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    Published on: June 8, 2011

    by Michael Sansolo

    The world of our electronically enabled communities is a strange place. On a global scale we see the best of what it can do when it inspires people to freedom in places like Egypt, Libya and beyond. At the same time we see the worst of it through countless outlets for hate and lies. And we get to see the stupid, too. (Thank you, Congressman Weiner.)

    There’s a reason why it is so powerful and I saw it first hand yesterday. My column yesterday focused on my dog, Hunter, and stories of his strange habits and quirks as his life ebbed. I wrote it and the MorningNewsBeat community responded in numbers and with feeling beyond my wildest imagination.

    One example, from MNB user Kristin DiScala:

    I had to write to tell you that I loved your “Puppy Power” story… I too am a beagle owner; we have two, Champski and Lily.  Lily is a rescue and is a bit older than Champski; last year she hurt her back barking at our neighbor’s dogs along the back fence causing a bulged disk which led to many medical costs and a revised diet to ensure they stay at the optimum weight to alleviate their backs.  Now we have them on grain-free food that does costs 2-3 times what we were paying before plus they get a variety of flavors depending upon the month (not to mention the over-easy egg we throw on top every Sunday morning).

    Your story called to me because our beagles also are the light of our life and are spoiled more than I ever thought I could spoil a dog even though they also enjoy eating Kleenex, q-tips, paper towel rolls, or any other paper product that has been in the garbage.  When we first got Champski I was doing research on beagles and found a website that described them as liking to do three things: Sniff, Snack, and Snooze which I have learned that couldn’t be more right!

    Your story also spoke to me because I work in the grocery retail industry with Safeway so I am always intrigued by buyer behavior and have seen the pet category continue to grow, can it be we are all holding tight to our carefree, endless loving, ever loyal pets to deal with difficult times?  Whatever the reason, they are a very important part of our lives and bring joy that couldn’t be found anywhere else no matter how long they are here with us.  Thank you for sharing your story about Hunter and best to you and your family.

    And another email, from MNB user Emily Detwiler:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your story on MNB today regarding Puppy Power. I can relate in so many ways. My husband and I rescued our Border Collie, Louie, 5 years ago and have been through many of the same things you mentioned. We literally taught him how to eat out of a dog dish when he didn’t know how, and know he prefers only the finer things in life. He loves the comforts of indoor living, yet barks incessantly to get out and chase the neighbor’s outdoor cats. He recently helped us transition into bringing our son into the world, and has put up with less attention and tail-pulling tremendously.

    As a marketer, I continue to be amazed at the increase in specialty products for pets. As a new mom and a dog owner, I see quite a juxtaposition in how people lavish their babies and pets with the finest, natural and organic products….yet struggle to get in a nutritious meal or treat themselves to something nice.

    All the best to Hunter. It sounds like he lived his life with joie de vivre…and a bit of illogic. Perhaps he knows something we could all learn, too…enjoying the simple things in life!

    These are just a couple of the messages I got.

    So many of you sent me e-mails full of thoughts, kindness and prayers. Many more wrote about your dogs - many of whom are aged and struggling, some of which have passed away. A number of people wrote about rescuing dogs (much as our family rescued Hunter). Every note was remarkable and I cannot possibly thank you all enough.

    But this is MorningNewsBeat and we don’t do anything here without a lesson and I have to thank Hunter again for providing one more. Think about the power of community and of common bonds. People I have never met - and am likely to never meet - reached out to me because of common interests, common experience and uncommon caring.

    All because of this little thing we call the Internet. Keep that in mind, because what the Internet does is enable us to connect on what matters to us. When that happens, let me assure you now that amazing things follow.

    So thank you for all the comfort Tuesday. Sadly, Hunter could not go on any longer and had to be put down. He was bolstered by the love of his family much as I was bolstered by the love from the MNB family.

    Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    Interesting piece in Politico about the continuing debate in the US Senate over provisions in last year’s financial reform legislation that set up a process for capping swipe fees that banks can charge customers using debit cards - and the latest wrinkle, a new bill that would delay the issuance of new rules by the federal government.

    The battle seems to come down to this: The bill was issued by a Democrat - Montana Sen. Jon Tester - and also is opposed by a Democrat - Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, who sponsored and helped to craft the original legislation. Tester argues that a delay will allow the government to evaluate how swipe fee regulations will help or hurt small community banks and credit unions, though Politico notes that he also has been the recipient of significant donations from financial services companies. Durbin, on the other hand, continues to argue that regulation is needed to lower costs for retailers and consumers, which will be good for the economy and prevent banks from gauging their customers.

    In a typical response from the retailing community, Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president, government relations at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), released the following statement:

    “The latest Tester-Corker swipe fee language is no ‘compromise’ and was developed by big banks, for big banks without input from retailers or consumers who are counting the days until reforms take effect July 21. Masked as a delay bill, the new legislation would effectively kill swipe fee reforms. Any vote to delay the Federal Reserve’s swipe fee rule is premature at this point, since no one has yet seen the Federal Reserve’s final rule. The Federal Reserve is working on revision to a final rule that is expected to be published in the near future.”

    More than 300 national and state trade associations have signed a letter opposing the Tester delay amendment, citing the harm it will do to Main Street merchants and consumers by costing billions of dollars and 95,000 jobs.

    “This bill isn’t about delaying the regulations and ‘studying’ the issue,” said Lyle Beckwith, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at the National Association of Convenience Stores. “It’s about derailing a bill that will save Main Street business owners and consumers billions of dollars—and instead putting that money in the pockets of the country’s biggest banks. Senator Tester’s amendment is a blank check to Visa, MasterCard and their big banks—and gives them permission to continue to charge merchants any amount they want for swipe fees. This is nothing more than a handout to the big banks and a slap in the face to consumers and retailers.”
    KC's View:
    You’d think someone would be able to make a cogent argument that if swipe fees come down, there will be market pressure for retailers to lower their prices, which could drive consumer spending a help a still-troubled economy. This strikes me as a fairly simple argument to make, replete with populist rhetoric and capable of generating political support.

    But instead, everybody prefers to talk about Rep. Anthony Weiner.

    I know they say that our democracy is mankind’s last, best hope. But sometimes, you have to wonder...

    I cannot understand why retailers have not been able to exercise greater clout on this issue. I agree with the point made by Michael Sansolo not too long ago - retailers in all venues ought to say the following: “You vote against swipe fee reform or you side with the people fighting against reform, and you don’t get our political contributions, you don’t get to use our parking lots for rallies, you don’t get food donations for your events. You get nothing from us. You need something - money, food or something else - go to the banks.”

    Play hardball, dammit.

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that there are concerns in the investment community that Target, by emphasizing groceries and low prices as a way of making inroads against Walmart, has actually lost some of the “cool factor” that made it different. “These were good moves during the recession,” the Journal writes, “but the pendulum may have swung too far, attracting more medium- and low-income shoppers at the expense of the higher end shopper. While food can drive shopping trips, profit margins are slim.”

    The Journal continues: “Target shoppers are stocking up on toilet paper and foodstuffs, but the stores are having a hard time enticing customers to spend money on stylish clothing and home goods - which are more profitable and make up more than 40% of annual sales. It was these apparel and decorating items - mixing mass with class - that set Target apart and allowed it to be one of the few discount chains to thrive against Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s relentlessly low prices.”
    KC's View:
    For the past year or so, a lot of the media coverage has been about how Target was successfully competing against Walmart on prices and food.

    Wouldn’t it be funny if Walmart actually was playing “rope-a-dope,” letting Target punch itself out in the low price grocery segment until it lost the “cool” credibility that actually was harder for Walmart to compete with.

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    A press conference is scheduled to take place today in downtown Los Angeles at which it will be announced that supermarket employees represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in ongoing negotiations with Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons “will receive the unanimous support ... of every chartered union in Southern California in their struggle to preserve medical benefits” that the chains are looking to adjust in any new collective bargaining agreement.

    In other Southern California labor news, NBC reports that “national labor council leaders gave San Diego grocery workers permission to go on strike, local leaders with the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council announced on Tuesday.

    The most recent contract has expired, and management and labor have continued to negotiate, even as reports have emerged suggesting that little progress is being made. If a strike or other labor action were to take place, the story says, it “would involve more than 10,000 supermarket employees in San Diego and 62,000 baggers, checkers and butchers across the state.”

    The last grocery strike in Southern California was a four-month affair that took place eight years ago.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    The Washington Post has a piece about Whole Foods is developing a new “cooking coach” program that is seen as part of the company’s “effort to enhance food shopping with the one-on-one experience of, say, an Apple Genius Bar. Without having to make an appointment.”

    Michael Kiss, a trained chef, is the cooking coach at Whole Foods’ new store in Rockville, Maryland, and he “spends five days a week engaging people in conversations about food. He tells them what farro is, how to pick the right dried chili peppers and which meat substitutes work best for stuffed artichokes. He directs them to the row of reference books on his work table: “Veganomicon,” “How to Cook Everything,” “Spice and Herb Bible,” among others. He wears an apron, not a chef’s coat. He listens, nods, answers lots of questions and jots things down for customers on a special prescription pad.

    “What he doesn’t do is cook for them or spear samples with toothpicks.”
    KC's View:

    Here’s the best paragraph from the story, the one that points out the real challenge and opportunity:

    These days, the dialogue about what we should be eating grows louder but not so clear. There are more choices, and caveats, in every corner of the supermarket. We want food that’s healthful, and we’re realizing that preparing it ourselves is key. But that doesn’t mean all of us know where to start.

    The dialogue is loud, but not so clear. Which is why people buy cookbooks and watch the Food Network, but don’t really cook at home so much. People are not converting the dialogue into action.

    Since the first Apple Store opened, I can remember saying that supermarkets ought to have the equivalent of that retailer’s Genius Bars - places where customers can go to get suggestions, recommendations and instruction. Places that demystify cooking, and that raise eating beyond the lowest common denominator.

    The shame is that too many retailers think that Whole Foods is the only kind of place that can do this. Which strikes me as nonsense.

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    • The Washington Post reports that Walmart’s willingness to make concessions to trade unions n South Africa in order to successfully conclude its acquisition of Massmart there “highlights the complex relationship Wal-Mart has with its employees as unions become as globalized as the retailing giant’s footprint.

    “Its employees are not unionized in the United States, where the retailer has become infamous for its staunch opposition to labor groups. Even in Canada, it closed a store after workers there organized. But in the United Kingdom, Wal-Mart touts a growing roster of union employees and has negotiated contracts with entrenched labor groups in Brazil and Argentina for decades.”

    The suggestion is that labor unions seem poised to try to exploit this disconnect, and try to use Walmart’s global ambitions as a wedge that will allow it to organize the company’s US workers. reports that “Walmart is planning to expand its test of in-store mobile specialty shops to a total of 350 supercenters this year. The in-house pilot was launched in 200 stores last fall and will be extended to an additional 150 locations this year.”

    The 2,000 square foot boutiques “offer a select assortment of smartphones, cellphones and pre-, post-paid and hybrid service plans, including Walmart’s exclusive Common Cents and Family Mobile pay-as-you-go products. Tablet computers are not yet part of the mix.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    Nice piece in the Washington Post about how a DC-area Safeway worked with a local community organizer on a health fair - and in doing so so, played to the specific strengths that food retailers have in this area.

    During the fair, the store manager and a number of employees grilled up $700 work of chicken and a number of vegetables, while handing out healthy recipes to attendees, who also were able to access free health screenings, yoga instruction and other health-related counseling activities.
    KC's View:
    The best part of this is that Safeway didn’t just donate the food and recipe cards, but actually got into the swing of things, creating a real community presence that has the potential of creating sustainable dividends.

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    In the UK, Marketing Magazine reports on Tesco’s desire to become a global brand player, starting with ice cream and pet food that will not be identified as Tesco products, are designed to compete with national brands, and that conceivably could even be carried by retailers that compete with Tesco, though they are more likely to be carried in the short-term by non-competing retailers.

    According to the story, Tesco “is examining all categories to find out where else it can create brands ... ChokaBlok ice-cream, La-thams dog food and NutriCat cat food will be the first ‘venture brands’, as they are referred to internally, to come to market ... All three brands will launch in Tesco’s central European stores in the coming weeks.”

    Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Tesco “plans to step up a drive to integrate its online business with its stores to strengthen its position as a ‘multi-channel’ business.”

    CEO Philip Clarke said this week that Tesco “had an advantage over pure online competitors because they could offer customers more delivery options ... Clarke said Tesco, the world's biggest online grocery retailer, planned to offer a ‘click and collect’ service -- where customers shop online and pick up goods in stores -- for non-food purchases in 600 British stores by end-2011.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    The Wall Street Journal reports that a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that “illness from bacterial food contamination has been on the decline in the U.S. over the past 15 years with the rate of infection from one type of the deadly E. coli bacterium dropping by about half ... The rate of infection by bacteria-contaminated food in the U.S. has fallen 23%, the CDC said.”

    However, there remained a cautionary note: the CDC also says that one out of six people gets sick each year from eating contaminated food.
    KC's View:
    Some will say that this is enough reason not to increase food safety spending. But I think that we have to show increased vigilance, and improve the infrastructure before the whole thing crumbles. Now is not the time to pat ourselves on the back...

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    • Safeway has launched its month-long Prostate Cancer Campaign, a fundraising and awareness campaign, continuing a tradition of raising millions of dollars to find a cure for the most common form of cancer in men. In the years since Safeway got involved with the Prostate Cancer Campaign, it has dedicated each June for fundraising at each of its banners, and to date has raised more than $65 million for the cause.

    • The Democrat and Chronicle reports that Wegmans has decided to shut down its store on Britton Road, in Greece, New York, saying that the area is over-stored and cannot support as much food retail space as is there.

    According to the story, “The store’s 348 employees, 270 of whom are part time, will be offered positions at other area Wegmans. Most displaced employees will likely be transferred to other Greece locations, especially the Mt. Read Boulevard store, which is about a mile from the Britton Road store.

    “The Britton Road store opened in 1983.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 8, 2011

    After noting the current E. coli outbreak in Europe the other day, I commented that when I am in Barcelona next week, I’d probably be staying away from raw veggies, which were identified as a possible culprit.

    MNB user Dean Balsamo responded:

    During my trip to Barcelona two months ago I ate vegetables and fruits-everything was great.

    According to information that’s starting to appear on the internet, this E Coli outbreak appears to be bio-engineered as it is resistant to 8 classes of antibiotics which those who study such thing say can only come about because this strain was deliberately exposed to these classes in the course of its creation. The German government is now saying that sprouts have nothing to do with this outbreak.

    It is curious to note that this outbreak comes on the heals both European and Federal government efforts in the US to control and/or ban various supplements, herbs and medicines suggesting these natural products are more dangerous than  the multi-national corporately created, genetically-modified, big pharma produced approaches to food cultivation, preservation and distribution.

    Will fresh vegetables in general now be the next item declared “unsafe,” with the result people will be encouraged to consume canned and other highly processed foods in there place in order to counter act the fear being generated by the potential for deadly bacteria in fresh foods. At least it’ll make the job easier and save money  for the already under supported agencies that are supposed to protect our food supply in this country.

    Some might say it’s curious that Span was tagged as the culprit-now of course ‘retracted”-as Spain was so resistant to the introduction of GMO’s that the US government was exerting not so subtle pressure on Spain to get on board. Spanish farmers have now lost millions in the course of this outbreak. Payback?

    Another MNB user wrote about my comment:

    A clever response, but not helpful to the conversation. First, the illnesses are all in one region of Germany or in people who visited that region. Barcelona is far from Germany, so you should be perfectly fine eating all the fresh vegetables you can find there. This e. coli outbreak is tragic, and clearly there have been problems identifying the food item linked to the outbreak (the epidemiology). And, until you have the right epidemiology, you’re not going to get the right traceback and solve the issue. So please enjoy those vegetables in Spain.

    I was actually just looking for an excuse to do what MNB user Ron Pizur suggested:

    My advice - stick to a diet of Spanish wine when you are in Barcelona. Then again, my mother always told me that germs can't live in an alcohol environment, so perhaps if you drink enough Spanish wine you will be able to eat as many vegetables as you want.

    Works for me.
    KC's View: