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    Published on: October 11, 2013

    The Scientist reports that - go figure - peanut butter may be able to help identify people with Alzheimer's disease.

    Let's quote the story directly:

    "In a small pilot study of patients displaying signs of cognitive decline, researchers at the McKnight Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste and the University of Florida (UF) found that peanut butter can help identify those with Alzheimer’s disease (AD), a neurodegenerative disorder often accompanied by a loss of smell.

    "Working with 18 patients with probable AD, 24 with mild cognitive impairment, 26 with other causes of dementia, and 26 matched controls, graduate student Jennifer Stamps and her UF advisor Kenneth Heilman measured the distance from the nose at which a patient (whose eyes were closed) could smell a tablespoon of peanut butter. They ran the test one nostril at a time and found that early-stage AD patients had dramatically different smell sensitivity between the right and left nostrils, with the left regularly being more severely impaired. The other patients tested displayed no such difference in smell sensitivity."

    The story concedes that a lot more study needs to be done, but suggests that "this non-invasive and inexpensive left–right nostril odor detection test appears to be a sensitive and specific test for probable AD."

    Here's what I'm wondering...

    Having read this story, how many MNB readers are going to go grab a jar of peanut butter and a spoon, close their eyes, and test themselves?

    Because I know what I'm going to do later today...
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    Safeway said yesterday that is plans to get out of the Chicago market, saying that its Dominick's division has been a "noticeable drag" on company profits. It hopes to be out of the market by early 2014.

    The company said that it has received "considerable interest" in its 72-store Dominick's chain, and has already sold four of them - two in Chicago, one in Homer Glen, Illinois, and one in Glenview, Illinois - to New Albertsons Inc., which operates Jewel-Osco in the market. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

    Safeway has owned Dominick's for 15 years, and has turned it from a 116-store chain that it bought for $1.2 billion plus debt into a 72-store chain that likely will be sold for considerably less than the company paid for it.

    Safeway, which sold its Canadian stores earlier this year, has indicated that it wants to focus on markets where its competitive position is stronger. Chicago has become ever more problematic for the company as it has been invaded by competitors that include Mariano's, Whole Foods, Aldi, Target and Walmart.

    The Chicago Tribune writes that "Safeway said it's trying to sell as many of the stores as quickly as it can, adding that it's likely to fetch multiple buyers as opposed to a single grocer that would take over every location. Most of the real estate behind the Chicago stores is leased, not owned. Only about 15 to 20 of the buildings are owned by Safeway, the company said ... Safeway, the country's second-largest grocery chain, said the move will save it between $400 million and $450 million. It said it will use that money to buy back stock and invest in other growth opportunities."

    UPDATE, 10:15 a.m.

    Here is the text of CEO Robert Edwards' message to employees:

    All Safeway Companies Employees:

    Earlier today we announced the company’s plans to exit the Chicago market. We made this difficult decision after long and careful consideration. However, we believe it is clearly the right long-term move for Safeway.

    Over the years we have worked hard to strengthen Dominick’s position in the Chicago market. We have made substantial investments in the store system, with an extensive remodel program and with the opening of a significant number of new stores in the region. We did so in the face of dramatic change in the competitive landscape. While we made some progress, it was not enough to justify further investment, despite the dedicated efforts of our retail and backstage teams to improve the business.

    At this stage, here is what I can tell you about the planned exit. One small group of stores has been sold, with the details to be announced shortly. We are working to identify buyers for the remainder of our operations. The company anticipates having plans in place for the other stores by early 2014. We understand this raises concerns and apprehension among our Dominick’s work force. We are asking the prospective buyers of the stores to interview and consider our people for employment. While we can make no guarantees, it is our intention to facilitate continued employment for as many team members as possible.

    Thank you for your cooperation as we work through this process in the months ahead. We will keep you informed as we move forward.  We are deeply grateful to our Dominick’s team for all they have done, and will continue to do, in a challenging environment. This is a difficult step, but part of an important strategic process designed to ensure that Safeway remains a strong company for many years to come.

    KC's View:
    I've always thought that Safeway would be willing to sell the Dominick's division, but would not do so if the price it could get was so much lower than what it paid for the division. But now, with a new CEO, that inhibition seems to have gone away.

    I was talking with a number of food industry folks yesterday, and the broader question that they were asking was how long Safeway itself would be around as a company, and whether it seems likely that the whole thing could get sold.

    I don't see that happening anytime soon, but I do think that it seems clear that the merger and acquisition activity seems to be picking up, and Safeway certainly does not seem to be a buyer.

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek has a must-read excerpt from a new book by Brad Stone, "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos & The Age of Amazon," in which he looks at the personal and business evolution of the e-commerce pioneer that "rivals Wal-Mart as a store, Apple as a device maker, and IBM as a data services provider," and will "rake in about $75 billion this year."

    It is a fascinating excerpt ... and when I was done with it, I immediately went to - go figure - Amazon and bought a digital copy that will be downloaded to my Kindle application next week when the book is officially published. (It all took about 30 seconds ... which is a statement in itself about how the world has changed.)

    Check it out, here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    The Seattle Times reports that Starbucks is asking "customers and businesses to sign a petition calling for an end to the partial government shutdown that has forced hundreds of thousands of federal workers off the job.

    "The petition, which will be available at all Starbucks 11,000 U.S. locations to sign beginning Friday, calls for reopening the government, paying debts on time and passing a long-term budget deal by the end of the year. In addition to Starbucks customers, the company is trying to get the CEOs of the nation's largest companies to sign."

    The story goes on to say that "the move is unusual for a company like Starbucks. While big brands generally steer clear of politics to avoid alienating customers, Starbucks and its outspoken CEO, Howard Schultz, in recent years have run toward the spotlight by trying to gain a voice in national political issues. But because the company's efforts are generally non-partisan and unlikely to cause controversy, marketing and corporate image experts say they burnish Starbucks' reputation as a socially-conscious company."
    KC's View:
    It is my impression that on the matter of the government shutdown and the increasing of the debt ceiling, more and more CEOs are getting into the act, because they realize that anything that negatively affects the nation's economy won't be good for business. That's certainly the case with Starbucks - if we go into another recession or worse, there will be a lot fewer people buying $4 lattes. So this makes an awful lot of sense.

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    Bloomberg Businessweek has a story about four countries that Walmart has had trouble conquering - Germany, South Korea, Russia, and now India.

    In some cases, the problems have been because of adverse investment conditions, and in others, the issue has been protectionist laws that protect local businesses. Sometimes, Walmart has faced issues because it attempted to bring US retailing techniques to places where they were not acceptable.
    KC's View:
    And, this does not even include what could cause Walmart broader problems in global markets - allegations that Walmart has resorted to bribery to grease the wheels in certain markets, allowing it to grow faster.

    None of this is good for Walmart.

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    Yesterday, in "FaceTime," I mentioned that while in Eataly this week, I found a book - "The Little Book of Pasta Tips" - that struck me as a great impulse purchase. And, I said:

    Out of curiosity, I checked to see if it was available on - not because, at $4.95, it was expensive, but just because I was curious. Guess what? It wasn't available.

    Another great business lesson: Whenever possible, when going up against a bigger competitor, one of the best ways to do it is to actually carry stuff that they can't carry, or just don't.

    Sometimes that can be a big thing. And sometimes, a small thing. But having that "thing" - a unique product or service that is uniquely, indisputably you - is absolutely critical.

    Only one problem with that.

    While the book did not seem to be available on Amazon when I checked on the mobile app, yesterday afternoon it did pop up on Amazon's regular site.

    Not sure why this happened, but it did. I'm going to work on the premise that I goofed somehow, and I apologize for that.

    I do think, however, that my broader point remains correct - that differentiation always is key, whenever and wherever possible.

    I did get one email from a reader who was disgusted with me:

    You were experiencing a culinary delight and instead of enjoying the moment as a great experience you, the supreme advocate of differentiation, stooped to show rooming. For shame. For shame. A differentiated experience. A culinary oasis. A place where folks are in sensory overload. All the practices you preach and according to your piece you stop in the middle of the store to see if Amazon has the same book. If it had been less expensive - Did you then have a moral dilemma - Price vs experience. The world wants to know.

    As it happens, Amazon is charging 49 cents less for the book than Eataly. But no, in this case, even if it had popped up on my iPhone, I would not have ordered it.

    I would take issue with your premise, though. Because considering what I do for a living, it was incumbent on me to check. I'd feel a lot dumber if I had not checked than I do right now for having checked and somehow missed it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    The Boston Globe reports that Staples "unveiled a new price match policy Thursday that seeks to ensure that the retailer’s customers pay the lowest prices, both at company stores and at its e-commerce Web sites ... Under the new policy, Staples will price match items sold and shipped by or any retailer that sells products in both retail stores and online under the same brand."

    According to the story, "Although Staples still sells more than $20 billion of office supplies each year and remains comfortably profitable, it faces unprecedented challenges from competitors and changing technology ... To address those challenge, Staples is tweaking its business strategy. Part of that strategy is putting more emphasis on e-commerce and reducing the total square footage devoted to brick-and-mortar retail."
    KC's View:
    I could be wrong about this, but I have a feeling that Staples is going to be one of the survivor stories in this scenario. It strikes me that the company is on point, and is doing a cold-eyed analysis of what works and what does not, and placing that judgment in the context of how the world is changing. And, I suspect, they are taking Mark Twain's remark - that "sacred cows make the best hamburger" - seriously.

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    ...with brief, occasional, italicized and sometimes gratuitous commentary...

    • The New York Times reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has said that Foster Farms, which operates three California poultry processing facilities linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 278 people in 17 states, can keep those plants open because they have made "immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing to allow for continued operations." However, the government also said that "inspectors would monitor the company’s improvements and sample Foster Farms meat for the next three months."

    They can give the "all clear" all they want. I see a Foster Farms chicken, and I think I'm going to move on. May not be fair, but that's the way it is.

    • The Sacramento Business Journal reports that Farm Fresh To You - a community-supported agriculture home-delivery service - is expanding its service to San Diego. The business connects a network of local farms directly to consumers, delivering boxes of fresh produce to people's homes on a regular basis.

    The service already delivers to the Sacramento region, the entire San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties.

    Can you spell "disintermediation"? Though, to be clear, a savvy retailer would figure out ways to be part of this system, becoming an enabler that forges these connections, thereby improving its image. As opposed to, say, becoming irrelevant to the transaction.

    • Whole Foods has announced that it will open a store in downtown Newark, saying that it wants to help spur urban economic development. It opened a store in Detroit earlier this year, and plans one for an inner city Chicago neighborhood.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    ...will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    • In Major League Baseball, the Detroit Tigers defeated the Oakland Athletics 3-0 to win the fifth and final game of their American League Divisional Series. The Tigers now go on to play the Boston Red Sox in the AL Championship Series.

    • In NFL Thursday Night Football action, the Chicago Bears defeated the NY Giants 27-21.
    KC's View:

    Published on: October 11, 2013

    Gravity is one of the most extraordinary movies I've ever seen, 90 minutes of pure cinema that took my breath away. It is really the first film that I've seen in IMAX 3D that seemed like it was better in the format; if you can see it in this format, do so, because it is worth the extra money you'll pay for it.

    On the surface, Gravity has a simple plot and is an old-fashioned adventure story. Two astronauts, played by Sandra Bullock (as a doctor on her first trip to space) and George Clooney (as a veteran with an emotional connection to The Right Stuff) stranded in space when their shuttle is wrecked by debris from a Russian spy satellite that has been blown up. It is about survival - physical, emotional, spiritual. It is about character, and the ability to innovate and improvise in impossible situations. And the structure of this tightly written 90 minute movie is simple and linear.

    But that does not even begin to describe the real achievement of Gravity, which effectively puts the audience in space with Bullock and Clooney, making us feel the vast and unknowable aspect of it all. There are moments when Bullock's character is tumbling through space, untethered to anything or anyone, that your heart and stomach will be in your throat. And director Alfonso Cuarón does things with the camera that I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how he did them. There are long stretches of the film that seem to be one shot, as the camera pans from open space to a view of Earth, to the astronauts working on the Hubble telescope, to what appears to be a point-of-view shot from inside Bullock's helmet, back to a wide shot of the astronauts. It is fluid and majestic and intimate, all at the same time. And breathtaking.

    Gravity is an exceptional piece of work. See it, and see it the way it was meant to be seen.

    I have two excellent red wines to suggest to you this morning, each of which I enjoyed during my trip Il Buco, a wonderful Italian restaurant in New York's Greenwich Village. (Yes, this is the place where I ate the risotto with Brussels sprouts.

    They are the Ronsel do Sil Ribeira Sacra and the il Colle Brunello do Montalcino - two reds, and both delicious ... especially with risotto.


    I want to thank the Network of Executive Women (NEW) New York Metro Regional Group, which hosted me this week for a speech at a networking event that had well over 200 people in attendance. I have never been less that wildly impressed by the folks involved with NEW, and this was no exception.

    And may I say to all of you who were there ... you are amazing, too.

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

    KC's View: