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    Published on: January 9, 2014

    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.

    by Kevin Coupe

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

    We're only nine days into the new year, so many of us who made resolutions haven't yet completely voided them by engaging in contrary behavior. I say "yet" because statistics show that very few people actually live up to their resolutions.

    It occurs to me that rather than make resolutions for myself, it might be more interesting to make up resolutions for everyone else. Sure, they have even less chance as becoming reality as those I make for myself, but what the hell? This is sort of my "if I ruled there world list."

    This list of 12 is by no means a complete list. It just is what comes to mind right now, and I reserve the right to update it or add to it in the future.

    1. Retailers should not be allowed to post signs that a new store is "coming soon" unless they are absolutely sure that the store will be open within a month. "Soon" means "soon."

    2. In markets where stores are on the sidewalk, businesses or their landlords should be required to shovel those sidewalks within two hours of the snowfall having stopped, or within four hours of sunrise during or after a snowfall. Penalties will include thousands of dollars in fines, and maybe even jail time.

    3. Buildings that have public-facing clocks should be required to make sure that those clocks have the correct time. If the clock stops, or if the time changes because of daylight savings time, you have 24 hours to get the clock working or right. Once again, penalties will be fines and a minimum jail sentence.

    4. If you have a charity, and someone gives you money, you don't send that person an email within two weeks asking for more money. Not cool. Send a thank you note. But wait an appropriate amount of time before asking for another donation.

    5. The next Star Trek movie should have a completely original plot, as opposed to using villains and plot points from earlier films or the TV series. Go where nobody has gone before. This probably seems like an odd choice of rules for public policy purposes, but since there was a North Carolina town councilman who resigned from his elected position by submitting a letter written in Klingon, apparently we are at the point where fictional and reality-based cultures have converged. Besides, I can't resist a Star Trek reference.

    6. Michael Sansolo noted the other day that there are studies out there saying that close to 20 percent of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Now, I'm normally a pretty inclusive person, but I'm perfectly comfortable saying that I don't think these people should be allowed to vote. (I'm not even sure they should be allowed to go outdoors without an escort, but that's a different issue.)

    7. Every company should be required to have an ombudsman - a person who has as his or her job the responsibility for sitting in meetings where decisions are being made, but not to drink the Kool-aid, so he or she can raise his or her hand and say, "What the hell are you people thinking?" The job would be to make sure that senior executives don't live in a bubble of their own design, making a habit of epistemic closure.

    8. New York should be required to have airports that are on the level of - or worse than - airports operated in third world countries. It's that simple. And anyone who has ever flown in and out of Kennedy or LaGuardia needs no further explanation.

    9. One Sunday a year, everyone in the country should be required to turn off their computers, cellphones and other technological devices. Just for a day.

    10. In Major League Baseball, from this moment forward, all use of performance enhancing drugs will result in an immediate 162 game suspension, no exceptions. On the second offense, you are gone … and any records you may have compiled are immediately expunged from the books.

    11. Every public official - especially at the national level, but not limited to that - should be required during each year of service to come up with one big idea that will make the country better. I'm not talking about abstract big ideas, nor ideas that are purely related to either spending or saving money. But I'm talking about a concrete and actionable big idea for doing something - or creating an environment that will encourage people or companies to do something - that will make the country a demonstrably better place to live. And then, they have to develop a legislative proposal that is no longer than five pages long, and forge compromises that will make that proposal a reality.

    12. Finally, retailers that post signs in their stores should be required to make sure that the words are spelled correctly, and that they use the appropriate words. Illiteracy in the service of commerce is not a sign of character.

    Now, I know that some of you will point out that I make spelling mistakes here on MNB all the time. Which is true.

    But I would argue back that I'm generally working without a net, and that retailers usually have the time to try to get things right. (Mistakes do happen, though, which is why I'm not proposing major fines or prison sentences for this.)

    I'd also point out that in this case, I'm going to mimic the federal government. Since I'm making the rules, I'm also going to exempt myself from actually having to obey them.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: January 9, 2014 reports that British customers placing orders from Amazon of under £10 - or about $16 US - now will have to pay for shipping when they used to get it for free.

    According to the story, "the internet giant has changed the terms of how customers qualify for free delivery, which it calls 'Super Saver Delivery,' so that customers buying books, music, film, software and PC and video games will have to pay for delivery of orders under £10.

    "Amazon previously introduced the £10 minimum order fee for free delivery to all its other products in July, but excluded books, music, film and games from the qualifying items. The Super Saver Delivery is advertised as taking three-five working days."
    KC's View:
    While the story says that independent bookstores competing with Amazon may see the shift as a positive because it levels the playing field to some degree, there also is another possibility - that Amazon is hoping that the change will prompt more Brits to sign up for Amazon Prime, which guarantees one-day delivery (in Britain) on all orders if shoppers pay an annual £49 fee.

    I tend to see the second possibility as the more likely one … that Amazon accurately believes that the more people it can move into the Prime program, the greater loyalty, sales and, eventually, profitability it can create.

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is out with a new study saying that 16 major companies have reduced the calories in the food and beverages they sell by 6.4 trillion over the past five years.

    That breaks down to about 78 calories per day out of the average American's diet.

    The New York Times quotes Dr. James S. Marks, senior vice president with responsibility for the foundation’s health group, as saying that he is encouraged by the progress made beyond the companies’ original pledge to drop caloric contents in their products by 1 trillion calories by 2010. “Now we hope that others see the success these companies have had and make the same commitment,' he says.

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been engaged in an extended effort to reduce childhood obesity in the US, and funded the study through a grant to the University of North Carolina. The Times notes that the analysis "does not account for meals Americans eat in restaurants, where they could be consuming more calories. Nor does it distinguish between a reduction in calories that is attributable to company efforts and those that consumers have simply made on their own."
    KC's View:
    There probably are a bunch of holes in this study that do not account for how people really eat.

    But I guess what I wonder is whether people are really eating healthier foods, even if they are consuming foods that have fewer calories. It's not always the same thing … though the importance of reducing calories is not to be underestimated.

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    HealthDay News reports that Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston has released a report saying that it has garnered evidence that the use of traffic light-style green, yellow and red nutrition labels affects purchase patterns by consumers. According to the story, "The study showed that the changes appeared to produce more purchases of healthy items and fewer of unhealthy items -- especially beverages. Green-labeled items sold at a 12 percent higher rate compared to before the program, and sales of red-labeled items dropped by 20 percent during the two-year study. Sales of the unhealthiest beverages fell by 39 percent."

    The story also points out that "as part of the study, labels -- green, yellow or red -- appeared on all foods in the main hospital cafeteria. Fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein got green labels, while red ones appeared on junk food.

    The cafeteria also underwent a redesign to display healthier food products in locations -- such as at eye level -- that were more likely to draw the attention of customers."
    KC's View:
    Go figure. Information affects consumption. Who would've thought?

    Actually, I shouldn't be snarky about this, especially because I'm a big proponent of providing as much information in as many forms as possible.

    The big lesson, I think, is not that one nutrition labeling system works better than another … though I'm sure that each one has its proponents and arguments. The big lesson is that information affects consumption, and that both retailers and manufacturers should not be afraid of it. They should embrace the opportunities to become a resource for the consumer as well as a source of product.

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    Mark Bittman, the influential New York Times columnist who focuses much of his attention on food and nutrition issues, has an interesting piece about the recent decision by General Mills to label its flagship Cheerios cereal as not containing any genetically modified organisms.

    An excerpt:

    "Do we care? Should we? Is this a cynical marketing ploy or a huge deal or both? (It certainly isn’t neither.)

    "Without question this could be the start of something big. That it has value to Cheerios and to anti-G.M.O. activists is also undoubtedly true; the question is whether it matters to the rest of us. It does; but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing."

    You can read the entire story here.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    • In the UK, the Guardian reports that "rising internet food sales will see supermarkets sign up for twice as much online warehouse space this year. The major supermarkets – including Tesco, Asda and Waitrose – will this year commit to doubling the space devoted to internet distribution centres, known as dark stores, according to property agent Jones Lang LaSalle. Around 1.8m sq ft of warehouse space is devoted to dark stores, but that is set to increase as online shopping transforms the retail sector."

    Indeed, the story suggests that the retailers involved increasingly see e-commerce as a key battleground on which they will battle during this and coming years.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    The Associated Press reports that Macy's, despite having had a strong holiday season and sales increases that were up more than four percent in November and December, is cutting 2,500 jobs in a reorganization designed to "sustain profitability."

    "Our company has significantly increased sales and profitability over the past four years, and we have created a culture of growth at Macy’s Inc.,” Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s chairman, president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. “As the success of these strategies has unfolded, we have identified some specific areas where we can improve our efficiency without compromising our effectiveness in serving the evolving needs of our customers.”
    KC's View:
    I'm not sure I entirely believe the claim that this move will improve efficiency without affecting effectiveness. Maybe, but I'm not completely buying it.

    When I see a story like this, I find myself wondering if it is really about efficiency, or is it about making cuts that will drive up the stock price, because in the end, the company sees shareholders as more important than customers?

    Here's what I know - there are now 2,500 people who, at least in the short term, have had their ability to buy anything (much less from Macy's) seriously curtailed. Not good for the economy as a whole, and maybe not even good for Macy's.

    I'm not saying that Macy's is or isn't living up to its responsibilities here. I'm just wondering how the company defines its priorities … and suggesting that the bigger question - about efficiency vs. effectiveness, and profitability vs. productivity - deserves discussion within this context.

    Published on: January 9, 2014

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

    • The Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and NürnbergMesse North America (NMNA) announced yesterday that the InterBev Beverage 2014 trade show will co-locate this year with the FMI Connect show in Chicago, June 10-13.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has suspended operations at a Foster Farms poultry plant in Livingston, California, that previously had been linked to a salmonella outbreak created by unsanitary conditions. The current closing is because of a cockroach infestation.

    Foster Farms characterized the closure as a positive, saying that it would allow the company to clean things up before reopening, and it insisted that the infestation was an isolated incident.

    Okay, I think it is pretty much time to scratch Foster Farms off the old shopping list … this is not a record of which the company should be proud.

    Bloomberg Businessweek reports that McDonald's, the nation's biggest buyer of beef, is vowing "that it will slowly begin purchasing verified-sustainable beef in 2016, with the goal of eventually buying all its beef from sustainable sources.

    "This is an ambitious goal for lots of reasons, not least of which is the absence of any standard for just what makes beef—a very resource-intensive protein—sustainable. McDonald’s is working with beef suppliers, companies such as Wal-Mart (WMT), and environmental organizations to come up with a definition."

    Seems to me that McDonald's burgers always have been sustainable, in that you leave the meat out for decades and not have anything happen to it.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    • Barnes & Noble yesterday named Michael P. Huseby to be its new CEO. He replaces William Lynch, who resigned from the job last summer after questions were raised about the company's financial disclosures.

    Huseby has been serving as CEO of the company's Nook Media e-reader division, as well as president of Barnes & Noble.

    Internet Retailer reports that Groupon has hired Sri Subramaniam, formerly a vice president for @WalMartLabs and vice president of engineering at Kosmix, to be its new vice president of engineering for smart deals.

    In addition, Groupon has hired Tamer Tamar, a former Orbitz executive, as its new senior vice president of international operations.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    …will return.
    KC's View:

    Published on: January 9, 2014

    The Baseball Writers' Association of America yesterday announced the election of Atlanta Braves pitchers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, as well as Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox, to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    The elections took place on the first try for all three men, who will be officially inducted next summer along with former managers Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, who were named last month by the veterans committee.

    Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who were both on the ballot for the second time, once again did not get enough votes to get into the Hall because of their links to steroid usage during their careers.
    KC's View:
    I am completely comfortable with Clemens and Bonds being denied entry to the Hall of Fame, but I am astounded by the fact that Maddux - one of the best pitchers in baseball history - was only named on 97.2 percent of ballots cast. (The people who didn't vote for him probably ought not be voting at all.)