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    Published on: July 25, 2013

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    The great American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald once said that "the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function."

    Far be it for me to disagree with the author of "The Great Gatsby," but I'd like to suggest that in fact, the ability to entertain two opposing ideas ought not be the mark of just a first rate intelligence. It ought to be the mark of being an adult.

    This occurs to me because of some of the reactions I see in emails that come to me after I've written stories. Case in point: the GMO labeling issue. As I've said here before, I've generally been sort of agnostic on the issue of GMOs in food, and have just thought of labeling as sort of the intelligent, reasonable compromise - as someone suggested to me the other day, "labels are not condemning, just informing."

    But much of the email tends to reflect either the pro-GMO position or the anti-GMO position, with the people doing the writing unable to see the other side's point of view. Their opponents are seen as being either anti-science and anti-progress, or conspiratorial mad scientists and businessmen hell bent on domination of the world food supply. Either might be true, I suppose, but it also is possible that neither is true. It seems to me that it ought to be possible for each concede that the other side has some legitimacy to their positions, perhaps we could come up with some sort of sophisticated, approach to developing and using GMOs in a way that is both helpful and selective.

    The same approach can be applied, I think, for the whole "living wage" issue that has been highlighted by Walmart's dispute with the Washington, DC, City Council and McDonald's recent foray into financial planning for its employees.

    I actually think that both sides have a point. I think that Walmart is right to say that there ought not be tougher rules for one class of retailer, and that in the end, it does bring jobs to some communities badly in need of them, and therefore ought not be punished for that. But, on the other hand, I think there is reason to be concerned when people are not paid enough in perfectly respectable full-time jobs to support their families, especially at a time when many corporate executives are being paid enormous salaries. I'm not sure that this is good for the culture, and it does not create a sustainable society.

    But again, the responses tend to break down into two categories - the "Walmart is an evil oppressor" camp, and the "all the DC politicians are hypocrites" camp. Again, both may be true. Or neither. But it strikes me that simply staking out positions does nobody any good. There ought to be a way to address the larger issue of wage disparity and fairness that allows us to focus on the problem and come up with reasonable solutions that reward hard work and perseverance both on the corporate and individual sides.

    This isn't just a business trend. It has infected the national politics, in which we demonize the people we disagree with and somehow believe that compromise and tolerance are symbols of personal and ethical weakness.

    We don't have to agree with everybody. Trust me on this - I make a living as a pundit, which sort of requires taking sides and expressing opinions. But it was Aristotle who, centuries before F. Scott Fitzgerald weighed in on the same subject, said that it is "the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

    Again, I disagree. It ought to be the mark of an adult mind.

    That's what's on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    Market Force Information is out with its list of the nation's best supermarkets, based on their ability to delight consumers, offer convenient locations and low prices, as well as "fast check-outs, friendly staff and cleanliness, as well as good private-label brands and outstanding meat and produce."

    The winner: Trader Joe's, followed by Publix Super Markets and then Whole Foods.

    The good news for the grocery industry: "The researchers found that by and large, the industry is doing a good job, with an overall satisfaction rating of 4.3 out of 5," CNBC writes. "Even Wal-Mart, the lowest-rated chain, earned a 3.9."
    KC's View:
    I always take these kinds of studies with a grain of salt, simply because the supermarket industry is so regional that it makes such comparisons difficult at best.

    But I would suggest, however, that there is something that ties together Trader Joe's, Publix and Whole Foods, and therefore might be worth emulating by other retailers.

    At all three chains, to varying degrees, the people who work there on the front lines are the companies' best advocates, believing in the company for which they are working, not just collecting a paycheck. That's a critical advantage ... and worth considering in any competitive battle.

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    The August 12 issue of Forbes has an excellent piece about Publix, described in the article as both "the largest employee-owned company and the most profitable grocer in America," suggesting that these two attributes are key to its ability to successfully compete against the likes of Walmart.

    How does the story reach these conclusions? You can find out here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Walmart "is emerging as the pricing bully in this year’s back-to-school shopping game. Its U.S. locations are already fully stocked with crayons, crates, stationery, and pencil sharpeners in school-shopping displays, and a new analysis from Bloomberg Industries found prices 10 percent cheaper on average than similar wares at Target."

    Indeed, the story says, "the gap between Walmart and Target, its nearest rival in terms of price, looks like parity compared with Walmart’s drastic discounts over other major retailers vying for back-to-school revenue. The report, based on shopping for a basket of about 50 identical goods, put Walmart’s prices 50 percent lower than those at Sears-owned Kmart stores and 45 percent lower than Staples."

    In fact, the story suggests, the price disparity is so great that it almost looks like Walmart's rivals aren't even fighting the pricing battle.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    • In Canada, Market News reports that Longo's Fruit Markets has teamed with a digital shopping marketing company, Unata, to create mobile applications that allow customers to "enhance and personalize" their shopping experiences.

    According to the story, "With the app, shoppers can create a shopping list from Longo's entire product range, and have access to prices and store specials. What's more, they can sign up for the Longo's Thank You Rewards program, or log into an existing account through the app, thus allowing shoppers to access their points balance and display their loyalty card on the phone to earn points at checkout. Also, previous purchases can be viewed within the app, as well as a personalized flyer that highlights on sale products that have previously been purchased by the individual, and specials that a person is most likely to be interested in, based on past purchase history."
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    • Walmart said yesterday that its has acquired Torbit, a company that is described as having developed "a platform for front-end optimization for websites, with a focus on enabling faster load times and making these techniques available to customers without a lot of IT time and/or resources." Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    The move is said to be a boon to the Walmart Labs portfolio, helping it develop an online experience that will be faster and more efficient for consumers.
    KC's View:
    In Jaws terms, this means that one of the ways that Walmart is girding for the battle against Amazon.com is making sure it has the right sized boat ... with the right strategies, tactics, technologies, and people.

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    The Birmingham News reports that bankrupt Belle Foods has agreed to sell its remaining 44 stores as a way of paying off its $42 million in debt.

    According to the story, "In a deal reached with its largest creditor and approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge today, C&S Wholesale Grocers Inc. will sell all of the 44 stores Belle now owns while C&S extends the debtor in possession financing to Belle Foods to allow its grocery stores to continue operating until the sales can be completed by Oct. 4."

    Bill White and Jeff White, the father and son team that owns Belle Foods, will have the right to bid on some of the stores, but C&S will be focused on taking the best offers made on the stores. In addition, a chief restructuring officer will be hired to facilitate the transition and transactions.

    Belle already has closed 13 stores since it filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this month.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    • Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison told an investors meeting yesterday that the company "expects to launch more than 200 new products in fiscal 2014 as the company strengthens its core businesses and expands into higher-growth spaces, including new consumer segments, categories and geographies." These launches include a new Campbell’s Homestyle soup line, an expanded Campbell’s Chunky soup line, and the introduction of Campbell’s Slow Cooker Sauces.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    • Supervalu said yesterday that it has hired Bruce Besanko, the CFO at OfficeMax, to be its new CFO. He succeeds Sherry Smith, who had been Supervalu's CFO since 2010.
    KC's View:

    Published on: July 25, 2013

    by Kevin Coupe

    Gizmodo.com has a story suggesting that the popular "five second rule" - which maintains that one can eat anything dropped on the floor if one picks it up within five seconds - really has no basis in fact.

    Go figure.

    "The most important thing to remember about the world around you is that everything is covered in germs, at all times," the story says. "There are an estimated 100 billion in your mouth right now, another 100 trillion living in your digestive tract. As many as 25,000 germs crowd onto every square inch of your cell phone, though, and another 7.2 billion call your kitchen sponge home ... It doesn't take much for food-borne pathogens like E. coli and salmonella to infect your gut and wreak havoc on your bowels. In fact, fewer than 100 E. coli and less than 10 salmonella bacteria constitute an infectious dose."

    There apparently are numerous studies refuting the five-second rule, including one done by researchers at Clemson University, where they "assembled and sterilized a variety of surface samples—tile, wood and nylon carpet—then coated them with Salmonella (with a density of several million bacteria per sq. cm) in order to not only see how long the organisms survived on each but also see how effectively they could hop on a slice of bread or bologna.

    "The Clemson findings suggest that we should rename it the "zero second rule" because even after being left to dry for four weeks on the surfaces, the Salmonella were onto the bologna sandwich like white on rice in a glass of milk in a snowstorm in under a second. Leave the meat and bread there for five seconds, and the food picked up 150 to 8,000 bacteria. Leave it for a minute and the number increases tenfold. Tile and carpet reportedly gave up the most microorganisms, while wood transferred slightly fewer."

    To be honest, though, there's only one thing that really bothers me about this conclusion:

    I always thought it was the fifteen second rule.

    It's been an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View: