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    Published on: December 9, 2010

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    So, I was reading a piece on a natural foods website the other day in which the writer took to task, of all things, “Sesame Street.” It seems that he was offended by the fact that the long-running and influential TV series has introduced four new Muppet characters called “the Superfoods.”

    The goal of these new characters is to teach little kids about nutrition, but the writer was offended by the fact that three of the four characters aren’t what are generally identified as “superfoods” among those people who are “in the know.”

    The four “Sesame Street” superfoods are a banana, a block of cheese, a whole wheat hamburger bun, and a stalk of broccoli. Only broccoli qualifies as a superfood.

    But wait a minute. This isn’t ignorance. At least, not completely. There also seems to be a conspiracy at work here.

    The writer notes that “not coincidentally, this muppet selection looks a lot like the USDA's food pyramid which has nothing to do with promoting health and everything to do with promoting the financial interests of the meat, dairy and grain producers. But hey, at least ‘Sesame Street’ didn't feature any processed meat in their superfood muppets. Not yet anyway.”

    In fact, pharmaceutical giant Merck is underwriting the project, and the CEO of Merck was scheduled to be at the press conference announcing the initiative. The writer goes on: “We have the CEO of one of the largest drug companies in the world telling a non-profit children's education show how to teach nutrition to kids... What's wrong with this picture?”

    He continues: “It really makes me question the Sesame Street agenda. Are they trying to teach children, or are they working more to manipulate them to become future customers of the sick-care giants like drug companies and health insurance companies?

    Now, I’m sure this fellow is well-intentioned, and he certainly is within his rights to question both the motivations and implementations taking place on “Sesame Street.” Everybody is; heaven knows I’ve gotten on my high horse about less important subjects than children’s nutritional education.

    But...can I also suggest that we calm down a little bit?

    I would agree that the folks at “Sesame Street” probably should have found a different moniker for the characters that “super foods.” The phrase is just too specific, and was bound to create some controversy in certain communities. But the choice of the word may have been entirely innocent - they were referring to these foods in a casual, informal, lower case way....not using the formal phrase.

    While I know that the purist definition of “Super Foods” does not include bananas, cheese, and a whole wheat hamburger bun, there are lot of people out there would be thrilled if their kids ate a rounded diet that included fruits and vegetables dairy, and whole grains. It may not be optimal, but if “Sesame Street” can get little people to eat broccoli, they can call it whatever they want. And don’t forget, to some extent “Sesame Street” is aimed at kids who may not have parents who have much money, and who may little if any understanding of nutrition. Sometimes, you have to take baby steps.

    Maybe I’m naive, but while I am skeptical of most people and things, I tend to be a little less so of the folks at the Children’s Television Workshop. It is dogmatic attacks like the one issued by the health magazine writer that, I think, are counter-productive. They cast everything as black and white, and leave no room for the possibility that a) “Sesame Street” knows more about the limits and opportunities when educating kids than most other people, and b) its intentions are honorable rather than crass and craven.

    I’m not saying they couldn’t have done a better job on this one. But I don’t think the folks at “Sesame Street” are evil, nor do I think that the next logical step, as suggested by the health foods writer, will be to have Bert and Ernie waxing rhapsodic about the benefits of genetically engineered food.

    One can only imagine what conspiracy theories will fly if some morning the show is brought to us by the letters G, M, and O.

    For MNB Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    by Michael Sansolo

    No matter what Congress does about pending food safety legislation the more important question always is the same: what do consumer think? According to some recent studies published in the New York Times the answer is: react and then forget…provided industry shows clear signs of action.

    The Times ran some data tracking sales of products impacted by a well-publicized recall and found that shoppers return to normal buying and eating habits rather quickly, especially if the product is a staple in their kitchens. According to the research by the Food Policy Institute, it took only a few weeks for shoppers to return to normal buying patterns for peanut butter or eggs after their recalls. Spinach, which is not as widely consumed, didn’t return to normal patterns for more than a year.

    Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics has a great background for understanding these patterns. Roerink ran research for the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) during one period of heavy product recalls and prior to that worked with the travel industry during and after the 9/11 attacks. The consumer response to the deadly terrorist attacks gave her insights on why confidence manages to rebound. “Right after the 9/11 attacks, confidence plummeted to an all time low. But with very visible measures in place and clear steps taken on behalf of the airlines and government, confidence in the safety of flying rebounded almost completely within three months.,” she said.

    The bottom line: they will forgive and forget provided they need the product. But it’s also important for the industry to show it takes the problem seriously and is doing what it can to protect the public. That’s no small step, but it is essential.

    And that’s our Tuesday Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    Reuters reports on the continuing travails faced by the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P), noting that the company that once had 16,000 stores but now is down to fewer than 400 needs to further trim its operations and “sell assets to pay down debt and survive tough competition.”

    Analysts quoted in the story seem to feel that bankruptcy may be inevitable, that the company’s recent store-closing and cost-reduction efforts simply aren’t enough to allow the company to be competitive.
    KC's View:
    Furthermore, beyond the numbers issues, there is the additional problem that A&P is a company without a differential advantage, a company that seems to lurch from tactical move to tactical move without a broader strategy and vision for the kind of company it needs to be in the future.

    Here’s the problem. A&P is a 20th century company, competing largely with 21st century retailers. It isn’t too early to start thinking about how it is going to be a 22nd century retailer, and start moving in that direction. I’m all in favor of taking baby steps towards viability and even profitability, but they also have to start thinking about the quantum leap that will give them a sustainable advantage long-term, allowing them to surprise & delight (S&D) the shopper.

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    Daymon Worldwide announced the appointment of consumer packaged goods veteran Carla Cooper as the company’s president/CEO, effective January 1, 2011.

    Cooper brings to the role almost 20 years in senior management positions at some of America’s best-known companies, including: Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter and Gamble and The Kellogg Company. Most recently, she served as senior vice president of the Quaker, Tropicana and Gatorade Sales organization. Prior to that, she was President and GM of The Natural and Frozen Foods Division at Kellogg’s.

    Alan Noddle, the Daymon board member who has been serving as the interim president since the resignation of Alex Miller last May, will step down and return to his position on the board of directors. Daymon founder Milton Sender remains as chairman of the private brand company.

    “The best practices Carla developed during her time in the consumer branding world will help fuel the growth of Daymon Worldwide as the company looks to expand its footprint and customer base,” said Sender in a prepared statement. “She is a proven leader and general manager who has a keen appreciation for the value of relationships—with clients and internal stakeholders. Having worked side-by-side with Carla on Daymon’s board of directors, I am confident she is the right person to lead Daymon Worldwide into its next phase of growth.”

    Daymon defines itself as “an employee-owned company specializing in developing private brand products and programs with approximately 100 large retailers around the world on behalf of the over 4,000 producers and manufacturers it represents. Though primarily working with supermarkets, Daymon also works in nine additional channels of trade. Anderson Daymon, a sister company, represents national and regional brands, as well as developing private brand programs.

    “Daymon Interactions is the largest demonstration, consumer marketing, and mystery shopping company in the world operating in North America, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Australia, and Mexico. Daymon Worldwide Design develops labels and packaging, as well as, in store merchandising, signage and displays for many of Daymon’s retail customers and manufacturers.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    The Organic Trade Association (OTA) is out with a new study saying that “in spite of the sluggish economic recovery, U.S. families continue to buy more organic products than ever before and from a wider variety of categories.” The study, called “U.S. Families’ Organic Attitudes & Beliefs 2010,” says that “41 percent of parents report they are buying more organic foods today than a year ago, up significantly from 31 percent reporting organic purchases in 2009.”

    The study also reports that “parents buy organic because they see organic products are generally healthier, address their concern about the effects of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics on children, or provide a means to avoid highly processed foods and/or artificial ingredients. Although perceived price disparity between conventional and organic products remains a barrier to purchase for some families, the study revealed significant opportunities for marketers of organic products to educate consumers on the value of these products, and of the significant differences between organic, conventional and unregulated ‘natural’ products.

    “Demographically, consumers’ education level appears to be more significant than income level in predicting organic purchase behaviors.”
    KC's View:
    The real surprise would have been if an OTA study said that people were buying fewer organics. The OTA study reinforces its mission ... not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    The Private Label Manufacturers Association (PLMA) is out with a new study saying that a switch to private brands can save consumers as much as one-third of their typical weekly spend on groceries. The study tracked pricing for 40 items that were defined as “typical” purchases for the average consumer.
    KC's View:
    The real surprise would have been if a PLMA study said that private brands cost people more money. The PLMA study reinforces its mission ... not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    Wine Spectator reports that a new study by French researchers has found that the “hearts of those who regularly consume wine and omega-3 fatty acids have 20 percent more heart tissue, indicating a cardiovascular system that regenerates with regularity.”

    According to the story, the study found “lower rates of heart disease among those who ate fish and drank wine regularly. ‘Interactions between wine consumption and the metabolism of [omega-3] polyunsaturated fatty acids might substantially contribute to the cardioprotective effect of regular and moderate wine drinking,’ the text read.

    “The optimal amount of wine, they report, is around two to four glasses per day paired with fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, particularly cold water fish with oily, fatty flesh, such as anchovies, herring and mackerel. They add that the choice of wine should not greatly impact the heart benefits, but that beer and spirits drinkers are unlikely to see similar benefits.”
    KC's View:
    Now, this is my kind of study. Let’s grill the fish and pass the Albarino...

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    KDKA-TV News reports that Walmart has applied for and received preliminary approval to install wine vending kiosks in several Pittsburgh-area stores.

    According to the story, “The machines require customers to swipe their driver’s license and even give a breathalyzer test before they can choose between more than 50 varieties of wine.”
    KC's View:
    For some reason, this story actually has generated some national attention ... I’m guessing because it is Walmart involved. (Several other chains have been testing the wine kiosks, apparently with less controversy.)

    I’m not sure this idea is any better or worse for being at Walmart.

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that Japanese prosecutors indicted the husband of a former board member of Walmart-owned Seiyu on suspicion of insider trading violations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    Bloomberg reports that 7-Eleven will buy 183 Florida properties from Exxon Mobil Corp. “as it accelerates North American acquisitions.

    “The cash transaction comprises 169 stores in markets including Orlando and Palm Beach, five parcels of land and contracts to supply gasoline to nine service stations owned by dealers ... The companies declined to disclose the purchase price.”

    • Supervalu announced that it has entered into a stock purchase agreement for the sale of Total Logistic Control (TLC), a wholly owned subsidiary that provides logistics and supply chain management solutions to manage distribution, warehousing and transportation operations for leading food, beverage and consumer packaged goods companies. Subject to closing conditions and regulatory approvals,TLC will be purchased by Ryder Integrated Logistics, Inc., the supply chain solutions division of Ryder System, Inc.

    Exact terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    • Fred Meyer and QFC stores, both divisions of The Kroger Co., announced that “they have been informed that associates have ratified a new labor agreement with United Food & Commercial Workers Union Locals 21, 81 and 367 and Teamsters Local 38 in Seattle.

    “More than 7,800 Fred Meyer and 4,800 QFC associates are covered by the contracts, which include cashiers, as well as meat, grocery and general merchandise associates.  The contracts cover associates in King, Snohomish, Pierce, Mason, Thurston and Kitsap counties.  Fred Meyer and QFC negotiated the contracts as part of a multi-employer group which also included representatives of Safeway and Albertsons.”

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that a Modesto, California farmer has sued the state and the Humane Society of the United States, saying that he is trying to find out “exactly how much space is a chicken legally entitled to have in a California henhouse.”

    The suit is a response to “an anti-cruelty measure that was approved by state voters in 2008 ... (that) banned small, confining crates or cages for veal calves, egg-laying hens and pregnant sows. The Humane Society campaigned heavily for the act - and its passage created a ripple effect, putting pressure on other states to enact similar reforms.”

    The plaintiffs say they are not challenging the legality of the law, but rather just looking for a legal clarification so that appropriate changes can be made. California farmers have until 2015 to bring their facilities up to standards.
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    Yesterday, in a brief “RIP” piece about the death of Elizabeth Edwards, I wrote that she had “endured public tragedy, dealing both with the death of a teenaged son in a car accident and the humiliation of being cuckolded by a husband proven to be both unfaithful and a congenital liar.”

    It was pointed out to me by a number of MNB readers that I misused the word “cuckold” - that when a woman cheats on her husband, she is cuckolding him, but that you can’t use the same word when a husband cheats on his wife.

    I apologize for the incorrect usage, and delight in the fact that MNB has the kind of literate readers who a) notice these sorts of mistakes, and b) care enough to point them out.

    It also was instructive that nobody objected to my use of the phrase “congenital liar.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: December 9, 2010

    So, we got into a bit of a debate here yesterday over the the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, described as “a bill that provides an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to federal child nutrition programs including school lunch.”

    I maintain that the bill isn’t saying what you feed your kids. It is, however, saying that schools need to serve lunches and snacks that need to meet certain nutritional standards. That doesn’t strike me as nannyism. I think it is making a proper investment in our children.

    However, one MNB user yesterday said that this is just another attempt by “intellectual pointy head liberals” to institute big government control over just about everything that everybody does; another MNB user wrote, “I am thankful I live in a small town in a small state that I can still bring treats to class for my child’s birthday. I brought Ice Cream cupcakes the other day. I guess I should be arrested by the Obama patrol for making kids fat. Where is it going to end??????”

    Lots of response to these emails...

    MNB user Ernie Monschein wrote:

    Kevin, I know I shouldn’t be shocked in a time when cynicism and name calling are an everyday occurrence, but your readers’ comments are not only shocking in their blatant incivility, but perplexing as well.  Part of it may be they are not paying attention and “reading the bill” and part may be just distaste for anything coming out of the Obama Administration or the federal government.  Anyway, the Healthy, Hunger- Free Kids is one of the better pieces of legislation to come out our deadlocked Congress this year.  It takes the lead and sets an example to tackle the nagging problems of childhood hunger and obesity plaguing so many children in America today.  It lends a hand to countless struggling families that don’t have the financial means or the nutritional knowledge to go it alone during a time of great economic hardship.  This is a worthwhile role of government – partnering with families and business to give our next generation a chance to make something of themselves and become solid contributors to society.  We should be embracing this legislation and working to improve its flaws rather than rejecting it out of hand as some sort of liberal conspiracy.

    I have no doubt of the ability of your readers to make the right nutritional decisions for their children. They are well educated, have the financial wherewithal and have the best interests of their children at heart.  But the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is not about your readers. It’s about the needs of the millions of Americans that lack these benefits, are trying hard, but need some help to get through the most horrible economic conditions since the Great Depression. They are our customers, fellow citizens and our neighbors – they shop in our stores.  Maybe we need to view government as our partner, not our enemy and spend more time and effort talking to each other and solving problems in a rational and civil manner.


    Another MNB user wrote:

    I have to agree with your position on having healthier choices in schools and I’m not sure why all parents don’t feel the same way.  Kids generally want to eat the more indulgent snacks but they will also eat the healthier ones if those are the choices they have.  And in a world with a McDonalds on every corner (and if it’s not McDonalds…it’s something else), why don’t we want our children to eat healthier while at school?  No one is saying they can’t eat this food at all, they are just saying they while they are at school, perhaps they shouldn’t eat only junk.  And, while I also get sad that I cannot bring homemade cookies into my daughter’s school (per the comment by one reader that she can bring in ice cream cupcakes to school), I also really sympathize with the parents of children with extreme peanut allergies and would never want to do anything to jeopardize their child’s health.  It is really silly when those are the things we are fighting over in legislation.  There are so many other things to really fight over (debt, taxes, WARS, weapons) but we’re choosing to battle over making our kids healthier.  Seems like something that shouldn’t be a fight.

    MNB user Elizabeth Archerd wrote:

    I don't get the objections to the school food funding and higher food standards.

    Don't the objectors know that the military is starting to regard our youth obesity problem as a national security issue? It's the other side of the reason the school lunch and breakfast programs were started to begin with in the first half of the 20th Century. Back then, too many young men were unable to serve due to childhood malnutrition.

    I'd think that taxpayers would want our money to be spent on food that is good for the children. Nutrition and deliciousness are not incompatible, BTW.

    The kids can spend their allowances or earnings on whatever junk they like and no one is going to stop that or thinks they can. But why should taxpayers spend their money on that stuff?


    And, from MNB user Mark Raddant:

    Let’s see: non-regulation of food, result: epidemic of obesity and diabetes.  Non-regulation of the financial industry, result: epidemic foreclosures, recession, epidemic of financial gain for top tier financiers.  Trend, perhaps?

    What some of your readers aren’t thinking about is that there is a well financed army in the food business which is doing scientific study of means to make the food consumption process as addictive as possible.  They research exactly what additives and combinations of additives stimulate the production of l-dopamine and other biological stimulants in our bodies to make the food product as consumption stimulating and addictive as possible.  There are millions of dollars being fed into this type of research at universities and independent laboratories across the country.  Who can the consumer count on to regulate this industry?  Trust me, Mom and Dad do not know what all the additives on the packages really are or what they are in the box for.  The government isn’t somebody else, it is US, trying to control a market that is not responsible for anything but making a profit.  We are the market, we are the government, and we are the good folks in the middle also.

    Thanks for the always stimulating ideas!


    MNB user Gary Harris wrote:

    Gotta love it when the comments come in ALL CAPS with a string of exclamation points and question marks following close behind. Thankfully my fellow MNB readers have avoided the knee-jerk, liberal/conservative name-calling/bashing and have demonstrated a coherent, thoughtful, measured response to a complex issue.

    KNOW WHAT I MEAN YOU BLEEDING-HEART, POINTY-HEADED, INTELLECTUAL, RIGHT-WINGNUT, BIG-BUSINESS LOVING CAPITALIST PIG!!!!!!!!!!!! (depending on who you listen to…)


    Another MNB user chimed in:

    Well, call me what ever name you want but I am in agreement with you Kevin and don’t see this the same way as the two users who wrote in.

    It amazes me how angry people can get over something as fundamental as feeding hungry children. I view this bill as an important update of these programs that have been around for 30 years, not a threat to my rights. Wow, and all the name calling is that a form of bullying? If we try and stop bullying in schools are these people going to fight for the right to bully? As I read their comments I am left to wonder if they even read the article and were able to comprehend the content or were they wearing their Palin goggles when they did. I mean seriously, “no more church bake sales and farmer markets”? “I brought Ice Cream cupcakes the other day. I guess I should be arrested by the Obama Patrol for making kids fat” Please people don’t worry you can still have all of these things, including bringing in cupcakes so your child’s classmates will like them. Were these people even aware that there were kids sitting next to them in school that didn’t have lunch? If they were aware of them did they simply look down upon them or just pretend they didn’t exist?

    This bill is about:

    1. Feeding more children that are not even eating lunch
    2. Improving the nutritional value of the school lunch program.
     
    I really wish we could “reserve” paranoia for things like weapons of mass destruction that don’t exist and lead to war rather then OMG, feeding hungry children and healthier food for children. After all, these children are going to have to be strong, healthy and live a long life to pay for our wars.


    Now, to be fair, the fellow who asked not to be identified by name but wrote about bringing in ice cream cupcakes, had a follow up:

    My wife called and said the school sent out a newsletter that said if your going to bring treats to school for your child’s birthday please make sure they are healthy!!!!!

    I guess the Obama police found me in little Walpole, NH population 2213.


    Well, as the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

    That newsletter cannot be a result of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, because the law hasn’t been implemented yet!

    It may be that the powers that be in your town looked around and saw a growing obesity issue, and figured that they needed to be more careful about what was served in school.

    Let’s be clear. Nobody is telling you what you can feed your kids. They are just saying that as a matter of public policy, public institutions are going to be held to a higher nutritional standard.

    I’m a taxpayer. I have no problem with this. As I said before, this strikes me as a good investment in having healthy, educated, open-minded children.

    And, for the record...I personally have no problem with ice cream cupcakes being brought into school to celebrate birthdays and other occasions. I believe in indulging oneself from time to time, and that learning to be responsibly self-indulgent is an important step in one’s personal development.

    I think that it is a shame that schools are having to be more strict about this stuff. But it is a reaction to growing waistlines, and so I sort of understand it ... and hope we get to the point where we are so healthy as a population that we don’t have to worry about such things as much.
    KC's View: