an already pressured segment because it's cheaper. However, I will always get excited when I see bottles from that tiny town in Texas that changes its name for a week in June every year to Dr Pepper, TX. Yee-haw!!!


    Another MNB user took note:

    Frontline featured an investigation about vaccinations.  One of the medical doctors stated that the public is more likely to believe what they see in a You Tube, virally shared video than they are to trust scientifically validated evidence. Right or wrong, this is a new dynamic that legitimate science and businesses must address.  Perception is reality, a statement which has been scientifically proven.
    KC's View: