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    Published on: February 22, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    This one is an Eye-Opener. Literally.

    The Daily Beast reports that a social design laboratory based in the Netherlands is getting into the dress business ... with a line of high-tech frocks that "become transparent based on personal interactions between partners -- or whenever the wearer gets aroused.

    That's right.

    The story goes on: "The dresses, aptly named 'Intimacy,' are designed by Anouk Wipprecht and constructed from leather and smart e-foils that monitor the wearer’s heart rate. The higher BPM, the more see-through the dress becomes. Prior to stimulation, the dress is one of two colors: 'Intimacy White' or 'Intimacy Black' ... Each dress has a small microchip embedded inside that contains software programmed to monitor different behaviors—in this case, a heartbeat. The garment functions much like a computer: The input is the heartbeat, the processor is the microchip and the output is the foil material, which can change from white to transparent or black to transparent."

    Now, some might call this a technological advance. It is a sign that I really am getting old that I tend to think of it as technology run amok.

    Maybe it's because I have an 18-year-old daughter, and the idea that such dress technology could become common concerns me.

    Maybe because I wonder, what ever happened to romance? To magic? To mystery?

    I mean, I believe in transparency in almost all things. But not this sort.

    I was interested, by the way, to see that while the company is focusing for now on women's frocks, there is at least the possibility that the company could design a suit for men made out of such materials and computer chips.

    Of course, if I wore one, it'd be really embarrassing. Because it probably would go transparent whenever I looked at a container of Graeter's Black Cherry Chocolate Chip ice cream. Because that's one of the things that get me aroused these days...
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    The US Department of Justice has filed felony charges agains Stewart Parnell, former owner of the Peanut Corp. of America, saying that he and other employees "engaged in a multiyear conspiracy to hide the fact that many of the company's products were tainted with salmonella," according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

    The charges are related to a salmonella outbreak in 2008-2009 that sickened hundreds of people and killed nine; it was traced back to peanut butter produced in a plant that had "a leaky roof, poor ventilation and inadequate pest control," the Journal writes. Contemporaneous accounts suggested that Parnell's company was operating equipment that was contaminated with bird feces, but that it was so concerned with making its numbers that it paid no attention to the food safety risks.

    The Journal writes that "the 76-count indictment against Mr. Parnell and ex-employees includes charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, obstruction of justice and introducing adulterated food into the market."

    The story notes that Parnell's lawyers say they plan to mount a vigorous defense, and that any shipment of contaminated product was accidental and unintentional.
    KC's View:
    I have two reactions to this indictment.

    1. Good.

    2. It's about time.

    From the time this story broke several years ago, it seemed obvious from all the reportage that this was a case where a desire to make money trumped every other consideration, including the fact that the product sickened people and called into question the efficacy of the entire food safety system.

    As in every case like this, I have a suggestion for sentencing should Parnell and his people be found guilty. Fine them, jail them, do whatever you want to them ... but make sure that as part of their punishment, they have to sit in a room and eat peanut butter products that originated from their own factory.

    Let them eat the stuff, and then watch them sweat as they choke on their own arrogance, greed and misplaced priorities.

    That ought to be the standard punishment for anyone convicted of food safety violations. Make 'em eat the stuff they were so careless about selling to other people.

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    The US federal government is out with a study saying that "American children consumed fewer calories in 2010 than they did a decade before, a new federal analysis shows ... For boys, calorie consumption declined by about 7 percent to 2,100 calories a day over the period of the analysis, from 1999 through 2010. For girls, it dropped by 4 percent to 1,755 calories a day."

    According to the New York Times story, "A drop in carbohydrate consumption drove the decline, a point of particular interest for those who study childhood obesity. Sugars are carbohydrates, and many argue that those added to food like cereal and soda during processing are at the heart of the childhood obesity epidemic."

    Experts are cautiously optimistic, saying that any drop in calorie consumption is better than no drop at all, but that the nation has to do a lot better if it is to effectively fight the obesity crisis.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    The National Grocers Association (NGA) yesterday said that its board of directors has voted unanimously to opt out and object to a proposed $7.2 billion dollar settlement of a lawsuit against Visa and MasterCard over merchant interchange fees, and is recommending that its members also opt out and object to the settlement.

    In some ways, the announcement is not a surprise. Last November, a US District Court judge granted preliminary approval to a proposed settlement offering nearly 8 million merchants $7.2 billion in cash and temporary reductions in the interchange, or swipe fees, they pay to process credit and debit transactions.

    In short order, however, a majority of the 19 named plaintiffs in the antitrust class action suit against MasterCard and Visa said that they would appeal the preliminary approval, saying that it does little to restrict the card companies from increasing their swipe fees in the future, as well as indemnifying them against future lawsuits.

    in the new announcement, NGA president/CEO Peter Larkin said: "The NGA Board carefully considered not only what is in the  best interests of the retailers and wholesalers it serves, but also all other merchants who will be adversely affected by the proposed settlement.  It is clear to NGA that by deciding to opt out and object to the proposed settlement it sends a clear and unequivocal message that the proposed settlement should be rejected at the fairness hearing on September 12, 2013."

    And, NGA considered its assault on the proposed settlement, saying: "NGA and others oppose the proposed settlement because in our view it does not achieve the fundamental objective of restructuring and reforming anticompetitive credit card swipe fees and payment rules, and will only make matters worse for consumers and merchants.  From a legal perspective, NGA and others strongly believe the proposed settlement does not meet the standard for being fair, adequate and reasonable.  It is unfair because it violates due process. It is inadequate and unreasonable because of the illusory nature of the relief and overly broad reach of the release from future antitrust violations."
    KC's View:
    I am persuaded that the NGA is right on this issue, in part because I don't trust the credit card companies in any way, shape or form.

    I don't pretend to understand all the legal maneuverings, but I don't understand how any court could approve a settlement when a majority of the players on one side don;t agree with it. That's not an agreement, it is an imposition.

    And I don't get it.

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    Internet Retailer reports that Walmart is expanding its Scan & Go test, which has allowed consumers in Northwest Arkansas, Atlanta, San Jose, CA, and Portland, OR, to use their smartphones to scan product bar codes rather than go through a central checkout. The story says that Walmart is expanding the program to 40 stores in the Denver market as part of a broader push into self-checkout.
    KC's View:
    This may be part of its push into self-checkout, but it also is part of the push into mobile shopping being engineered by its Walmart Labs ... which means that Walmart almost certainly has a bigger agenda in mind.

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    I don't know if you remember this, but two weeks ago MNB ran a story that started out like this...

    Bloomberg reports that Amazon, looking to get application developers to create more programs that can be used on the Kindle Fire tablet computer, plans to introduce virtual currency, dubbed Amazon Coins, that consumers will be able to earn and then use them to buy items on the tablet. Developers will get the standard 70 percent revenue share from purchases made with the coins, which will eventually be available for purchase on Amazon.com.

    Well, as it ends up, this is just the tip of the currency iceberg. Because MarketWatch has a story that takes this theme and builds on it.

    Here's how it begins...

    "The euro may well be on the road to a chaotic collapse, taking some of the world’s biggest banks with it. A currency war may break out between Japan, the U.S. and Europe. Printing money has run out of steam, but there is still little sign of the global economy returning to the kind of growth rates it saw before the credit crunch.

    "But in the long term what they should perhaps be most worried about is losing their monopoly on issuing money. A new breed of virtual currencies are starting to emerge — and some of the giants of the web industry such as Amazon.com Inc. are edging into the market..."

    Indeed, the story suggests that virtual currencies could actually challenge actual currencies ... which means the wall between "virtual" and "actual" could start to fray in some significant ways. And if national currencies begin to fray at the edges, the natural question is, what will be next?

    The mind boggles.

    Interesting story ... and you can read the entire piece here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    • Walmart said that its Q4 earnings were $5.6 billion, up from $5.2 billion during the same period a year ago. Revenue rose 3.9 percent to $127.92 billion, with US same-store sales up one percent, less than the 1.7 percent increase that had been expected.

    The New York Times reports that the earnings increase was "largely because of tax credits that lowered Wal-Mart’s corporate tax rate," and that "the recent payroll tax increase slowed purchases toward the end of the holiday season, and an Internal Revenue Service delay in processing tax returns hurt sales this month."

    • Safeway reported Q4 net income of $244 million, up from $215.6 million during the same period a year ago. Revenue for the quarter increased 1.2 percent to $13.8 billion, with same-store sales up 0.8 percent.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Kraft Foods has "lowered the price on its flagship coffee brand Maxwell House and some other brews by 5 percent to 6 percent, following a similar move by the maker of Folgers ... Kraft reduced its Maxwell House and Yuban roast and ground coffees by approximately 6 percent, and its Instant Maxwell House and soluble Sanka decaffeinated coffees by roughly 5 percent."

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that US wine exports grew to a record $1.4 billion in 2012, up 2.6 percent, the third straight year that vino exports have been up.

    "Of the exports," the Times writes, "90% originated in California, home to well-known growing regions such as Napa, Sonoma, Paso Robles and Temecula.

    "The European Union remains the top market for Golden State wines, with exports up 1.7% last year to $485 million. Sales to Canada, the runner-up consumer, boomed 14% to $434 million."

    Sales to China were up 18% to $74 million, while exports to South Korea were up 26 percent to $16 million.

    • Kroger said yesterday that unionized employees working at Fred Meyer and QFC stores in Oregon and Washington State have ratified new labor agreements that provide our associates with additional compensation, affordable health care and pension for retirement."
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    ....will return next week.
    KC's View:

    Published on: February 22, 2013

    As usual at this time of year, I'd like to go on the record with my Oscar picks. After all, the Academy Awards are on Sunday evening, and I think it is important to note just how out of step I am with popular tastes.

    As in the past, I will tell you who I think will win, and who I would vote for if I actually had a vote. And in the latter category, I will not be bound by who is actually nominated.

    And, to be completely upfront, I should note that I have not seen all the nominees....though I would estimate that I probably saw 30-=35 movies last year. (Not as good as my all-time record, the year that I saw 150 movies.)

    Who I think will win...

    Best Picture: Argo, which I thought was a terrific movie, and which seems to be winning all the other various awards. Plus, Ben Affleck gets a lot of credit, as he should, for reinventing his career.

    Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, for Lincoln. This is a lock.

    Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, for Silver Linings Playbook. This is pretty close to a sure thing, and she was very good in the movie...though to be honest, I don't she's quite earned all the plaudits she is getting.

    Best Supporting Actor: Robert De Niro, for Silver Linings Playbook. He's acting royalty, and it's been a while since he's been in a movie that didn't seem beneath his talent.

    Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, for Les Miserables. Again, probably a lock. She killed that song. Really killed it.

    Best Director: Steven Spielberg, for Lincoln. This is really a guess on my part, but it may be compensation for Lincoln not winning Best Picture.

    Who I would vote for...

    Best Picture: Zero Dark Thirty, hands down my favorite movie of the year. It has been criticized for celebrating torture, but the people who said that were not paying attention. What it did was make us face the fact that sometimes we make ethically questionable decisions for the right reasons, and ask ourselves whether that is good enough.

    Best Actor: John Hawkes, for The Sessions. As a man confined to an iron lung and yet yearning for both love and physical intimacy, Hawkes was extraordinary. He should have been nominated.

    Best Actress: Jessica Chastain, for Zero Dark Thirty. She is wonderful as the driven, sometimes myopic CIA analyst who takes the hunt for Osama Bin Laden personally.

    Best Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, for Argo. Just because whenever I think of him in the movie, I smile. For some reason, his performance has stayed with me.

    Best Supporting Actress: Helen Hunt, for The Sessions. She probably should have been nominated in the Best Actress category, in which case I would have voted for her there. Regardless, Hunt played the sexual surrogate who helps a man with physical limitations go beyond those limits, but also feel something akin to love. hers is a brave and nuanced performance.

    (By the way, if Hunt had been nominated for Best Actress, I probably would have cast my vote in this category for Judi Dench in Skyfall, the James Bond movie that not only broke franchise records this year, but also tilled new ground for the 50-year-old series. As M, the spymaster in charge of MI6, Dench gave emotional shadings to her role, showing the toll that responsibility can take, but never shirking either her job or her greater moral and ethical responsibilities. Go figure - after 50 years, it ends up that Judi Dench is the ultimate Bond woman.

    Best Director: Kathryn Bigelow, for Zero Dark Thirty. The Oscar-winning director of The Hurt Locker has done it again, constructing a nail-biting movie that, while at its heart a thriller in the same way that All The President's Men was, managed to go beyond the genre to consider he impact of terrorism and warfare on the human soul.




    I have a couple of wonderful wines to recommend to you this week...

    • the 2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Dijon Clone Chardonnay, which is a lovely, full-bodied chardonnay, which is what I love. (Plus, it is from Oregon's Willamette Valley. Can't do better than that.)

    • the 2008 Piaggia Euiserva Carmigano, a rich, luscious red wine that is perfect with lasagna or any other Italian food. My son Brian gave it to me as a gift, and you should be so lucky.




    BTW...Today happens to be National Margarita Day. Don't know about you, but I plan to celebrate.




    Finally, I did see one movie this week: A Good Day To Die Hard. I went because I have such fond memories of the first two in the series that I was desperately hoping that the new one, the fifth, would somehow recapture the rambunctious fun of Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder. Sad to say, it did not.




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

    Slàinte!
    KC's View: