retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Got a number of emails responding to the Whole Foods decision to require its suppliers to list on all packaging ingredients that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), a move that I think will lead to other retailers mandating the same thing, and manufacturers falling into line, even though many of them hate the idea.

I wrote, in part:

Maybe people on both sides of the issue will stop trying to demagogue it, and instead will embark on a mutually advantageous program of real and reassuring education.

To quote the Borg, "Resistance is futile." People and companies may not like this Whole Foods move, but they're eventually going to have to get with the program. I'd suggest embracing it.

MNB user Daniel Drotning wrote:

The first mover cost will quickly be spread over all markets as few manufacturers will want to produce more than one printing for the packaging.  Love the “Star Trek” reference, or was it “Star Wars”?  Does not matter they are the same any way aren’t they?  Persistence is nimble.

I agree with you, except that you should be careful about suggesting that Star Trek and Star Wars are the same thing. They are anything but ... and such observations are bound to rouse the ire of devotees of each franchise.

Another MNB user wrote:

Mr. Gallo and Mr. Robb have every right to require their vendors to label any products their suppliers sell that contain any GMO ingredient. That Whole Foods believes it is what their customers want and are responding to that perceived “want” is a commendable action.  What is amazing is they did not ask their suppliers for their opinions. That is short sighted and revealing about the Whole Foods attitude towards its suppliers.  It is a can of worms now opened and it will be interesting to watch what happens.

Will the large national brands say “Okay, Whole Foods we will do that for just you”?  Will these large national brands say, “Sorry we can no longer supply you.”  Or will these brands say “It is the tip of the ice berg and better for us to define the labeling before any government regulations define the labeling.”? 

I think there will be pushback and resistance. But in the long run, I have to believe that manufacturers will do what they have to do in order to maintain a relationship with Whole Foods, and they will accede to the inevitability of such transparency, deal with its consequences and implications, and maybe even eventually see it as a marketing advantage.

Another MNB user wrote:

I applaud you for addressing this issue, and for taking the stand that you have, even though much of your audience base either is against labeling or unaware of the issue.

GMOs are untested and we don’t know the effect on human or environmental health. People have a right to know what’s in their food, whether it’s fat, sodium or GMOs. Sixty countries, including Russia, China and Syria, have either banned GMOs or require labeling. This is no longer a “fringe” issue, and conventional retailers and manufacturers can either stick their heads in the sand and wait for the bus to hit them, or take the lead to give consumers what they want—information to make sound decisions for themselves and their families.

Still another MNB user chimed in:


Down to Earth, a natural foods chain in Hawaiian Islands, followed suit the same day, and more will soon. It's about time.

Labeling food that is GMO is the right thing to do.  Let the consumer decide.  Those who oppose with the weak excuse that it will confuse the consumer into thinking its somehow different - I ask them:  how do you explain patented GMO seeds!? Suing farmers when those patented seeds and pollen drift to non GMO plants, and traces are found?  Are they different, or not?

Do you see the blatant absurdity to this argument?

Research is public that shows animals fed GMO foods have digestive issues, increased tumors, and premature death.  In one study I read, rats refused to eat the GMO food, so for the study, were force fed.  They developed stomach lesions in 2-4 weeks, and a percentage died after that.

Let the labeling begin!

From another reader:

It's about time we caught up to the rest of the world and labeled GMOs.

And another:

Again, Whole Foods finds ways to drive consumer costs up...! Thank God for chains like HEB who understand consumers better than anyone. They will get to the same end but with 10 times less pain to the consumer.

And one MNB reader disagreed with my use of the phrase, "in the end, people have a right to know what is in their food":

There is nothing "in" GMO food.  It is just FOOD!

I get your point. If you prefer ... let's just say that people have a right to know what their food is.

On a related subject, MNB user Brett Wing wrote:

I'm about a third of the way through John Mackey's book "Conscious Capitalism". I'm a 36 year veteran of the grocery industry, and I love the book. At this stage in my career, the "purpose" becomes extremely important, as you advance through the hierarchy of management, purpose should become the driver.

Yesterday, MNB reported on a New York State Supreme Court judge's ruling that New York City's planned ban on the sale of jumbo sized sugary soft drinks by some retail entities is "arbitrary and capricious," and should not be enacted. The ruling came one day before the plan was scheduled to go into effect, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration immediately said that it would appeal a decision that it called "clearly in error."

I commented:

Arbitrary? Sure. It always has seemed to me that too much of the jumbo soft drink ban did not make sense, especially in how it applied to certain venues and not others.

But capricious? I think not. I think you can accuse Bloomberg of a lot of things, but he has been pretty consistent in his approach to public health matters and making New York a more livable city. He may have been arrogant and sometimes overstepped his authority, but I really believe that Bloomberg did what he did with authentic and heartfelt motivations. (This is Michael Bloomberg, for goodness sake, not some Socialist do-gooder with no feeling for the free market.)

I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea how the city's appeal will fare. I do think that in this case, education is better than outright bans, and so I will not be overly concerned if the judge's ruling is upheld.

But let's be clear. New York is a healthier place to live because of the smoking bans, as are all the places that followed in the city's footsteps on this one. The city's consumers are more informed because of calorie counts on menus and menu boards.

The big downside that I see to the judge's ruling is that it might encourage some clown to decide to launch a massive lawsuit to once again allow smoking in bars and restaurants, in public arenas and other places where the air has actually become safe to breathe. That would be a real tragedy, and I hope it does not happen.

Ironically, this story broke at the same time as a new study from Beverage Digest revealed the nation's favorite beverage - water.

And I commented:

Sometimes, you don't have to try to legislate people's consumption habits. Sometimes, you can just let things happen.

One MNB user wrote:

Plain and simple, Bloomberg needs to spend the cities time and money on education, not bans as you stated. On your comment about a smoking lawsuit, it is not comparable my friend, smoking affects everyone in the area. Case closed, this court is dismissed.

Another MNB user offered:

There is an old adage that says “The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions”. Bloomberg may not be capricious in your view, but he is most definitely a condescending, pompous vaunter. Just how livable is NY City with an effective tax rate of 60% for high income earners? This nation has been on a road of good intentions since FDR and really skyrocketed under Lyndon Johnson.

What this is really about, what you are seemingly ok with, is government managing every single aspect of one’s life so long as it agrees with your views and sensibilities. What if Bloomberg decided that New York was just a bit too dangerous and passed a law stating that everyone over the age of 21 must carry a side arm when in public? Would that be ok? Might just be that an armed citizenry would save more lives than regulating where one can smoke, or how much sugar, salt, or trans-fats they may ingest in one sitting.

Just what does one get with and over intrusive government? Is the poverty rate lower than 1960? Are there fewer or more individuals sucking off the Government teet than there were 50 years ago, 15 years ago…10? We now have an effective unemployment rate of over 11%, but thank God one can go to New York City and be protected from indulging in too much salt, or sugar……….thank God. Perhaps the way for New York to go is to get the effective tax rate up to say 75% like the French would like to do; heck if the French can’t get it done, I bet New Yorkers can! That way no one can afford salt, sugar, or cigarettes.

Wow. You went from the New Deal to bans on smoking and jumbo soft drinks and didn't even break a sweat.

I guess if you want to argue that the New Deal and LBJ's Great Society were fundamentally bad ideas, you can. On the other hand, some would argue that FDR had some role in helping to guide the nation through the Great Depression, and that LBJ did some good things, too. Neither man was perfect and not everything they did was a) a good idea, or b) worked. And I would certainly make the same observation about Bloomberg.

You make some reasonable points about New York City, but it isn't quite the uninhabitable place you describe. It remains, for many people and industries, the center of the known universe. It continues to thrive and grow. And yes, I would argue, on the whole more livable than it used to be. (And I've been against the jumbo soda ban from the beginning. Just to be clear.)

MNB user Bill Welch wrote:

You admitted it, “Sometimes, you don't have to try to legislate people's consumption habits. Sometimes, you can just let things happen.”  I am excited for you. 
I would have substituted either “most times” or “always” for the word sometimes.  The government is overstepping its bounds in NYC in regard to large sodas.

From another reader, responding to Starbucks' decision - pre- ruling - to pretty much ignore the ban:

I applaud Starbuck’s non-compliance stance to Dictator Bloomberg’s ridiculous ‘drink size matters’ law.

Was it not enough for Michael Bloomberg to steam roll a law through to approval, ending mayoral term limits, so he could continue on with his reign?

In a classic drunk with power move, he is now dictating the size of drinks in an effort to stop obesity…really?!

Let me get this straight: A vagrant can stumble into a bodega and buy a 40 oz. malt liquor, but a kid can’t buy a 20 oz. ice cold soda on a hot summer day after playing ball?

Great plan Mike.

Styrofoam ban is next on Mikey's agenda, citing it causes excessive landfill waste. Uh...we recycle it in my town, Mr. Mayor.

Lucky for him nobody is yet pushing for a pedantic prig ban.

Y'know, giant egos have a way of finding their way into the NYC Mayor's office. Ed Koch was no slouch in this department. And Bloomberg was preceded in office by an enormous ego named Rudy Giuliani.

Yesterday, MNB took note of a Wall Street Journal report that Fairway Group Holdings plans an initial public offering (IPO) for next month, with some experts suggesting that it could raise as much as $172 million to help "fuel new store openings."

I commented:

For some reason, I find Fairway's moves in this areas troubling. The company still runs great stores, but I worry that the hunger for growth may stretch its culture beyond its ability to adapt to a larger scale. You end up trying to satisfy investors and shareholders before the customers, and that's always a mistake.
MNB user Ken Wagar responded:

Just had to say I laughed out loud when I read this, not because it isn’t true but because we see satisfying investors and stockholders 1st used as the justification for most of what major corporations and financial institutions do or don’t do almost every day and the majority of those actions are highly regarded by wall street. The cart is way out in front of the horse and with a few very noticeable exceptions the chance of the horse catching up is slim!

And another MNB user wrote:

Even an agnostic can say ‘amen’ to that! Now if only someone would heed your warning….

I'm trying!

We shared with you yesterday an obituary, written about a gentleman named Harry Weathersby Stamps, that appeared in Mississippi's Sun Herald. It was fabulous...and if you missed it yesterday, you can read the whole thing here.

One MNB user responded:

As someone who has the morbid habit of reading obituaries daily as a part of my practice, I can say without hesitation that I have instructed my family to follow this format in the event of my demise.

From another reader:

THANK YOU for sharing this!!!  Made me smile and laugh out loud.

And another:

I don't know where you find this stuff, but that made my day.  I think it needs to go viral and I, too, wish I had known Harry. Talk about authentic.

It has gone viral. And I found it because one of my sisters, Amy, sent it to me. Just to give credit where it is due.

We've had some discussion here on the site reacting to an email that described some front line workers as "useless"and arguing against the concept of a minimum wage - and certainly against any hike in the minimum wage - that rewards such people.

We have yet another MNB reader weighing in on this one:

Whether it be the "most useless among us" statement or other sentiments which conveyed that everyone under $20 per hour is basically a drain on society, one thing is clear - The same people who whine about "class warfare" and accountability simply have no interest in society, except for as it serves them.  If their statements in this space from last week aren't the best examples of class warfare, I don't know what else to tell you.

They cry for "free markets" (and "freedom") like an involuntary reflex, but their freedom has no real purpose.  They care neither about their fellow citizens or the rule of law.  Long ago, they began to ignore society and the voice of their own conscience.  
But don't worry -- there are more of us than there are of them.

I don't know that such people have no conscience. That's a tough statement. But I would suggest that sometimes it is hard to find their compassion.

As it happens ... yesterday we had a story about how LL Bean, having had a strong 2012, plans to give bonuses to about 5,000 full-time and part-time employees that are equal to 7.5 percent of an employee’s pay in 2012.

I commented:

Just think of what it will do for front-line personnel to know that they are being rewarded for hard work. As opposed to companies where CEOs don't seem to know that hard work by front line personnel is what makes them ultimately successful.

Well, it so happens that the reader who made the original "useless people" comment wanted to comment on this story as well:

I suggest, you make a visit to the LL Bean store just outside of Portland, Maine before you make any more uninformed cracks about front line workers.  Those workers do deserve a bonus because they are extraordinary, not less than ordinary.  You will see clean cut, good looking, hard working, knowledgeable workers that are a step up in class compared to the "front line" workers you see at cheap fast food or discount retail stores.  LL Bean does not reward mediocrity.  I believe most CEOs are well aware of the level of class their front line workers fall in.  Just as there is a difference between major league and minor league baseball players or Kentucky Derby contenders or bush track claimers.  Except for the most helpless, people should, and generally are, paid on performance, not existence.

I'm not entirely sure what "uninformed cracks about front line workers" this person is referring to.

But let me yet again explain my opinion on this issue.

I think that there is an argument for an increase in the minimum wage, though I'm not sure what that number should be, and I think that keying future increases to the national cost of living seems reasonable. I think that this prevents people from being exploited, even unintentionally, and also helps assure that they can pay their rent, buy a car, raise their children, buy groceries and clothing, and yes, even pay taxes. (I would argue as a corollary to this that there ought to be no person in the US who does not pay taxes, even small amounts. Paying taxes is having skin in the game. If you write that check, you are more invested in making sure that government is both efficient and effective, and you are willing to vote your priorities.)

Sure, it is fair to say that some front line workers are better than others. And that some front line employees are more motivated than others.

Some of this may be in their upbringing, or in their character. But I also think that some CEOs understand that part of leadership is creating companies that nurture front line people, help them develop a strong work ethic, get them invested in their company's success, and connect with them in fundamental ways because they understand that their companies can only be as successful as the soldiers on the front line.

I've been to that LL Bean store. Many times. And I think that one of the reasons that most of the people working there are so effective is that they understand that they actually are LL Bean. And that's a feeling that has been created through years of effective leadership and management. It didn't just happen because they are clean-cut, good looking, and hard working, and somehow better than the useless and mediocre people who work in many retail environments. If they are better at their jobs, it is because LL Bean has decided that it is more important for them to be better at their jobs, and has made that a priority.

I know you disagree with me on this issue. And that's okay. We're all entitled to our own opinions.

Let me draw a lesson from the movies, in this case, Babe.

Babe is, at its heart, a movie about a pig that thinks it is a sheepdog, and actually is better at the job that most sheepdogs, because it has the courage to think outside its designated role in life. Because of this, Babe is able to lead ... not by yelling at sheep that the regular dogs just bark at, probably thinking them to be useless, but by actually leading them.

But Babe is also about Farmer Hoggett, who is a strong enough and secure enough leader that he understands that we all are capable, given the right circumstances and even the occasional hand up (not handout), of exceeding expectations and achieving excellence.

KC's View: