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    Published on: May 17, 2010

    The Tampa Tribune reports that “officials at Publix are starting to reveal details about a project to rank seafood supplies on sustainability and stop buying stocks that don't meet certain standards over time ... Ultimately, more than 300 seafood items that Publix sells will come under a new grading scale, from high-end tuna steaks to frozen shrimp.”

    The story adds, “Like the boom in reusable bags and organic vegetables, it's another case of the overall concept of sustainability changing the grocery landscape ... it's a delicate process for grocery stores to balance the drawbacks of buying seafood caught in the wild versus seafood raised in fish farms that have their own environmental issues attached.”

    And, according to the paper, “This new process will unfold over the next year, though it may not be overtly apparent to customers. Publix is working behind the scenes with three environmental groups to develop standards: the Ocean Trust, Ocean Conservancy and the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership ... Rather than boycott any suppliers in the lower categories, Publix officials said they'll apply pressure on the fishery to improve their practices. If the fishery doesn't improve over time, Publix will stop buying a given stock from them.”
    KC's View:
    This is the new model of responsible retailing. Many customers (though, to be fair, not all of them) want to have a greater understanding of where the products they feed their families come from, how they are grown, harvested or manufactured, and have a sense that the companies with which they do business are acting in a sustainable and responsible fashion.

    In the long run, sustainable and responsible sourcing will mean sustainable and responsible capitalism.

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    You can’t pay for publicity like this.

    Thursday night, “30 Rock” and “It’s Complicated” star Alec Baldwin was on “The Late Show with David Letterman” talking about his mother, who lives in upstate New York. Baldwin noted that his mother shops at Wegmans, joking that it is a pioneer big box store where one can do everything from buying food to getting your muffler fixed (which isn’t entirely accurate).

    Baldwin said that when he and his brothers try to get their mom to move to the warmer climes of California, she replies, "And leave Wegmans?”

    You can watch the segment - and Baldwin’s delivery is priceless - here.
    KC's View:
    Alec Baldwin...just one of the funniest men on the planet. And now, at least when it comes to great retailing, a speaker of truths.

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    The Financial Times has an interesting story about the British job market, noting that more than 20 percent of employers had to provide “remedial training to new hires because they are insufficiently literate for the workplace.”

    In addition, FT writes, the study “found that 22 per cent of employers who hired adult workers above school leaving age in the past year needed to give some of them remedial training in literacy, while 18 per cent gave lessons in basic numeracy. More than four in 10 provided workers with remedial IT training ... the figures for literacy and numeracy were similar for school leavers, although teenagers were less likely than older people to have IT skills gaps.”

    According to FT, “The survey follows last year’s complaints by Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco, who said companies were ‘often left to pick up the pieces’ when it came to workplace skills for young people because standards were still ‘woefully low in too many schools’.”
    KC's View:
    I have no idea how the numbers would look if similar studies were conducted in the US, but my suspicion is that literacy levels are just as low here, if not worse. In some ways, this is on view every day in the signs that retailers post around their stores that feature misspellings and bad grammar. (I recognize that I am hardly faultless when it comes to things like misspellings, but I would argue that my business model requires that I work without a net...which is not the same for most retail stores.)

    I wonder how much better these employees would be if their employers would encourage them to continue their educations, to require greater levels of literacy and educational engagement. Hard to do, especially in a time when a tight economy makes it hard to invest in basic training, much less employee literacy. But I wonder...

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    Crain’s Chicago Business reports that Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes has gone on a temporary medical leave.

    CFO Marcel Smits will serve as interim CEO until Barnes returns. There is no indication when she might return, though the public company must provide investors with timely updates.

    “We wish Brenda a speedy recovery and look forward to her return,” board member James Crown said in a statement. “Out of respect for Brenda’s privacy, we will not be commenting further.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    The Dallas Business Journal reports that even as Blockbuster Inc. tries to pursue a multi-delivery venue platform that will allow it to compete more effectively with the likes of Netflix, Redbox and even the iTunes Store, its first quarter US same-store sales were down 7.8 percent and global same-store sales were down 7.1 percent. The company posted a Q1 net loss of $65.4 million, compared to a profit of $27.7 million during the same period a year ago; Q1 revenue was $939.4 million, down from $1.09 billion a year ago.
    KC's View:
    The lesson is clear. No business model is unassailable. By standing pat for too long, Blockbuster virtually assured its eventual irrelevance and obsolescence.

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    CNN reports that there continues to be merger speculation focused on the possibility that could acquire Netflix.

    Spokesmen for the two companies refuse to comment on the chatter, though CNN suggests that the marriage remains an unlikely least for now: “Netflix is in a position of strength as it capitalizes on the shift to digital video that's dooming the likes of Blockbuster and Movie Gallery, which announced earlier this week that it is shutting down its chain of Hollywood Video stores. As such, Netflix has no compelling reason to sell out. It's not in a distressed situation. And for that reason, Amazon would risk overpaying for Netflix if it seriously wanted to buy it now.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    Danny Wegman of the iconic New York-based supermarket chain gave the commencement address to the 1,200 graduates of the University of Rochester's School of Arts and Sciences, and the Hajim School of Engineering, saying that his views of success are “counterintuitive,” and like skiing.

    "There you stand at the top of a steep hill. Your first reaction is to lean back—totally wrong. You have to lean down the hill and then everything works, most of the time," Wegman said.

    Other excerpts:

    • "I really believe if you help others, give credit to others, and live with humility, you are a success ... Is success what others think about you? I believe success is how you feel about yourself."

    • "If you want to get credit, give credit to others ... Make the people you work with successful. They will make you a superstar."

    Wegman also received the George Eastman Medal, which recognizes outstanding achievement and dedicated service, from University President Joel Seligman.
    KC's View:
    Hard to think of a person better than Danny Wegman qualified to offer a higher education in the art and science of retailing.

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    Friday marked the first day of the Copper River Salmon season, as Alaska Airlines made a big deal of delivering 22,000 pounds of the fish to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, from which it was distributed to supermarkets and restaurants throughout the Pacific Northwest.

    Here’s how describes the delicacy, which is said to be loaded with Omega-3 oils and is only available from mid-May to mid-June every year:

    “How could salmon be THAT good, you may ask? It’s the amazing and sometimes torrid, Copper River. The river’s icy pure and pristine waters and rugged landscape have created an environment perfectly suited for salmon to develop their renowned flavor.

    “Salmon have spawned here for centuries, leaving those who taste this athletic sportsman with no higher salmon plateau to climb.

    “It’s the 300-mile trek to their spawning grounds through more than a thousand foot ascent. It’s the naturally unspoiled and pristine landscape and waterways – a majestic beauty hard to find elsewhere. It’s the generations of salmon fishing families; their devotion to sustainable fishing practices marked on their smiling faces and hardened hands.”

    Consumers pay a premium for Copper River Salmon - it can retail for as much as between $30 and $40 a pound.
    KC's View:
    I was unbelievably lucky last week - I was in Seattle on Friday and was taken by my friend Diana Crane (of the great PCC Natural Markets) to a restaurant called Salty’s where they had just gotten their first shipment of Copper River Salmon. I cannot even describe to you how wonderful it was - melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and some of the best salmon I’ve ever had.

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    • Comedian Bill Cosby is re-enlisting to promote the Kraft Foods Jell-O brand, for which he first began doing advertisements in 1974. According to the Chicago Tribune, “this time he'll be behind the camera as part of the brand's biggest marketing effort ever.

    “The comedian ... will be an executive producer for the ‘Hello Jell-O’ campaign, which starts with national advertisements on Monday. In return, Jell-O will be the presenting sponsor of Cosby's new weekly Web series called ‘OBKB.’ On the show he interviews children in the style of the classic show ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things’.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    • New York-based Tops Friendly Markets announced that Jeff Culhane, most recently director of merchandise planning and replenishment for perishables at Meijer Supermarkets in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has joined Tops as vice president of perishable marketing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 17, 2010

    Last Friday, I went on a rant that, I emphasized, was meant to be political. I wrote, in part:

    President Barack Obama said one of the dumbest things of his presidency the other day while giving a commencement address to Hampton University.

    He was talking about the enormous amount of content available to people via various venues, and why it is important to differentiate between substance and noise. He’s absolutely right about that. But here is the dumb part:

    "With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations, -- none of which I know how to work -- information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation," Obama said.

    First of all, I find it hard to believe that Obama - who has two young children - does not know how to work an iPod. It is almost inconceivable. This is, after all, a guy who hardly was seen without a Blackberry during the 2008 campaign, and an iPod is a lot easier to work.

    Second, he may never have used an iPad, but he knows how to use one. Trust me on this. Obama is a very smart guy, and the iPad is incredibly intuitive.

    The real problem isn’t Obama’s facility with technology. The real problem is that he apparently - and surprisingly - has something in common with a lot of people who take a kind of idiotic pride in being uninformed about certain things. Like the people who seem to think it is a badge of honor to never have learned to program their VCRs ... Stupidity is not a badge of honor. It is just stupidity.

    Too many people in this country see education and intelligence as somehow suspicious.

    There are simply too many people on the planet who take pride in their own lack of knowledge, their own closed-mindedness, their own ignorance. I’m shocked that Obama, for at least a few moments, cast his lot as one of them.

    In 2010 and beyond, one’s facility with technology ought to be a job requirement if you are going to be in any sort of political, governmental, or business leadership position. Be conversant. Be experienced. And be proud of it.

    Obama should have realized that iPods and iPads are tools of empowerment as well as means of distraction. What matters is the mindset of the person is using them.

    His message should not have been the implied one of “iPods and iPads can be a distraction.” His message should have been, “Go out and create the next iPod or iPad.”

    This rant provoked a lot of responses...

    MNB user Richard Evans wrote:

    I do understand your annoyance with the President's statement, however, I take exception to your assessment of his intent.

    You are right. He is not dumb and knows very well what an iPod is.

    The rest of this seems to have flown right over your head. What Obama is saying is that he is very uncomfortable with what is being reported about he and his policies by the media. This includes the internet and all of the chatter thereon.

    I feel he would very much like to control this. That’s my view and I'm sticking to it.

    To be clear, I never said he didn’t know what an iPod was. I merely quoted him as saying he didn’t know how to work one.

    MNB user Scott Simon wrote:

    Regarding your rant concerning President Obama’s remarks- I recall reading that he presented an IPod to the Queen of England and was soundly criticized for it. If correct it seems to me he is posturing to his audience.

    Gosh. A politician posturing. Go figure.

    What I cannot figure out is why a politician his age with his appeal would posture in this particular way.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Kevin, you COMPLETELY missed the point regarding President Obama lamentations regarding technology and information.  You focused on the technology part, it seemed to me.  Obama's message was about INFORMATION.

    His comments were incorporated into a larger point -- that we have all kinds of media and forums through which political commentators and bloggers are free to espouse any position they wish with virtually no restriction. In his view, that has lead to information being a distraction and a diversion.  In truth, he loathes the ease with which others can criticize and challenge his agenda via radio, internet, and other communications methods.  He hates the notion that broad proliferation of dissent is enabled by the very technologies he called out.

    His position is dangerous.  I am not a conspiracy theorist, but there is no doubt Obama's intent includes government controlling the flow of information and the ability for people outside the administration to offer contrary political commentary and challenge his agenda.  Look no further than the lack of media access to the new Supreme Court nominee.  The White House produced the only "interview" seen thus far.  Even left leaning media outlets are in a huff about that.  Doesn't Obama's position ultimately lead to examples like China and Iran, which do not allow the free flow of information into and out of their countries?

    My view: the free flow of information in the United States is sacred and required for a democracy BY THE PEOPLE.  Sure, there are extreme and unfortunate outcomes like pornography and knuckleheads delivering twisted points of view.  But government controlling the free flow of information across ANY technology should be seen as an unacceptable horror to those who love freedom.

    Kevin, how would you like some government bureaucrat having oversight of your web content?

    I don’t want to get into a political debate here, but I see no evidence to support your conspiracy theory. And it was just two weeks ago that he suggested in another commencement speech that people who watch MSNBC should also listen to Rush Limbaugh and read the Wall Street Journal editorial page...and vice-versa.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    Interesting that your rant seemed to be primarily related to the fact that he said he doesn't know how to use the tools (and appears to take pride in it), with only a small section at the end on the fact that he views these technologies as a distraction "rather than a means of emancipation." It seems to me that having information readily available, from a variety of sources and through a variety of devices is, by its very nature, taking away the ability of any one source of information becoming a controlling influence. Isn't that a form a emancipation??? What is he looking from emancipation from?  Maybe he should dissolve his official website for disseminating information. After all, why is accessing his website via a computer any less of a distraction than via an ipod or ipad?

    The fact that he has young children has nothing to do with it -- I've heard they are not allowed to watch TV during the week and they may not own video games or ipods.  I would agree with him that these items can be a distraction when the kids should be studying . . . . .

    MNB user Philip Herr wrote:

    I don’t think he was knocking the hardware, I think his comment was about the torrents of information. And in this respect I agree – I read dozens of newsletters each day (the only one I make a point of reading wherever I am is MNB – but enough sycophancy). My real challenge is sifting what is wheat from the enormous amount of chaff. Each of these devices enables a massive amount of chaff. And if that wastes our time and distracts us from what is real and important, then it really is a merely a diversion rather than a tool of empowerment.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I am sure he is smart enough IF he wanted to use and understand an iPod/iPad. I would think with all the forms of information that the Government has he really doesn’t need one.

    What I do like is this President unlike the last know the English language and can speak INTELLIGENTLY in public . Kevin, I’m a bit surprised you call anyone let along the President of the United States stupid…

    Still another MNB user admonished me:

    Stupid is not a nice word.

    MNB user Mike McGuire wrote:

    I just wanted to let you know how much I agree with everything you said about the idea of stupidity as a badge of honor.  You have perfectly articulated something that has been rolling around in my head for a long time – thank you very much!

    And, from another MNB user:

    You hit the nail right on the head, and I thought the same thing when I heard it.  The guy couldn’t get his Blackberry out of his hands .... seems to me I recall reading that the Secret Service went to some extreme measures to get him a "secure" Blackberry.

    Beware, though ... you'll be accused of being racist because you dared speak ill of the anointed one.

    MNB user John R. Wald wrote:

    I think you’re being too hard on the President.  I don’t think he was citing his inability to work an iPod, iPad, Xbox, or PlayStation as a matter of pride; rather, he was poking a little fun at himself in front of a young audience, who would find it amusing that someone wouldn’t know how to use things that are such a big part of their everyday lives and would be flattered that they know how to do things the President doesn’t know how to do.  His admission was just a rhetorical device to establish rapport with his audience and lighten his criticism of popular technology with some self-depreciating humor.

    As to your comment that it is inconceivable that the President doesn’t know how to work an iPod, I don’t find it inconceivable at all.  Since he’s spent the last six years or so running for the U.S. Senate, then running for President, and then being President, I find it entirely conceivable that he would have had no time to learn how to use an iPod.  All those activities have required him to work at a hectic pace 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, so that he hasn’t been spending time listening to an iPod isn’t surprising at all.  He hasn’t been living a normal life, so one shouldn’t expect him to do things that normal people do.  I’m sure that he could learn how to use an iPod if he wanted to, but that he hasn’t taken the time to do so is understandable.  He has had to carefully budget his time so that he is spending it only on things that are essential to his objectives.  Learning to use a Blackberry was essential to his work, but learning to use entertainment devices such as the iPod, iPad, Xbox, and PlayStation were not.

    Maybe it’s easy for me to conceive of someone not being able to work an iPod because I don’t have one and therefore don’t know how to work one.  I’m confident that I could learn how to work an iPod if I wanted (I too know how to use a Blackberry), but I haven’t made that a priority.  I know many people my age (I’m 55) who don’t have iPods, and while we’re probably in the minority among our generation, we’re a fairly large minority.  We all need to make choices about how we want to use our time and what technology will enhance our enjoyment of life, and my choices aren’t necessarily going to be the same as yours.

    Another MNB user offered:

    Take heart Content Guy! God, in his infinite wisdom, made each of us unique with different skills and talents. The fact that you cannot assemble a car engine, speak a foreign language, or understand opera are not flaws in your character, nor does it mean someone without these skills is stupid; they simply have not either had the opportunity to learn, or do not wish to learn these things. We all have to make choices about where we spend our time and effort and for me I would much rather pay someone to fix my engine than learn how to do it myself.

    That said, I don’t think what the President said is stupid. I don’t think it rates in even the top ten stupid things he has said. It is, however, condescending. Once again, he tries to paint himself as a common man, rather than the elitist he is.

    From another MNB user:

    Good rant, you said your commentary was not political and you were true to your word, it is refreshing that someone can clearly see and comment on the true reality of a situation no matter what political view they come from, Thanks Kevin!

    Another MNB user wrote:

    I took his, Obama's, message as these things are a distraction to Americans and that they need to be controlled.  Having several friends as grads or previously attended HU, they are pretty savvy folks and all of them that I have come in contact embrace the ability to get knowledge and info from these tools.  Obama alluded to the fact that he disagreed with a lot of the information that was available during his healthcare run and I take it he wished that the majority didn't have access to it as he thought it was distracting them from getting his message.

    Well, clearly the responses were all over the ideological map.

    These emails are only about a third of the messages I got on this subject, and that doesn’t even count the long email dialogue I had with one of my younger brothers, who in another context I once quoted as saying that Apple users would buy an “iTurd” if Steve Jobs tried to sell us one.

    Let me restate my point, just to be clear.

    I never called the president stupid. What I objected to is the occasional position taken by people in which they seem to take a certain pride in their lack of technological understanding ... like being unable to program a VCR, or work a computer. I just think that some folks take pride in this stuff, and that being disconnected from this part of American life is nothing to be proud of.

    I’ll stand by that.

    In this case, the iPod was only the example of the moment. I wasn’t upset that Obama doesn’t know how to work this particular product...just that he’d missed an opportunity to make the point that products such as these - and the Blackberry, and the Droid phone, and a lot of other products - have changed the way we live, and that the challenge to these graduates is to pioneer the next change.

    I’ll stand by that, too.

    To coin a phrase, these kinds of products reflect change I can believe in.
    KC's View: