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    Published on: April 1, 2011

    APRIL 1, 2011 - A series of breaking news stories are occurring this morning, just as they often do on this day every year...

    • Sources tell MNB that senior executives at Supervalu are planning a two-pronged strategy that will get the company out of its financial and competitive ennui - with the first step being a spin-off of the company’s wholesale business, with a major private equity firm taking a majority position in the company.

    At the same time, it is believed that Supervalu could take the retailing side of the business into bankruptcy protection as a way of eliminating debt and trying to end labor agreements that are preventing it from selling retail assets that could generate additional cash.

    “And here’s the kicker,” one insider source tells MNB. “When we sell off the wholesale business, the top execs will be able to get bonuses based on the same price. And then when we take the retail side into bankruptcy, they’ll be able to get retention bonuses that will be paid in order to get them to say to get the company onto the right path.

    “It’s what we call a win-win.”

    • In an effort to bolster its retailing credibility and develop board-level bench strength, the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. (A&P) announced the election of two new board members - Larry Johnston, the former CEO of Albertsons, and Robert Nardelli, the former CEO of Home Depot.

    Both men are former GE executives. An A&P source said that Johnston and Nardelli are expected to bring significant Six Sigma expertise to the board. In addition, based on their GE experience, it is anticipated that they will be able to bring a degree of income tax prowess to the board meetings.

    • Big Y announced that it will institute a new parking lot policy in which it will offer preferential treatment to consumers willing to pay for it at its stores. The closer you park to the store, the more expensive the space - $3 for front line spaces, $2 for those between 25 and 75 feet away, and $1 for those between 75 and 100 feet away. Spaces further than 100 feet away will be free, as will spaces for handicapped customers.

    “Times are tough,” one insider told MNB. “We need to generate revenue wherever we can. And since we know a lot of people are paying to check their luggage and for more legroom, and now we’re even asking people to pay to get better discounts, we figured this was the next frontier.”

    • Hog farmers farmers are elated but lawyers representing the nation’s pig population reportedly are expressing concern over two new developments in the bacon biz.

    Denny’s has announced a new bacon menu, tied to its “Baconalia!” celebration - and key to the promotion is a Maple Bacon Sundae, described as “a classic ice cream sundae piled high with maple-flavored syrup and a generous sprinkling of hickory-smoked bacon.” Denny’s also is offering items ranging from Bacon Meatloaf to the Triple Bacon Sampler, “featuring two tasty strips of hickory-smoked bacon, new pepper bacon and turkey bacon, all served with two eggs and hash browns, complete with more diced hickory-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese.” No word on whether these items are being handed out with a Lipitor chaser...

    Meanwhile, the folks at J&D Foods have created something called Bacon Air, described as bacon-flavored air, with no calories, carbs, fat, sodium or cholesterol. The company says that it was inspired by a French company called, improbably enough LeWhif, which makes various air products flavored with coffee, chocolate and vitamins, and preaches the advantages of “breathing food.”
    KC's View:
    Okay, take a look at the dateline - April 1, 2011.

    Get the joke?

    Except of these four stories, one of them actually is true.

    Can you guess which one?

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    This happened earlier this week, but to be honest, I didn’t pay enough attention to it ... until people a lot smarter than me pointed out that it was a highly significant developments in the e-commerce arena.

    The Wall Street Journal reports that “eBay is acquiring GSI Commerce, a provider of e-commerce and interactive marketing services, for $2.4 billion, as eBay looks to bulk up its online marketplace and payments service.”

    GSI, the story notes, “assists more than 180 top brands and retailers with their websites, including Aéropostale, Timberland, Mattel, Zales and Major League Baseball. With the deal, eBay gets an order-management, fulfillment and shipping business that competes directly with Amazon's own fulfillment offering for merchants.” Inevitably, analysts say, eBay will be looking to grow this business by doing deals with other retailers and manufacturers looking to establish or amplify their web presence and create a more direct link to shoppers.

    Experts say that this acquisition means that eBay is about to get a lot more aggressive in the e-commerce business, and that this move coincides with a desire by Google to ramp up its commerce capabilities.

    Intensified rivalries with Amazon.com will almost certainly have a trickle-down effect on other retailers, including those in brick-and-mortar venues; the pie is only so big, and there are going to be some enormous, powerful entities looking for their piece of it.

    And here’s the thing that people a lot smarter than me keep saying - the biggest competition to food retailers is an entity that either does not exist today, or is not on most people’s radar. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering only serves to illustrate the possibilities...

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

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel has voted 8-6 not to recommend that the government require labels advising consumers that there could be a link between artificial food dyes and hyperactivity in children.

    However, the panel did suggest that more studies need to be done.

    “The issue of food labels was hotly debated and included discussion of labels that state the possibility of hyperactivity as a result of food dyes,” the Journal writes. “The panel also discussed labels on products only aimed at children and labels stating that adequate studies haven't been done to examine the effects on children.

    “FDA panelist Wesley Burks, from Duke University Medical Center, said that too many warnings make it more difficult for the consumer to discern actual harms. While ultimately the panel voted against warning labels, there was concern on the panel of making the public more aware of possible allergies or other reactions to food dyes.”
    KC's View:
    Study away. Please. If there is a problem, as both a parent and a taxpayer, I want to know it and I think this is the kind of thing the government should do.

    I refuse to accept on faith either the position of some experts that there is a connection between the dyes and hyperactivity, nor the official industry position that enough is enough, and that their safety has been proven.

    What we don’t know is far greater than what we do know. Study away.

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    USA Today reports on how, despite the fact that the government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that American adults consume at least eight ounces or two servings of seafood a week, the average US adult now eats less than half that, or about 3.5 ounces.

    “Among reasons for seafood resistance,” the paper writes, are “complaints about taste, cost and limited access to stores that sell a variety of fresh seafood; concerns that seafood is difficult to cook; and confusion about contaminants, especially mercury, which occurs naturally in soil and rocks but can be released into the air through industrial pollution.”
    KC's View:
    This continues to be an area of enormous opportunity for retailers ... if they are ambitious, aggressive and transparent. See our next story...

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    Schenectady, NY-based Price Chopper Supermarkets has made public its new sustainable seafood platform, bolstered by the addition of Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) and Trace Register, which will be “guiding Price Chopper in the further development of plans and programs to ensure that its seafood is harvested from the most sustainably managed and maintained fisheries of the world.”

    The announcement says that “SFP is working with the company to evaluate products and determine the best sources of wild-caught and farmed seafood. Working actively with supply chain and individual fisheries, Price Chopper is committed to improving harvesting policies and practices wherever they may be in decline or poorly managed. Trace Register is providing the company with a sophisticated software system that meets the full traceability requirements of producers, processors, distributors and retailers of wild-caught and farmed seafood. This will give Price Chopper the ability to trace every step of seafood product’s journey from ocean to shelf, providing assurances of quality, food safety and sustainability.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. announced that beginning next week it will launch “Senior Appreciation Mondays," described as “a new special discount program for seniors in all Pathmark stores. Through the program, every Monday customers over the age of 55 will be able to save five percent on their grocery purchases of more than $30, excluding pharmacy items, milk, tobacco products, beer, wine and spirits. “

    A&P also said that it will launch "Senior Appreciation Tuesdays" with the same eligibility requirements for customers at Superfresh stores in and around Baltimore, Maryland on Tuesday, April 5th, and at all A&P, Food Emporium and remaining Superfresh stores on April 19.
    KC's View:
    Fifty-five? You gotta be kidding me.

    People who are 55 or older aren’t seniors. And speaking for myself, I don’t want to be appreciated as such.

    This isn’t just male vanity speaking. I actually think that marketers have to be very careful about this kind of stuff - that they run the risk of offending people when they suggest that people who are 55 are entitled to “senior” treatment. Most of us don’t think of ourselves that way, and don’t want to be treated that way.

    At least I don’t. And I cannot believe I am alone in this.

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    The Associated Press reports that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has signed into law legislation “ending the requirement that most retail items carry individual price tags.” The new law takes effect on September 1.

    According to the story, the move leaves Massachusetts as the only state with a single item pricing law for food products,

    Michigan retailers applauded the move, saying it will allow them to lower their costs and pass the savings on to consumers at a time when food inflation and rising commodity prices are putting the squeeze on shoppers.
    KC's View:
    The story also notes that Snyder had a personal history with the law - his first job, when he was 14, was working for a grocery store applying price tags to individual items for $1.25 an hour. He didn’t like the job then, the story says, and now he’s eliminated any reason for it to exist.

    Revenge is a dish best served old.

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    WMC-TV News in Memphis, Tennessee, reports on new technology introduced by Kroger to prevent what is called “coupon stacking,” or the combination of a paper coupon with an electronic coupon to get a lower price on a single item.

    According to the story, “Kroger did not have a good way of monitoring that the customer was using two coupons on the same item. But on March 21, new software was downloaded on all store registers which now rejects a second coupon for the exact same item purchased, eliminating the ability to stack coupons.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    The Boston Globe reports this morning that Dunkin’ Donuts management is considering an IPO that could generate as much as $500 million in investment cash.

    According to the story, “The push to take the business public, first reported by Reuters, comes six years after private equity firms, including Boston’s Bain Capital Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners, purchased Dunkin’ for $2.4 billion. Dunkin’, which also runs ice cream chain Baskin-Robbins, has accelerated its growth in recent years and opened 574 net new locations worldwide in 2010. The company reported global system-wide sales of $7.7 billion in 2010, up from $6.4 billion in 2006 when the buyout companies took over Dunkin’ Brands.”

    No timetable has been set, and the company is not commenting on the reports.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    • A new study by Harris Interactive, commissioned by Coupons.com, suggests that “approximately 99% of U.S. adults are aware of rising food prices, and the vast majority (95%) plans to employ at least one savings strategy at the grocery store as a result ... The survey found that incorporating coupons was the most popular planned activity to off-set rising food prices, cited by nearly three-quarters (72%) of U.S. adults. This strategy was followed by other budget-stretching actions, including comparing unit prices of package sizes (71%) and shopping at discount grocery stores (66%). The study also identified other planned behavior, including stocking up when items reach rock-bottom prices (64%) and buying in bulk (57%), among others.

    • Interbrand is out with a report saying that Tesco is the UK’s most valuable retail brand, followed by marks & Spenser. According to the report, both retailers combined value, sharp pricing and a positive in-store experience to achieve the distinction.

    According to the report, “The brands that got it wrong offered less, for less, by slashing prices and failing to invest or innovate. The brands that did well managed to focus on price without compromising...”

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that NCR, through its Blockbuster Express-branded kiosks that compete with Coinstar’s Redbox in the DVD rental space, “is expanding a pilot program to rent movies on the same day they are available for sale, charging more than it does for older titles.

    “After seeing an enthusiastic response to its four-city trial of the higher-priced rentals, launched in December, NCR will go nationwide Tuesday with the so-called ‘day-and-date plan.’ It will begin the broader test Tuesday with Oscar-winner "Black Swan"; other national titles will include "Casino Jack" and "Gulliver's Travels” ... Day-and-date films will rent for $2.99 for the first night; Blu-ray discs will rent for $3.99. Older DVDs cost $1 a night, or $2 for Blu-ray discs.”

    • The BBC reports that British retailer Marks & Spencer plans to re-enter the French market with a 15,000 square foot store on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, a decade after the company pulled out of France.

    In addition, M&S reportedly is considering opening a number of franchised Simply Food stores in Paris, and may also launch an international online business.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    ...will return. I promise.
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 1, 2011

    The BBC reports that new studies suggest that milk produced by cows within 48 hours of having given birth could help athletes improve their performance, and also could help them avoid heat stroke and what is called “gut leakiness,” which is a kind of gastrointestinal distress sometimes induced by running.

    The reason? Milk produced by cows immediately after birth - also known as bovine colostrum - apparently is rich in “bioactive components” that are performance-enhancing.

    Now, I know this sounds like yet another April Fool’s story, but this is an actual BBC story. But all I can think if the poor cow ... she’s just given birth, she’s dealing with a new calf, and she’s got some guy pulling on her udders saying, “Come on girl, we’ve got the Olympics in two years...”




    I love this story.

    The Indianapolis Star reports that Kroger is investing $3.8 million in local schools and education programs there, saying that the three-year “K-12 Education” strategy will work through 10 different organizations. The Star notes that the new commitment follows a similar, two-year, $2.1 million commitment to local education programs.

    One of the program’s central components is “a plan to collect book donations at every store and to redistribute them to children across the city,” the story says, with other efforts designed to help mentor children, teach them to read, bolster what is available in area libraries, and invest in teacher development.

    In addition, there is some $30,000 earmarked to teach kids about classical music and opera.

    I think that’s great. It is critically important for companies to be invested in their local communities, and I think it is especially noteworthy that some of the money is being devoted to arts education. That component of a child’s education often is lost when communities face budget cuts (certainly before school boards decide to trim football or basketball programs), and Kroger is to be applauded for supporting this educational area.




    I know I’ve gone on the record about my burning desire to leave Connecticut and move to the Pacific Northwest. (So much so that Mrs. Content Guy’s almost reflexive response is to roll her eyes...)

    But as long as I’m living where I am living, it is good to see that the food choices are growing.

    For example, Mario Batali has announced that he will open a new Tarry Lodge restaurant in the Saugatuck section of Westport, and Danny Meyer plans to open a new Shake Shack, also in Westport.

    This is wonderful news. Shake Shack makes one of the best burgers in the country, and I can never get enough of Batali’s black squid ink pasta.



    Speaking of pasta, check this out...a video about the great 1957 Swiss Spaghetti Harvest:

    Click here.




    Finally, on a somewhat more serious note...

    This week was both interesting and instructive for me, filled with emails reacting to a few comments I made about religion and hypocrisy on Monday. I certainly wasn’t equating the two, but was rather making a comment praising people who live out their beliefs through action. But I think, on reflection, that the comments were phrased inelegantly, as a result were misconstrued, and were tied to a suspect study on obesity.

    The whole thing was not exactly me at my best.

    The thing is, in a lot of ways, the voluminous reaction - both positive and negative - was, I think, MNB at its best. I love that so many of you are willing to tell me what you think and feel, are happy to express your thoughts eloquently and sometimes at great length, and are confident that the people who disagree with me are going to get their views aired here.

    And I think that most of you - though certainly not all, as some of the emails made clear - sort of like the notion that MNB is occasionally going to go off in all sort of strange directions, take some offbeat tangents, and even risk going off the rails from time to time. I think that’s what makes us all different ... we’re not locked into a plain vanilla, lowest-common-denominator form of discourse.

    Having spent a fair amount of time thinking about this during the week, I think that what this kind of discourse does is awaken the latent college student in me. More than three decades ago, I took a course at Loyola Marymount University called “Belief & Unbelief,” and I remain fascinated by levels of belief and how they are expressed and deeply felt.

    For example, I’ve noticed in a number of places recently people carrying signs proclaiming May 21, 2011 to be the date of the Second Coming, the date on which, the Bible Guarantees, jesus Christ will be returning to Earth. (An 88-year-old civil engineer named Harold Camping, CNN reports, has done the calculations based on his reading of the Bible, and his prediction has caught on.)

    I’m fascinated by this. While I have my doubts about this date, I’m willing to concede that I could have an entirely different feeling on May 22. But I also wonder how these people are going to feel - and believe on May 22 if nothing happens. (If I’m a newspaper editor, I’m putting a call into Camping, looking for a comment, on May 22 at 12:01 am.) What will they do? What will they think? What will they believe?

    And this intrigues me because I’m not big on intractable belief systems. That’s not to say I don;t believe in certain things strongly, but I try to remind myself with some level of regularity that I could be wrong - about religion, about politics, about economic theory, real estate values, etc...

    Few things are absolute, in my view. The goodness of my wife’s heart. The essential steadfastness of my children’s love. (The inevitability and intensity of the coming war between Amazon and Walmart?) And while MNB isn’t designed to be an online philosophy forum, I enjoy the idea that from time to time we get into these discussions and test and challenge each other. It makes life more interesting. It makes me think.

    I hope you feel the same way.



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

    Slainte!

    KC's View: