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    Published on: September 24, 2012

    by Kevin Coupe

    I love emails like this one, from MNB user Craig Espelien ... and so I want to turn the Eye Opener over to him this morning:

    I read an article in the Minneapolis Star/Tribune ... about the performance of FedEx and the downturn of their business as folks turn away from overnight delivery (while still focusing on second, third or later deliveries).  I got to thinking that FedEx may also be going down the road to oblivion – as many documents that used to need to be overnighted cannot be signed electronically by companies like DocuSign.  I am in the process of selling my house in California (while living in Minneapolis and working every week in St. Louis – this will become important in a minute) and in order to get all of the multiple document singed in a timely fashion, I would have had to get a package overnighted to me in St. Louis, sent to my wife in Minneapolis for her signature and routed (again overnight) to our realtor in California.  Each leg was a $40 bill.  Now, I can sign the documents electronically, they automatically route to my wife for her to sign electronically and they automatically get returned to the realtor completed.  I then get a fully executed set for my records.  This is all done in a matter of minutes vs. the three days (overnight to me, then overnight to my wife and then overnight back to the realtor).

    It feels a bit like Fedex is leaning in the “Kodak Direction” – following an outmoded business model rather than embracing the new.  Example – why would FedEx not have created this process (maybe they own DocuSign and I am simply ignorant of that fact), monetized it and linked their very strong brand (known for on time delivery and trusted service)?

    The times, they are a changing.  The only down side is that the Tom Hanks movie and the interesting volley ball character may no longer be possible if FedEx becomes obsolete.

    This is a great point, and I'm glad that Craig brought it up.

    This is something that FedEx has to be thinking about, if the leadership there is paying any attention. It is not hard to imagine that at least some of the services that FedEx offers could become irrelevant at some point in the not too distant future. Packages, of course, will still be part of the picture ... at least until someone perfects a Star Trek-style transporter. But documents ... that whole piece of the business has to be vanishing.

    Which brings us to something we talk about a lot here on MNB...

    Remember - there is no such thing as the unassailable business advantage. Everybody - even the folks at FedEx, which changed the world - has to be looking for the next business advantage.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    The Boston Globe over the weekend reported about "the Henry Gonsalves Co., a Rhode Island food supplier that repeatedly sold underweight frozen fish to local supermarket chains, according to a Boston Globe investigation. About two-thirds of the Gonsalves fish tested weighed less than the package label indicated.

    "The underweight seafood from Gonsalves is part of a persistent problem in the industry, though the company says any mislabeling is unintentional. Typically, frozen seafood is coated with ice to keep it fresh and minimize freezer burn. Some businesses in the supply chain add extra ice and include it in the weight declared on the label. Retailers end up charging for the water, and shoppers pay more money for less fish."

    Mentioned in the investigation as being the retail victims of the underweighting are Market Basket and Save-A-Lot.

    Here's an interesting paragraph from the story: "The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which runs a seafood inspection program, said it finds economic fraud in at least 40 percent of products voluntarily submitted to the agency for testing by processors and other businesses. At least eight out of 10 cases involve inaccurate weights, according to Steven Wilson, chief quality officer of NOAA’s seafood inspection program."

    The Globe has been on a seafood tear lately, having recently conducted an extensive investigation and discovering that "some wholesalers, grocery stores, and restaurants in Massachusetts were substituting less expensive species for more desirable fish and that consumers routinely bought seafood different from what was advertised."

    Lisa Weddig of the National Fisheries Institute says it is an issue of some consequence: “Rather than looking at this as 30 cents here and 30 cents there, we should be looking at this as a $69 billion seafood industry and these practices could be costing the industry and consumers tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in the end."
    KC's View:
    This is the kind of stuff that, little by little, can erode the confidence of consumers in the products they buy, and the brands they trust. I'm even willing to believe that the mislabeling is unintentional, but since it is a persistent problem, maybe the seafood manufacturers could actually do something about it.

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a piece suggesting something that we've been talking about for months here on MNB - the inevitability that Amazon will look to grow its fresh grocery business footprint, and will use its expanding number of distribution centers around the country as infrastructure in that growth.

    Here's how Bloomberg frames the story:

    "For the past five years, AmazonFresh, the company's grocery subsidiary, has quietly been experimenting in Amazon's hometown of Seattle. Residents there can order fresh produce, dry goods, meat and seafood and have it delivered to their home anytime - day or night.

    "The company owns a fleet of white and green trucks in the Seattle area and uses them to deliver orders that are carefully packed into green and blue plastic pallets. Seattle residents say it's a marvel - you can place your orders until 11 p.m. and find the products waiting for you by the time you wake up.

    "But AmazonFresh has been slow to expand. One big reason is the sales tax issue. If the company started selling groceries and delivering orders in states where it claimed it didn't have any physical operations, it would have been forced to start collecting sales tax. Well, as of last weekend, that's no longer an issue in the country's most populous state (California)."

    The story goes on to say that "Doug Herrington, Amazon's vice president of consumables, who oversees AmazonFresh, is clearly a believer in the grocery delivery business. He worked at Webvan from 1998 to 2001.

    "Amazon's likeliest next move is to expand Fresh into a high-density metro area like Los Angeles or San Francisco. The company is already working on two new fulfillment centers, a 95,000 square-foot facility east of Los Angeles, and a 1-million-square-foot space east of San Francisco. Add some portable refrigeration units, and those two facilities could serve as bases of an AmazonFresh hub-and-spoke grocery distribution system for California's two largest cities."
    KC's View:
    There are people who probably will are all sorts of logistical reasons why Amazon should not to do this, and there will be some competitors who will say they are reassured that a Webvan veteran is in charge of the company's food efforts.

    But I would argue that while it is no by means a sure thing that Amazon will expand its fresh food efforts - they could always decide that the ROI just isn't there - history suggests that it is precisely the kind of challenge that Jeff Bezos likes.

    Remember the lines from the new commercial:

    "What once was wildly impractical is now completely normal. And normal just begs to messed with."

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that a US District Court in San Francisco has ruled that Walmart may have to face an 11-year-old gender discrimination class action suit brought against it on behalf of female employees in California if the plaintiffs are able to prove that the filing is consistent with a previous US Supreme Court ruling that a national version of the case was inappropriate. Walmart argued successfully that any discrimination that might have happened was a local aberration and that any litigation needed to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

    The national lawsuit that was rejected proposed that it should be able to represent the interests of more than a million employees; the California suit would represent "between one and several hundred thousand."

    According to the story, the court "rejected Wal-Mart's bid to dismiss the case, an argument made on grounds that even the reduced class size suffers from the problems that led the Supreme Court to bar a nationwide class certification, according to the ruling.

    The ruling does not certify the class action, but only rejects Walmart's efforts to have it dismissed at this stage of the litigation.
    KC's View:
    One cannot help but think that Walmart wants to do everything possible to keep the facts of the case from being heard, and from having actual witnesses called to the stand, put under oath, and asked specific questions. All the debate to this point seems to be about procedure, not facts.

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    The Associated Press reports on a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that "a huge, decades-long study involving more than 33,000 Americans has yielded the first clear proof that drinking sugary beverages interacts with genes that affect weight, amplifying a person's risk of obesity beyond what it would be from heredity alone.

    "This means that such drinks are especially harmful to people with genes that predispose them to weight gain. And most of us have some of these genes.

    "In addition, two other major experiments have found that giving children and teens calorie-free alternatives the sugary drinks leads to less weight gain.

    "Collectively, the results strongly suggest that sugary drinks cause people to pack on the pounds, independent of other unhealthy behavior such as overeating and getting too little exercise, scientists say."
    KC's View:
    Some already are saying that this study lends credence to efforts like the one in New York City that is banning the sale of jumbo sugared soft drinks. But it should not surprise anyone that too much of anything isn't really good for anyone. It also isn't fair to say that it is just consumption of such drinks that creates obesity; there also are things like lack of exercise that create problems.

    I do think there is a public policy response to this kind of information, but it has to do with providing accurate and transparent information about what is in every product, and also doing things like creating and maintaining public environments that encourage exercise, like ballfields and bike lanes.

    But I'm not sure any of this is a surprise. It's just that what, at least to me, appears to reasoned and reasonable solutions keep being submerged under all sorts of hysteria.

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    • The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) is calling for broad industry support of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2012, which was introduced in the US Senate this week and "calls for a less burdensome approach to unnecessary federal menu-labeling regulations outlined in the health-care law."

    According to NACS, "The health-care law includes a provision that creates a national, uniform nutrition-disclosure standard for foodservice establishments such as chain restaurants, 'similar retail food establishments' and vending that have 20 or more locations ... NACS believes that any menu-labeling regulations must account for differences between the convenience store business model and a chain restaurant business model. The FDA’s proposed regulations are tailored to the restaurant business model, and unless they are revised to reflect our industry, they should not apply to convenience stores.

    "NACS recommended to the FDA that a floor space calculation should be replaced with one based on revenues, and that an entity should be covered only if revenues from restaurant-type food sales exceed 50% of the store’s overall sales. In evaluating this ratio, pre-packaged food should be excluded from the 'restaurant-type food' revenues and fuel sales should be included in the store’s overall sales."

    A similar bill has been introduced in the US House of Representatives.

    The Hill reports that 19 companies, including Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's, have signed a letter pushing the US Congress "to extend a tax incentive for the industry before it expires at the end of the year.

    "Nineteen businesses outside the energy sector signed a letter sent Tuesday to congressional leaders that argues the 2.2 cent per kilowatt-hour incentive for wind power production 'lowers prices for all consumers, keeps America competitive in a global marketplace and creates homegrown American jobs'."
    KC's View:
    Nothing, of course, is going to happen until after the election. If then.

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    Bloomberg reports that the ban on the sale of foie gras in California - signed into law by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004, and put into effect on July 1, 2012 - can remain in effect pending an appeal of the law's constitutionality.

    The ruling was made by U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson, respond to a request by US and Canadian foie gras producers, who wanted the ban stayed while they appeal it.

    The story says that "the law bans force-feeding ducks or geese to make foie gras and forbids selling foie gras produced that way. Violators can be fined as much as $1,000 a day."

    The foie gras ban was enacted because of concerns about how the ducks and geese are force-fed to create enlarged livers for the delicacy.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last Friday "making it legal to sell certain safe foods, including bread, cookies and tortillas, made in home kitchens. Until now, state law did not allow the sale of goods prepared anyplace but a commercial kitchen, although there was an exception for charity bake sales.

    Under AB 1616, the state Department of Public Health would have authority to add and remove foods from a list of those approved for sale, and require the foods to be properly labeled. Foods with potential safety issues, including meats and custards, are not allowed under the bill."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    Two perspectives on the prop 37/GMO labeling debate.

    First up, MNB user Kevin Davis:

    The problem with Prop 37 isn’t the “right to know” language as it pertains to GMO’s or any ingredients for that matter, most retailers support this as a service to our customers.  The problem is that this law burdens the grocery retailer (just like prop 65) to be the watchdog on every label on every product from every manufacturer in our stores.  If a label is legal and accurate to FDA or USDA standards and a supplier sells it in 49 other states based on Federal guidelines, how are we as retailers in California going to screen these products for accuracy on ingredients labeling, and keep them out of our stores.

    Much of the time the sales force or brokers don’t even know if a product is clean, or has GMO’s in an ingredient, or is gluten free, or is natural, or is organic from a scientific standpoint; they just read the label like anyone else; trusting the national standards to do this job. If the label is accurate and legal on a national level, but now not legal in California, why is the retailer the guilty party? Why are we in court defending ourselves and calling manufacturers and suppliers for support? It seems to me organic farmers want to use our state’s proposition system to hold the rest of the country to a higher standard on product labeling for their benefit, at our cost. If there is a label violation, retailers are to be held accountable by ambulance chasing attorneys  with millions of dollars in added cost to the system.

    Our consumers in California will ultimately pay the price in the form of higher costs for grocery’s simply to benefit a few overzealous organic product manufacturers and growers. Doesn’t seem right at his time, in this economy to allow this to happen instead of the industry seeking a preemptive national guideline that can become a real long term and better thought out solution to this issue.

    And from MNB user Stacy Bergmann:

    I just wanted to chime in on the Prop 37 debate.  I am in favor of labeling GMO items, as people do have the right to know.  If that was all that Prop 37 was setting out to do, well, then I would be in favor of it (I work for a manufacturer, and the costs would be great but not unworthy).  My issue with Prop 37 is that it takes it a step further.  It would prevent food from being labeled all natural if it contained a GMO.  Does the average consumer know that 94% of all soy, 90%+ of sugar beet and Canola, and 88% of corn grown in the US use GM seeds?  That would eliminate vast classes of food from being all natural, when in reality the seeds are hybrids, bred from two original seeds and creating a newer, stronger version.  I don’t see them as being unnatural at all, still a seed – could be labeled as such (GMO), but give the consumer the option of choosing what they think is best for them.  Then they take it a step further and say that Food cannot be labeled natural if it is a processed food (never mind the GMO portion, this is a broad statement defining the entire food chain), which is then defined as ‘any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to process, such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation or milling’.  So if you put those all natural apples in to a pot to cook them to make apple sauce, they are now not natural.  If you put them into a can to sell they are not natural.  You get the picture.  Now you have eliminated almost the entire class of food deemed currently to be ‘all natural’.  The worst part is the enforcement can come from ANYONE, so I could go into a store, look at a label, question its validity and then sue the company, farmer, and grocer for carrying the item.  Without cause, proof of harm, or any basis to stand on other than my opinion.  Almost forgot, for imported food items all they need is a letter from the company stating that there are no GMO’s in their food.  That is it.  So a benefit for the imported goods over domestically produced.

    They muddied the waters on this one, what is being sold to the average consumer as a benefit for them (GMO labeling) is taken to an entirely different level to benefit the trial lawyer who penned the proposition.

    I continue to believe that GMO labeling is a good idea, and that ultimately, consumers want to know or at least ought to have access to information about what is in their foods.

    I do believe that there probably is a better way to achieve it than the California bill. I don't think retailers ought to bear the burden of providing accurate information, because most of them don't actually make most of the stuff they sell. They are dependent on others to provide them with accurate information. I also believe that there ought to be provisions in the California rules that prevent attorneys from becoming the big winners ... maybe a two-year moratorium on any GMO labeling-related lawsuits, just to allow manufacturers some time to get things right.

    I also would agree with the suggestion that this ought to be a national effort, not a local effort. As a part of that, I'd like to see a major industry proposal that supports a comprehensive GMO labeling program that makes sense for consumers as well as the industry.

    The problem is that a lot of folks probably don;t expect the industry to support such a thing. And so they are left with the California proposal, which seems to them like it is better than nothing. And so they support it.

    Interesting email from MNB user Mike Slattery:

    If technology is going to be the business driver going forward that we all believe it will be, I think you will be reporting a lot more stories of Walgreens acquisitions. I recently had the good fortune of my local Rite Aid closing and my account being transferred to Walgreens. Wow!

    Welcome to the 21st century.  Putting aside that the store is bright and clean with friendly employees, the apps loaded onto my smart phone make doing business with them easy and fun. Hands down, it is the best technology of any business I deal with. I can scan my prescription refills, check my prescription records, my doctor writes new prescriptions as I’m sitting at his desk…and I get an email saying it’s ready before I get to the parking lot!  I can check my Rewards Balance, print photos and comments from Facebook posts. But the absolute best app is the in store Map that instantly locates items I used to waste time trying to find. For me, the whole Walgreens experience has been an eye opener!

    Full disclosure: I have absolutely no connection to Walgreens and don’t know a soul that works there.

    And on another subject:

    I’ve been reading on your pages what seems like forever that Tesco’s Fresh & Easy concept is an abject failure, including today’s survey results.

    Such has not been the experience of myself and fellow co-workers at the California Raisin Marketing Board in downtown Fresno, California.  While we have several restaurant choices around us, we’re drawn to Fresh & Easy a couple of blocks away, where we can purchase very good fresh salads  at quite reasonable prices, as well as a fairly wide variety  pre-packaged microwavable entrées, also at very reasonable prices.  Drink and  snack selections are judged to be  comprehensive for a mid-sized store.

    The self-checkout is simple to operate, and staff is very helpful.

    And maybe it’s because we’re in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley, the source of 25% of all U.S. produce, but Fresh & Easy’s produce selection is just that –fresh & easy.  Yes it is pre-packaged, but that’s what we expect.

    Of course we cannot say if the stores in our area are profitable or not, but they are well-placed to serve under-stored neighborhoods here, especially in the downtown Fresno area.

    So before the U.S. retailing industry write’s them off, perhaps you should visit our favorite lunchtime retailer – Fresh & Easy in Fresno.

    Another MNB user took a different approach:

    A few observations:

    Tesco sent an advance team to learn about American shoppers- Instead, cloned their European model.

    Promised new, fresh, different- Delivered self-check outs, no coupons except their own, no loyalty card benefits, bland interiors.

    Locations were former drug stores, electronic stores, etc. that didn’t make it- Little thought given to locations.

    No flexibility regarding location’s ethnicity- many stores in heavy Hispanic neighborhoods; no unique products or bi-lingual signage.

    Never established their identity.

    With a distribution center of over 800,000sf, what else might they have in mind?

    I remain conflicted about Fresh & Easy. Every time the negative opinions wear me down and I start to think that maybe the whole thing will never come together, I talk to someone who loves their Fresh & Easy store.

    I'm sure I am being the height of inconsistency on this. But that's sort of how I feel.

    We had a piece the other day about the fact that USA Today has redesigned the newspaper for the first time since it upended the newspaper publishing business 30 years ago. (Color? Graphics? Gasp!)

    One MNB user responded:

    Did you see the new format for USA Today?  I'm not THAT old, but had to go searching around the house to find a pair of "cheaters" strong enough to read it.  The font is difficult to read, it's really small, and the layout is confusing.

    As my daughter would say, it's a "fail."

    I didn't have to look for my glasses, but that's because I wear them all the time.

    I can't say that I love the new design. Somehow, while it was meant to modernize the newspaper, it somehow looks sort of retro to me. And there actually seems to be a smaller news hole than it used to have, though that is just an impression and may not be accurate.

    On the subject of the iPhone 5, one MNB user wrote:

    I find the criticism of your failure to babble on about the iPhone humorous. The thing that I keep wondering is how the heck anyone is going to move forward with these devices with any significant improvements. Yes, you can always fiddle with the form factor, making the things bigger or smaller. And sure you can make some software improvements, but those don't sell a new phone. Besides Siri has become one of Apple's sore spots. Nobody makes much use of the danged thing and they've quietly stopped talking about it. I suppose a better camera might be an incremental improvement. I'm sure I'm probably wrong here, but it's a good thought exercise to try to imagine something so revolutionary as to put the current iPhone to shame. Such a revolution in technology surely hasn't happened with the iPod.

    I wrote recently, in response to a posting, that I think "there is an enormous difference between telling people what is their food and telling them what they can and can't eat. And I think when people suggest that one will inevitably lead to another, it strains credulity....”

    Which promoted one reader to suggest:

    You wrote that the day after NYC put a ban on large sugary sodas. If one of the largest cities in our nation can get away with it do you seriously think that it’s such a large leap in logic to think that the federal government can’t get away with it?

    I really don’t feel like I’m wearing a tin-foil hat here when there is an actual example of it happening already.

    I actually do. Besides, you may think it is just semantics, but NYC is not telling anyone they can't drink sugary sodas. Just that they can't drink them in really big cups. (As I've written here, I disagree with the NYC approach, preferring education to bans.)

    On the same subject, one MNB user wrote:

    I would agree that the best method of prevention is education.  But I wonder how much more information can people receive.  One cannot possibly think that drinking a 36 oz. Mountain Dew could be healthy for them.  With the rate of obesity, and many of the health problems connected to an unhealthy diet, something drastic needs to occur.  Many of the those who are used to drinking jumbo size soda will have to get used to the 12 oz.

    The one thing I disagree with is the fine.  A possible alternative could possibly be making them run or a another form of punishment.

    Sure. Because physical punishment will be less controversial than financial punishment.

    Regarding how far the ban extends, one MNB user - who would know, because he is potentially affected by this ban - wrote:

    If the establishment in question has self-serve, the ban is on cup size not drink type.  Devil's in the details, not the headline. The thing is an execution mess, sure to raise operating costs that will undoubtedly get passed on to the consumer....

    We had a piece recently about a study saying that US kids eat way too much salt. One MNB user responded:

    I recently interviewed with a salt producer and the very subject came up because I asked.  I was curious if demand had declined because of my uneducated perception that manufacturers are creating healthier products.  His response was eye opening.  A soup manufacturer had reduced the sodium content in their soups and when sales declined quickly reversed course and put the salt back in.

    In business, sometimes it’s about giving the customer what they want, not what’s good for them.  Plus I hang this one on the parents.  Kids eat what they are given.  I regularly see Reduced Sodium and Low Sodium alternatives on the shelf.  If Mom picks up the regular variety and feeds it to her kid, who’s fault is that?

    Even a well-oiled Nanny state can’t prevent bad parenting.  But it looks like we have just the study here that will fuel the desire of some for more regulations when none are warranted.  And they will argue that it’s about the poor defenseless kids.  I guess Ice Cream companies should be put on notice given the obesity crisis too.

    And, also on the subject of the obesity crisis, one reader chimed in:

    In my view, the public would be healthier if they learned how to cook, and then took the time to cook.  Today’s instant gratification society is so unhealthy on so many levels.  Just remember it’s a choice and all choices have consequences.   And just because they don’t like the consequences doesn’t mean they get to sue Big Food like they did Big Tobacco.  What’s worse the pressure is only going to increase as the public picks up the tab on all of healthcare and poor choices are no longer in check by the individual paying the bill.  By my reasoning national health care could make us less healthy as a nation simply because the consequence of being unhealthy is taken away.  I don’t even need a crystal ball for this prediction.

    I commented the other day that the wheels of bureaucracy at the FDA seem to be grinding slowly when it comes to dealing with arsenic levels in rice - after Consumer Reports published a story on the subject - but one MNB user wrote:

    I have to disagree with you on this one. The wheels do move slow, but I believe Consumer Reports jumped the gun and released their findings before the FDA could, or at least I find it suspicious that I received a report from the FDA today on this very subject ... The part that I liked, and I quote “FDA has been monitoring arsenic levels in rice for more than 20 years. Its analysis thus far does not show any evidence of a change in total arsenic levels. The change is that researchers are better able to measure whether those levels represent more or less toxic forms of arsenic.”  So, no change in how much arsenic is in there, just a change on what type of arsenic. The FDA offered the advice of eating a balanced diet with a variety of grains, which is what you should do anyways.

    I don't know. I'm not always ready to believe the FDA on this stuff, and I have a instinctive bias in favor of the fourth estate...

    MNB user Mike Franklin wrote:

    Grow organic rice in a natural bed of organic nutrients and nourished with natural water and you get rice…grow rice in nutrient depleted soil, add chemicals to make it grow and you get cancer! I’ll take organic, please. (Stanford University…please pay attention!)

    A number of emails came in about the decision by the actor who plays the Most Interesting Man in the World to throw a fundraiser for Barack Obama, which led to some people going on the internet to say that they would no longer drink Dos Equis because of his stated political affiliation.
    One MNB user wrote:

    What a sad world we now live in when we cannot separate what is acting and what is real. He has every right to support whom he pleases, doesn’t mean his character does. I for one can tell the difference, and still will have a frosty cold Dos Equis.

    From another reader:

    I love those spots. In my opinion, they are quite memorable, especially the tag line and unlike some cool commercials, still etch the product name in ones mind.

    The reaction to Mr. Goldsmith's personal hosting of a political event can cut both ways. While I don't often drink beer, in the future I may switch from Modelo Especial to Dos Equis.

    And another reader wrote:

    So GOP Dos Equis consumers will switch brands because a fictional character conveys his political affiliation? That’s like conservative loyal Costco Members changing their minds to shop at Costco because Jim Senegal is so supportive of the democratic movement!  How ridiculous. Carta Blanca is better beer anyway.

    BTW...the other day, someone wrote in to criticize Fresh & Easy,, saying that they will generally choose Trader Joe's, Aldi, Costco or Sam's Club. Which led one MNB user to ask:

    In which market does F&E, TJ’s, Costco and Sam’s go up against Aldi?

    Good question. I can't find one, though I'm willing to be corrected.

    But your point, I think, is that maybe this was a case of piling on as opposed to a genuine criticism.

    On another subject, one MNB user wrote:

    I was surprised that you confessed to a greater experience at a large chain theater vs the art house (it would seem that the art house would be so much more authentic/romantic/old school); but at the end of the day, you are there to sit on your behind and watch a movie in a dark room for 2 hours, so better is better.  And home increasingly is better yet.

    Steve Rushin had a similar observation in a recent Sports Illustrated as it relates to the NFL game.  Sure, the full 'experience' might be at the park, but 'real' will only take you so far.

    We continue to get email prompted by the changes to the Starbucks rewards program:

    Interesting furor over the changes in the Starbucks program.  Personally, I’m happy; it works for me.  On the whole Loyalty Programs issue, there are many programs that have flaws, restrictions, etc. From credit card rewards that have blackout periods for travel to the current Starbucks kerfuffle, no program is perfect.

    It is quite clear that Loyalty Programs are here to stay.  However, as with everything else that you advocate via MNB, we were rather surprised recently to learn of restrictions in the Marriott Rewards program.  We travelled recently with our six children, two daughters-in-law and a girlfriend in tow.  We had pre-booked into a Marriott property with five hotel rooms and identified ourselves, on-line, as Marriott Rewards members.  Imagine our surprise upon reviewing our account afterward to learn that only three rooms would qualify for points; it turns out that is their maximum.  We paid for a total of 14 room nights but only got credit for some of them.  We enjoyed our stay but it was slightly tainted by that revelation.  I know that you generally do not speak to this particular industry but since you have referenced the Starbucks program, I thought I would add my two cents on the Marriott one.  Perhaps Marriott needs to review how it rewards its loyal clients.

    And MNB user Debbie Romero wrote:

    This is how the  new Starbucks  “Rewards” program now will affect me because I am a soy milk user out of necessity …  Even at the lower 12 star threshold for the “Free” drink, that ”Free” drink “Reward” will now cost me $6.00.  Does that really sound like an improvement to you???

    And finally, one of my favorite kinds of email:

    I am a faithful reader and happened to be in Seattle yesterday. Have heard so much about Morgan, 'your' bartender at Etta's that we had to go and visit him. Had a chardonnay and shared a crab cake sandwich with my coworkers before dinner (had reservations at Wild Ginger). He was great and I can see how you enjoy talking to him. We told him why we were there and he had a good chuckle about it.

    Great recommendation.

    Etta's is wonderful. Morgan is the best. The crab cake sandwiches are to die for. And it thrills me no end when people go in there, ask for Morgan and tell him that Kevin sent them.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    In Week Three of National Football league action...

    Chicago 23
    St. Louis 6

    Buffalo 24
    Cleveland 14

    Dallas 16
    Tampa Bay 10

    Jacksonville 22
    Indianapolis 17

    NY Jets 23
    Miami 20

    Minnesota 24
    San Francisco 13

    Kansas City 27
    New Orleans 24

    Tennessee 44
    Detroit 41

    Cincinnati 38
    Washington 31

    Arizona 27
    Philadelphia 6

    Atlanta 27
    San Diego 3

    Houston 31
    Denver 25

    Oakland 34
    Pittsburgh 31

    New England 30
    Baltimore 31
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 24, 2012

    Is there anything more American this fall than carving pumpkins and drinking apple cider? (Maybe voting for President…?)

    What you may not know is that roughly three-quarters of all apple juice sold in the U.S. now comes from outside this country.   That’s right. More than half comes from China alone. (Source: USA Today).  

    For 75 years, Zeigler's has been producing some of the freshest Apple Cider in the world.  They use 100% fresh U.S. apples, never from concentrate…and they’re certified as Products of the USA from Made in USA Certified®, the nation’s leading independent “Made in USA” certification source.

    Whether it’s apple cider or orange juice, spinach or lettuce, detergent or diapers, the USA Certified seals signal strict compliance to American-made inputs, services and/or processes, and outputs.  Your customers, regardless of where they’re seeing the seal, are ensured of  voting American with their pocketbooks.
    Isn’t it time to learn more about how to certify your products as Made in USA Certified® or Product of USA Certified™?  Click here.
    KC's View: