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    Published on: September 17, 2010

    This morning, just as a change of pace, I want to suggest that you check out another website to have your eyes opened.

    Click here.

    The site is a fascinating look at Lumenhaus, which was Virginia Tech’s entry in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathalon competition. The house is a fascinating construct, both philosophically and physically, that combines energy efficiency, functionality, and a kind of clean architectural style that I find both intriguing and, to be honest, very appealing.

    I probably won’t live long enough to occupy a house like this. But in a world where it is easy to concentrate on what is going wrong, it is heartening to realize that there are exceedingly smart young people coming up with ideas like these.

    Check it out. it is just one vision of the future, but it is a fascinating...and yes, eye-opening one.

    - Kevin Coupe
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    Congressional Quarterly reports that US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said yesterday that the upper house will not debate or vote on food safety legislation before the November 2 elections, and blamed Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) for blocking the legislation.

    “It’s just a shame that we can’t get this done,” Reid said.

    According to the story, “John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said earlier in the week that the senator’s concerns should come as no surprise to Reid or bill supporters. At the start of each session, Hart said, Coburn sends a letter to colleagues laying out the fiscal guidelines that authorization and appropriations bills must meet to win his support.” And Coburn said that he is not the only senator with concerns that the costs of the food safety bill need to be offset by budget costs so that there is no new spending; Coburn also apparently remains unconvinced that the bill will result in safer food.

    The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) quickly responded to the announcement, saying that it was “disappointed” that the legislation would not be moved forward. The associations president/CEO, Leslie Sarasin, released the following statement:

    “We are extremely disappointed that the U.S. Senate will not act immediately to take up the Food and Drug Administration Food Safety Modernization Act before the midterm elections.

    “The most important goal of America’s food retailers and wholesalers is to provide nutritious, safe, high-quality and affordable food.  We all have a responsibility to work together to improve the safety of our food supply. We believe the focus should be on trying to prevent problems before they occur by providing FDA the necessary resources and authority to help the agency protect our food supply. We commend the work done by Senators Durbin and Gregg, Chairman Harkin, Ranking Member Enzi and the others who played a vital role in creating a bipartisan bill. We will continue to urge the Senate to take up this very important legislation as soon as possible.”
    KC's View:
    Ironically, the Los Angeles Times had a piece suggesting that the current recall of eggs because of concerns about salmonella contamination might be enough to push the food safety legislation forward. But apparently not...though if a couple of senators get food poisoning because of contaminated eggs that they’ve consumed, that might be enough to move their votes, to say nothing of their bowels.

    The thing is, I have very little confidence that anything will happen after the midterm elections. A lot depends on how the various races go ... and there is precious little evidence that either house of Congress will come out of the elections less divided and angry.

    To those of us on the outside, it all seems so simple. The food safety apparatus is broken, and needs to be fixed by streamlining the oversight process so that one agency handles the whole thing, and making the whole process more stringent and transparent so that fewer problems slip through the cracks. Saying it is one thing, of course, and doing it is quite another. But Congress can’t even say it...

    I do have to admit that I like at least one feature of a new bill introduced by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vermont) that would make the crime of knowingly distributing contaminated food a felony punishable by a minimum 10-year prison term.

    The mandatory prison term sounds like a great idea. But they also ought to make the convicted people eat the products that they sent into the marketplace. Just for our own entertainment.

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    DSR Marketing Systems is out with a supermarket-centric analysis of the US 2007 Census of Retail Trade, revealing the following:

    • “Supermarket sales grew 18% from $395 billion in 2002 to $466 billion in 2007...but the sales of Warehouse Clubs and Supercenters (i.e. BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s, Super Walmart) increased by 70% during this time period from $191 billion to $325 billion. As a result, the Supermarket share of the total grocery and foods market continued its long-term decline from 66% in 2002 to 63% in 2007...and a projected 62% in 2009.”

    • “Convenience stores lost share at an accelerating pace between 2002 and 2009 but still rank third at 6.6%.”

    • “Unsurprisingly, Discount Department Stores were also major losers because of Supercenter conversions - but watch for this trend to stabilize or reverse because of Target’s P-Fresh store conversions.”

    • “Dollar Stores (AKA “All Other General Merchandise Stores”) doubled their market share between 2002 and 2007 and this growth will continue because of the sour economy and their rapid expansion (Dollar General now has over 9,100 stores, for example).

    • “Ranking fourth - ahead of Dollar Stores - are Drug Stores which have increased their market share from 1.2% in 2002 to an estimated 1.7% in 2009.”

    • “Dollar stores are a major reason for Walmart’s growing price-image problem, while CVS and Walgreen’s will continue to eat Convenience Store’s lunch! Together, the five (5) major Dollar and Drug-store chains (CVS, Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, Walgreen’s) operate almost 40,000 stores. Their growing impacts - on Walmart as well as the conventional supermarket industry - are inevitable as they add food and consumables and open new stores.”
    KC's View:
    Succinct and to the point.

    As we’ve said here many times over the years, “compete” is a verb. The analysis offered by DSR Marketing Systems suggests that traditional food stores have a lot of work to do to reverse these trends, as other formats nibble (chomp?) away at their business, and consumer fragmentation continues unabated.

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, has sent a letter to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “expressing concern” about the ongoing review process for the approval of genetically modified salmon for sale and human consumption. The consumer group said that the two-week review period is too short, and that the more traditional 60-day review period would better serve the public. In addition, it said that the makeup of the review committee lacks “any scientists whose primary expertise is in food allergies, growth hormones, endocrinology or fish ecology,” which, it said, are the precise areas in which the committee will have to render a decision.

    As reported on MNB earlier this month, the FDA appears to be poised to approve the GM salmon for human consumption; it has already said that the altered salmon is safe to eat and does present an environmental threat and is scheduled to present its findings to the scientific panel - whatever its makeup - next week.

    Critics say that not enough is know about whether genetically modified fish will have an impact on human health and/or the environment; supporters say that such innovations are important at a time when the global fish population is declining and there remains a considerable hunger problem on much of the planet.
    KC's View:
    If it makes people feel better and leads to a better and more comprehensive review, I have no problem with the idea that the makeup of the scientific panel ought to be adjusted so that certain disciplines are represented, assuming, of course, that they are not already. (I have no scientific knowledge or expertise, so I cannot tell you whether the Consumers Union is right on this. But I also think that if scientists are added, they should be people who, as best as is possible, come without a predetermined position and with a reputation for scientific fairness - not people with a position already staked out.)

    I think these kinds of precesses should be designed to instill consumer confidence and understanding, and anything that helps enable this is a good thing. That includes, by the way, full disclosure on the labels. People ought to know that they are buying genetically modified fish ... any other approach is the opposite of transparency, and therefore not in anyone’s best interests.

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    Excellent piece in Fortune about food coops, which may not have the traditional business model (they are owned by their customers and aren’t just in it for the money), but often have enviable sales per square foot and shopper loyalty.

    “Traditional supermarkets should pay attention,” Fortune writes, “and not just to...stellar financials. Under the coop model, the owner and the consumer are one in the same. ‘A coop has to make money but also has to have the best interest of its owners, who are also its shoppers, at heart,’ says Robynn Shrader, CEO of the National Cooperative Grocer's Association (NCGA).”

    The article uses as an example the Park Slope Food Coop (PSFC) in New York, which, it says, “handles so much money that it deposits its cash in the bank every two hours for security reasons. Similar to Trader Joe's or grocer Stew Leonard's, the Food Coop has a limited selection of items (9,500, vs. about 50,000 in a typical supermarket) in a relatively small store footprint (6,000 square feet), which allows it to buy in bulk and produces a high turnover on goods.”

    According to the story, “as PSFC notes on its site, it is ‘responsive to the membership rather than to the companies trying to sell their products.’ Because coops don't need shareholders or executives to back initiatives, they answer customer-member demands quickly and are often ahead of national trends. Take grocery bags -- PSFC stopped handing them out (both paper and plastic) altogether two and half years ago.”

    And, Fortune continues, “Competing grocery stores could brush aside PSFC as a one-off success story. And although it is true that its scale is rare, consumers are signaling that they want this type of shopping experience ... there are now 200 coops in startup mode, which is the largest number since the 1970s.”
    KC's View:
    I’ve never been in a coop that I didn’t like. Some of them, like PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, are among the nicest stores I have ever been in. And if I had a coop near me, I’d belong as a member. No question.

    Every retailer ought to operate under the premise that the customer is the owner, even if that’s not the actual ownership structure. Because stores are only as good and successful as their customers...and treating them like the boss ought to be a cultural priority.

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    Interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal about Carrefour and its new CEO, Lars Olofsson, a former Nestle executive who is looking to remake the company as one that is dominant in the markets where it operates and has low prices as its calling card.

    What’s very interesting is the company’s new approach to branding. An excerpt from the Journal story:

    “After Mr. Olofsson took the reins at the beginning of last year he started the Carrefour Discount line with simple packaging, white and blue labels, that recalled Tesco's successful store-brand products.

    “Mr. Olofsson recently installed a new marketing team to promote the chain's products, hiring managers from such consumer-goods companies as Procter & Gamble Inc. and Reckitt Benckiser PLC. He plans to advertise the larger Carrefour line of products more heavily, a strategy he so far has used only for Carrefour Discount.

    ‘’’We didn't have a marketing approach,’ Mr. Olofsson says over a cup of Nespresso, from the high-end coffee line that he cultivated at Nestlé. ‘We just put it on the shelf’.”
    KC's View:
    It is amazing how many retailers actually don’t see themselves as a consumer brand, or at least don;t communicate the importance of branding within their organizations. This can be seen in how many young people interested in marketing careers don’t even consider the food retail business, because they don’t perceive it as a brand-centric industry.

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    MarketWatch reports that Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard is playing hardball in its pursuit to acquire c-store chain Casey’s General Stores.

    Responding to Casey’s rejection of its offer and decision to negotiate with 7-Eleven on a competing bid, the company sent a letter top Casey’s shareholders saying that it “is willing to raise its offer from $38.50 a share and has secured up to $1.5 billion to finance the deal. Couche-Tard also pointed out that 7-Eleven has not made a formal offer for Casey's and there is no certainty that it will follow through. ‘We urge you to send a clear and strong message by voting the blue proxy card that you want directors who will fulfill their obligations to you and serve your best interests, not theirs. The choice is up to you,’ said Couche-Tard in the letter.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    • The Indianapolis Star reports that “an election to unionize a Marsh Supermarket store in Beech Grove has been postponed until unfair-labor-practice charges against the company are resolved, a union leader said Thursday. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 700 said it withdrew the petition for a vote that was to take place today because Marsh has created a ‘coercive environment’ in which the store could not get a fair vote.

    Marsh has denied the charges, saying, “While we do not comment on current litigation, we believe the untrue statements and charges by the union are an effort to cover up the real failure of the union to entice our associates to vote for their representation.”

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 17, 2010

    We tend to have a lot of discussion here on MNB about the issue of civility, sometimes related to business issues but often related to the way government and politics work. But the other day, there was a story out of Washington, DC, that illustrated the extent the fabric of society has frayed...or been ripped.

    The story, carried in the Washington Post, concerned a driver who was angry about a speed bump on a street he often traveled. So angry, that he assaulted the Fairfax County man who owned the house where the bump was located. So angry that before his trial for the assault, he fatally shot the man, who he blamed for having the speed bump installed.

    To be sure, the man who was killed, Stephen Carr, had lobbied for the speed bump to be put in, because he was concerned about how fast people drove through his neighborhood. Most of his neighbors appreciated his efforts.

    Though not, apparently, David Patton, who was arrested and charged for Carr’s murder.

    As senseless as this incident seems to be - and “senseless” hardly seems like an adequate word, I think I may have been more surprised by something mentioned in the Post story, and in a subsequent discussion of the story on “The Tony Kornheiser Show” the popular DC-area radio show.

    What really caught me off guard was the revelation that some people, when they drive over speed bumps they feel have been badly placed, like to honk their horns - especially at night, when they hope their horns will wake up the local residents who they assume are responsible for the speed bumps.

    Maybe I’m just old fashioned. Whenever I’ve driven over a speed bump, three things occur to me. One, I’d better slow down. Two, there must be kids in the area. Three, I really better slow down.

    That’s it.

    I can honestly say that I have never, ever considered honking my horn when coming to a speed bump. (I’ve also never considered killing any nearby homeowners, but I think that sort of goes without saying.) And I have to believe that most people don’t do such a thing.

    However, I am honestly shocked out to find out that there are some people who do. I simply cannot imagine such a thing.

    But it stands as further evidence - as if we needed any - that the fabric of our society is being torn apart by people who simply don;t care about appropriate, civil behavior.

    It is not the murders that tell us this. Such are the acts of madmen. It is the people who simply do not care about the little things. The people who run red lights. The people who ignore basic laws that govern our behavior. The people who honk when they drive over a speed bump.

    It is the little things that will ruin us, not the big things. They will nibble away at our sense of civility until there is nothing left.

    End of rant.

    How great is it that Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” is holding a rally on the National Mall in Washington, DC, on October 30 - a “Rally to Restore Sanity,” designed “to spread the timeless message, 'Take it down a notch for America,’ he said. ‘A million Moderate march, where we take to the streets to send a message to our leaders and our national media that says, 'We are here! We... are only here until six though, because we have a sitter.'"

    And it is equally great that Stephen Colbert will hold an “opposing rally” the same day - a “March To Keep Fear Alive,” because, he said, "Now is not the time to take it down a notch. Now is the time for all good men to freak out for freedom.”

    Great fun. Totally topical. And right on target ...because these guys are the savviest, funniest, and perhaps the sanest guys on television. I just wish I could be there, but my speaking schedule might make it difficult.

    But I’ll be there in spirit. Because I’m totally in favor of sanity.

    If there is one new show that I am looking forward to in the new television season, it is the “Hawaii 5-0.”

    I loved the old series, and while the new one looks a lot different - even if the top cop is still named Steve McGarrett - I am intrigued. The clips i’ve seen look like fun, the acting seems good, the scenery is fabulous...and then, there’s one of the best theme songs ever written, which gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

    I’ll have to record it while I watch “Castle” with my daughter, but I plan on watching at least the first few episodes to see if they’ve captured the magic.

    Book it, Danno.

    You have to love the French.


    USA Today reports that there have been enormous protests in the streets of Paris over the legislation, approved this week, that raises the retirement age from 60 to 62.

    That’s right - to 60 to 62.

    Sometimes it seems like the French aren’t just living on another continent, but in another era.

    Sometimes that’s a good thing. Like when I’m strolling along the streets of Paris with Mrs. Content Guy looking for a place to have a glass of wine.

    But sometimes....


    Thanks to Marv Imus, who emailed me a story from Field & Stream’s “Wild Chef column...

    Apparently, a Texas chef has come up with something truly unique.

    Deep-fried beer.

    Here’s how they describe it:

    “The beer is placed inside a pocket of salty, pretzel-like dough and then dunked in oil at 375 degrees for about 20 seconds, a short enough time for the confection to remain alcoholic. When diners take a bite the hot beer mixes with the dough in what is claimed to be a delicious taste sensation.”

    I’m getting hungry and thirsty just thinking about it.

    Certainly a lot hungrier than I was made by a story in the Wall Street Journal this week about people who like to eat bugs.

    “Across the country, entomophagy—the eating of insects—has gained a small audience hopeful that the inclusion of bugs in global cuisine from Southeast Asia to Mexico inspires more of a following for such dishes in the U.S,” the writes, continuing, “A recent paper put out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations cited nibbles of interest in industrialized countries: Special insect dinners in Japan often sell out, and in the Netherlands, insects marketed as ‘bugsnuggets’ and ‘buglibars’ can be found at supermarkets. In the U.K., a website called sells toffee scorpion candy, giant toasted leafcutter ants and oven-baked tarantulas.

    “There's some evidence it's spreading to a hipper crowd. Actress Salma Hayek recently talked about her penchant for ant eggs and grasshoppers on the Late Show with David Letterman.

    “The Brooklyn Kitchen, a store that holds classes and events, is hosting an $85-a-head insect tasting menu and drink pairing on Sept. 18. Its website touts Wax Moth Larvae ceviche, with a Brooklyn Lager. A smattering of Mexican restaurants across the country serve roasted grasshoppers in tacos or with guacamole. And a new yogurt shop in Park Slope, Brooklyn, has chocolate-covered crickets among its toppings.”

    Now, I’m a pretty adventurous guy. There are few foods I won’t try, and fewer that I don’t like.

    But bugs and insects? I don’t think so.

    My wine of the week: the 2006 Beringer Third Century Syrah from California’s Central Coast. Perfect with a steak, a burger...and a great way to slide gently and happily into fall, when red wines (at least in our household) become more prevalent.

    That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View: