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    Published on: July 16, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    PORTLAND, Oregon -- By now, the Supervalu story is old news.

    Not good news, though. Not for the thousands of good and decent people who work for the company, and not for the many investors who believed that it was worth gambling on the possibility that current management - led by Craig Herkert, the current CEO and former Walmart executive - could pull a retailing miracle out of a hat that increasingly seems worn and thin and not terribly deep.

    Here's the top-line information, in case you missed it, or were on vacation and not paying a lot of attention...

    Supervalu announced last week that it had not met either its sales or earnings targets for the previous quarter and as a result would be intensify its focus on cost controls, reducing capital expenditures, restructuring its debt, and suspending its quarterly dividend. Perhaps most important, though, the company said that it would explore various options - including a possible sale of all or part of the company - to maximize shareholder value. (This is easier said than done, as the company's share price dropped by more than 50 percent last week.)

    In an email to company employees last week, Herkert wrote: "As associates, you all have the most control and impact on that first component. We must focus relentlessly on taking costs out of the business while improving our processes and ensuring quality service for our customers. This was the focus of the Organizational Efficiency initiative we kicked off five months ago. That process, coupled with other projects that will help us be more efficient, will allow us to realize $250 million in savings during the next two years. Continuous improvement must become a way of life for us, just like it is for all successful companies."

    And Herkert wrote:

    "Critical to our turnaround is improving the results in our traditional retail network, and the way we will do that is through use of the operations tools that have already been deployed and by moving faster to the fair price plus promotion strategy. Our customers are responding to our produce transformation, and we just kicked off a larger-scale price reduction at Jewel-Osco. Our target is to have half of our network priced appropriately to the competition by March 2013. All banners will see sales-driving investments this year and will be executing the fair price plus promotion strategy by the end of Fiscal 2014."

    That, to me, was the eye-opener. Let me repeat (with italics added for emphasis):

    "Our target is to have half of our network priced appropriately to the competition by March 2013. All banners will see sales-driving investments this year and will be executing the fair price plus promotion strategy by the end of Fiscal 2014."

    Think about that for a second. If everything works the way that Supervalu leadership wants it to, everything should be where it needs to be in a year and a half. (The end of Fiscal 2014 is the end of February.)


    Now, I know that things take time. I would guess that the argument would be made by Supervalu's leadership that the company was in a real hole, and it takes time to dig out of those kinds of problems. (Parenthetically, can I ask a question here? What must former CEO Jeff Noddle think about all this? When he left the company, to be succeeded by Herkert, he was lauded by just about every association and food industry trade magazine as the executive of the year, if not the decade, in building Supervalu. Did he put the company on an unsustainable path? Did he just get out at the right time? Did he get it right and everyone since has screwed it up? Or did events and circumstances conspire to only make it look like he was guilty of managerial malpractice? I'm just asking.)

    Perhaps it actually will take Supervalu - assuming it survives - eighteen months to get everything in place so it can survive long-term.

    However, there were two other stories breaking last week that suggested to me that Supervalu probably doesn't have that kind of time...

    First, the Financial Times did a long piece about, noting that as the e-tailer accepts the responsibility for collecting sales taxes in more and more states, it is then able to open distribution centers in those states. (Previously, it did not have warehouses in as many locations because a physical presence would have required sales tax collections.) While some suggest that having to charge sales taxes could even the playing field for Amazon and traditional retailers, others say that this is a canard - and that by opening distribution centers in a many new places, Amazon will be better positioned to offer next-day or even same-day delivery to an ever expanding customer base. That kind of speed of delivery, combined with generally lower prices than those offered by bricks-and-mortar stores, could give Amazon increased marketing power that would be tough for many competitors to counter.

    As one commentator put it, the result will be this: "Physical retailers will be hosed."

    That's one story. Here's the other...

    National Public Radio did a story last week about a new study from Jefferies, a global investment bank, and AlixPartners, a business advisory firm, concluding that while "supermarkets have spent decades catering to the needs and wants of baby boomers," the millennial generation - people born between 1982 and 2001 - is finding that traditional supermarkets are a disappointing experience, and "are shopping elsewhere in greater numbers." The report says that "millennials buy only 41 percent of their food at traditional grocery stores, compared to the boomers' 50 percent."

    The challenge for retailers, the story suggests, is to figure out how to be more relevant to the millennial generation before its shopping habits become so ingrained that they never find their way back to the traditional supermarket.

    It is hard for me to suggest from here what Supervalu ought to do. People far smarter than I tell me that the company would be best served by getting rid of its retailing businesses, assuming it can find anyone willing to buy them at prices it deems appropriate, and get back to the business of wholesaling and serving its independent retail customers.

    There also is considerable sentiment out there that current management has "lost the clubhouse," to use a sports metaphor, and that the company's associates simply may not believe that leadership is up to the task of leading Supervalu out of the wilderness. There are concerns that the current leadership believes it can achieve prosperity - or at least some level of salvation - through cutting, cutting and more cutting, when a lot of people believe that when this is done it will leave Supervalu less able, not more able, to compete effectively.

    Even though I was off last week when all of this stuff was transpiring, I was still getting emails about it. One former Supervalu employee framed the company's problems this way:  "Weak economy, weaker leadership, still weaker strategy and programs, weakest execution and follow through." He is not alone in those beliefs. Not by a long shot.

    Whatever Supervalu does, it needs to move fast. It needs to move on 21st century time, not on a 20th century time clock that says you can take more than a year to get your ducks in a row.

    The end of Fiscal 2014? Really?

    It is like Supervalu is satisfied with just trading water, because swimming anywhere at this point is simply out of the question, and doesn't seem to realize that there is a tsunami coming.

    You have to look at what Amazon is doing to change the retail game in fundamental ways. You have to consider all the various moves that more traditional competitors - from Walmart to Costco to Safeway to Walgreen to the many other smart and savvy retailers who are hunting for share of wallet and share of stomach - are making. And you have to realize that old-world models that focus on things like "Organizational Efficiency initiatives" as being the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow may not do nearly enough to compete with a new-world e-business model that looks at the retailing business as a complex chess game, or to cater to a generation that finds old-world business models to be irrelevant.

    The world keeps spinning. Retailers keep competing. Consumers keep evolving. And the rules of the game - and even, sometimes, the players - keep changing.

    Tough times at Supervalu. I don't envy them.

    I hope that the folks there are smart and open-minded enough to realize that what they need now is speed and innovative thinking, and a kind of eyes-wide-open entrepreneurial fervor that will go beyond efficiency and get to the kind of effectiveness that will make the company both relevant and sustainable.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    Visa and MasterCard announced a $6 billion settlement of a price fixing lawsuit dating back to 2005 that was brought against them by a wide range of retailers. However, almost as soon as the settlement was announced, a number of trade associations suggested a certain level of skepticism about the deal, which was reached after months of negotiation, with one coming right out and saying it could not endorse it.

    In fact, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) put a punctuation mark on its opposition to toe settlement by announcing over the weekend that it has hired the law firm of Constantine Cannon LLP, described by the WSJ as "a longtime legal foe" of both MasterCard and Visa, "to help challenge last week's $6.6 billion lawsuit settlement between the credit-card industry and merchants."

    "This is a deeply flawed deal that will perpetuate the current system, while giving Visa and MasterCard broad legal cover going forward," Jeffrey Shinder, managing partner at Constantine Cannon, tells the Journal.

    However, the Journal reports that a number of plaintiffs - including Kroger, Publix and Walgreen - already have signed onto the settlement.

    The Associated Press frames the settlement this way: "Credit card companies have agreed to reduce swipe fees for eight months ... The temporary reprieve on fees is valued at $1.2 billion. The settlement does not apply to debit cards, which have grown in popularity for small-value transactions."

    The pact, which is being called by lawyers involved in the case the largest antitrust settlement in US history, is seen as a major victory for merchants that have long complained about the billions of dollars in so-called 'swipe' or 'interchange' fees that they pay to banks for purchases made using plastic. But at a time when shoppers increasingly are using credit and debit cards, merchants will face a dilemma: Whether to charge shoppers extra for using plastic, and if so, how to do so without angering them."

    According to the Wall Street Journal coverage of the story:

    "The settlement is a victory for retailers, which will get more control over how people pay, and removes a legal threat for the major card companies. It could potentially raise prices for some goods and services for consumers who prefer using cards to cash and checks," because it allows "merchants to charge more to customers who pay with credit cards," a practice long prohibited by the credit card companies.

    "The settlement calls for merchants to advise consumers of the surcharges, potentially at the cash register. It also includes some restrictions on the extra amount they can charge ... The lawsuit settlement says that merchants can't discriminate among card brands if they decide to add surcharges."

    "Visa and MasterCard have already set aside most of the funds to pay for the cost of a settlement. Visa and MasterCard entered a sharing agreement last year that makes Visa responsible for about 67% of any settlement and MasterCard for 33%. The banks will help fund MasterCard's portion, leaving MasterCard with a responsibility of 12% of the settlement." Lawyers for the two companies said that while they believed that had a strong defense, the settlement "avoids years of litigation and uncertainties that are inherent in such cases."

    The Journal notes that this represents "the second recent big interchange victory for merchants. The Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law that was adopted two year ago included a measure that cut in half the interchange fees on debit cards." And the AP writes that the National Retail Federation estimates that "swipe fees costs for stores total about $30 billion per year."

    NACS stated its opposition this way:

    “Not only does the proposed settlement fail to introduce competition and transparency into a clearly broken market, it actually provides Visa and MasterCard with the tools to continue to shield swipe fees from market forces,” said NACS Chairman Tom Robinson, president of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Robinson Oil Corp. “This proposed settlement allows the card companies to continue to dictate the prices banks charge and the rules that constrain the market including for emerging payment methods, particularly mobile payments. Consumers and merchants ultimately will pay more as a result of this agreement — without any relief in sight.”

    “Even the monetary agreement in this proposal is a mirage,” said Robinson. “Merchants won’t get these funds for years and will have paid more than that through increased swipe fees long before they see those funds.”

    “NACS does not accept this proposed settlement and we reserve the right to fight it if other class representatives do accept it,” said NACS President and CEO Henry Armour. “There is plenty of time for merchants to make thoughtful decisions related to this proposed settlement. We hope and expect that, as they have the time to review it, many other merchants including class representatives will decide to reject this proposal."

    Peter Larkin, president/CEO of the National Grocers Association (NGA) issued the following statement:

    "NGA has been engaged in this litigation as a plaintiff for over seven years.  We took this action on behalf of independent retail grocers to seek fundamental restructuring and reform of anti-competitive credit card interchange fees and payment rules.  While we have knowledge of the framework of the settlement, we have not seen the final language or had a chance to assess its impact on our members.  With the announced filing of the settlement agreement, NGA staff and our Executive Committee and Board of Directors will now begin a thorough review process of the settlement agreement to determine whether or not the association will be in support."

    The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) released the following statement:

    "NCPA joined this lawsuit to achieve long-term reform of the credit card interchange fee system. The current system is inherently unfair to community pharmacy small business owners and saddles all consumers with higher costs. NCPA’s board and legal counsel are actively evaluating this complex and multifaceted proposed settlement to determine whether it is in the best interest of the independent community pharmacy owners we represent. No decision will be made with respect to the acceptability of this proposed settlement until a closer analysis of the final language has been completed.”
    KC's View:
    I find the NACS argument to be pretty persuasive - that the credit card companies are playing a long game, believing that this settlement will give them legal cover for the foreseeable future.

    It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, and if there will be enough retail resistance to the settlement to derail it.

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports that the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the proposed settlement of a class action suit against Kellogg Co. - accusing the cereal company of making false health claims for its products - cannot be implemented because too much of the money was slated to go to plaintiffs' attorneys and not nearly enough to the actual plaintiffs.

    According to the story, the settlement would have resulted in five law firms sharing $2 million in fees, while the most any of the plaintiffs would have gotten is $15.

    The Times writes that "the settlement required Kellogg to drop a claim that eating Mini-Wheats would improve attentiveness by 20% but permitted the company to advertise that children who ate the cereal did better in school than those who skipped breakfast." The appeals court judges also said that the settlement - which among other things, called for Kellogg Co. to "establish a $2.75-million fund for consumers who filed claims for reimbursement of the cost of as many as three boxes," as well as to "distribute $5.5 million worth of Kellogg food products to unspecified charities that help the poor," was "defective" because it was "exceptionally vague."
    KC's View:
    One can only guess that the settlement language must have been atrocious for three lawyers wearing black robes to smack down a bunch of other lawyers for charging too much money for their services.

    Kind of makes you feel warm inside, though, doesn't it?

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    Accenture is out with a new study saying that the threat of private brands to national brands "is not going away.  Two thirds (64 percent) of shoppers surveyed by Accenture admitted that their grocery carts were at least half full of store-brand products, and 39 percent said they have increased their purchase of store-brands in recent years as a result of the tough economic times.

    "The Accenture study of 500 U.S. consumers found that price remains the key factor in the majority of store-brand purchases. Two thirds (66 percent) of shoppers said they buy store-brands because they are cheaper.  Also, while 87 percent of shoppers said they would buy more brand-name products if they were offered at the same price as the comparable store-brand, more than half (51 percent) said that it would take a permanent price reduction of the brand-name product – to the same price as the store-brand – to persuade them to return to purchasing the brand-name product."

    The report concludes that "the growing perception of trust, quality and preference for private-label products should be of most concern to consumer goods companies that are competing with stores for the same shelf space. Half (50 percent) of consumers surveyed buy store-brand products because they perceive the quality to be just as good as the brand-name equivalent, 42 percent buy a private-label product because they 'trust' that particular store’s brand, and 28 percent simply prefer the store-brand product to the brand-name product. In fact, only 9 percent claimed not to buy store-brands because they felt that the quality or taste was inferior to the brand-name product."
    KC's View:
    I'm not surprised by this. I think that some retailers have done an excellent job of establishing their private brands as legitimate and quality alternatives, even as they have done a better job of branding themselves in a competitive environment. I do think that the results would be a little different if the respondents came from certain markets ... but by and large, this study makes sense. (Not that Accenture needs my imprimatur....)

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    The Los Angeles Times reports that Best Buy has announced that it plans to lay off 600 Geek Squad employees and some 1,800 other store workers as part of its turnaround plan designed to help it compete better with the likes of and Apple.

    According to the story, "The layoffs represent 1.5% of Best Buy's overall workforce but 3% of the company's Geek Squad employees, who can assist with technical issues inside stores or at customers' homes.

    "Best Buy has highlighted its Geek Squad service to keep customers from turning to cheaper online options, often after checking out the goods in Best Buy showrooms."

    The move comes as Best Buy endures a series of traumatic events - a disappointing Christmas selling season, the departure of its CEO because of an apparently inappropriate relationship he was having with an employee, and an announced decision "to cut the size of superstores by 20% and open 100 Mobile Stores, which mimic the Apple Store approach to customer service by putting Geek Squad employees behind the help desk. In the process, Best Buy closed 50 of its superstores and cut 400 corporate and support jobs."
    KC's View:
    This strikes me as just dumb - getting rid of the things that should qualify as differential advantages is not the best way to compete with Amazon or Apple.

    Not sure we are at the "dead company walking" stage yet with Best Buy. But we're getting close.

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    The Sacramento Bee reports that Save Mart Supermarkets has reached a tentative contract agreement with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union that not only prevents "a strike by 11,000 employees against Modesto-based Save Mart and its Lucky subsidiary," but also "creates a kind of bargaining template that could force Raley's and Safeway Inc., the other two unionized grocers in Northern California, to adopt similar packages.

    "What's more, it weakens the ability of Safeway and Raley's to withstand a walkout, giving them less clout at the bargaining table."

    All three companies have been looking for union concessions to help them do battle with non-union shops such as Walmart, and the Save Mart deal reportedly has some of those concessions. However, it remains to be seen whether Safeway and Raley's can get the same kind of deal, and in the case of Raley's, it is not a foregone conclusion that it would be satisfied with such a deal.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    CNN reports on an Easley, North Carolina, funeral home where the owner recently expanded - and added a Starbucks coffee shop.

    The Starbucks is not only accessible to mourners; its location in the building also makes it available to the general public, though a new lobby in the funeral home "will lead to an area where baristas ... will discreetly serve Frappuccinos to mourners and the public alike."
    KC's View:
    I have to say that based on my consumption of Starbucks coffee, this would be the perfect place for me to go to a wake. (Hell, when I die and they cremate me, it probably would make sense to toss a pound of Verona on the flames.)

    Now, this isn't quite as bizarre as it may seem on first pour. The family that owns the funeral home has long had a general store in town, where they have sold coffee for years. In fact, they used to sell caskets ... and went into the funeral home business as a natural brand extension. (How can anyone in the retail business not love these guys!)

    There may be something a little creepy about somebody wandering in off the street for a Venti skim latte and finding himself on line with a bunch of sad-looking folks in dark clothing. But on the other hand, I've always felt that the best kind of wake is one that celebrates a person's like rather than mourns their death, and maybe a little caffeine in this case really would be good for the soul.

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    Forbes reports that Costco has launched a mobile application, available for use on Apple's iOS and Android phones, that it says "will not only make shopping easier, but also integrates a social experience – which is critical as Costco itself is a very social experience for most customers."

    The story goes on to note that "currently, ranks 17th among online retailers, and its own neighbor in Seattle – Amazon –  ranks first. Wal-Mart, which is more similar to Costco with a brick-and-mortar experience in addition to an online store, ranks fourth online — and both are growing faster than Costco, according to the trade publication Internet Retailer."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2012

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

    • The Seattle Times reports that not only has Seattle-based Metropolitan Market arranged for a private equity firm to take a stake in the company, but it is using at least some of the new investment money to acquire Magnolia Thriftway there.

    According to the story, Magnolia's owners are retiring and were looking to sell: "The deal is expected to close in September. Metropolitan plans to remodel the store next year, and will keep it open during that work. Financial terms were not disclosed on the acquisition or on last week's investment by West Coast-based Endeavour Capital."

    I love Metropolitan Market ... it is one of my favorite independent retailers. Here's hoping that whatever moves they make turn out to be ones that are good for its customers and makes the company even more competitive and relevant going forward...

    • Tops Friendly Markets, the grocery retailer with stores in Western New York, Central New York, including Rochester, and Northern Pennsylvania, announced that the company will expand into the City of Syracuse by opening a new store on the city’s South Side. The unit is on the site of an old P&C store that is now vacant; Tops says it plans to renovate the location and have it open by the end of the year.

    • It was reported last week that in Portland, Oregon, the "2012 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival raised a record $902,000 to feed hungry Oregonians, easily smashing the previous record of $748,000 set in 2011 ... Organizers said the 120,000 attendees contributed an additional 104,000 pounds of food, beating the goal of 100,000 pounds."

    I was there, and let me tell you that the folks in Portland - including Safeway - know how to throw a Blues festival. The Etta James tribute on July 4 was terrific, and the closing concert by the Steve Miller Band rocked the waterfront. Totally cool...

    • Responding to criticism from both sides of the political aisle that the uniforms worn by US athletes at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London were made in China, designer Ralph Lauren announced on Friday that the uniforms for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, will be manufactured as well as designed in the US.

    Not just because I have "Made in the USA Certified" as a sponsor, but I actually believe that this stuff is going to matter more and more to consumers/citizens.

    Bloomberg reports that Campbell Soup is acquiring Bolthouse Farms, which sells fresh carrots, beverages and salad dressings as well as private-label products, for about $1.55 billion in cash to bolster its juice business.

    • Los Angeles-based Unified Grocers announced that it has partnered with Guiding Stars and Vestcom's healthyAisles to give shoppers of independent grocery stores what it says is "a quick and easy way to make informed decisions about healthy food choices. This convenient and easy-to-use shelf tag program allows shoppers to see at a glance foods that offer the most nutrition for the calories and identify the key health benefits of each item.

    "The Guiding Stars and healthyAisles program debuted at Granite Falls Market Fresh IGA, Granite Falls, Washington and Lamb's Garden Home Market, Portland, Oregon earlier this year. Unified is planning to roll out the program at more independent retailers' stores throughout the West in the coming months."

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that "Kraft Foods has promised to eliminate the use of gestational crates from Oscar Mayer's meat supply by 2022. In doing so, the Northfield-based package food company joins McDonald's, Wendy's, Safeway, Smithfield, Hormel and other food giants in making steps to halt what's been a standard agricultural practice: close confinement of pregnant sows to prevent fights over food. Animal rights activists decry the process as cruel, because breeding sows are pregnant for much of their lives."

    Bloomberg reports that Walgreen is spending $438 million to acquire the owner of the USA Drug chain, a move that gives it "144 stores under brands including Super D Drug and May’s Drug, as well as corporate offices and a distribution center in Arkansas. It’s Walgreen’s second deal in about two weeks, after the Deerfield, Illinois- based company agreed to buy a 45 percent stake in Alliance Boots GmbH for $6.7 billion last month to expand globally."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    • Wegmans announced last week that Don Reeve, its senior vice president/CIO, is retiring after 42 years with the company.

    Dave DeLaus, previously senior vice president and division manager of Wegmans’ New Jersey stores, will succeed Reeve as CIO.

    • Denny Belcastro, the former vice president - industry affairs and customer development at Kraft Foods North America and most recently executive vice president for industry affairs and collaboration at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, is joining Hillshire Brands at the end of the month as vice president of government and industry affairs, a new position within the company.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    A tough couple of weeks in Hollywood, as people who I grew up watching - or made the movies I grew up watching - passed away...

    • Ernest Borgnine, who acted in more than 200 movies and television programs but probably is best known for his Oscar-winning turn as the title character in Marty as well as roles in From Here To Eternity, The Dirty Dozen, The Wild Bunch and The Poseidon Adventure, not to mention the TV comedy "McHale's Navy," died last week at age 95.

    • Richard D. Zanuck died last Friday of a heart attack at age 77. Among the films he was responsible for producing: Jaws. The Sting. Driving Miss Daisy. The Road to Perdition. The Verdict. Cocoon. M*A*S*H. Enough said.

    • And finally, Andy Griffith, who was best known for playing Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show," and defense attorney Ben Matlock on "Matlock," but who also had memorable movie roles in films such as A Face In The Crowd and No Time for Sergeants, passed away on July 3 at age 86.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 16, 2012

    Responding to the discussion of my "life is too short to eat crappy food" comment from before I went on vacation, one MNB user wrote:

    I love it.  I am 5’4” and weigh 115 pounds, so it’s obvious I’m not a glutton.  However, food and wine are 2 of my favorite subjects.  When we go on vacation, where we eat dinner is often the main activity that drives what we do the rest of the day.  As soon as we hit a vacation spot, we immediately begin a search for where the “locals” eat and what’s the best food in town.  When I order in a restaurant, I always look for something I have never had before.  Same w/the wine list.  Why buy what you can get in your local state store.  Order a wine you have never tried before.  For New Year’s Eve, I fly 900 miles to Maine to have a 9-course out-of-this-world dinner at The Hartstone Inn in Camden w/my son and daughter-in-law.  We literally wait all year for it.

    When cooking at home, most everything is from scratch.  And it doesn’t have to be expensive.  Starting w/some simple sautéed garlic and onions, you really can’t go wrong from there.  My husband’s and my favorite activity (well almost favorite J) was cooking dinner together.  Sometimes it only took 20 minutes; other times, it could take hours.  Regardless, it was priceless time spent together while we drank wine and munched our way to a finished product.  When we would sit down to dinner, my husband would always look across the table and say, “Who eats better than we do?”  And, I would always answer, “No one, dear.”
    I think you either care about food or you don’t.  The range of tastes/textures in our food world is practically limitless. What’s not to try?  What’s not to enjoy?
    Luckily, both of my children are devoted “foodies” also.  They make about everything from scratch, including their bread, and, frankly, probably spend less on groceries than any other families I know.  One of the real upsides to being food oriented is that it is a great way for families to connect.  All of my grandchildren are more proficient in the kitchen than many adults and take real pride in what they can make.  As a result, they also will taste anything and can really appreciate “good” food.  Some of our best family memories are food/meal related.
    Summary:  It doesn’t have to be elitist, in my opinion, to appreciate and love great food.  This body has to take you from cradle to grave.  What you put in it will dictate how well your motor runs and for how long.  Why anyone would put “sugar in the gas tank” is beyond me.  It should be “high octane” all the way.

    And from another reader:

    Good morning, I'm a long term fan of MNB and occasionally write in to comment.  Given the current debate with people weighing in on 'crappy' food vs nutritious offerings... well, I just couldn't resist commenting.  I recently decided to join a weight loss program to remove a very stubborn set of 20 lbs off my body.  Going into the program, it works like most diets, fresh fruit, fresh veggies and fresh meat with no prepared foods.  I won't lie, I was worried it would be very expensive and we planned for it.  After all, EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE tells you it's more expensive to eat 'fresh' and 'right' then to eat fast...   What I really want to impart is the knowledge that thinking has to change!   What I learned was surprising - my monthly food costs decreased and for those wondering, NO it's not due to less food intake.  My husband and I stopped eating out and started preparing every meal.   Like most of your readers, we live full lives but made the commitment to try this plan for 9 weeks.  He didn't have any weight to lose, but as I prepare the meals, he was willing to take one for the team and eat the same in larger portions.   The results - 12+ weeks later we're still eating fresh fruits, fresh veggies and fresh meats with the weight off and more importantly, Feeling Great!  

    Lesson learned - fresh food doesn't cost more, it just takes more planning and prep time.  We shop at Walmart where costs tend to be cheaper in our area and I know they're everywhere, so.....   Something for readers that argue fresh costs more - how much did it cost you to take your family to McDonald's, Wendy's or some other fast food place?  Last time the two of us went, it was about $15.  Do you know how much fresh food I can buy for $15?   Enough to make multiple meals, not just one lunch, but dinner, lunch and dinner again.   I would challenge anyone to take a restaurant receipt and shop in fresh isles only to learn how much food can be bought for the same spend.  In the end, it comes down to choices and while eating out occasionally is not a bad thing, eating out multiple meals in a week IS expensive any way you look at it.   If someone argues they don't have "time" to cook and prepare food, well - I'm not different than anyone else.  I have a family, full time job and 3 hour a day commute.  Again, planning is the key, but eating right is doable regardless of the argument.

    Chiming in on the debate we were having about CEOs who think they walk on water, when in fact it is the people on the front lines who make the difference, one MNB user wrote:

    Interesting anecdote you relate about Larry Johnston parking his car in a no parking zone, "just to let people know" that he could; stamped by you as Exhibit A, "A" standing for a word you can't use in MNB.  Brings to mind the stories about Steve Jobs, described by his biographer, Walter Isaacson, as "prickly", where he (Jobs) would stand just barely inside the line of California motor vehicle law, flagrantly flaunting it, by trading in his leased Mercedes SL every 5.99 months so as to never have to put a license plate on it.  One might infer he did this "just to let people know" that he could, and as such, would seem to leave himself open to charges he was arguably no more praiseworthy -- at least, on this narrow issue of parking law * -- than Johnston was.  Can we call this Exhibit B, "B" here standing for a word you may or may not choose to report in MNB?

    Please note I am only equating Jobs & Johnston on this narrow issue of parking law.  I am in no way suggesting any other similarity between the two executives.  It goes without saying that Jobs' product contributions to the technology world are fabulous, as are his performance metrics at Apple.

    I would absolutely agree that the nonsense with the car was not Steve Jobs' finest moments.

    On another, but related subject, MNB user Mark Raddant wrote:

    Kudos to you for standing up to the person who felt Apple store workers were teenagers who weren’t supposed to be making a living wage.  In fact, most retail people I come in contact with are working retail as a main job or in support of a “primary” job which does not pay enough to support a family.

    This is a consumer driven economy.  The people at the retail level are spending the majority of their wages.  What they can save, they do for down payments on the big stuff.  They are the backbone of the economy, not the so called “Job Creators” who—with the lowest taxes on them in generations have not been creating too many jobs, have they?  The real Job Creators are those who spend their money to buy competitive, quality products.  They drive investment by companies looking to fulfill the demand—but it is the DEMAND which spurs investment and hiring.

    By the way, those “teenagers” at the Apple Store are the personal representatives of the biggest and most valuable company on earth.

    MNB user Ernie Monschein chimed in:

    I am always amazed at the sheer number of people today who do the "simple math" and come up with an attitude that jobs at the Apple Store or in retail supermarkets lack dignity and are pretty much for "teenagers" or others that made poor personal choices. There are many reasons people make the decisions they do and many reasons people cope with a range of circumstances. The arrogance of such a statement and the every man (or woman) for himself attitudes that have become so prevalent in today's society are destructive and not at all flattering to those who have them. All jobs have dignity in their own ways and we shouldn't judge the worth of people on such shallow criteria.

    And from yet another reader:

    Today you are a hero to those of us on the front lines of retail! We provide a service but are not sub-servant. We love what we do and do it with pride. Thank again for the good fight!

    While on vacation I came across an email that I'd somehow missed, but that I wanted to post to make sure that the wrong impression was not given:

    As an Italian-American and a daily reader of MNB,(and one that enjoys your commentary), I was very troubled by your "goes to the mattresses" headline on the Piggly Wiggly story this morning.  Would that have been your headline if Mr. Paul Butera (the CEO) was not an Italian-American?  The perceived "Mafia" connotation was both unnecessary and very insensitive.

    I never even thought about Butera's ethnic background when I wrote that headline - I was just reaching for a movie reference, as I often do.

    Apologies if any offense was taken, because certainly none was meant.
    KC's View: