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    Published on: October 15, 2010

    If you are looking for a perfect example of how a corporate message can both fail and annoy at the same time, you need go no further than the first minutes of a flight on United Airlines these days. As a frequent flier I know that every flight begins with the safety announcements and I rarely pay attention. (Honestly, does anyone really need to learn how to put on a seat belt?) I only watch the demonstration if a flight attendant somehow makes it special, which actually happens a few times every year.

    I was compelled to watch one day this week after the attendant gave such a special sense of urgency. Strangely enough the safety video began with an announcement by United Airline’s CEO. At first, I got excited thinking it was enormously cool that the CEO was delivering the safety message. What a great example of bringing personality to a somewhat faceless company with a CEO most of us couldn’t pick out of a line-up.

    Only the CEO didn’t deliver the safety message. Instead he talked about United’s merger with Continental. That might be an important business issue, but it hardly belongs at the start of the safety video. I assume the safety video is actually important, especially for occasional fliers. So wasting even 10 seconds on a corporate message is simply wrong because I’m certain it caused more than a few people to lose focus. In many ways this ad abused our time and that’s a lesson none of us should forget. It would be like running a corporate ad in the midst of food safety information, when the ad has nothing to do with food safety.

    I doubt I would have felt the same annoyance if the CEO’s message ran at the end, although in truth it shouldn’t be running at all. Messages need to convey something the customer should want to know or need to know. This merger announcement really had nothing to tell us and there’s nothing I need or want to know about an airline merger while sitting in a cramped economy seat. At that point just fly the plane safely and get me and my bags to the same city.

    Truth be told, though, I have no idea what the CEO said in the entire message. The more he spoke, the sleepier I felt and in no time he became my eye closer.

    Strangely enough, that’s my Friday Eye-Opener.

    - Michael Sansolo
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    Reuters reports that Canadian regulators have declared bisphenol A (BPA), a compound found in many food containers, to be a toxic chemical potentially harmful to health and the environment.

    Canada is the first nation to make such a decision.

    According to the story, this move makes it easier for the government “to regulate the use of the chemical, perhaps by limiting how much BPA can be released into air or water or perhaps with outright bans on its use in specific food containers.”

    Reuters writes, “BPA is mass produced and has been used for decades to harden plastics. It is widely used to line food and beverage containers, and a recent government report said it was present in the bodies of 91 percent of Canadians ... The primary health concerns center on BPA's potential effects as an endocrine disrupter, which can mimic or interfere with the body's natural hormones and potentially damage development, especially of young children.”

    There has been much debate about the impact of BPA, with health activist groups calling for banning the chemical, and business groups such as the American Chemistry Council (AAC) saying that BPA poses no danger to consumers. It hasn’t strictly broken down this way, however - Walmart said it has stopped selling containers with BPA, and it is restricted from being used in children’s products by five U.S. states, three counties in New York and the city of Chicago.

    Currently, US regulators say they are reconsidering the issue in the face of all the publicity.
    KC's View:
    One MNB user put this very well:

    “This what happens to harmful chemicals in countries that put their citizens first.


    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Companies using BPA better find an alternative, because this stuff is going to be banned sooner rather than later.

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    As Walmart unveils plans to open dozens of smaller stores in urban markets - largely focused on the grocery category - that it thus far has found difficult to penetrate, two stories are out this morning that illustrate a) changes it is making to heighten its appeal, and b) resistance it continues to meet in some circles:

    • The New York Times< reports this morning that Walmart has announced a new initiative “that focuses on sustainable agriculture among its suppliers as it tries to reduce its overall environmental impact.

    “The program is intended to put more locally grown food in Wal-Mart stores in the United States, invest in training and infrastructure for small and medium-size farmers, particularly in emerging markets, and begin to measure how efficiently large suppliers grow and get their produce into stores.

    “Advocates of environmentally sustainable farming said the announcement was significant because of Wal-Mart’s size and because it would give small farmers a chance at Wal-Mart’s business, but they questioned how ‘local’ a $405 billion company with two million employees — more than the populations of Alaska, Wyoming and Vermont combined — could be.”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart remains “the archenemy of labor unions and urban foes, who believe that if they can make Wal-Mart change its practices, smaller retailers will more readily follow suit.”

    It is a perception that Walmart continues to battle. “Hoping to improve its reputation, Wal-Mart in recent years has boosted employee health benefits, launched programs to reduce its environmental impacts, and paid hundreds of millions to settle lawsuits alleging that its workers were denied lunch and bathroom breaks ... Wal-Mart executives maintain they are making headway against what they regard as outdated and inaccurate perceptions by arguing that the company can generate new construction and retail jobs at a time when cities desperately need the economic boost.”

    The irony, according to the Journal, is that these same anti-Walmart activists tend to be willing to roll out the red carpet for Target, which has labor practices not that different from the world’s biggest retailer.

    Here are the conclusions that the Journal comes to:

    “By most objective standards, Wal-Mart's compensation is quite similar to its publicly traded retail competitors, and sometimes better. It now offers a more generous health care plan than the retail average; nearly 80% of Wal-Mart's U.S. workers are eligible for health coverage, compared to just 58% for the retail sector as a whole according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    “Until recently, Target's heath benefits were in some ways worse. It made part-timers wait two years before being eligible for coverage, compared to six months for Wal-Mart. Target now makes part timers eligible after three months. Target declines to disclose its pay, but workers in Chicago said wages for entry level jobs, such as cashiers and inventory stockers, start at the state's minimum of $8.25 an hour. That is lower than the $8.75 hourly wage that Wal-Mart has pledged to pay to start in the city, according to local politicians.”
    KC's View:
    The first story reflects how seriously Walmart wants to be taken in the food business; the second simply shows how hard it is for a zebra to change its stripes. No surprise in either story, but they are worth paying attention to if you compete with Walmart (and let’s face it, if you sell stuff, you;re competing with Walmart).

    If they open a small urban store or a Neighborhood Market near you, it appears that they will not just be focusing on price...and the value proposition they make will be extensive. And, as we all can see through the big ad campaign Walmart currently is running that highlights its employees, it wants to play hardball in combatting common perceptions.

    You may not want to hear it, but you need to know it.

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    A new fund has been created called 1000 Friends of Cooperation, designed to support the work of Cooperative Development Services (CDS), a non-profit organization that provides services to start-up and expanding cooperatives of all sorts in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin. This fund will provide a better base for financial stability and enable CDS to make longer term plans than is now possible.
    KC's View:
    Some of the best stores in this country, in my view, are cooperatives. Maybe not always the most modern, but almost always with great energy and relevance, as befits a concept that has users as actual stakeholders.

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    A couple of interesting stories this week connected personal lifestyle choices and their implications in terms of physical and mental health:

    Reuters Health reports on a new study out of McGill University Health Center in Montreal that suggests eating lots of fish is one way for men to reduce the risk of dying from prostate cancer, even though it may not prevent them from contracting the disease. The study found that “men who ate more fish were 44 percent less likely to develop metastatic prostate cancer, meaning disease that had spread beyond the prostate gland. Higher fish consumption also was associated with a 63 percent lower risk of dying from prostate cancer,” Reuters writes.

    “In the United States, one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer over their lifetime,” says Dr. Konrad M. Szymanski, one of the study's authors. “One in six of these men will die of prostate cancer. Our study findings suggest that the number of men who die once diagnosed is lowered by more than 50 percent among men eating lots of fish.”

    It has been previously reported that fish consumption helps to reduce the likelihood of stroke and heart attack, but the impact on prostate cancer is seen as new and even a little controversial.

    • The New York Times reported this week on a new study - conducted, intriguingly enough, by two economists - suggesting that “the earlier people retire, the more quickly their memories decline.

    “The implication, the economists and others say, is that there really seems to be something to the ‘use it or lose it’ notion — if people want to preserve their memories and reasoning abilities, they may have to keep active ... Researchers repeatedly find that retired people as a group tend to do less well on cognitive tests than people who are still working. But, they note, that could be because people whose memories and thinking skills are declining may be more likely to retire than people whose cognitive skills remain sharp.”
    KC's View:
    I’m perfectly happy to eat as much fish as I can get into my body. As for the retirement question, I’ve always felt that my dad, who spent his entire career as an elementary school teacher and administrator, only began to age when he retired.

    My dad was actually the first male elementary school teacher in the Larchmont/Mamaroneck school system back in the early fifties. And as a principal, he used to spend lunch hours on the playground with the kids, shooting baskets and playing ball, while the teachers were in having lunch. Not only did this keep him vital, but it kept his fouls hot skills pretty was rare that I could beat him in 21. (Which may say as much about my skills as his...)

    That’s a pretty good metaphor. You only stay sharp if you keep shooting.

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    • The New York Times reports that “European Union regulators are getting ready to propose rules on cloned livestock that would be stronger than those in the United States with regard to actual clones, but would seek to avoid trade tensions by allowing imports of food produced from their offspring as well as imports of semen and embryos from clones for breeding.

    “The European Commission’s report, expected Tuesday, would recommend a ban on the cloning of farm animals in Europe for five years, as well as the imports of live clones ... The rules, which would replace the present patchwork of legislation and guidelines in the Union, are designed to address growing unease in Europe about cloning and food after a handful of breeders in Switzerland, Britain and possibly other countries imported semen and embryos from clones or their progeny from the United States, seeking to breed more productive livestock.”

    • The Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal reports that CVS has agreed to pay a $77.6 million fine for the “unlawful sales of pseudoephedrine, an ingredient found in over-the-counter cold and cough medicines which is also used in the manufacture of methamphetamine ... Investigators said that in 2007 and 2008 some CVS/pharmacy stores in California and Nevada sold the drug illegally because of "flawed implementation of an electronic monitoring system to record individual PSE sales."

    • ShopRite Supermarkets has signed a lease for a new 67,000-square-foot supermarket on Forty Foot Road at Hatfield Pointe in New Jersey. According to the announcement, the new store “will include the latest energy-saving and sustainable technologies in refrigeration and lighting, including glass doors on the dairy and freezer cases, LED and T-8 lighting and environmentally-friendly refrigerant systems.”

    The owner operator is KTM Supermarkets, which also operates the ShopRite of West Chester in West Chester, PA.

    • PriceRite, the Wakefern-developed discount format, will open a new store in Revere, Massachusetts, this Sunday - the third location in the greater Boston area to offer warehouse club pricing without membership fees or bulk purchasing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that two rare bottles of 64-year-old blended Scotch whisky have sold for a record price of 100,000 pounds ($160,500) each. A third bottle of the rare Trinitas whiskey is slated to be auctioned off at a whiskey show in London at the end of the month.

    According to the story, the bottles were sold to “an unidentified luxury whisky lover in the U.S. and a renowned whisky investor in the U.K.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    In the past, while I’ve been traveling around the country, I’ve found the time to meet with local MNB readers for a glass of wine and some casual conversation. It is always great to put faces with the names of people who shoot me emails from time to time.

    Next week will present just such an opportunity. I’ve got a quick stop in Seattle next week, and plan to be at Etta’s - where else? - on Thursday night, October 21, from 6 to 7 pm. If you’re in the neighborhood - 2020 Western Avenue, across the street from the Pike Place Market - I hope you’ll stop by.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 15, 2010

    While his creator, the great Robert B. Parker, passed away in January after a prodigious career that produced more than 60 novels, dying at his desk while working on yet another manuscript, there is a new Spenser novel out. “Painted Ladies” starts in the promising way that almost all Spenser stories to begin...a client walks into the iconic Boston private eye’s office and offers him a job. Without fail, Spenser greets the client with irony, curiosity and good humor...and then, as they used to say in the Sherlock Holmes novels, the game is afoot.

    “Painted Ladies” actually throws the reader a curve pretty early - the client is less important as a character than as motivation for Spenser for the rest of the book, during which he deals with assassins and extremists, tries to make sense of the implications of history, and connects with or mentions some favorite characters from past novels. Sadly, Hawk gets only a brief nod and never shows up in “Painted Ladies,” but Spenser is in good form, Susan Silverman is there in precisely the right amounts, and the novel is yet another comforting visit with a novelist and characters that so many of us have grown to love.

    (For me, sitting and reading a Parker novel has always evoked memories of the afternoon I spent with him in Boston many years ago, interviewing him for a newspaper piece. One of the best gigs I’ve ever had ... sitting with him in what was then the Ritz Carlton, drinking beer and talking about writing. I still have the audio tape of that of these days I have to figure out how to digitize it.)

    There has been some hang-wringing on the internet and by critics about the fact that this is the last Spenser novel, but nothing could be further from the truth. Parker was prolific and wrote faster than his publisher could bring out books, and so there is another Spenser novel, titled “Sixkill,” scheduled for next spring, and an untitled holiday novel tentatively slated to come out for the 2012 holidays.

    Plus on a Boston radio show this week, Joan Hall Parker, the novelist’s widow, said that there is at least one more novel completed in the Jesse Stone series, and the likelihood of both a book of poetry and a cookbook, both of which were completed before his death. (Spenser’s cooking always has been an integral part of the books.) And, she said, the search is already on for writers who can continue the Spenser and Jesse Stone series, and perhaps even the western books about Virgil Cole and Everett Hitch. (Plus, there apparently continue to be negotiations for a new Spenser TV series, and there are more Tom Selleck/Jesse Stone television movies on the way.)

    And so, while reading “Painted Ladies” does bring feelings of both nostalgia and a bit of melancholy, as I said, Spenser lives.

    As does, for posterity, Robert B. Parker.

    I had a very nice red wine the other night - the 2009 Les Enfants Terribles Zinfandel from Dashe Cellars - it is just a little bit spicy, and perfect with a nice thick burger.

    That’s it for this week’s OffBeat - just Parker, Spenser and a good red wine.

    Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you Monday.

    KC's View:

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KC's View: