retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Los Angeles Times report that a German company has patented a new process for what it calls “nocturnal milk” - a dairy product that comes from cows milked during the middle of the night, which it says contains more sleep-inducing melatonin than cows milked during the day. The company says it has the scientific evidence to back up its claims, but consumer watchdog groups - and the Content Guy - are skeptical.

Which prompted this funny email from MNB user Jean Forney:

Why does that sound so far fetched...doesn't chocolate milk come from brown cows? Maybe they'll find a way to bottle the special ingredient in Thanksgiving turkey that makes you fall asleep before the football game is over!

You never know.

But another MNB user thought differently:

Actually, I can believe the story about the nocturnal milk from cows having more melatonin. When I was pregnant a year ago, I read an article stating that moms should mark any of their frozen breast milk with the date and the time it was pumped because it is naturally higher in the baby-version of caffeine in the morning, changing throughout the day until it becomes more like a warm cocoa by baby's bedtime.

I also was a little ambivalent about a Bloomberg report that some economists are predicting that consumer purchases soon will start to increase in size and frequency; the feeling seems to be that despite an enduring unemployment rate of just under 10 percent, and an under-employment rate higher than that, there are at least some companies and business executives that can “smell a recovery coming.”

I commented:

Something smells, but I’m not sure it is a recovery. It’d be pretty to think so, but I think it is going to be a long, hard slog, and that it will take years for the employment and real estate markets to make a comeback.

One MNB user responded:

You are spot-on…and an interesting book that spells out the context in which you have made your supposition is “Aftershock,” by Robert B. Reich. His premise is, if the consumer cannot afford to buy our products..we begin a very dismal spiral…and the wealthy class with 30% GDP spending, and “other” (China) global consumers will not be enough to move us back to prosperity (defined as full employment and healthy consumerism). His book is a very interesting look at the middle class, and how far they have slipped in the last 40 years. By slipped, the book refers to the bifurcation of spending power between the wealthy and the middle class. It is well written and compelling…and a short read. One bottle of wine and you should be done with the book.

I’ll order it up for my Kindle. Thanks.

And MNB user Elizabeth Archerd chimed in:

I would guess that modest increases in consumer spending have more to do with the simple fact that things wear out and need replacement, no matter how strapped the household is for cash. It's been two years since the crash and the purchases that were delayed may be happening now.

That, any maybe people who have not lost jobs are finally exhaling. Fear of unemployment drives an urge to accumulate a nest egg. If they have one now and are realizing their jobs are not on the chopping block, they may be a little less worried about daily cash flow.

MNB yesterday noted that GlaxoSmithKline has agreed to pay $750 million to settle criminal and civil complaints that the company for years knowingly sold contaminated baby ointment and an ineffective antidepressant.

Which led one MNB user to write:

Since the 750 million dollar fine caused only a yawn on Wall Street with the share value dropping a whopping .35% (yes .35%) I guess that the fine amount amounts to a pittance of the income earned...

Until every penny of profit earned by negligent companies plus added damages is required, what stands in the way of top management gambling on getting away with such crappy ethics.  Oh, I guess if some CEO went to jail, that might help too.

The egg fiasco...

The organic milk fiasco...

The Countrywide Mortgage fiasco...

The list goes on...

I’m with you on this one.

It was reported yesterday that John Mills, the former CEO of Affiliated Foods Southwest, has been sentenced by a US District Court judge to 41 months in federal prison and ordered to pay $3.2 million in restitution.

MNB user Bill White wrote:

This is truly a sad case.  I worked with John Mills at Affiliated for a brief stint back in the mid-70's, when he was the controller, soon to be the CFO, and I was the Assistant Controller.  Amazingly, the Company had severe cash flow problems even back then, and were overdrawn at their bank more days than not.  The CFO at the time always tried to avoid the calls from the bank, which eventually went to John or me, but we weren't the ones they really wanted to talk to.  We discussed on numerous occasions the plight of the Company, and why the CFO wouldn't take their calls, or better yet, simply get a credit line set up to avoid the cash flow crunch times.

At the time, they had the assets available to do so, but he chose instead to avoid discussions with the bank and pay the exorbitant overdraft fees.  John Mills was one of the most humble, honest, church-going men I had ever met, and the morality question of avoiding the banks and overdrawing each day really bothered him.

That is why it is so amazing to me that he would be involved in such a check kiting scheme.  It never ceases to amaze me how the everyday pressures in business can drive some people to a life of crime.  One wonders why he didn't just file for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy instead of blatantly breaking the law, which could have potentially saved the Company and hundreds of jobs.

Even the late Jerry Davis, John's predecessor, who some would say had questionable integrity, wasn't even that stupid!  Doc Toland, who built Affiliated Foods on a shoestring, is probably turning over in his grave.  I feel the worst for John's family, all innocent victims of his poor decision-making...

Got the following email from MNB user Laura Musser, responding to our piece about ShopRite’s e-grocery operations:

I am a loyal ShopRite customer and have tried several times to shop online for my groceries.  While the interface is simple and user friendly I always 'leave' without purchasing the items in my cart.

What inevitable happens is that many of the items I want and know that my store carries are not available when I'm in the virtual store.  And since the whole purpose for me to shop online is to save time - I'm not going to stop online for 1/2 of my things only to have to go into the store and shop for the other half.  If ShopRite could get this right I'd be a very happy and very loyal ShopRite customer.

PS - Love what you do. Always sparks discussion and conversation.

Including, I’d guess, some conversation this morning at ShopRite.

Got a bunch of email about the new tube-free toilet paper about to be marketed by Kimberly-Clark. Among them...

One MNB user wrote:

This is the kind of stuff I’m always glad to see you reporting on – innovation in unexpected places.  Toilet paper is often the butt of a lot of our jokes in terms of finding it interesting from a business perspective.  But this will likely be a nitrous oxide injection to the sales engine for Kimberly-Clark.  And it meets the holy trinity of new product development these days – innovative, sustainable, and (presumably) cost-reducing.

Butt of jokes? Very funny.

Another MNB user wrote:

I agree - a great idea.

The losers of course are the millions of pet gerbils, hamsters, mice, etc that wont have the tubes to chew on any more! Wanna bet that if these go away - folks like Petco will start selling the tubes?


We took note yesterday of a New York Times report that Lost Abbey, a division of the California-based Port Brewing Company, has bowed to pressure from a special interest group offended by its portrayal of witches as being burned at the stake on the label of its Witch’s Wit pale ale. Spearheading the protests - Vicki Noble, described by the Times as “famous in the pagan and Wiccan communities for her astrology readings, shamanic healing and writings about goddess spirituality.”

And so, because I couldn’t resist, I suggested that an alternate label could show a witch standing on the steps of the US Senate?

Now, I got a lot of email on this one. Most of it, to be honest, suggested that I got the legislative body wrong - that I should have said the US House of Representatives. Some folks came right out and said, while others just implied, that the “witch” I should have been referring to was Nancy Pelosi.

Now, some of you realized that I was actually referring to the only person that I know of who a) has admitted on national television that she experimented with witchcraft when she was young, and b) is running for the US Senate.

Listen, we all have youthful indiscretions that probably would be better off not seeing the light of day. And I generally feel that people ought to be judged on the stuff they say and do as adults, not on that other stuff. I even apply that to this particular Senate candidate - she ought to be judged on what she says and does and knows.

But I also think that once you’ve admitted this stuff, you have to be willing to put up with some gentle teasing on the subject. At least one MNB user seemed to agree with me on that:

So I'm sure you'll get a lot of flack about your slanted liberal view for putting up your comment about a witch on the Senate steps, but I just had to tell you that it's the funniest thing I've read today.

Of course it'd probably be more amusing if it wasn't based partially in truth.

BTW...I also generally feel that companies should be sensitive to not hurting people’s feelings with insensitive ad campaigns, products labels, and the like.

But in this case, I think that Lost Abbey has made a mistake. Last I checked - unless someone has rewritten the history books - the burning at the stake of witches is a historical fact. And they should have made that defense, and run the risk that the witches community in the US is not so large that it could have an enormous impact on sales.

Then again, maybe management was simply afraid of being turned into toads.

Finally, I like what MNB user Lance Hollis McMillan had to say about the designated hitter rule:

A pitcher who steps on the mound and to the plate is an honest pitcher indeed. End of debate.


I cannot, however, agree with this sacrilegious statement from MNB user Bill Jensen:

Kevin, don't worry about your comment about the Giants. It was baseball, and not really a major sport anymore. In fact, if you need more sleep, just watch...some baseball!

No way.

I’ll repeat the line from the late, great Robert B. Parker:

“Baseball is the most important thing that doesn’t matter.”
KC's View: