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    Published on: May 26, 2010

    The New York Times reports that the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that warning labels should be required for foods that are a choking hazard, and that all foods should be monitored and evaluated along these lines.

    “At the same time, “ the Times writes, “the academy is urging manufacturers to redesign some of the most dangerous foods — especially the hot dog, a leading choking hazard. That call has been widely ridiculed on the Internet; many commenters said parents should modify the hot dog themselves — by cutting it. And Janet Riley, president of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, said of a redesign, ‘It’s not going to happen.’

    “But the food designer Eugene D. Gagliardi Jr., who invented Steak-umms and popcorn chicken, has come up with a new hot dog that is soon to be marketed on the East Coast. It looks the same in the package, but has eight deep slits that open when cooked, causing it to break apart into small pieces when eaten.”

    The Times notes that while there are no recent figures on choking accidents, “in 2001, about 17,500 children 14 and younger were treated in emergency departments for choking, and 60 percent of the episodes were caused by food. In 2000, 160 children died from an obstruction of the respiratory tract.”
    KC's View:
    There will be those who will say, “Bah! Humbug! A good parent makes sure his or her kids don’t choke.” But I would not agree, mostly because of the following anecdote in the Times piece:

    “On a July afternoon in 2006, Patrick Hale microwaved a bag of popcorn for his two young children and sat down with them to watch television. When he got up to change the channel, he heard a strange noise behind him, and turned to see his 23-month-old daughter, Allison, turning purple and unable to breathe.

    “As a Marine, he was certified in CPR, but he could not dislodge the popcorn with blows to her back and finger swipes down her throat. He called 911, but it was too late: by the time Allison arrived at the hospital, her heart had stopped beating. An autopsy found that she had inhaled pieces of popcorn into her vocal cords, her bronchial tubes and a lung.”

    The Times makes clear that not a day goes by that Hale does not feel guilt about his daughter, and he was better equipped than most to deal with this emergency. My heart goes out to him...and in this case, I vote with my heart.

    One other thing. I do not know Janet Riley of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. But her statement - “It’s not going to happen” - is enough for me to suggest that one should never use the word “never.” No such thing. Not these days.

    Companies and people should rather say, “Let’s see what we can do.” Or “Let’s try.” Or, “This is a challenge worth taking.”

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    In Canada, the Globe and Mail has a story about SKU rationalization, reporting on the mixed results that various retailers have experienced. Examples:

    “Several months ago Wal-Mart Canada Corp. decided to overhaul one of the staples of its grocery business – the peanut butter aisle. It dropped two of its five lines of peanut butter to free up scarce shelf space for cinnamon spreads. But the decision didn’t cost the retailer a single jar in sales. With fewer selections to browse, customers wound up purchasing more than before.”

    “Customer feedback was quick when Loblaw Cos. Ltd. recently culled about 10 per cent of weak-performing products from a store in west Toronto. The retailer is now restocking about half those items because customers missed them. ‘We knew we’d get probably about half of it wrong,’ Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston told shareholders earlier this month.”

    The Globe and Mail writes, “After years of tempting customers with ever expanding arrays of brands, hues, sizes and flavours, they’re racing to simplify their offerings. The recession has encouraged them to focus on top sellers and private labels while throwing marginal products overboard.

    “Storekeepers are culling their product lines to trim costs, reduce consumer confusion and ultimately boost sales. Reducing the number of products can help companies increase sales by as much as 40 per cent while cutting costs by between 10 and 35 per cent, according to a 2007 study by consultant Bain & Co ... While picking the wrong products to dump can lose sales, a growing body of evidence suggests that reducing the number of products on the shelf can improve the overall shopping experience. The average shopper takes just 2.5 seconds looking for an item and notices only half the products on a shelf, according to research by Procter & Gamble Co., the consumer products giant.”
    KC's View:
    Seems to me that one has to be careful about jumping to conclusions about SKU rationalization.

    It probably works for some stores. Not so much for others.

    This is particularly interesting in view of the fact that in the US, there were a lot of stories not that long ago about how Walmart actually over-edited some of its grocery departments, and had to backtrack because too few items prompted too many customers to go elsewhere to shop.

    I’m not sure it is the number of products on supermarket shelves that is the real issue. For me, it is more important how the store communicates about the products they carry....informing people about the differences between one item and another. Furthermore, I think it is easier for stores that establish from the beginning that they have an edited grocery selection - saying right up front that they are recommending the best and most relevant products - to take such an approach. It is harder to just go from, say, 45,000 SKUs to 35,000 SKUs without affecting the way people view the store...unless the move is well-positioned and explained.

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    The Dallas Morning News reports that Safeway has decided to convert the original and only remaining Simon David store in the market and convert the location to its Tom Thumb format.

    According to the story, “The Simon David name has been part of the Dallas grocery scene since the late 1800s. Tom Thumb bought the company in 1963 as the popularity of finer foods was taking off ... The location has been a Simon David store since 1961,” predating such current specialty food retail names as HEB’s Central Market and Whole Foods.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    The Conference Board is out with its May Consumer Confidence Index, which it said was 63.3 up from a revised 57.7 in April and a significant improvement over the all-time low of 25.3 registered in February 2009.

    Lynn Franco, director of The Conference Board Consumer Research Center, said in a statement that though confidence is still weak, it appears "to be gaining some traction,” though continued high unemployment is seen as an extended problem for consumer confidence.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

     Dow Jones reports that Tesco’s market share in the UK was stagnant at 30.6 percent during the most recent quarter, compared to the same period a year ago - suggesting that perhaps the retailer has arrested the slight but steady share slippage that it has been experiencing in many of its recent quarters.

    Walmart-owned Asda Group’s market share during the quarter dropped slightly from 16.9 percent to 16.8 percent, while Sainsbury’s share went up from 16.1 percent to 16.3 percent. William Morrison Supermarkets’ market share went up from 11.5 percent to 11.8 percent.

    According to the story, the UK’s discount retailers, “Aldi, Netto and Lidl
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    • The Chicago Sun Times reports that despite what is being called “an unprecedented meeting between five Wal-Mart executives and five union leaders” to discuss the retailer’s efforts to open a second store in Chicago and the union’s efforts to stop it, further meetings have not been scheduled and the unions plan to continue opposing Walmart’s efforts.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    DMNews reports that “e-commerce spending jumped 10% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2010, accounting for nearly $34 billion, according to digital marketing intelligence firm ComScore. The quarter was the first time e-commerce spending increased by double digits since the second quarter of 2008.”

    The growth, according to ComScore, is predominantly driven by consumers who make $100,000 or more a year.

    • FreshDirect.com, the pure-play online grocer operating in the New York metropolitan area, announced that it has expanded its FreshDirect At The Office service to serve companies in New York’s Westchester County and Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

    According to the company, “FreshDirect At The Office offers convenient, one-stop online shopping for top-quality, everyday low-priced products delivered direct to the office. From milk, cases of beverages, top-quality snacks and fresh fruit to catering platters, single-serve coffee, paper goods and cleaning supplies, Fresh Direct At The Office has everything an office needs to stock the pantry and keep its employees energized and productive.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    Reuters Health reports that a new study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Health in the UK suggests that “consumers who opt for organic foods often believe they are improving their health, but there is currently no strong evidence that organics bring nutrition-related health benefit ... Moreover, they found, what studies have been done have largely focused on short-term effects of organic eating -- mainly antioxidant activity in the body -- rather than longer-term health outcomes. And most of the antioxidant studies failed to find differences between organic and conventional diets.”
    KC's View:
    To be fair, this isn’t exactly a stand-alone study of organic food benefits...if I am reading it right, it actually is a study of all the legitimate studies that the researchers read and analyzed.

    At the very least, it is hard for me to accept that organic foods have no benefits...it just doesn’t make any sense. But this is a debate that will continue ad infinitum...

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    The Wall Street Journal reports that the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group is reformulating its 7Up brand to give it a “crisper lemon and lime taste,” and will be supporting the move with new advertising and a new logo.
    KC's View:
    Note to the manufacturer. Go check “New Coke” on Wikipedia.

    Not suggesting that you shouldn’t do it. I’m just sayin'...

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    • In Toronto, the Globe and Mail reports that Loblaw is “locked in a crucial battle” with 30,000 unionized employees with which it is negotiating on a new contract - with fresh pressure on the situation because the growth of discount chains in the sector means that in 2011, for the first time, there will be more non-union supermarket employees in the region than unionized employees.

    Which means, according to the story, that Loblaw believes that it is at a disadvantage ... and is pushing the unions to make concessions that will help it fight off the competition.

    • Guiding Stars, the nutritional labeling system, announced that its program has been adopted by the three-store Bud’s Shop ’n Save chain in Dexter, Pittsfield and Newport, Maine.

    In addition, Sebasticook Valley Hospital, in Pittsfield, Maine, announced that it will become the first hospital in the nation to adopt the Guiding Stars system.

    The Guiding Stars system uses a proprietary algorithm to evaluate every product sold in the supermarket and then award one, two or three stars to those products making the grade as good, better and best in terms of nutritional value.

    • The Boston Herald reports that the Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams Boston Lager, is unveiling “the Samuel Adams Boston Lager Cut, a new, premium cut of ‘humanely raised’ beef, in partnership with Dickson’s Farmstand Meats,” designed to be the best kind of beef to serve with its beer.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    Michael Sansolo and I have no idea what this means...but we think it is pretty cool that at one point yesterday, our book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies, was ranked on Amazon.com as # 25 among Kindle e-books in the “Business & Investing / Reference / Ethics” category, and # 19 in the “Business & Investing / Industries & Professions / Customer Service” category.

    Pretty cool.
    KC's View:
    In addition to Amazon.com, where The Big Picture is available in both paperback and Kindle formats, our book is available by clicking here .

    If you’ll forgive the shameless self-promotion.

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    Yesterday, we took note of a story in the Wall Street Journal about a study saying that the notion of food deserts - areas with a dearth of food shopping choices - has more to do with demographic and economic status than geography.

    My comment:

    I know someone who recently decided, for a variety of reasons, to shift to a vegetarian lifestyle. Over a period of time, his entire family of four has moved to a diet that is pretty much completely plant-based...with an emphasis on organic and local products. (I think I’m getting this right.) One thing I do remember is that he told me that his food expenses went up by 30 percent as a result of this shift...

    Now, he’s lucky. He can afford it. But not everybody can. (And I recognize that he may have been making shopping choices that pushed the number up...that one can probably become a vegetarian without going broke.)

    When he told me this, I remember thinking that movements like those focused on local foods and organic products will only really become mainstream when they become economically within the reach of a broader community.

    Which is a long way of saying that it doesn’t surprise me that food deserts have as much to do with demography as geography.


    One MNB user responded:

    I’ve been a vegetarian for over 30 years, and over the years have purchased as much “natural and organic” as possible in both grocery and natural food stores, and when eating in restaurants.  I have found, compared to my carnivore friends and associates, that I spend LESS on food.  Meat costs a lot!  It’s true, over the years, organic tends to cost more, but that has shifted the past 8-10 years, where “organic” products can cost less than the mainstream counterpart.  I refer specifically to produce and some packaged goods, such as “soy chicken” vs. chicken, not just by weight, but by nutritional content also.  I’ve chosen to be a label and nutritional content reader long before the discussion became mainstream (obesity awareness of late).

    There have been numerous occasions in restaurants, steak houses like Morton’s, one example, where my dinner was 1/3 of the rest of the group.

    Your friend and family just needs to be creative in the shopping and menu planning, and I’m sure they’ll find similar results as many of us have.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    KC, this is why we are extremely happy that Walmart and others are making the move to contract with local growers and give us poor folk a chance. Plus, what I have seen from the test markets so far, the quality of the product is just as good, if not better. These so-called Organic stores may have the right formula with fresh fruits and veggies, but Walmart will make sure the consumer pays the right price....

    And MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wrote:

    A 30% increase in total grocery bill for organic, local vegan products is most definitely caused by shopping choices. Simply replacing conventional processed foods with organic processed foods will increase the food bill. Organic cola and Newman-Os cost more than Coke and Oreo cookies, no question.

    Google "organic local food stamps" for a plethora of links to articles about people who successfully used only the equivalent of their state's SNAP (aka food stamps) allotment to eat exclusively organic, local and otherwise sustainable food for weeks or a month. A plant-based diet means meals based on grains and beans, which are cheap in the bulk bins at a local co-op.* Buy only the quantity of a spice or herb needed for a recipe from the co-op bulk herb selection to save a small fortune, the better to spend on organic vegetables.

    I don't mean to downplay the role perception plays in this, but the consistent message in the public sphere that "organic and local is more expensive" ignores the critical role that consumer choice play in this.


    Co-ops almost always offer less expensive alternatives. Good point.

    But another MNB user wrote:

    For what its worth, my wife's cardiologist put her on a "healthy" diet of little or no "processed" foods.  Make everything from scratch.  Not necessarily "organic" but lots of fresh foods, greens, grains, etc.  and cut back on meat, canned goods, etc.   She's lost 117 lbs. & is off her blood pressure medication, etc., but still, in line with your thinking, our food bill went up over 20%.  Now we were fortunate, in that we compensated in other areas, like the bp meds, but still, it takes a bit more $$$ to make the healthy choices.

    Just thought you might appreciate the validation.


    Always.

    Another MNB user had a different take:

    Like your friend, my wife and I with the exception of fish occasionally are vegetarians (no dairy either) and this shift has taken place over the past few years.  We buy organic which is more expensive and our grocery store bills went up as did your friend’s. However, our overall expenditure on food has been reduced as we dine out much less and rarely eat fast food.  I am 66, my wife is 62 our adult children are in their 30’s and early 40’s and we have several grandchildren. We are all healthy and spend almost nothing on medical bills which we are convinced is a result of our diet and exercise. No one is on daily medicine.  We do not eat this way in order to live longer but we certainly seem to be healthier and more active than most people our age who live around us.  I agree with you that affordable organic produce is needed along with lifestyle changes that will be very slow in coming.




    Michael Sansolo had a column yesterday in which he noted that “the Omaha World-Telegram reported on an amazing discussion in the Senate last week surrounding proposals to limit the fees charged on ATMs. It turns out that Nebraska’s two senators - one a Democrat and one a Republican - aren’t exactly cutting edge on technology. One admitted he has never used an ATM; the other said he might have used one three or four times in his life.

    “Now think about that for a second. We’re talking about a technology that was invented in the 1960s and has been ubiquitous in the US since the early 1980s. ATMs are found in literally millions of locations around the US including on the way to the Senate floor. Sure, we could forgive Senators for leading unusual lives that somehow remove them from what the rest of us face daily, but this one just seems too much to swallow. (Ironically, the inventor of the ATM died only a few days before this news appeared. He was 84, older than either Nebraska Senator.)

    “However, making fun of Congressional quirkiness is hardly a lesson or a challenge. Rather, I think we have to consider the attitude of anyone in power ignoring a technology that is popping up all around them.”

    One MNB user wrote:

    I understand and agree with the point in your MNB article, however, I don't think using an ATM qualifies you as being "hip" to technology.  Frankly, I haven't used an ATM in 10 yrs.  Why would I?  I have a debit card that I can swipe and go.  Why would I carry around a bunch of cash?

    Another MNB user chimed in:

    I am sure Michael Sansolo was looking for an angle to share his views when he brought up the clueless elected officials. However, like the two senators from Nebraska, I have no idea what ATM fees are. Heck, I don't even know where ATMs are located anymore because I stopped paying in cash.

    Yes, members of senior leadership should talk and, more importantly, observe members of junior leadership. Instead of asking what cool device or gadget they are using, senior leaders should observe how their junior colleagues conduct business.

    People under the age of 45 do not carry cash because bank cards, credit cards and debit cards are so ubiquitous. My more senior colleagues are shocked when I pay a $1.19 tab with my bank card ... I do agree with Sansolo's comment about the use of electronics. My employer is making a "Let's Go Green" push as part of the larger green fad. In every meeting I attend, I am the only employee who has their laptop up and running. Most employees, who are older than me, get out folders with stacks of papers. Agendas are still distributed by paper and no past agendas are available through an intranet.

    And, yes, it is impossible to keep up with every technological fad. And, yes, the CEO should use a laptop but not necessarily a forklift. It is disappointing that the vast majority of people know how to configure their iPod, iPad, etc. but do not know how to change the oil, the battery, or the lights on their car.


    That latter group would include me.

    Another MNB user responded:

    AMEN! Unfortunately I feel that our senators after all the bribes and kickbacks, uh I mean campaign contributions, and earmarks feel that they are entitled to at least part of the money they spend on our behalf after all we are the non-political class.  If these leaders would have been around 1770’s we would probably be part of England and not and Independent Nation of govern republics.  This also goes into the interchange fees the government does not like competition if a company can gather 4% for really doing nothing like a sales tax, they are evil and should be controlled by the ever so great government.  Speaking of technology why do we still need these bums in congress could we just not do a live poll and vote on an simple English version of a bill on-line.  Think of the savings and the paper saved, let alone there would be no reason for sleight of hand when it comes to a bill we the people would not vote for Nebraska to get out of paying for their portion when we would have to pick up their slack.

    I can be plenty cynical about government and politics, but I’m not sure that governing the entire country through popular vote - if that is what you are suggesting - is the way to go.
    KC's View:

    Published on: May 26, 2010

    It was pointed out to MNB yesterday that the Content Guy had ignored the 4-2 victory on Monday night of the Philadelphia Flyers over the Montreal Canadiens, sending the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals, where they will play the Chicago Blackhawks.
    KC's View:
    It was not an anti-Philadelphia bias that caused me to miss this. It was a complete ignorance of all things hockey. I was blissfully unaware that the season was still ongoing - I thought that all the ice had melted and that spring was in the air.

    And while I am perfectly capable of an anti-Philadelphia bias - I am, after all, a suffering Mets fan - in this case it strikes me as worth saluting a team that the New York Times described as “a team that won only 41 of its 82 regular-season games, a team that made the playoffs on the last shot of the last day of the season.”

    Is that enough love for you, Shawn?