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    Published on: October 31, 2011

    by Kevin Coupe

    Here’s a statistic to make one think.

    The Daily Beast reports that the United Nations predicts that perhaps as soon as today, the world’s total population will pass seven billion - and that by the end of this century, it is likely to pass 10 billion. The story goes on: “Of the 3 billion additional people who will join the world this century, virtually all of them will be growing up in countries that today are rated by the George Mason University Fragile States Index as having governments that have serious, high, or extreme fragility. These are governments that do not enforce the rule of law, have high rates of internal violence, and do a poor job providing education and jobs for their people.”

    And, the Daily Beast continues: “What will determine their quality of life? From an economist’s view, what matters is the productivity of the 10 billion—will they be educated and have jobs that contribute to economic growth? From a sociologist’s view, what matters is whether the 10 billion are socialized into stable roles in society can they build families and join communities where they have dignity and focus on building for the future? From a political scientist’s view, what matters is the quality of government in countries where most of the 10 billion will live—will those governments avoid corruption, enforce the rule of law, and protect participation and civil rights?”

    And, I would add, how and what will all these people eat? Because in so many ways, it seems to me, how these people feel about their circumstances and whether they are satisfied or discontented will be directly related to whether their stomachs are full, and whether they are able to feed their families.

    Worth thinking about.

    Seven billion people, and growing.

    That’s an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    The Washington Post reports that “a Facebook group has designated Nov. 5 “Bank Transfer Day,” calling on customers to move their money into credit unions to avoid soaring fees. The event has gained momentum in the blogosphere and spilled into the mainstream media, drawing attention to an often-ignored sector of the financial industry.”

    The tumult is in response to the decision by Bank of America to levy $5 monthly fees on the use of debit cards to make purchases; while Bank of America has gotten most of the attention, similar decisions have been made by a number of other major banks around the country. Slate reports that “SunTrust Bank is also planning on tacking on a $5 monthly fee on some debit-card users, Regions Financial is charging $4 a month on some accounts, and Wells Fargo is currently testing a $3 monthly fee in five states.”

    The fees have been imposed by the banks because of financial reforms that were passed by the US Congress and signed by President Barack Obama, putting limits on the usurious and hidden swipe fees that were being charged by the banks on every transaction made using the cards; virtually every major retail group in the country had backed these reforms, turning back a significant lobbying effort by banks to stop any such regulation.

    Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that some banks have decided not to follow Bank of America’s lead, including U.S. Bancorp, Citigroup, PNC Financial Services and KeyCorp, among others.

    And, the Washington Post writes that at the Lafayette Federal Credit Union in Kensington, Maryland, there has been a specific effort to market against the decision to levy monthly fees on the use of debit cards to make purchases.

    According to the story, “The credit union placed ads in area newspapers telling consumers: ‘There’s no reason to pay your bank, when we’re here to pay you, with: no fee checking and debit card, no minimum balance requirements . . . dividends paid quarterly’.”

    The Post goes on: “Credit unions have the upper hand now because they and community banks with less than $10 billion in assets are exempt from a new government regulation that cut interchange or ‘swipe’ fees, rules that banks say triggered the wave of new fees.

    “Still, credit unions are not without their own limitations. Lafayette’s Madaras still finds herself explaining to people that, unlike a bank, a credit union is a cooperative, where customers are members. That means profits made on loan interest income and fees are returned to members as higher savings and lower loan rates. It also means that the institutions are often smaller than banks and lack extensive networks of ATMs and branches.”

    The Post also writes: “In the past month, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions recorded a 350 percent increase in Web traffic to its online credit union locator, CUlookup.com. The portal matches visitors with institutions they might be eligible to join based on affiliations, such as school, employer or church.”

    Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that even Bank of America is looking to assuage irritated customers, saying that the bank “is likely to allow customers to sidestep the fee if they use BofA credit cards in addition to debit cards, have certain direct deposits or maintain a minimum balance, said the person, who was not authorized to speak publicly. BofA previously said it would waive the fee only if a customer had a mortgage or $20,000 in accounts at the bank and its Merrill Lynch brokerage.”

    According to the story, “Bank of America Chief Executive Brian T. Moynihan said this week that he was ‘incensed’ by public criticism of his company. He told employees to push back by reminding local leaders of BofA's contributions to their economies.”
    KC's View:
    Moynihan should take a chill pill. He and his fellow bank CEOs have been charging usurious and hidden fees for years, driving up costs and prices and putting a stranglehold on retailers who want to accept their credit cards. They also contributed to the problems that caused the near-collapse of the US economy a few years ago, got bailed out by the taxpayers, and seem to have forgotten all about it.

    He’s lucky he wasn’t tarred and feathered. I’m not particularly worried about him being “incensed.”

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    Kroger announced that it has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund to develop the company's strategy for responsibly sourced seafood, and has committed “to sourcing 100% of the top 20 wild-caught species from fisheries that are Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified, in MSC full assessment, or engaged in a World Wildlife Fund fishery improvement project by the year 2015. Today, 65% of Kroger's top 20 wild-caught fresh and frozen species are sourced from fisheries meeting these standards.”

    In addition, Kroger said, it has set a goal to source 75% of the top 20 species by volume from MSC-certified fisheries by 2015. At present, approximately 50% of Kroger's top 20 species by volume are sourced from MSC-certified fisheries. Kroger is working with the Global Aquaculture Alliance Best Aquaculture Practices program to ensure that the farmed seafood sold in our stores meets strict standards for sustainability.

    “Since the beginning of this year, Kroger said, it has discontinued sourcing and sales of shark, bluefin tuna, marlin, and – beginning this October – skates and rays, due to the increasing sustainability concerns surrounding these species.
    KC's View:
    I remember that it was just a few years ago that MNB had a story about seafood sustainability issues, and I was getting emails from people saying that it was a non-issue and that, to coin a phrase, there were plenty of fish in the sea. Amazing how perceptions have changed...

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    The Washington Post reports that the US Army has come with a new gastronomic innovation - caffeinated meat.

    “That’s right,” the Post writes, “an Army lab here is testing a beef jerky stick that looks and tastes just like your average Slim Jim but contains an equivalent of a cup of coffee’s worth of caffeine to give even the sleepiest soldier that up-and-at-’em boost.

    “After a decade of war, military food scientists have been hard at work at a little-known research facility outside Boston transforming the field ration — known as the Meal, Ready to Eat, and perhaps the most complained about food in the world — into something not just good-tasting but full of energy-enhancing ingredients ... In addition to caffeine, military technologists are lacing food with supplements such as omega 3s and curcumin, which act as anti-inflammatories. Maltodextrin, a complex carbohydrate that gives service members a little turbo charge, is injected into an amped-up applesauce called Zapplesauce.”
    KC's View:
    Sounds yummy. Glad I’m too old to be drafted.

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    Advertising Age reports that in the UK, Kellogg Co. is dealing with the lack of sunshine during much of the year by fortifying a number of its cereals with Vitamin D, “touting the addition of the ‘sunshine nutrient’ as a way to combat rising incidents of rickets, a bone disorder caused by a lack of the vitamin ... Kellogg cited research showing a 140% increase in the number of British children under 10 admitted to the hospital with rickets in 2009 compared with 2001.”

    Kellogg is making the announcement as the UK goes from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time, and plans to “boost its entire kids cereal line-up with vitamin D by the end of the year.”
    KC's View:
    Call me crazy, but I think I’d be more concerned about the fact that the UK apparently has seen such a dramatically reduced level of sunshine in just eight years that it is getting people sick...

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    • Walmart got hit with another gender discrimination lawsuit on Friday, as lawyers representing female employees of the company filed a suit charging that the company discriminated against women in Texas. The suit was filed in a Federal Court in Dallas, and followed a similar suit filed in California.

    Lawyers filing the suits have said that they are just the first in an “armada” of lawsuits that would be filed against the retailer over the next six months, challenging the company’s employment practices in various regions of the country.

    The suits are narrower versions of a class action suit tossed out four months ago by the US Supreme Court, which said that the 1.5 million women involved did not have enough in common to qualify for class action status.

    Walmart continues to maintain that the smaller suits also should not qualify, and has pledged to fight them wherever they are filed.

    USA Today announced that “at select locations in markets across the United States, the nation's largest retailer is ditching its round-the-clock, 24-hour schedule and closing some stores from midnight to 6 a.m.

    “Cities like Indianapolis, Montgomery, Ala., Fayetteville, N.C., and Baltimore have watched Wal-Mart end its 24-hour service at some stores within the past year. Still, Wal-Mart says it's not a trend, but a business move specific to each particular store.”

    • The Wichita Business Journal reports that Walmart will open three new Neighborhood Market stores there next week, with two more in the planning stages. The retailer already operates 11 Supercenters in the market.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    • As was reported on MNB more than a week ago, Andronico’s is moving out of bankruptcy protection with the $16 million sale of the company to Renwood Opportunities Fund - a multimillion dollar investment fund headed by Renovo Capital and Rosewood Private Investments. The retailer also is closing its University Avenue store in Berkeley, California.

    It has been reported that Bill Andronico, president/CEO, will remain with the company.

    Internet Retailer reports that Best Buy has announced that it will offer free shipping on all online purchases between now and Christmas, with no minimum purchase required.

    Just last week, Sears Holdings Co. announced that it would offer free shipping on all purchases of $99 or more from Sears.com and more than $49 from Kmart.com.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    On Friday night, in the seventh and deciding game of the MLB World Series, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Texas Rangers 6-2.

    And there was joy in Mudville....


    And, in Week Eight of the National Football League:

    Arizona 27
    Baltimore 30

    Minnesota 24
    Carolina 21

    Jacksonville 14
    Houston 24

    Miami 17
    NY Giants 20

    New Orleans 21
    St. Louis 31

    Indianapolis 10
    Tennessee 27

    Washington 0
    Buffalo 23

    Detroit 45
    Denver 10

    New England 17
    Pittsburgh 25

    Cincinnati 34
    Seattle 12

    Cleveland 10
    San Francisco 20

    Dallas 7
    Philadelphia 34

    KC's View:
    I had the privilege of attending the seventh game of the World Series on Friday night because of the generosity of my good friend Joanie Taylor, and it was one of the greatest sporting events I’ve ever attended. Great game. Great baseball city. Great fans.

    Published on: October 31, 2011

    Reuters has a piece about what it calls the “identity crisis” being suffered by many US retailers: “The big ones want to be smaller, the small ones are getting bigger and all of them want to sell more food.”

    One of the central goals of the adjustments being made by many chains is to avoid the fate of Borders and Blockbuster, and Circuit City - and find defensible positions where they are less vulnerable to competition from Amazon.com. At the same time, there are other changes that need to be compensated for, like the move by more people to urban markets and the ongoing economic challenges that are forcing more people than ever to pay attention to prices.

    And so, to summarize the story, chains like Walmart, Target and Meijer are creating smaller stores than they traditionally have opened, Dollar General is testing a Market Store format that is larger than usual with more fresh food, and a number of drug store chains are introducing food to their mix as a way of attracting shoppers more often.

    "A lot of these more mature companies that have thousands and thousands and thousands of stores have really kind of maxed out where their format can actually go," Chris Donnelly, a senior executive in Accenture's retail practice, tells Reuters. "In general, I think what you're seeing is more that retailers are desperately searching out that next area of growth than it is an attempt to be everything to everyone." And, he goes on, “If they could wave a wand, a lot of them would completely reconfigure their stores. They'd probably close a lot of stores and the remaining stores would be smaller.”
    KC's View:
    I got into a conversation yesterday with a local retailer who was bemoaning the fact that Tower Records had gone out of business, and she suggested that it was the fault of companies like Apple and Amazon, which, she suggested, liked to build things but only leave destruction in their wake.

    Which just struck me as such a myopic way of looking at the world. As someone wrote me last week, when newspapers were first invented, it is a pretty good bet that someone complained that they would put town criers out of business. Get over it. You have to adapt.

    Every retailer - every retailer - has the responsibility and, indeed, the opportunity to figure out how to adjust to a changing environment and a changing customer. They can’t build edifices to their own dominance anymore, because it has been demonstrated that many of the most nimble and successful retailers of the moment are the ones without walls - or at least without walls around their imaginations.

    Of course, a lot of chains could not close many stores and reconfigure others because they’d be worried about what the stock market might say. But maybe they need to be more worried about what shoppers are thinking. And how they are acting. And what they are buying.