Published on: July 6, 2010
There were a number of stories of note that were reported during the time I was recharging the batteries. Here are the ones I thought most worth mentioning with relevant commentary in italics
• One of the themes constantly sounded at the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Summit in London, which I reported on before I took some vacation time, was sustainability - especially as it relates to the world’s diminishing supply of seafood.
For this reason, it was of great interest to come home to a New York Times Magazine
article entitled “Tuna’s End,”which looked at the bluefin tuna and all species of tuna, saying that they “are the living representation of the very limits of the ocean. Their global decline is a warning that we just might destroy our last wild food.”
Tuna, writer Paul Greenberg reports, “are both a real thing and a metaphor. Literally they are one of the last big public supplies of wild fish left in the world. Metaphorically they are the terminus of an idea: that the ocean is an endless resource where new fish can always be found. In the years to come we can treat tuna as a mile marker to zoom past on our way toward annihilating the wild ocean or as a stop sign that compels us to turn back and radically reconsider.”
This long (7,600 words!) and, in its own way, highly charged piece of journalism can be found here
. It looks at how cultural attitudes (different in developing countries than in developed nations), consumption trends, technology and the evolution of fish farms have affected the availability of blue fin tuna, and questions whether we will ever view this fish the same way we view, say, whales. It is worth reading.A few years ago, when I reported on a study suggesting that the oceans were becoming over-fished, I remember getting emails that wondered what I was smoking. There were people who thought such a possibility was ludicrous. Now, it has become a matter of accepted fact (though there always will be people who will suggest that such facts are fiction). I am persuaded that retailers and suppliers need to be on the right side of this debate, and ought to be front-and-center with messages saying that they are being responsible about their acquisition efforts. To do otherwise is to risk being on the wrong side of history.
• Also on the seafood front, there was another New York Times
article reporting that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering the approval of a genetically engineered salmon - which grows twice as fast as normal salmon - as being safe to eat...and even whether, if such approvals are given, whether it should be labeled as “genetically engineered.” (GM crops are not so labeled.)
According to the Times
, “The salmon’s approval would help open a path for companies and academic scientists developing other genetically engineered animals, like cattle resistant to mad cow disease or pigs that could supply healthier bacon. Next in line behind the salmon for possible approval would probably be the ‘enviropig,’ developed at a Canadian university, which has less phosphorus pollution in its manure.”
If approved, the genetically engineered salmon would be available for supermarkets to sell in about two years.I am conflicted about whether or not I would eat this GM salmon (though less confused about the enviropig, which needs a new name if it is to become appetizing). I am completely convinced, however, that such products ought to be labeled clearly as being genetically engineered. (Not requiring such labeling for fresh produce is a serious mistake.) Transparency demands it, and transparency ought to be a core value in every decision.
• And, again on the seafood front, Greenpeace attacked Costco for selling “15 of the 22 ‘red-listed’ seafoods including two of the world’s most critically imperiled species: orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. ‘Red listed’ species which are at risk of extinction are determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural= Resources (IUCN) which is the world’s leading authority on the conservation status of species.”
"As the third largest retailer in the United States and one of the largest seafood retailers, the scope of Costco’s impact on ocean ecosystems is tremendous,“ said Greenpeace markets campaigner Casson Trenor. “Unfortunately, it clearly puts short-term profits before sustainability and its lack of transparency in labeling leaves its customers without any guidance. It’s time for Costco to take responsibility for the impact it is having on our oceans.”
Costco apparently has not responded to the Greenpeace charges.While Greenpeace is perfectly capable of occupying the fringes of reasonable debate, on this one, I think, its position seems reasonable. Costco needs to consider the “wrong side of history” factor.
• SymphonyIRI Group and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) announced new research into attitudes toward food that differentiate families with healthy weight children and those with overweight or obese kids.
Among the differences:
“Children in healthy weight families tend to be more involved in food purchase decisions (76 percent of healthy weight families vs. 72 percent in families with one or more overweight/obese children, including accompanying parents on shopping trips (68 percent vs. 64 percent). In addition, parents in healthy weight families are more likely to be involved in preparing and cooking most meals (89 percent vs. 82 percent).”
“Households with healthy weight children have fewer rules about eating than those with one or more overweight/obese children (46 percent for healthy weight families vs. 51 percent for families with one or more overweight/obese children). The traditional family adage of ‘finish what’s on your plate’ does not serve children well: just 28 percent of families with healthy weight children apply this rule vs. 38 percent for families with at least one overweight or obese child.”
“The study found that 78 percent of healthy weight children play inside for 30 minutes or more per day, vs. just 71 percent of overweight/obese children. Similarly, 84 percent of healthy weight children play outside for 30 minutes or more per day vs. 79 percent for overweight/obese children.”
“Parents of healthy weight children place a premium on most activities that lead to healthy weight. These include daily exercise (valued by 92 percent of healthy weight family parents vs. 88 percent of parents of one or more overweight/obese children), access to fruit and vegetables in school (89 percent vs. 85 percent, respectively) and limiting fast food (86 percent vs. 83 percent, respectively).”
“Surprisingly, despite the hype about social media, very few parents of healthy weight or overweight/obese children visit these sites for key information. Both types of parents focus primarily on primary care physicians, other medical resources, friends and relatives and health and wellness websites, books, magazines and newspapers and nutritionists/dietitians to gain critical information.”The key word in this research is “families.” That’s where attitudes are formed, and where bodies are shaped. In the end, legislation and litigation will have far less influence than how kids are raised by their parents.
• The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal
reported that two commercial real estate companies are suing Supervalu for having hired a company, Saint Consulting Group, that created the illusion of grass roots opposition to the opening of Walmart stores in various markets, efforts characterized as “dirty tricks campaigns.” The real estate companies also are suing Saint Consulting.
The “dirty tricks” were revealed last month in a Wall Street Journal
article.This has the makings of a great marketing campaign for Walmart, which can simply ask the question, “What are they afraid of?”
• The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
reported that after two decades in the Atlanta marketplace, Publix has for the first time taken the leadership position with 142 stores and a 27 percent market share, followed by Kroger with 131 stores and 25.5 percent, and then Walmart with 58 stores and 23 percent. The percentages were compiled by the Shelby Report.
According to the story, “Publix’s new dominance in metro Atlanta has come after years of expansion, marketing and focus on quality and store presentation. Publix also is only in five Southern states, which could give the company a better handle on the southeastern consumer ... Less clutter, more consistent product placement and faster checkout experiences ... have been part of Publix’s initiatives to win market share -- along with intensive customer service training.”
The paper suggests that Publix’s ascent to number one could be short-lived, since Kroger has a number of remodeling projects on the front burner that could shift momentum its way. At the same time, the Journal-Constitution
writes, it is instructive that Walmart has been unable to move into the pole position despite the fact that many expected that the recession should have been able to help Walmart improve its market position.
• Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports
, praised the California Assembly for passing a bill that would ban bisphenol A (BPA) from food and drink containers designed for children ages 3 and younger. BPA - a chemical found in the linings of cans and in polycarbonate plastic, including some sports bottles, food-storage containers and baby bottles - has potential links to a wide range of health effects, including an increased risk of diseases or disorders of the brain, reproductive and immune systems. The bill was passed by the California Senate last year and is now set for a concurrence vote, after which the bill will be sent to Governor Schwarzenegger.BPA is so over, and not just in California. (I thought this the moment that Walmart announced that it was anti-BPA.) Resistance is futile.
• The New York Times
reported that Whole Foods and a number of other chains have stopped selling unpasteurized versions of kombucha because of concerns that the alcohol content in them may be too high; federal regulators also said last week that they will be looking at kombucha to make sure that it adheres to all federal laws governing alcoholic beverages.
• Kantar Retail and BrandZ are out with their annual ranking of the most valuable global retail brands, and the top 20 are saids to be Walmart, Amazon.com, Tesco, Carrefour, Target, eBay, Home Depot, Aldi, Auchan, Lowe’s, Best Buy, IKEA, Marks & Spencer, Asda, Kohl’s, Lidl, Costco, Sam’s Club, Safeway, and Sainsbury.
“This report helps illuminate the radical changes reshaping retail as shoppers, chastened by the recession and empowered with technology, think differently about what and how they purchase,” said Wayne Levings, CEO of Kantar Retail. “Brand is a prerequisite of retail success ... How retailers build their brands impacts all aspects of their business. Brand alone secures an enduring place in the mind of the consumer. It is fundamental to the supplier-retailer relationship.”
reported on a new Technomic study saying that “US convenience stores are challenging fast-food restaurants with expanded food and drink offerings ... The move helped U.S. convenience store sales grow 1.5 percent in 2009 to about $10.4 billion, excluding inflation.”
"Convenience stores are investing in prepared foods, which is putting increased competitive pressure on quick-service restaurant chains," Technomic executive vice president Darren Tristano said.See my “formats are dead” argument, above.
• HealthDay News
reported on a new study from the Trust for America's Health saying that the country’s obesity problem continues to grow, with more than two-thirds of states now with obesity rates over 25 percent.
According to the story, “Mississippi weighed in for the sixth year in a row as the fattest state, with 33.8 percent of its adults obese, while Alabama and Tennessee tied for second (31.6 percent). The other top 10, also concentrated in the south, were West Virginia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arkansas, South Carolina and Michigan tying with North Carolina for 10th place (29.4 percent).
Michigan was the only state in the top 11 not in the South, an anomaly perhaps explained by the state's economy.”
The report also showed that “income is a major driver of the obesity epidemic. More than 35 percent of adults bringing in less than $15,000 a year were obese, vs. only 24.5 percent in the over-$50,000 income bracket.” And, “blacks and Latinos bear the brunt of the obesity problem. Blacks and Latinos outweighed whites in at least 40 states plus D.C.”
“The healthiest states in terms of weight were congregated in the Northeast and West,” the story said. “Colorado (19.1 percent) came in first, followed by Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Vermont, Rhode Island, Utah, Montana and New Jersey. The District of Columbia was the only region to experience a decline in obesity rates.”
• Interesting story from the Associated Press
about how some states have created exemptions from food safety laws for small manufacturers, farmers and amateur cooks, allowing them to sell products that have not gone through the standard inspection process.
“The exemptions have touched off a debate about how to balance the need for food safety with a dose of regulatory common sense,” AP
writes. “Supporters say they recognize food safety regulations designed for big commercial food handlers can be a burden for small-time cooks who just want to make a few extra bucks selling canned goods or other specialty products. Opponents say that without regulation, the public is at risk for food-borne illnesses.”Food safety ought to be a matter of science, not size. End of discussion.
• Haggen Inc., which operates 33 supermarkets in Washington State and Oregon under its own name and the Top Food & Drug banners, will shortly be operating one fewer - it plans to close a Redmond, Washington, Top store on july 31. The company said that the unit, a former Larry’s Market that it opened a little over two years ago, did not live up to expectations.
• The Wall Street Journal
reported that “A U.S. appeals court ordered a new trial Thursday for the former marketing chief of Ahold NV's one-time U.S. food distribution unit, who in 2006 was convicted on fraud and other charges.
“The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Mark Kaiser, the one-time marketing director for Ahold's former U.S. Foodservice Inc. unit, that the district judge overseeing his case erred in instructions to the jury.
“On appeal, Mr. Kaiser had argued in part that the judge made mistakes in his instructions about the concept of so-called conscious avoidance, or deliberate ignorance of the alleged fraud.”