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    Published on: February 2, 2012

    This commentary is available in text and video form. The content is similar, but not word-for-word. Enjoy both, or either...


    When I started MNB more than 10 years ago, to be perfectly honest, I had a series of personal goals.

    I wanted to go to interesting places. I wanted to eat great food and drink terrific wine. I wanted to meet fascinating people. I wanted to learn a lot and write about everything I learned. And, I wanted to have a great time doing it all.

    The good news, at least for me, is that it all has worked out pretty well ... and I’m lucky that you folks keep reading my stuff.

    This week was a perfect example. I was in Orlando, Florida, attending and moderating a panel at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter Executive Conference, and one afternoon drove over to Winter Park to have lunch - an unbelievably flavorful Ahi burger and an adult beverage - with a fellow named Bob Morris.

    I was interesting in chatting with Bob for several reasons. First of all, I’ve been a big fan of his series of Zack Chasteen mystery novels for years. But Morris, who has been writing newspaper and magazine columns for years, recently published a series of e-books that essentially are collections of previously published pieces around different themes - food and wine, travel, raising kids, etc... These are only e-books; no paper-and-ink versions are available. They’re inexpensive, ranging between 99 cents and $2.99, and one of the places you can find them is here.

    The move to e-books fascinated me, in part because Bob also owns a small custom publishing house that, on its website, notes that “unlike digital or video products, a book is a concrete, physical object. And presenting a book to another person – be it a friend, a client or an employee – is a personal act, one that carries with it a most human element. Books create everlasting bonds.”

    (I also connected with the Story Farm website because it talks about the power of story as a communications tool, something that Michael Sansolo and I wrote extensively about in our book, The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.)

    I was fascinated by all this, and wanted to chat with Bob about these various enterprises. And, I just wanted to meet him.

    Bob, who seems like a great guy, said that moving to e-books gave him a level of freedom and speed that the traditional publishing model no longer offers. He could bring the books together and get them out there without having to deal with bureaucracies; he also can make more money from the books, having disintermediated traditional publishing companies and connecting more directly with readers.

    At the same time, Bob told me, he remains convinced that there is a future for paper-and-ink publishing, which is why he started Story Farm ... and he’s found that number of companies and businesses have embraced the notion of creating books that advance their stories and broaden their exposure. As a working writer - and boy, I get this - Bob said that he has to cover all his bases, embracing e-book technology when it seems most relevant and paper-and-ink publishing when it seems like the most appropriate alternative.

    This is very smart, I think, and an excellent metaphor for what we all have to in our businesses. We have to identify ways in which to be relevant, and, when possible, do everything we can to get closer to our consumers, forging connections that will serve us well in the long run.

    In essence, this what Louis C.K. recently did when he decided to sell one of his concerts directly to fans via his website, as opposed to doing it for HBO or Comedy Central or some other corporate entity. And it is something that I think we’re going to see more and more people and businesses doing, because technology makes all these things possible.

    That’s my story. That’s Bob Morris’s story. And we’re sticking to it.

    That’s what’s on my mind this Thursday morning, and, as always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook “filed for an initial public offering Wednesday that could value the social network between $75 billion and $100 billion, putting the company on track for one of the biggest U.S. stock-market debuts of all time. The company hopes to raise as much as $10 billion when it begins selling shares this spring, said people familiar with the matter.”

    The story notes that “in just eight years, Facebook has become the world's social bazaar, where friends gossip, play games and swap 250 million photos per day. It has also emerged as a potent political tool, helping to topple regimes across the Middle East last year.”

    This story makes me go back to a story on MNB from just a couple of weeks ago, saying that Facebook is expected to hit 1 billion users sometime this summer, possibly in August 2012.

    I noted then, and would repeat, that potentially, they - we - are all connected.

    That facility may not be worth $100 billion.

    That facility, in fact, may be priceless.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports that scientists at the University of California San Francisco argue in the newest issue of Nature that “the added sugars in processed foods and drinks are responsible for so many cases of chronic disease and premature deaths that their use ought to be regulated, just like alcohol and tobacco.”

    The researchers “aren’t claiming that sugar should be illegal or removed from the diet completely,” the Times writes. “They are focused on added sugars, which they define as ‘any sweetener containing the molecule fructose that is added to food in processing.’

    “In this country, most added sugar is in the form of high fructose corn syrup, of HFCS. But sucrose from cane sugar, sugar beets and other caloric sweeteners also would be subject to scrutiny.

    “Why? Because even the United Nations recognizes that the greatest threat to public health now comes from non-communicable diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Together, these play a role in more than 35 million deaths each year. And they get a big boost from the choices people make about tobacco, alcohol and diet.

    “Of these three ‘risk factors,’ only tobacco and alcohol are currently subject to regulation, the authors write. Of course, these differ from food in that they are not necessary for survival. But added sugars – and the items made with them – aren’t necessary either.”
    KC's View:
    The Times also notes that despite the call by these researchers, it is not likely to have any impact in the short term. “Public health advocates have spent years trying to enact a soda tax to discourage consumption of added sugar, and none of their efforts is close to succeeding,” the Times writes.

    Still, I think the findings of these scientists have to be taken seriously, and be the subject of discussion. I’m not calling for legislation here, but the impact of what we eat on the nation’s health care system and economy needs to be the subject of public discussion, if not public policy changes.

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    The Business Journal has an interview with Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb in which he talked about the company’s current strategies. Some excerpts:

    Re: store size... “We started to adjust our store size. Right here in Winston-Salem you’ve got a store that is 30,000-32,000 square feet. It feels pretty intimate. We made our stores a little smaller again. We really got back to our roots about being a healthy eating retailer. I think all of those things have really re-emphasized our connection to the community and to local producers.”

    Re: marketing to Millennials... “Now with the Millennials coming in, they are interested in things like fair trade and whole trade. What we’ve seen is that our customer has become more ethnically diverse as well. People think well it’s just rich white people. No it’s actually not. It’s students and people of all ethnicities that are interested in health.”
    KC's View:
    What continues to impress me is the degree to which Whole Foods managed to come out of the recession as strong as ever, and was able to tack with the economic winds in a way that allowed the company often referred to as “Whole Paycheck” to remain a vital force and vibrant business model.

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    The National Retail Federation (NRF) is out with its annual predictions about what US shoppers are going to spend on Valentine’s Day, suggesting that they will spend an average of $126 on their sweethearts this year, up 8.5 percent from last year, for a total 2012 expenditure of $17.6 billion.

    NRF says that this is the highest level of Valentine’s Day spending in a decade.

    According to the survey, 19 percent of shoppers plan to buy jewelry for their significant others, 50 percent intend to buy candy and 36 percent plan to buy flowers and dinner out.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Costco is offering for sale three separate ticket packages to this Sunday’s Super Bowl in Indianapolis between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots.

    According to the story, “Costco has three Super Bowl offerings: A single-ticket package for $2,999.99 and a pair of two-ticket packages, one priced at $9,999 and the other at $15,499.99.

    The single-ticket package includes a seat in the upper level of the end zone at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis plus some amenities, including a pregame party featuring retired NFL quarterback Archie Manning, father of Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

    “Ticket seller StubHub.com has Super Bowl tickets in the same vicinity for as low as $2,495, but that's only for the ticket.

    “Costco's $9,999.99 package includes two tickets, the pregame party, four nights at an Indianapolis hotel and admission to the Taste of the NFL, an annual wine and food event, among other additional amenities. The $15,499.99 package is similar — with better seats.”

    The Times notes that “this isn't the first time Costco has offered high-end sports tickets. It sold them for the Super Bowl last year and for the Masters and U.S. Open golf tournaments in 2010.”
    KC's View:
    Man, I wish I had 10 grand lying around. Because I’d love to go to a Super Bowl someday. (I’m thinking that the 2013 edition, in New Orleans, might be a good one to aim for...)

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    ...with occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    Reuters reports that Frito-Lay is being sued by a New York man who claims that “the company misleads consumers with the claim its popular Tostitos and SunChips products are made with ‘all-natural ingredients’.” The complaint says that despite the “all-natural” claims, independent testing revealed the presence of corn and oils made from genetically modified plants.

    Lawyers for the plaintiff are hoping to turn the suit into a class action.

    The story says that “a spokeswoman for Frito-Lay, Aurora Gonzalez, said the company was confident the labeling on its packaging ‘complies with all regulatory requirements’.”

    A gentle suggestion to my friends at Frito-Lay. Be a little careful with the “complies with all regulatory requirements” defense. Because it sounds like you’re almost saying that the chips “are as all-natural as they legally have to be,” as opposed to being “all-natural.”

    Dow Jones reports that Coca-Cola plans to invest more than $1 billion in Mexico this year, which the company says is part of a $5 billion, five-year investment program there.

    According to the story, “As part of the investment, Coca-Cola plans to increase the number of people it employs in Mexico to more than 100,000 from 90,000 currently. An estimated 800,000 additional jobs are generated via the company's supply and distribution channels.”

    • The Associated Press reports that Walgreen is acquiring prescription files and inventory from 33 Kmart pharmacies in 16 states. The deal is scheduled to close later this month, and customers will get letters of explanation from Walgreen.

    Bloomberg reports that Australia’s largest retailer, Woolworths Ltd., wants to sell its Dick Smith electronics store chain, bailing out of a business where it sees that tougher competition and lower prices is taking a toll on earnings.

    • Starbucks reportedly is about to enter yet another European country - Finland, where it will open its first cafe in the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport this April. If the store there works, Starbucks will consider a broader rollout across Finland.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    • The Wall Street Journal notes that Winn-Dixie’s CFO, Bennett L. Nussbaum, will step down from that role following the company's merger with grocery-store operator Bi-Lo. Brian Carney, executive vice president/CFO at Bi-Lo, will take on that role for the combined companies.

    Nussbaum reportedly will remain at the company leading integration efforts.

    • Robin Oxford, most recently manager of the National Association of Broadcasters’ political action committee, has joined NACS as its director of political affairs, where she will be responsible for all elements of NACSPAC.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    Angelo Dundee, who trained boxing champions that included Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jimmy Ellis, Luis Rodriguez, Sugar Ramos, Ralph Dupas and Willie Pastrano, passed away yesterday. He was 90.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    “When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter.” - Phil Connors, from Groundhog Day
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 2, 2012

    ... will return.
    KC's View: