retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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.


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: