business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB Archive Search

Please Note: Some MNB articles contain special formatting characters, and may cause your search to produce fewer results than expected.

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    The Wall Street Journal has a piece about New York Mets pitcher Jon Rauch, who opened a Twitter account believing that it would give him a greater connection with the team's fans, even if that meant occasionally having to put up with some abuse on days he pitches poorly. But nothing, the story says, "prepared him for the level of invective he received after allowing a walk-off home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin."

    Some of the messages were derisive. Others were vulgar. There were even messages that were homophobic. (Rauch is not gay.)


    • "Take this day off and hang yourself with the laces of your cletes."

    • "I hope you have suicidal thoughts. Don't act on them though. You;re a terrible reliever. U should hang them up. Choke on food not n games."

    "It's one thing to be upset that we lost," Rauch tells the Journal. "It's one thing if you want to take it personally and attack me about it. But it's just a shame that some people have the audacity to put something like that up and think there's no repercussions."

    Rauch notes that far more fans are supportive than abusive. "But the whole episode underscored the ugly downside of athletes embracing social media," the Journal writes. "Interactivity is a happy-sounding buzzword, and it can help them promote themselves. But it also exposes them to people who they'd rather keep at a distance."

    They've got that right.

    Now, as a NY Mets fan, I can certainly sympathize with folks who don't feel kindly toward Rauch. Or, for that matter, toward the entire bullpen.

    But I'd like to suggest that while social media may facilitate the act of being abusive, it does not create abusive people.

    Long before there was social media, there were people who would shout stupid and abusive things from the stands.

    I admit that I tend to be surprisingly reticent about expressing my emotions in such settings. I don't even boo during sporting events; I may moan and groan to myself or to whoever I happen to be with, but booing just seems uncivilized to me. And kind of mean. (People who read MNB may be surprised by this, since I seem to feel no such reticence here.)

    So let's not blame social media. Let's just blame people who don't know how to behave.

    One other thing. If I were a team owner, I would put in the contract of every one of my players that they are forbidden from Tweeting messages or posting on Facebook or any other social media site. Because as many dumb fans as there may be, there are more than a few dumb athletes who don't know when and how to keep their mouths shut.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    Fast Company has a fascinating story about how the guys who founded Twitter have created an incubator company called Obvious Corporation that "is backing a company that makes a plant-based meat substitute that it claims is going to make people forget that meat has to come from animals."

    "The first reaction I had was, I know this is a meat analogue but if someone were to serve this to me in a restaurant I would have said 'I think this is a mistake,'" says Biz Stone, one of the guys behind Obvious Corporation and a longtime vegan. "There’s something about the mouth-feel, the fattiness. It feels fatty and muscly and like it’s not good for you when you’re chewing it. For a long-time vegan, it’s a little bit freaky."

    According to the story, the startup company, Beyond Meat, "is manufacturing products that purportedly taste and feel like real meat ... have a better nutrition profile (no cholesterol, no saturated fat, but lots of protein), and will eventually be available at a lower price point than the industrially farmed stuff."

    It is a very interesting piece with enormous implications for the food business, and you can read the whole thing here.
    KC's View:
    If I were going to put my money behind a company that could make vegan eating palatable to the broad population, it would be behind the folks who created Twitter.

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    • The Washington Business Journal reports that Walmart has been issued two building permits for stores that it plans to open in the District of Columbia, despite the best efforts of some constituencies to prevent their opening. Four more stores are in the planning stages.

    Bloomberg reports that the Beijing Food Safety Agency in China has cited Walmart there "for selling sesame oil and squid with hazardous levels of chemicals."

    Walmart had acquired the sesame oil and squid from Chinese companies, and the retailer said it removed the products from its shelves as soon as it was made aware of the problem.

    According to the story, "China this week unveiled measures to improve food safety, including tighter supervision and harsh punishments for violators, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Police in China arrested Wal-Mart workers in Chongqing in October amid a probe of allegations the retailer mislabeled ordinary pork as organic. They were released in May."
    KC's View:
    The big question is whether China's food safety initiatives are cosmetic or real.

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    The BBC reports that French retailer Carrefour is selling its stake in a Greek joint venture to its partner there as a result of ongoing concerns about Greece's ongoing economic problems.

    Terms of the sale to Marinopoulos were not disclosed.

    According to the Wall Street Journal, "The announcement comes just two days ahead of pivotal elections that could prove decisive in whether Greece stays in the euro zone or not. A host of international companies have said they are preparing contingency plans for such a risk, with many voicing concerns about how to retrieve cash in the event of Greece leaving the 17-nation common currency."

    And the Associated Press writes, "The Carrefour Marinopoulos supermarkets are among the most popular in Greece, with branches in most parts of Athens and other cities. But business in Greece has come under pressure as the country wallows in a fifth year of recession due to harsh government austerity cuts that have drastically reduced many Greeks' disposable income."
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    • The Financial Times reports that "the Change to Win Investment Group, which works with pension plans that serve the interests of the members of five US unions, is calling for Tesco to establish a committee of non-executive directors to review the future of Fresh & Easy, a move that could lead to its exit from the US.

    “The way in which the interests of workers and shareholders intersect is when companies are run well,” says Michael Zucker, director of retail initiatives at CtW. “The proposals we are making would make the company run better, by making it articulate a sound strategy that could be endorsed by shareholders.”

    Change to Win says it will look for other investor groups to join in its effort, which it hopes will bear fruit at Tesco's annual meeting a few weeks from now.
    KC's View:
    Just another angle on trying to give the unions a way into Fresh & Easy. It won't work. Because not having union labor is totally irrelevant to whatever Fresh & Easy's competitive issues are.

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    Marketing Daily reports on a study by YouGov BrandIndex that looks at the brands which the highest level of perception among fathers. It looked at "1,100 brands (used) on a daily basis, show brands offering the simpler pleasures in life - like candy, subs and snacks - leading the rankings of those best-perceived by fathers."

    The top ranked brands were, in order, M&M's ... Subway ... Snickers ... Sony ... Planters ... Cheerios ... Amazon ... Bose ... Johnson & Johnson ... and Lowe's.

    Hooter's was the brand that made biggest gains in perception.
    KC's View:
    Maybe I have to get my testosterone levels checked. To be honest, only one of these probably would have made my top 10 of brands that I perceive as relevant to my life.

    Apple would be first. Amazon would be second. Diet Coke would be third. Starbucks would be fourth. LL Bean would be fifth (it is the clothing label I see the most when I get dressed). New Balance and Rockport would be tied for sixth (they make the only products I ever put on my feet). Stew Leonard's would be eighth. AMC Theaters would be ninth. And I'm having trouble coming up with a tenth. (It certainly would not be a candy. And definitely not a home-improvement chain.)

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    • The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "The Kroger Co. is coming to East Oakland with a 72,000-square-foot Foods Co. supermarket, complete with fresh food, bakery, deli and pharmacy. Scheduled to open early next year, Foods Co., one of Kroger's lower-priced markets, is the centerpiece of a $45 million redevelopment of the Foothill Square shopping center off Interstate 580, one of the largest retail projects in Oakland in the past 40 years."

    The store is in the middle of what is popularly referred to as a "food desert," with a tremendously under-served population.

    According to the story, Kroger's "presence in the Bay Area is relatively small - there are three smaller-format Foods Co. stores in San Francisco - but it appears to be expanding."

    Reuters reports that Costco "plans to buy out its joint venture partner Comercial Mexicana's 50 percent stake in its Mexican unit for 10.7 billion pesos ($766.79 million) and take full control of the business in its third-largest market."

    • The Brattleboro Reformer reports that if everything goes on schedule, it appears likely that the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont will open in its new home this Saturday. The move is just the latest in a series of moves since the Co-op started in 1975, and represents what management and membership hope will be a more or less permanent home for the store.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    Yesterday, in the short RIP piece I did about Henry Hill (of Goodfellas fame), I noted that he had been an FMI informant.

    That was, of course, a typo.

    He was an FBI informant.

    Sorry about that.

    I did, however, love the email I got that said:

    The FMI has informants?  Does the GMA also?  I kid because I love.

    As do we.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    We continue to get email about the proposed NYC ban on jumbo sugary soft drinks, and the possibility that it could be extended to all sort of other large sizes of products that the NYV Board of Health believes are unhealthy and therefore contributing to the city's obesity crisis.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I'm not in favor of Orwellian control of things like drink sizes.  HOWEVER, what seems to have been lost in the discussion is that there is something huge in the idea of managing down drink sizes (and food portions overall):

    We all know that humans have basically zero self-control, and like puppies, will continue to consume whatever is put in front of them until it is gone - - so somehow influencing options makes sense from a behavioral perspective.

    A recent study put Americans' caloric intake from beverages at around 24% of total caloric intake, yet people to a great extent don't think about drinks when counting calories - -it's thought of as sort of a free play.

    There are roughly 350 calories and about 88 grams of sugar in a single 32 oz cola drink -- which chips away quite a bit toward daily recommended intake of 2000-2500 calories and exceeds the recommended daily intake of around 50g sugar (depending on where you source your info).

    When you consider that a lot of these drinks will be consumed with food, and that restaurant food portions are very often too big and unhealthy, it starts to get scary...

    So, I understand Bloomberg's objectives, but government mandate can't be the answer (impractical, unfair; people can apparently easily work around gun laws; gaming soda restrictions might just be doable).

    If there could be some market-driven way for consumers to somehow be trained to be satisfied with non-excessive portion sizes (food and drink), there could be forward progress.  I wish I had an answer.  But as we're so trained to equate 'good value' with 'big meal', getting our arms around this problem will be a tall order (puns intended).

    The big problem is I'm not a puppy. And don't want to be treated that way. (Other than having my tummy rubbed from time to time.)

    MNB user Michael Galef wrote:

    While obesity is a major concern and causes our country tons of dollars, I don’t see the rationale in limiting soda sizes.  Good marketing and promotions will get around that like buy one get the second for 1/3 off.   It is about education, tax the drink(s) like tobacco and put the money toward obesity education.

    Another MNB user wrote:

    How much ketchup you can use – lots of HFCS in ketchup – and how about those lunatics who rip open 6 or so sugar packets and dump them in their coffee?  How are they going to control that?  Have the packets attached to the cups with a limit by size?  Hire people who will spy on patrons in delis and restaurants?  There are probably a lot of TSA wannabes who would love to be the CCCP (Calorie Control & Compliance Police).

    MNB user Scott J. Proch wrote:

    Wow… it’s really happening.  I’ve been reading your work here long enough to know about your stand on tobacco and why, but over a year ago, I wrote in talking about where these bans might lead and now, here we are. This slope has been slippery for years and is even more complex with all the lobbying that will go on around it.  I’m sure NYC will hear from the Popcorn Growers Association very soon!

    Each time we let them take a little freedom from us, it just gives them the green light to look for what’s next.

    I will steadfastly any effort to equate the proposed jumbo soda ban with restrictions on where people can smoke. Such a comparison is nonsense. Tobacco kills. Directly. Products made of tobacco are engineered to addict people. And the tobacco restrictions that have gone into effect over the past decade or so have made offices, baseball stadiums, restaurants, bars and airplanes - among other places - not just more pleasant places to be for non-smokers, but also safer, since second-hand smoke can be deadly.

    One of the real problems with the NYC soda proposal is that it will allow some people to refer back to the tobacco restrictions and make the whole "slippery slope" argument. They have nothing in common. Nothing.

    From another reader:

    We are at the edge here. Maybe the mayor should put cameras on every package of food, drinks and snacks. That way they could monitor people in their homes. If someone drinks a two-liter soft drink in less than allowable time period (designated by the food police), they would be eligible for behavioral re-programming. Lots of movies and/or books can be referenced as examples of what the future might be like.

    As individuals we have personal responsibility to manage our food and beverage intake in a rational way. Having struggled my entire life with the roller coaster of weight loss and weight gain, I get it. As parents (and our kids are now adults), that responsibility extends to an even higher level.

    There is another angle here. It's economics and the P&L. Prices will rise. If movie theaters have limits on food, snack and drink sales, movie ticket prices will increase. If restaurants have limits on what they can sell, the price for food (i.e., entrees, salads, sandwiches, etc.) will increase. In these venues, the real profits come from beverages, snacks and side dishes.

    What will be the impact of higher prices for entertainment and food-away-home?

    And banning certain items or package sizes in selected venues, will almost certainly increase those sales (or sales of related items) in other venues. It's not exactly like applying Gresham's Law to the sale of food, snacks and beverages. But it's close enough to make you think about another wonderful rule: Always beware the law of unintended consequences.

    MNB user Lon Whitmill wrote:

    Are we going to ban self serve soda machines as well.  A 16 oz soda with a refill is over the “nanny state” limit.

    Drink beer, smoke pot and have unprotected sex but please, please, please do not drink a Big Gulp.  It is bad for your health.

    Is this a great country or what?

    From another MNB user:

    If I were Michael Bloomberg, I’d be embarrassed as hell for going down this path. If he wants to move the needle on better health, then he should promote lots of exercise, give kids a good ole P.E. class during the day while their at school and go eat a cheeseburger in Central Park. What a waste of time.

    MNB user Marty Berlin wrote:

    This is a great example of why those with a conservative leaning want limited government. The lines are hard to draw once government steps into any arena, including that of legislating what we should and should not be eating. In my opinion, they certainly play a legitimate role in food safety, but trying to legislate what kind of foods we eat is way out of line. Eating “junk food” occasionally and in moderation is not going to do much harm to someone who already values their health and fitness and is living a lifestyle that promotes those things. And for those who do/are not, their freedom to choose should override what a few government officials (in their great wisdom) would impose upon them. It is ridiculous to think that a mayor and a Board of Health believes they need to make decisions for the general population regarding what they can or can’t eat.

    MNB user Scott Rickhoff wrote:

    In the 30’s they called it fascism but now it’s called progressivism… regardless how it’s whitewashed…  it ends up being fascism with a smile.

    MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

    I agree all this talk of banning this and limiting that is a bridge way too far… But it is not totally without redeeming social value… it makes for great Jon Stewart shows!

    It must be particularly galling to some folks that it is a Republican Mayor who is pushing for the ban, and people like the liberal Stewart who are mocking it.

    The other day, connecting two stories, I asked the following question:

    Which law is dumber, one that makes the use of public profanity illegal, or one that makes the selling of jumbo soft drinks illegal?

    To which one reader responded:
    Kevin, The answer, of course, is “Yes."

    And commenting on the small controversy created by my "McDonald's food is crappy food" comments, MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

    Admit it, you are a food snob, nothing really wrong with it.  But, when you get right down to it, you look down your nose at those who willingly choose to eat at McDonalds, or any  other fast food restaurant not named In n Out, Five Guys or a few others whose names escape me right now.  That’s when I think you take the “analysis with attitude” thing too far.  Whether you think so or not there is a place for these fast food feeders in the landscape.  For the record, I don’t care much for McDonalds either, but I also don’t like your attitude toward them and the people who frequent them.

    Oh, come on.

    Let's be clear. I can think and say that McDonald's serves generally crappy food, but that doesn't mean I won't stop at one if I'm on a long drive when there are not a lot of other options. I used to take my kids there all the time - especially after late Little league games when I just needed to get food into them, and that's what they wanted.

    I may be a little bit of a snob about food, but I don't look down my nose at people who eat at McDonald's - whether they eat there because they like it, or because that's all they can afford, or whatever.

    I like to think I have standards ... though I willingly violate them often, and sometimes even cheerfully.

    All I'm really doing here is arguing that better tasting food does not have to be more expensive, and that it is worth reaching for.

    But looking down my nose at people who eat at Mickey D's? Give me a break.

    (I have to go in a minute. I have to go buy some octopus to grill up for dinner tonight, and then figure out what white wine I'm going to serve with it...)

    I recorded my FaceTime video earlier this week in a hotel room, where I was preparing to give a speech. Which prompted one MNB user to write:

    Next time you record a video, you may want to make the bed first. (You wanted to hear what’s on our minds...)

    Could have been worse. Could have been a blonde in it.

    And, writing about my quoting of Neil Diamond lyrics, MNB user Geoff Harper wrote:

    Congrats on being a Mets fan and knowing the lines of the song that is played at every Red Sox home game.

    Hey, I get around. I'm Irish, but I know a little Yiddish. I like to think that I am the product of a good, rounded liberal arts education - not to mention a decent amount of life experience.

    Besides, that's a song that Jimmy Buffett does at almost every concert.
    KC's View:

    Published on: June 15, 2012

    There have been few movies to this point in the year that I have looked forward to as much as Prometheus, the new Ridley Scott movie that marks his return to the science fiction genre decades after having made two of its best specimens - Alien and Blade Runner.

    And while I've found the summer movies that I've seen to be largely disappointing, none has disappointed me as much as Prometheus.

    The odd thing is that during the movie - which is about a deep space mission to a planet where scientists believe they will find a race of beings hat essentially were the starting point of evolution on earth millions of years before - I was enjoying it. Prometheus looks great, can be genuinely scary, and has one terrific performance (by Michael Fassbender as an android with a hidden agenda). When we came out of it, Mrs. Content Guy was rather disenchanted with the whole experience, while I was feeling pretty good. But as I kept thinking about it, the more my mood matched hers ... it was like, once I held the movie up to the light, I realized that it was mostly style without much content.

    One of the big lures of Prometheus has been that if it is not a direct prequel to Alien, it "shares DNA" with that classic movie. And while that's true, it is hard for me to explain exactly why or how. It just does, but that's not good enough.

    There's a new summer TV series on A&E that I want to recommend to you. It's called "Longmire," and it is based on a series of mystery novels by Craig Johnson with which I am unfamiliar. It focuses on a modern day Wyoming sheriff, played by the wonderfully taciturn Robert Taylor, who is hiding a whole lot of pain related to his wife's recent death and maybe a few other secrets as well.

    So far, the cases are interesting, the landscape is beautiful, the performances strong, and it is a modern western with a strong thematic link to the classic westerns of the past. (It has a lot in common with Tom Selleck's TV movie versions of the Robert B. Parker Jesse Stone novels ... just a few time zones to the west. This is a good thing.)

    Catch it.

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

    Fins Up!
    KC's View: