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    Published on: March 28, 2014

    by Kevin Coupe

    Bloomberg has a story about how "climate change, which scientists say is caused by heat-trapping gas accumulating in the atmosphere, is transforming dinner tables and scrambling traditions in the $270 billion global wine industry. In Europe, warmer seasons are chasing Italian and Spanish vintners up hillsides, making a winner of Germany, encouraging growers in Poland and spreading the cultivation of wine grapes to latitudes friendlier to belly-warming whiskies and ales. And it’s raising the alcohol content, and altering the flavors, of famous wines in France."

    The implications are fascinating … and you can read the whole piece here.

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

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    Forbes has a piece online about Toys R Us, where leadership said at a press event this week that its shoppers are unhappy with its stores' "slow checkout process, cluttered and disorganized shopping environment, too-high prices" and too-frequent out of stocks.

    "If we cannot please our customer, there’s really little else we can do," says Antonio Urcelay, chairman/CEO of the retailer.

    And so, the company says, it is investing in a transformation plan that "revolves around improving the shopping experience and consumers’ price perception of the chain (particularly as shoppers can compare prices online and from their smart phones in an instant), implementing inventory management discipline, and right sizing the cost structure of the company." Toys R Us also reportedly is "beefing up in-store labor in key departments, boosting store associate training to develop 'high-performing, highly-engaged, diverse talent,' and working to expedite the checkout process."
    KC's View:
    Gee, what a revelation. Toys R Us has crappy stores and too-high prices, and the best way to fix the company is to make the stores' shopping environment less crappy and the prices more acceptable.

    Go figure.

    I'm not saying that Toys R Us can't be fixed. But I am saying that when you read what the company execs are saying, there is a faint whiff of Blockbuster/Circuit City/Borders in the words….

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    The Courthouse News Service reports that the Dallas City Council has "approved the 'environmental fee' ordinance that will require retailers to charge customers 5 cents for each single-use carryout bag, plastic or paper. The ordinance will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015 …  The city will spend the money on the costs of the registration program, purchase and distribution of reusable carryout bags, public awareness programs against single-use carryout bags and environmental clean-up programs."

    The story notes that the city of Austin "adopted a total ban on single-use bags in 2013, which brought a lawsuit by the Texas Retailers Association." The Courthouse News Service suggests that the Dallas vote increases "the odds of litigation by retailers tasked with charging customers for their use."
    KC's View:
    An MNB reader wrote to me yesterday about this, noting that "when a Texas city does this, you might think the idea is gaining in traction. "

    I agree. This is an idea that is slowly gaining acceptance around the country, and retailers would be better of embracing it than fighting it.

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    AdWeek reports that "while their budgets aren’t changing drastically, retailers are becoming more channel-agnostic as they encourage people to shop wherever they’d like–online, in stores or over the phone.

    "Per Kantar Media, retail ad spending rose just 5 percent to $16.3 billion in 2012 over 2010 and slightly declined in the first three quarters of 2013 versus the year-ago period, from $11.1 billion to $10.9 billion. However, retail Internet advertising grew 41 percent from 2010 to 2012, according to Kantar."
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    • The Boston Globe reports that in the Boston area, personal shopping service Instacart isn't just providing its customers with access to products sold by Whole Foods, Costco and Shaws. In addition, the story says, it is "debuting a new partner that will only be available for its Metrowest customers: popular Watertown market Russo’s."
    KC's View:
    Worth noting, if only because Russo's is one of the Boston area's best stores … a fabulous specialty food store that is a must-see for anyone interested in how food can be effectively marketed and merchandised. I'm impressed that Instacart has placed it in the rotation…

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    From The Hartman Group, an MNB Editorial Partner…

    And now another in a series of infographics from our friends at the Hartman Group…

    You can dig down a little deeper by clicking on it and going to The Hartman Group website, where you can get insights on this and a lot of other issues. Nobody does it better…

    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2014

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

    • The Associated Press reports that "nearly a million jars of peanut butter are being dumped at a New Mexico landfill to expedite the sale of a bankrupt peanut-processing plant that was at the heart of a 2012 salmonella outbreak and nationwide recall … Bankruptcy trustee Clarke Coll said he had no other choice after Costco Wholesale refused to take shipment of the Sunland Inc. product and declined requests to let it be donated to food banks or repackaged or sold to brokers who provide food to institutions like prisons."

    The 950,000 jars of peanut butter weighs about 25 tons, the story says.

    There are going to be some armadillos out there, I suspect, that are going to be scavenging for white bread and grape jelly.

    • The Los Angeles Times reports that the manufacturer of Four Loko has "agreed to sharply curb its marketing of the fruit-flavored drinks as part of a legal settlement with 20 state attorneys general and San Francisco City Atty. Dennis Herrera. 

    "The settlement comes nearly four years after Phusion Projects, based in Chicago, voluntarily removed caffeine from its drinks in 2010 shortly before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration definitively banned the stimulant as an ingredient in alcoholic beverages."

    The agreement with Four Loko, which has "been blamed in scores of deaths and hospitalization of young people," also means that "the company cannot market Four Loko on college campuses or promote binge drinking and is forbidden from hiring actors under the age of 25 or who appear to be under 21 to promote its products. It also cannot use any college logos or mascots in its marketing materials and must monitor its social media feeds and remove any references or photos of people drinking caffeinated alcoholic beverages.

    Reuters reports that "Target Corp and Trustwave Holdings Inc, which provides credit card security services, have been sued by two banks for 'monumental' losses they say card issuers will face because of the retailer's holiday season data breach … Trustmark National Bank and Green Bank NA accused the defendants of failing to properly secure customer data, enabling the theft of about 40 million payment card records plus 70 million other records, including addresses and phone numbers."

    The story notes that while "Target already faces dozen of lawsuits over the breach," this new suit "may be the first to focus on Trustwave, a privately held Chicago-based company to which the banks said Target had outsourced some data security services."

    • In Washington, DC, WTOP reports that Whole Foods Markets :"will open a monthly pop-up shop at the Gateway Pavilion on the east campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital. The shop will sell fruits, vegetables, meat and fish at the pavilion. The goal is to increase access to healthy foods for residents east of the Anacostia River …
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    Yesterday on MNB, we took note of Consumer Reports' annual rankings of the nation's supermarkets, based on how its readers gauge their service levels, prices, cleanliness and perishables quality.

    As noted here,Wegmans topped the list, followed by Trader Joe's, Publix, Costco, Sprouts Farmers Market, Market Basket, Raley's, Fareway, Stater Bros. and Winco.

    But while MNB had a link to the complete list, it quickly became evident that the list was inaccessible unless one has a subscription to Consumer Reports. And so, as a public service (especially to the dozens of people outraged that HEB did not make the top 10), here is the rest of the list:

    Aldi, Hy-Vee, Harris-Teeter, HEB, Whole Foods, Hannaford, Fry's, Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Meijer, Smith's Food & Drug, Schnucks, Ingles, ShopRite, Kroger, Target, Save Mart, save-A-Lot, Giant, Big Y, Piggly Wiggly, Bi-Lo, Weis, IGA, Sam's Club, Ralphs, BJ's Wholesale Club, County Market, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Giant of Landover, Winn-Dixie, Giant Eagle, Vons, Price Chopper, Safeway, Food Lion, Stop & Shop, Jewel-Osco, Tops, Pick 'n Save, Acme, Pathmark, Shaws, Walmart Supercenter.
    KC's View:
    I agree with the observation by many readers that this survey is of questionable value, simply because the rankings in some cases seem nonsensical.

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    Got a number of emails yesterday about a kerfuffle between the Boston Red Sox and the Miami Marlins that I thought represented a lamentable coarsening of the public discourse that can be seen in a lot of places.

    MNB reader Philip Bradley wrote:

    I couldn't agree with you more about our "coarsening national discourse."  This may be because I am from the older generation, retired, etc.  (Are all we retirees destined to be curmudgeons or is there perhaps some reason for it?)

    Your stance on this subject is one way that you help combat the trend and for this I am most appreciative!

    From another reader:

    Re: the John Henry comment.  I agree with your sentiment but also keep in mind that John Henry has to pay a luxury tax to teams like Florida which don't seem to be using the tax money on player salaries, at least in his perception.

    Good point. That might tick me off, too.

    Regarding yesterday's discussion of the cost of movie tickets, MNB reader Steve Sullivan wrote:

    This past summer, we were blessed with 3 of our granddaughters’ presence for a week ( I don’t know how someone who is only 29 can have 10 grandchildren).  We decided to go to a movie.  After a while, Poppy was almost in need of the defibrillation paddles.  It wasn’t from the excitement of the movie or even the food that I shouldn’t have been eating.  It was the cost!!   Now, I do have to mention that I’m still working and bringing home a good salary, unlike some ‘ole folks’.  After paying for the tickets (5 at $8.50) and surviving the refreshment stand (drinks, BIG boxes of candy and tanker-sized popcorn), I had the shortness of breath I usually get only when buying a house or new car. To put it into perspective, the cost of the movie and goodies was actually more than what I paid for the five of us for dinner at a sit-down family restaurant. 
    I agree with the YOUNG person that cited the cost as the deterring factor when it comes to movies.  It also applies to the opposite end of the age spectrum.  (The following will show my age).  Gone are the days of the Saturday matinee.  For the most part, so are the economical drive-in movies where you could pack the car with the family all for one price.  Nowadays, as much as we would like to see a GOOD movie when it comes out, the phrase , “we’ll see it when it comes to cable (or Netflix or Redbox or streaming)” is uttered more and more.  Recently, we watched “Gravity” on our TV (GOOD size flatscreen).  Afterwards, my wife remarked that it was ok but didn’t understand the fuss.  We finally came to the conclusion that the reaction PROBABLY would have been different had we seen the spectacular camera/CG work on a theatre screen.
    This is really a shame because WE are the generation who grew up with those Saturday matinees, with those drive-ins.  I still recall jumping on the bus and heading to the Fox and Oritani theatres in Hackensack (NJ) for a Saturday with my friends.  Surprisingly,  that “kid”  even remembers the décor of those theatres, not realizing until years later how beautiful they were (with a REAL organ even).  Or, heading off to the Paramus Drive-in, in my pajamas, with my Mom and Dad and brother.  These are EXPERIENCES.  I can’t imagine today’s generation having memories of viewing a movie streaming on their smartphone.
    Sorry to say, today’s families and younger folks will never have those experiences largely due to the cost.  And us old folks will have to live with our cinematic memories.  The movie industry has to start to understand that.

    I totally get this. Movie tickets are a lot more expensive than they used to be.

    But I still think that in a lot of ways, they are an amazing bargain compared to a lot of other entertainment options. Not as cheap as staying home and watching a Netflix movie on a big flatscreen screen TV (once you've paid for the TV, of course), but pretty cheap in the scheme of things.
    KC's View:

    Published on: March 28, 2014

    This is a subject that, to be honest, I don't know much about … not that I'm inclined to let that stop me from commenting on it.

    But I have to say that I tend to agree with the decision by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that college football players at Northwestern University ought to be allowed to unionize and recognized as employees of the university. (Northwestern has said that it will appeal the ruling.)

    I'm not intimately acquainted with all the various ins-and-outs of college athletics, but it has long seemed to me that there is something terribly out of whack about how schools reap hundreds of millions of dollars because of football and basketball programs, coaches are able to negotiate multi-million dollar contracts, and players seem subject to sometimes arcane and arbitrary rules.

    It isn't across the board, of course. There are plenty of student athletes who get scholarships, get an education, play football and go on to successful and profitable lives, either in professional sports or elsewhere. (There is a New York Times story this morning estimating that quarterback Johnny Manziel cost Texas A&M about $120,000 in scholarship money over three years, but that during his time there, donations to the school "rose by $300 million from the previous year to $740 million, a record.") But there are also cases, from what I've read, in which kids with scholarships get hurt on the field and then lose their chance at an education through no fault of their own. Or kids who are so poor that they can't go home to family funerals but can't accept gifts of airline tickets to do so. Or kids who are good enough to play college football but can't go pro, and go through four years of school without getting educated and prepared for life in the real world.

    I guess that things would be better if somehow we could go backwards and regain a balance between colleges' educational and athletic programs, but I don't think that this is going to happen. There are too many stadiums out there that have been built with TV money, and too many TV networks that depend on college athletics for programming and resultant ad money.

    I'm old fashioned enough, however, to think that at the end of the day, the people who need to be best protected by the system ought to be the kids. Instead, they often seem exploited by a system that seems more about profit than teaching. If the NLRB decision helps to rectify this, if only by positioning students to be in a better position to protect their own long-term and short-term interests, that's probably a good thing. And it will be interesting to see how this decision plays out across the entire college athletics spectrum, and how it affects the NCAA.

    A little disruption seems called for.

    By the way, speaking of systems that seem economically out of whack … the Major League Baseball season begins in earnest on Sunday night when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the San Diego Padres. And while I would be the first one to agree that the business of baseball seems a little nuts, I'm thrilled that the games that matter begin again this weekend (and that at least right now, the Mets remain in contention for the pennant).

    Robert B. Parker used to say that baseball is the most important thing in life that doesn't matter. I agree.

    Play ball.

    Finally … I continue to get email from MNB readers who liked the stories and picture from last week's trip to Arizona with my 87-year-old dad and two younger brothers. For which I thank you.

    I do have one more quick one for you.

    My brother Tim recently sat down with our dad, turned on a video camera and essentially interviewed him about his life … growing up in the Bronx, enlisting in the Navy during World War II, falling in love with our mom, and the various jobs he had before becoming a teacher (the first male elementary school teacher in the Larchmont/Mamaroneck public school system, as it happens). It is a fascinating video, confirming some things I knew and informing me about some things I did not. Some of the memories are fuzzy, but some of them - especially the older ones - are razor sharp.

    And it is a process that I would recommend to anyone out where with an aging parent. Get this stuff on the record as best you can, because it is both priceless and irreplaceable … and I'm so glad Tim had the foresight to do it.

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

    KC's View: