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    Published on: October 2, 2013

    by Kate McMahon

    "Kate's Take" is brought to you by Wholesome Sweeteners, Making The World a Sweeter Place.

    The newest competitors for a share of the home cook’s heart and wallet are offering a twist on thinking outside the box.

    It’s inside the box – as in a refrigerated box delivered weekly with up to three ready-to-cook “gourmet” meals, featuring pre-measured ingredients, fresh produce, meat and fish and detailed cooking instructions.

    Companies such as Blue Apron, Plated and HelloFresh are three of the leaders in this fast-growing e-commerce sector, which caters to folks (think young urban professionals) who enjoy cooking but don’t have time to grocery shop. Typically, menus are posted online a week ahead, and subscribers can choose which meals they want delivered, at a cost of about $10-$15 per person per meal. There are membership fees, vegetarian choices, and in some cases, “four-plate minimums” per order.

    The meals are creative, flavorful, utilize fresh ingredients and spices, and take about 30-45 minutes to prepare. There are no leftovers, but also no waste. I’ve seen some packaging of meal ingredients at supermarkets, but nothing this complete or exacting.

    A twenty-something friend and aspiring cook sent me fan Facebook posts about Blue Apron, a Brooklyn-based firm that launched in 2012 and recently expanded its deliveries to the West Coast. It now reaches more than 80% of the nation and is delivering about 100,000 meals a month.

    When I called to research the company, Blue Apron offered to send a complimentary kit. I accepted, and was quite impressed with quality of the ingredients, the presentation/packaging, and the attention to detail, down to the last sprig of tarragon. I originally was hesitant about cooking fish that arrived in my garage in a box (was the refrigeration really cold enough?), but the Seared Salmon with Preserved Lemon and Quinoa Salad with Pea Tendrils was fresh and delicious, and at $9.99 per meal. And I learned how to preserve a lemon, too.

    Clearly, these upscale meal ingredient-delivery services are targeted to a more affluent, sophisticated demographic and would not be practical for a family of six from a price (or a palate) perspective.

    But their newfound success is predicated on a premise that applies to any demographic or socio-economic group -- the idea that home cooking should be a more rewarding experience.

    For Matt Salzberg, CEO and co-founder of Blue Apron, it’s all about intelligently designing each meal to make best use of seasonal ingredients and encourage lifelong learning in cooking. Whether it’s posting witty instructional videos on basic cooking techniques or sharing real-time customer feedback on each dish, Blue Apron is establishing a relationship that lasts beyond the delivery date.

    Plated prides itself on compiling recipes from acclaimed chefs and is priced slightly higher than Blue Apron. HelloFresh works with local farms and offers more menu flexibility.

    But all three share a passion for food, a commitment to quality and an enthusiastic two-way dialogue with customers on social networking channels. A recipe for success, inside the box – or the store.

    Comments? Send me an email at .
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    The Hartman Group is out with a new white paper entitled "Brains vs. Brawn: The Magic of Marketing to a Cultural Movement," that is worth looking at in these tough competitive times.

    An excerpt:

    "Tesco, with all its money and marketing clout, couldn’t make a go of it with its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores. During the recession, consumers didn’t abandon buying espresso beverages from Starbucks in favor of brewing canned coffee at home. China’s Shuanghui International is muscling its way into U.S. and global market share through the acquisition of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork processor. Trader Joe’s engenders cult-like status among consumers and carves out a unique retail niche in the marketplace.

    "What is the 'it' that allows a company to thrive in a downturn economy? What is the 'it' missing from the marketing equation spelling the devaluation and eventual sale of a retail chain? What does a company hope to gain by 'buying' its way into and across the marketplace? Why do consumers’ eyes light up when they talk about their favorite retailer or brand?"

    The analysis suggests that there are two basic strategies at work here - one that values brains over brawn, and another that values the reverse:

    "The 'brawn' approach is when companies try to emulate the success of others through acquisition, line extension, knockoff products, marketing, or low pricing. This is what’s known as marketing to a category or commodity.

    "In sharp contrast, the 'brains' approach is taken by those companies that recognize that the key to success is following the consumer. These innovative and visionary companies know that the marketplace is consumer driven. They seek to be culturally relevant, and thus they market to cultural movements."

    You can check out the entire white paper - available for free - here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    The Jacksonville Business Journal has an interesting piece about how Winn-Dixie may fare once the company that owns it - Southeastern Grocers, which owns both it and Bi-Lo - goes through an initial public offering (IPO) that is designed to raise about $500 million.

    The problem for Winn-Dixie, the story suggests, "may have trouble fitting into a marketplace that has high-end grocers like Whole Foods and low-cost leaders like Walmart squeezing out players in the middle." Winn-Dixie, the Journal writes, is facing "a landscape that has grown more competitive — but it's unclear if the company has changed as quickly as the marketplace."

    The competitive landscape is perceived as being populated by companies that are better at their jobs and more specifically defined than Winn-Dixie, with names like Walmart, Costco, Publix, Whole Foods and a variety of dollar stores.
    KC's View:
    I've always believed that there is may be an even bigger problem for Winn-Dixie and Bi-Lo once they go public - that they will have to pay as much or more attention to Wall Street as to Main Street. That can have an impact on costs (the investor class wants them always to go down, even if they are legitimate, long-term investments), and on margins (the investor class always wants them to go up, because they mean higher short-term profits even if they hurt long-term prospects).

    The problem, potentially, is that the investor relations people become as important as the merchants, marketers and merchandisers. That rarely is a good thing, especially for a banner that does not exactly have a spotless record.

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    The Merchants Payment Coalition has released a study from economist Robert Shaprio of Sonecon LLC which it says "shows that debit card swipe fee reforms put $5.8 billion in consumers hands through lower prices. The debit fee reform also saved merchants $2.6 billion in 2012. The lower prices to consumers led to increased spending , which in turn helped create 37,501 new jobs."

    However, the study maintains, "These savings and job gains, however, could have been substantially larger had the fees been cut to 12 cents as originally recommended by the Federal Reserve. If that cut had been implemented, an additional $2.79 billion would have been generated in consumer savings, $1.2 billion in merchant savings and 17,824 more jobs would have been created ... If swipe fees for all credit card transactions had been held to the same level as debit fees in 2012, consumers would have saved an additional $15.4 billion, merchants would have saved another $6.9 billion, which would have supported 98,600 new jobs per year. With both debit and credit reform in place, consumers and merchants would have realized total annual savings of $34.9 billion, creating a total of 153,976 jobs every year."

    The Federal Reserve has appealed a ruling by Judge Richard J. Leon of Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, who said the Federal Reserve exceeded its authority when it set a 24 cent-per-transaction cap on debit card usage. The Fed had capped fees at 21 cents per transaction, much higher than the initial 12 cent cap it proposed, though half the average of 44 cents per transaction that traditionally has been charged."
    KC's View:
    The numbers are interesting, and ought to put pressure on the government to stop fighting the court decision to void the cap imposed by the Fed. At least, you'd think so.

    The argument here long has been that as long as the majority of these savings are passed on to shoppers, swipe fee reform ought to be an easy sell. But if prices stay high and retailers only use the money they save to improve their bottom lines, all these arguments will somehow seem disingenuous.

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    The Tampa Bay Times reports that "Walmart, in its fight to grab more grocery business in Florida, is going after one of Publix's top selling points: BOGOs. The world's largest retailer is now matching buy-one-get-one-free sales from Publix and other grocery chains at its Walmart stores in Florida ... The new BOGO-matching policy underscores the retail giant's commitment to having the lowest price in town without the hassle of sales and coupons. It also serves as a warning to regional competitors that Walmart isn't too big to fight the little guys."

    The story says that "stores will keep track of BOGO deals at Publix, Winn-Dixie and other stores and give them to customers who ask at checkout ... Shoppers do not need to bring in a competitor's ad."
    KC's View:
    I found this paragraph from the story to be interesting...

    The match guarantee squashes many shoppers' arguments that Walmart doesn't have the lowest prices if you factor in sales and weekly BOGO deals offered at other grocery chains. It applies to all Walmart stores, Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets across Florida but not other states.

    Because I see it the other way. It doesn't mean that Walmart has the lowest prices ... only that it will match other chains' lower prices if you ask for the match at checkout. It isn't lower on these products, just the same, and not always.

    I'm not demeaning the initiative. But let's call it what it is.

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    The Washington Post this morning reports that founder/CEO Jeff Bezos and his private investment company, Nash Holdings, have completed their $250 million purchase of the Washington Post, "officially ending 80 years of local control of the newspaper by the Graham family."

    The story goes on to say that Bezos "has vowed to continue the newspaper’s long history of independent journalism. His technical and marketing savvy, long-term outlook and lack of an apparent ideological agenda made him an attractive steward for the paper, Post Co. chief executive Donald E. Graham said in August, when an agreement in principle was first disclosed." And, he "has the deep pockets to sustain an enterprise that has been buffeted for years by declining readership and advertising, especially in the printed Post."

    At the same time, has an interesting column by Benjy Boxer that speculates about why Bezos might have bought a bastion of old-world media:

    "According to Bezos, the Kindle is currently sold at cost.  If you take the expected annual operating income from the media sold on each Kindle ($51.26), Amazon could generate $24mm of incremental operating income from the distribution of the Kindle Fire to Washington Post readers. Because of this and cost savings, I believe the next logical step is for the Washington Post to announce it’ll give away Kindles to its readers."

    In addition to revenue generated by media sold on each Kindle, there also could be a significant savings in terms of raw materials that no longer would have to be bought to print the Post: "If you take the raw materials savings and add it to the increase in valuation of Bezos’ ownership of Amazon, Jeff Bezos could capture $618mm of incremental value for himself if he transitions every daily reader from the Post to a Kindle user. This ignores the potentially monumental shift Bezos could instigate by changing the at-home-delivery model for all major US Newspapers. If the Washington Post were to eliminate paper delivery, it could serve as an example for other papers to follow suit and lead to even greater sales of Amazon’s Kindle devices."
    KC's View:
    I think we probably are a long way from the Post going completely digital ... but probably not as long a way as some might think. Simply giving away to Kindles seems like a radical move ... but Bezos has specialized in the game-changing move that nobody expects. And this certainly would be a game changer.

    The reality is, I think, that for Bezos and now for the Washington Post, everything is on the table. The goal is to be effective, relevant and efficient ... whatever it takes. No such thing as a dumb suggestion.

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    • The New York Times reports this morning that Tesco will pay $554 million (US) "to set up a new joint venture supermarket business in China with a state-run partner," China Resources Enterprise, described as "a huge Chinese supermarket and convenience store operator with about 3,000 outlets in China and Hong Kong."

    Tesco will roll its existing and unprofitable China business, with 134 stores, into the new venture.

    ‘‘Through this deal we have a strong platform in one of the world’s most exciting markets, and it will move us more quickly to profitability in China,’’ Philip Clarke, the chief executive of Tesco, said in a news release Wednesday.
    KC's View:
    Is it just me, or does it seem like Clarke is spending a lot of time cleaning up messes - China, Fresh & Easy - left over from the previous administration?

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    • Fairway, which announced just a couple of days ago that it would open a two-story store in Manhattan's TriBeCa neighborhood, has now announced that it will open its first store in Long Island's Suffolk County when it unveils a unit in Lake Grove next spring.

    Fairway already has stores in Long Island's Nassau County, as well as in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York's Westchester County.

    Reuters reports that Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke has "told investors Nestle had drawn up lists of businesses that could be fixed and those that could not," and is "getting closer to disposing of bad brands and shaking up its portfolio to deal with businesses that have underperformed for too long ... Suggesting the process is already under way, sources told Reuters last week that Nestle's PowerBar energy bars were up for sale."

    • Whole Foods said yesterday that it is introducing Whole Paws, described as "an exclusive line of premium value pet food, that features 24 products for dogs and cats. The line includes an assortment of items, ranging from grain-free adult dog food and training treats to indoor cat formula and litter with baking soda ... Made with chicken, salmon and other wholesome, nutrient-rich ingredients, Whole Paws contains no corn or soy, no animal by-products, no artificial colors, no artificial preservatives, and no added sugar— and the new line meets Whole Foods Market's strict quality standards."
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    • MillerCoors announced that it has hired Gannon Jones, most recently the CMO for PepsiCo's Global Nutrition Group, to be its new VP-brand marketing.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    • Marcella Hazan, who wrote six cookbooks about Italian cooking that focused mostly on simplicity and freshness rather than ornate hard-to-make recipes, has passed away. She was 89.
    KC's View:
    There is a lovely little piece about Hazan in The New Yorker that you can read here.

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    Got the following email responding to Michael Sansolo's column yesterday about how Baby boomers are embracing personal changes as they get older:

    The NYT story on divorce increases for those over 50 numerated an interesting trend I have observed.

    Having grown up in a Catholic household where I was the oldest of 6, it was not easy let go of a marriage was failing despite various therapist sessions, both inside & outside the Church. But, we couldn’t see either of us growing to hate the other (as happened with others in our respective families) and our son watching us live out the Catholic faith by staying together just because our religion frowns upon divorce. And (as the author points out) knowing that we’re healthy enough to live longer lives than others in our families, it is more respectful to split once college for our son is assured, so that we can enjoy what we want in our remaining years.

    Even the Pope himself, who continues to impress me by forcing new discussions around formerly hands-off topics, realizes that change in the Catholic marriage tribunal process is needed and is encouraging faster resolution for marriage annulments.

    Which, for me, all points to a long held belief that if “we” (e.g. business leaders, family leaders, church leaders) aren’t growing, we’re dying.

    I wonder if this is a more lively debate for MNB readers than the current one surrounding company owners speaking out on same-sex marriage trend, risking their product acceptance.

    We'll find out.

    Regarding the decision by Gelson's - even as it looks for a buyer and explores "strategic alternatives" - to open two new stores, one MNB user wrote:

    As a teenager I lived with my family in Encino, California home of the flagship Gelson’s store. It was the place you went when you wanted something special.  It was like the Whole Foods of its day.

    Sadly, when a we were meeting with Gelson’s about becoming a vender – some 7 years ago - it was apparent that Gelson’s had just become a company filled with old farts in silos. No one seemed to remember what the brand stood for in their glory years, nor how to go about getting back the magic. Nor would they or could they make an effort to make the changes..   No new ideas, no new thinking at all, no new blood. couldn’t recognize  the new expectations shoppers have now - how the bar has been raised. Didn’t seem to appreciate even the power of the Gelson’s name. They were too far deep into “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality.

    About the "Ship From Store" strategy that seems to be taking hold as a way for bricks-and-mortar retailers to better compete with Amazon, MNB user Patrick Pitts wrote:

    I hope Walmart figures this out.  Several months ago, I found a Philips MP3 player I liked online, with the best price at  I went into the store and found the exact item but $10 higher.  The store associate told me she could match an online competitor, but was not allowed to match their own online price. I ordered the player from, used the free site-to-store delivery, and came back to the store three days later to pick it up, noticing they still had the same item hanging in the electronics department on my way back to the service desk.  There’s no way that made sense.

    Which speaks, I think, to the problems that retailers with legacy issues will have competing with Amazon.

    On the same subject, MNB reader Patty Salmon wrote:

    I saw your story about the Ship From Store Strategy and I just had to share this story that blew my mind.  My son recently started attending Iowa State University in Ames, IA and he left his wireless router extender at home for the family.  Well he quickly came to realize that he probably needed one in his room on campus.  Rather than send ours to him I went to Best to send him a replacement.  I placed the order on a Monday afternoon and he had his unit in hand at noon Tuesday - less than a 24 hour turnaround (and shipping was free).  The only way Best Buy could have fulfilled the order that quickly was to send it from the Ames Best Buy.  I have to say I was excited to see that Best Buy is using their store locations to their advantage and I will definitely turn to them again when we need to send something electronic to our son.

    On the subject of changes that McDonald's is making in its menu to assure that more nutritious options are available, MNB user KH Chandler wrote:

    Though I haven't set foot in a McDonald's in over ten years (once I learned about the meats and processes they use) and have been a vocal opponent of theirs since the release of Super Size Me, I must take my hat off to them for this move. Just making it an option will give the opportunity to order better foods and bring awareness. We can't change peoples eating habits overnight, but when huge companies like them invest in something like this the fallout will happen. Baby steps, though this is a huge baby! I'd like to see the numbers on worldwide consumption of the alternatives. I'd bet in a year they are staggering.

    I've been catching up with some emails that we received about the health care debate.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I follow your comments and those of your readers on this, and I pretty much side with the “Pro” single payer side.  But I am a salesperson by trade, and I really value the free marketplace and competition, so there is a conflict.  I think you pretty much feel the same, and my bet is many of your readers agree.

    I am not sure how it evolved to this point, but the free marketplace for healthcare now amounts to the freedom to get robbed by the thief of your choice, but there are thieves at every step of the way.  There is an interesting article on about the costs of prescription medication that’s worth reading, and likely to convert anyone who reads it to a Costco customer.  My son broke his wrist and at the emergency room they wanted to put a brace on his wrist at a cost of $200 for the brace and another $250 to “fit it”.  It’s the same brace available for $35 at CVS and for $15 on the internet.  And they practically called the police before they let us go.

    I think because most of us thought we got health insurance for “free” from our employers, we all got lazy and didn’t look at or care about the real costs, and the vendors at every step of the way understood our willing ignorance and learned they could take advantage and exponentially marked up the “Sticker” price when they realized we would pay it, and we did, because we all thought of it as if someone else was paying.  But like a cancer killing its host, the healthcare industry has become unmanageable in cost.

    My hope is the ACA will help things to self correct.  There will still be insurance companies, and care will still be dispensed.  But the insane markups that now exist will have to become reasonable if the market is to survive.  The healthcare industry is now the car salesperson who realizes his customer has discovered the sticker price is not what the car is going to cost.

    From another reader:

    There's too much politically charged emotion and too little economic reality in the discussion surrounding health care insurance. For example, one of your readers wonders "why make parents pay to cover their children until the age of 26?"

    Insurance companies want healthy young people in their risk pools because they lower how much the insurance firm expects to pay out in claims. Similarly, adding contraceptive coverage lowers the cost of the insurance because costly pregnancies are avoided. Policies without contraceptive coverage should cost more.

    Eventually the US will get to where most of Europe and Japan are … single payer systems for good basic coverage for everyone with supplemental policies for those who want "luxury" coverage. Really, isn't that what people 65+ have with Medicare and supplemental coverage if they want to pay extra? 

    The larger the risk pool, the less costly is the premium. And then you eliminate buried premium charges to cover medical expenses of the uninsured (presuming of course we don't allow hospitals to turn people away because they're not insured).

    The Affordable Care Act originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Republican Party back in the 90s.

    And the debate continues....

    On another subject, Amazon's use of lockers in select locations for people who don;t want products delivered to their homes or offices, one MNB user wrote:

    Regarding the whole Amazon locker issue, I think it's always fine to try and innovate, I'm just surprised that this plan wasn't better thought out. A glorified post-office box? In my city the lockers are installed at 7-11s, and trust me when I say that you would probably never find Mrs. Morning Newsbeat there. The last time I visited my neighborhood 7-11, there was a used syringe on the sidewalk and several of the locker doors had been vandalized. What a great brand experience!

    And as for the Post Office...Have you been lately? Separate from all of the whining we could do about bloat, inefficiency, blah, blah the real issue is that the vast, vast majority of normal people rarely have any reason to visit a post office.

    A friend from Europe who doesn't know better mailed me a package via US Post and I had to visit our local office to pick it up in person. After waiting in line and listening to each customer, it dawned on me that there are only two main reasons people visit the post office: a) They are dealing with some complicated issue (in my case convoluted customs paperwork) or b) They are simply not "educated enough" to understand why they don't need to be there. Gone are the days of admins buying stamps and ordinary people taking care of business. Now it's largely a gathering place for people who don't quite get how the (American) world works-which of course includes my European friend.

    Got the following advice from someone who read my skeptical take on the use of "wet wipes" instead of toilet paper:

    I would like you to do your "business" and wipe as you always do…..Then while still on the throne, wipe with a wet wipe.
    I think you will be kinda surprised to say the least.

    I think we just crossed the line into "too personal" territory.

    On another subject, got the following email from MNB reader Lisa Bosshard:

    I had an experience yesterday, that if I can put mildly was heinous....   I'm beginning to understand why Barnes and Noble is declining.   As a long time, loyal customer, I owned one of the first Nook's created (the 3G version which they don't produce anymore).   After having that less than 1 year, it broke.   So, true to advertising at the time, I went to the store where they promptly replaced it (good experience).   The following year, I decided to purchase the Nook simple touch backlit for travel needs.  I was tired of having a separate light for reading on planes.  So last Christmas, my husband purchased that as one of my gifts.   Everything has been golden until this week's travel when it began to severely malfunction.  Upon arriving home yesterday, I promptly contacted their on line support to learn more information about warranty and that's where things began to go south.

    After chatting on line with 3 different people and being disconnected from chat when they put me on hold, I was finally able to reach someone that could assist.  However, to my dismay, they no longer process replacements in store.  You have to "buy" the warranty replacement which is then shipped to you in 5-7 days, then return ship your defective merchandise back for credit with original cables.   Now, first of all, in the middle of a great book and being a frequent traveler, I don't really have 7 days to wait for my "replacement".   Second, I'm really peeved at having to purchase the replacement and then wait for them to process and credit their defective merchandise.  What is the point in having brick and mortar stores if the consumer can not use them?   After chatting on line and going through that process, I then had to "call" them to actually process the new purchase and return.

    In light of my poor customer service experience, I recalled this is my 2nd devise that had to be replaced in less than one year.  It does not inspire confidence in their product!   Additionally, ultimately to their loss, I was forced to use the Nook app on my iPad for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at that experience.  While I will replace my broken devise because it's under warranty, I will not be purchasing another Nook from them and Apple has earned my loyalty yet again!

    Lesson - be careful of how you treat your customers, because they ALWAYS have a choice!  In this instance, B&N lost a current and future customer.

    I was impressed about the number of emails I got from people who were amazed by my recent confession that I've never had a breakfast taco.

    One MNB user wrote:

    I moved here from Austin after living there for 10 years.  Even back then in the 90's there were tons of taco stands all around town.  They throw them up near convenient intersections and people just stop off at whichever one is on their way to work.  Breakfast tacos are just smaller breakfast burritos in the side-of-the-road taco stand world.  They are tasty and cheap at around a dollar each and the service is super quick.  They know you're on the way to work, so by the time you're done saying "I want two bean, egg and cheese tacos" the lady in the back is already slapping those together and wrapping them up while the first is taking your money.  The convenience alone is almost  the reason these things are crazy popular.  Think how long it takes to park and walk in to a McDonald's or even a Starbucks - even their drive throughs don't compare.  WIth these little taco stands, you're back in your car 2 minutes later, 2 dollars lighter, and with a sack of breakfast treats that none of the big fast food chains could compete with, either on size or quality.

    I sure miss those taco stands.  Many were tiny trailers only large enough to fit the two workers inside.   They set up in little section of grass or parking lot that they rent or lease from local businesses.  Some stay for lunch, some go home, dragging their little trailers with them.  The larger, more established ones have bigger trailers that you may be used to seeing used for catering, a few use those catering vans.

    I see that kind of thing around here in St Pete, Florida, but much more rarely.  I keep telling people it would be an easy, quick business to start up and there is hardly any competition.  You just buy the little trailer and the food, then go get a couple ladies to work the trailer (no problem around here, maybe it would be up north).  The hardest and most expensive part would be angling for the right space to do it, because you have to rent your little piece of parking lot, and you need it to be near a busy intersection and all that.  But yeah I see it as money left on the table - it's not just Austin's proximity to Mexico that make it a hot market for tacos.  It's the ease and convenience of these taco stands combined with the competitive product they serve when compared to big fast food.  On top of all this, for the health and eco-conscious people, they know they are getting a more whole, natural product and are supporting local businesses and all that jazz.

    And from another reader:

    You have never even heard of a breakfast taco??  This is incomprehensible! 🙂
    Of course I am a born and raised Texan and Austinite for the past 11 years so I am in the middle of the breakfast taco action but it NEVER would have occurred to me that someone such as you hasn't even heard of a breakfast taco.  THAT is the eye-opener to me!  This gets me thinking though...what incredible and so seemingly common local fares are there around the country that I am totally oblivious to??  If you have never heard of a breakfast taco then I must for sure be missing out on many similar culinary wonders.  I guess I should find a way to travel more...

    MNB reader Nancy Lazara wrote:

    Anyone who’s worked for HEB and spent any time in South Texas is well aware of the absolutely local tradition of Breakfast Tacos. When I first moved to San Antonio/HEB  several years ago I was astounded that the bring-to-the-office breakfast was NOT a box of doughnuts, but rather a brown bag of small, warm, handmade breakfast tacos! Potato and Egg, Bacon and Egg, the list goes on……..simple, small and fresh made with HEB tortillas or handmade flour tortillas in many cases from the local Molino. They put the Sunday-newspaper-sized Burrito to shame – and remain a tradition in our home back in Seattle now.

    And from MNB reader Gary Hudman:

    If you come down to Texas, you definitely need to visit San Antonio for the best breakfast tacos you have ever eaten.  I would venture that we have at least twice the number of taco places as Austin, and as for quality, no less than gourmet Magazine named Taco Taco as the best tacos in America.  My own favorite is confusingly named The Original Donut Shop.  Come on down and experience the best breakfast you have ever had.

    And from Ray England:

    You don’t have to go to Austin for a great breakfast Taco, although I would never pass up the opportunity to do so. I’m a native Texan and I can tell you that you can get great breakfast Taco’s pretty much anywhere in the great state. I had a superb breakfast taco at a United Supermarkets European Marketplace store a couple years back and it was outstanding, as are the ones at HEB. Come to think of it, I can imagine that after a night out on  6th street in Austin, a breakfast Taco would be just what the doctor ordered. Breakfast Tacos are like a breakfast burrito, only different. Muy Delicioso!

    And I loved this email from MNB reader Chris Weisert: 

    One does not need a reason to go to Austin.

    Point taken.

    I wrote recently about how a new Keurig store is going to open in the Burlington Mall in Massachusetts, as the company tests whether or not such a concept is viable.

    Which led one MNB reader to write:

    Nespresso has been doing this for some time. Several stores in Manhattan and also Chicago and Beverly Hills. More to come I understand.

    And another:

    Not a first...last October in Paris I walked past, but did not go inside, a Nespresso 119 Champs-Élysées (not far from the Arc de Triomphe). There are a few other locations in Paris.

    You're right. I've been in them, and should have remembered.

    BTW...George Clooney does TV commercials for Nespresso outside the can see one here.

    We had a story the other day about how Walmart is mad at a Bloomberg reporter for, it says, writing an inaccurate story about cutting back on Q3 and Q4 orders because of excess inventory. I said that I'm biased, but I tend to believe the reporter.

    Which prompted one MNB user to write:

    I think, based upon my many years of experience, that reporters are biased, as are you and for that matter, I or is it me.

    What does cutting orders mean?  Did the orders not meet what one, a few or many manufacturers forecasted.  Or was this Intel from a few companies that products are trending down and/or nearing the end of their lifecycles. 

    How many sources did the reporter have?  Or is Ms Dudley, trying to get some ‘street cred’ by bashing Walmart?

    On the other hand, recently, Walmart announced that they were adding more people to the payroll for the Holiday season and converting thousands to full time, why would they do that if they were cutting orders?  Just asking.

    Well, they still need people to put old inventory on the shelves, right?

    If I'm not mistaken, one of the things that led to the story was an internal Walmart memo ...

    I'm also pretty sure that Bloomberg is not exactly a bastion of liberal media bias.

    But as I said from the beginning, I tend to be biased in terms of reporters.

    Responding to the story about how Trader Joe's is maneuvering to figure out the best way to provide health care to its employees, MNB reader Ben Loy wrote:

    It’s amazing to find a company that is willing to provide any support to workers that work less than 30 hours per week. Trader Joe’s is apparently now even willing to expand that support when faced with the realization that their actions could be detrimental to some workers. I give Trader Joe’s kudos for their willingness to assist their part-time workers.

    With all the debate about health care, and the feeling on the part of some that the Affordable Care Act will convince many companies to stop offering it to employees, I continue to believe that progressive, competitive companies will use health care as a way of differentiating themselves to attract better employees.

    We do continue to get email about the Barilla kerfuffle over how the chairman of the pasta company views and talks about gay people.

    One MNB user wrote:

    Just wanted to tell you that I thought your response to the comments on the Barilla “controversy” was concise, intelligent and spot-on.  Thanks for being thoughtful – it’s a rare commodity these days.

    I’ll strike a deal with you: when you start selling pasta, I’ll stop reading your blog … so keep selling discourse.

    And from another:

    As Kris Kristofferson said to Sinead O'Connor when she was booed at MSG, "Don't let the bastards get you down".


    MNB reader Chuck Jolley wrote:

    You wrote, "Let me add something here. I've gotten a few extraordinarily personal emails over the last couple of days attacking me for my personal beliefs, questioning my morals and my values, and accusing me of being "militant."

    Those authors of hate need to be banned from your subscription list.  I see those kinds of messages, too, and I immediately question their personal beliefs, morals and values.  Their beliefs should not be accepted and their morals and values should be questioned.  If they consider you to be militant, please continue to be militant.

    Banned? Never. I think it is great that they continue to read MNB and continue to challenge me, and allow me to respond. (Though the tenor of some of these emails is the reason that I'll never allow emails on MNB to appear unedited and uncurated.)

    I don't allow personal attacks expressed in emails to run on MNB, except for personal attacks on me ... because I'm a big boy with a thick skin, and besides, by the nature of how this works, I usually get the last word.

    One MNB user weighed in on the other reader who suggested that Barilla pasta isn;t all that good, anyway:

    She's spot on.  IMHO, DeCecco pasta is, by far, the best pasta on the market.

    Give your daughter's meatballs a try on it sometime.  You won't be disappointed.

    And from another reader:

    You hit the nail on the head with this one. One thing I just thought of – I’ve dined at Maggiano’s a lot and seem to remember their menus being stamped with “we proudly serve Barilla pasta” on them. Even if they don’t use it, I’m sure other restaurant chains do. I wonder if the impact of his comments will extend beyond just grocery shelves…

    And another, responding to the accusation that I am a militant:

    Kevin - you are far from militant!  Your responses are (almost) always reasoned and thoughtful!

    Sometimes, maybe. When I get enough sleep.

    And sometimes I screw up, as MNB user Mike Nichols pointed out:

    I couldn’t help but chuckle when I read your article today about the Huffington Post poll regarding the change to Starbucks firearms policy. The sentence that did it for me: “But as the politics of the issue changed, Starbucks adjusted its position and asked that customers not bring weapons into stores without actually banning forearms.”

    Personally, I’m happy to leave the guns at home, but I’m attached to my forearms and won’t go anywhere without them.

    I fixed it. Though I admit I giggled a bit at the typo.

    Finally, this cautionary email from MNB reader Ken Wagar:

    "Your Views” seems to be falling to the wayside lately on MNB. IMHO, this section is one of the mainstays of MNB as it provides some feedback and commentary on the issues of the day and the views of the readers as support or counterpoint to the views of KC.

    If in fact your mission is “analysis with Attitude” much of that is lost if readers views aren’t also included on a regular basis. I give you credit for choosing which views to publish and how to edit those for clarity but I hate to see them gone so often. Their absence takes away from the value of what you do.

    I completely agree that "Your Views" often are more provocative and interesting that my views. And since I like it when you all view MNB as your site as much as it is mine, "Your Views" is a critical component of that.

    It is true that "Your Views" hasn't run every day lately. A big part of that sometimes my workload and schedule give me less time than I'd like to do MNB, and reading, culling and editing emails actually is one of the most time-intensive things I do. No complaints, and no excuses ... this is just the way it is, and as Hyman Roth says in The Godfather Part II, "This is the business we have chosen."

    Just please understand that I'm doing my best. And if some editions of MNB does not have "Your Views," rest assured that I save every email and try to catch up when I can.

    Like today ...

    The thing is, I don't have time to do everything.

    One MNB reader wrote:

    I have always enjoyed your observations on various TV programs, but I have never seen you comment on "Breaking Bad."  Just curious if you ever tried it or not.  I believe it's one of the best TV series ever produced, and obviously based on the Emmy haul I'm not alone.  I think it's time for you to do some binge watching on this program!  As I'm sure you know, the series finale was last night, so make sure you avoid any spoilers over the next couple weeks.

    My guilty secret is that I've never seen even 60 seconds of "Breaking Bad," though one of these days I'm going to pick up either the DVD set or download the whole thing to my laptop and engage in a little binge viewing. I've been successful so far at avoiding any stories about the finale - no mean feat - so I can keep as much of it as a surprise as possible.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 2, 2013

    In the National League Wild Card Game, the Pittsburgh Pirates defeated the Cincinnati Reds 6-2, and earned the right to face the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Divisional Series.
    KC's View: