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    Published on: April 10, 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.

    Hi, I'm Kevin Coupe and this is faceTime with the Content Guy, reporting this week from Denver, Colorado.

    I'm standing outside Coors Field, and thinking about a small baseball-related controversy that broke out back in New York last week. It concerned Daniel Murphy, the New York Mets second baseman, who became a father for the first time just before Opening Day. He took three days of paternity leave to spend time with his wife and newborn son, missing two games, including Opening Day, and earning him nothing but criticism from a couple of local Neanderthals…er, radio sportscasters.

    First Boomer Esiason said on WFAN that Murphy should have insisted that his wife have a Caesarean section early enough so that he could have been on the field Opening Day. And then on the same station, Mike Francesa said that people like Murphy make enough money to hire someone to help his wife out, and that fathers are pretty useless right after childbirth, anyway.

    What a couple of yahoos.

    I have three children, and while I would never argue that dads are critical to the childbirth process, I do think it is sort of important that we be there. There's two reasons - first of all, we need to be there so we can have some appreciation of what our wives are going through and be as helpful as possible, even if that means just getting ice chips. And second, this is our child being born … and this is just the beginning of a lifetime of responsibility for that child, and we damned well ought to be there.

    Maybe these guys missed it, but the culture has gone through a change. We live in a world where, if you are a father, actually being a father is your first responsibility. And I thought that Murphy - who handled the whole situation with utter class - did absolutely the right thing and had his priorities in the right order. He was entitled to the paternity leave because of the terms of his contract, and in spending those days with his wife and son, he demonstrated to a lot of people - not least the young boys and girls who look up to him because he's a major league baseball player - what is important and what isn't.

    To his credit, Esiason apologized after it all hit the fan. No surprise, Francesa - who is the very definition of a New York blowhard - claimed that his comments had been taken out of context.

    There's no question that some people - a lot of people - can't afford to do what Murphy did. I get that.

    But as someone who has done the fatherhood thing three times, I can tell you that you can never get those first days and hours back. There's always another day to go to work.

    Lately, I've found myself a little wistful for those early days. Maybe it is because two of my kids have moved away and one is in college and just a few short years from being off on her own. Maybe it is because I'm getting old. But I find myself looking at young families and wondering where the time went and hoping that I didn't screw up my kids too badly and almost wishing I could go back in time and do it again.

    Years from now, when he looks back, I can guarantee that Daniel Murphy won't look back and wish he'd gone to work right after his son was born. No, he'll look back and decide that being a dad - really being a dad - was the best decision he ever made.

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

    KC's View:

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    Walmart announced yesterday that it has struck a deal with Yucaipa-owned Wild Oats that will lead to it dramatically expanding its selection of organic packaged products and selling them at prices as much as 25 percent less than brand-name organic competitors, and at about the same price as non-organic products.

    “We’re removing the premium associated with organic groceries,” says Jack L. Sinclair, executive vice president of Walmart U.S.’s grocery division.

    The New York Times reports this morning that more than 90 percent of the Wild Oats items sold at Walmart will be organic, "while the rest will adhere to company standards about ingredients and additives, a Wild Oats executive said, but not to any government regulations."

    The Times writes that "instead of hitting the entire national market at once, Walmart will first introduce Wild Oats at 2,000 stores in the coming months, only half of its national footprint, and then roll it out to the rest of the country." The reason: supply issues.

    “What we don’t want to do is launch it in 4,000 stores and then not be able to supply those 4,000 stores in the short term,” Sinclair says. “Certain commodities are challenging in terms of being able to access both the raw material and the processing capacity.”

    The announcement comes the same week as Target announced that it plans to expand its selection of organic products. Walmart says that nine out of ten of its shoppers say that they would buy organic products if they were both affordable and available.

    The Los Angeles Times this morning reports that "the Wild Oats brand is familiar to many consumers who buy organic. It is the same brand as the chain of stores that Whole Foods acquired in 2007. Now, Wild Oats is relaunching as a line of foods focused on organic items such as tomato sauce, chicken broth and spices, with Wal-Mart as its only national retailer."

    Yucaipa Cos., owned and controlled by Ron Burkle (who often is referred to as "the supermarket magnate" for his buying-and-selling of various chains over the years), has owned the Wild Oats brand name, and recently has begun rolling out certain Wild Oats branded items in the Fresh & Easy stores on the west coast that it acquired last year from Tesco.
    KC's View:
    There are several things going on here.

    For one thing, there is speculation that because Walmart is going to create greater demands on the organic supply chain, the short-term impact of this decision will be an increase in organic prices. Which could, I suppose, create an even greater gap between organic prices charged by Walmart and Target and those charged by Whole Foods.

    On the retail side, I suspect this is just an opening foray from Yucaipa as it looks for ways to make the Wild Oats brand vibrant and relevant again. I've long believed that the company has plans to grow the retail brand, perhaps by re-branding the Fresh & Easy stores, and perhaps by acquiring and/or re-branding other retailers around the country. It already owns A&P, for example … and maybe the best thing it could do with that brand name is blow the damn thing up and start over under the Wild Oats name.

    It is interesting that the Walmart deal, growing the brand name through a distribution model, is getting greater emphasis for the time being than a retail model. But, on the other hand, this can happen a lot faster, and perhaps allows Wild Oats/Yucaipa to gauge the potential. And I'm sure the contract allows Yucaipa to continue retail development on its own timetable.

    On both levels, this week's events certainly have gotten the attention of the folks at Whole Foods, not to mention other retailers around the country that have been investing more time and energy in organic products. The premise that such products will become more mainstream when made more affordable is about to be tested on a grand scale … but the various players in the market should not kid themselves that this Walmart-Wild Oats deal is in any way the end game. It is, I suspect, just the opening move in what is likely to be a long-term play.

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    As Walmart and Wild Oats announced their new deal, Fortune has a cover story entitled "How Whole Foods Is Taking Over America," in which it looks at how the retailer has become "one of the country's most successful retailers -- its revenue has doubled and profits have tripled since 2007 -- defying dismal grocery industry trends by offering consumers a mix of organics, truly delicious prepared foods, and an expanding array of staples under its 365 house brand. Now, having conquered affluent suburbs and trendy urban areas, Whole Foods is out to win over the rest of America, setting up shop in previously unthinkable places such as Detroit and Boise, and opening multiple locations in existing markets both large (San Francisco and Manhattan each have seven) and small (two apiece in Tulsa and West Hartford, Conn.)."

    An excerpt:

    "To be sure, Whole Foods has never been easy to love unconditionally, while rival Trader Joe's has secured an unabashed cult following. On one end of the spectrum, it has irritated the customer who couldn't care less about its animal-welfare standards and is peeved that she can't find Diet Coke; on the other end, plenty of Mackey's fellow vegans think he's a hypocrite for selling meat and dairy products. It has dropped popular brands, such as Chobani, causing consumers to scratch their heads. And Mackey, a vocal libertarian, has challenged the public's expectations of what a health-food CEO's politics should be.

    "But consumers flock to Whole Foods nonetheless -- to the tune of more than 7 million customer visits per week. And the chain enjoys a popularity and buzziness that previous "health food" stores never achieved. That's because Whole Foods preaches healthy eating but doesn't judge. It lets us feel good about the food we buy without forcing us to live an ascetic, fringe lifestyle. It makes flax seem less scary."

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

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    Politico reports this morning that the US House of Representatives will consider a bill that would prevent any individual state from mandating the labeling of foods containing genetically modified (GM) ingredients, giving ultimate and singular authority on the issue to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

    The bill, which was introduced yesterday by Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas), "has the support of the food, biotechnology and agriculture industries, looks to nullify efforts in no less than 20 states to require mandatory labeling for foods that contain GMOs," the story says. Pompeo said in a teleconference today that "the scientific community has spoken with one voice" on the subject of GMOs, that "there is not a single example” of anyone getting sick after eating food made with GMOs, and that requiring labeling of foods with GMOs would mislead "consumers to believe that there is a health and safety risk, similar to warning labels on cigarettes."

    The bill, Politico writes, "aims to instead create a friendlier, preemptive set of federal rules to quell public concerns over GMOs and stem the tide of state bills and ballot initiatives that are proving costly for the industry to fight … Pompeo’s bill has at least two Democrats on board. Reps. G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina and Jim Matheson of Utah have signed on as cosponsors, joining Republicans Reps. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Ed Whitfield (Ky.)."

    There is no companion bill being introduced in the Senate at this time, and, Politico writes, such a measure would be "unlikely to gain much traction among Senate Democrats … Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) also has introduced a bill — S. 809 — that seeks to create a federal standard, but one that would mandate the labeling of foods that contain GMOs. She has 15 senators, including Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), signed on in support of her legislation."

    Pompeo’s bill, the story says, could get "push back from FDA, particularly over requirements that the agency define the term 'natural' to describe food ingredients on labels. FDA has suggested it is no hurry to define the term because of its subjectivity, the number of parties and agencies that would need to be involved, and the likelihood that a substantive and clear definition is impossible to craft."
    KC's View:
    I'm always fascinated when folks who might otherwise suggest that the federal government ought to be less active and involved in such issues decide, when it suits their interests - probably because there is lobbying money and fundraising involved - that this is one of those times when the feds should rule with a heavy hand.

    The Politico story notes that the Pompeo bill adheres closely to "talking points floated to lawmakers last fall by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is part of the coalition of food and agriculture groups pushing the measure. The 35-member Coalition For Safe and Affordable Food is led by GMA but also includes the National Corn Growers Association, American Bakers Association, Biotechnology Industry Organization and the American Fruit and Vegetable Processors and Growers Coalition, among others.

    "However, pro-GMO labeling groups have already started to push lawmakers to reject the bill. Groups including Just Label It, the Environmental Working Group and CFS took to Capitol Hill Monday and Tuesday to meet with more than 100 offices, said Scott Faber, executive director of Just Label it."

    So there's a bunch of money involved here. And as we all know, in politics money talks. (And recent Supreme Court decisions suggest that from now on, money will shout so loudly that it will drown everybody else out.)

    I'm pro-transparency. Pure and simple. In the long run, businesses and trade associations and politicians and religious figures and even Supreme Court judges that oppose or resist transparency will find themselves on the defensive. That's my belief … or, at least, my hope. I worry about money drowning out the debate, but have to believe that over time, social media will allow the voices of people who might otherwise be disenfranchised to be heard.

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    Food & Water Watch, a national consumer group that describes itself as working to ensure an available and sustainable food and water supply, has asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to prevent the acquisition by Cerberus-owned Albertsons of Safeway, saying that the deal will "raise food prices for consumers who have fewer options of where to shop." The suggestion is that such deals will increase grocery prices by between $900 million and $2 billion a year.

    According to the consumer group, "The merger would eliminate rivals in many markets and give Albertsons-Safeway a dominant position in many metro areas. In 23 markets, the proposed merger would join two of the top four grocery retailers, eliminating a key competitive rivalry that has helped make grocery prices competitive. In 28 markets, the new Albertsons-Safeway would sell one-quarter of all groceries; in twelve metro areas, it would sell more than one-third of the groceries."
    KC's View:
    It strikes me that these kinds of big deals always have the potential of resulting in higher prices, but I'm less worried about it in this case than I am, say, in the case of the Comcast acquisition of the Time Warner cable business. While the Albertsons/Safeway deal certainly creates a new behemoth, there is so much competition - and potential competition - in the marketplace that I don't think prices are likely to go up much as a result.

    As I've said here before, I worry more that the new entity will be so focused on being efficient that being effective will be less important.

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    Fox Business reports that Amazon's Prime Instant Video service "has seen video streams nearly triple year-over-year, as more viewers go online to watch movies and television shows." And Amazon itself is saying that "it now records more streaming video usage than Apple and Hulu."

    Advertising Age writes that "Amazon's online video service actually overtook Apple months ago. Now the company has leapfrogged Hulu to become the number-three streaming video service in the U.S., according to a measure of online video consumption performed by Qwilt, a firm that helps Internet providers deliver online video to consumers.

    "Amazon remains a long way behind leaders Netflix and Google's YouTube, which retain 57.5% and 16.9% respectively. While Amazon accounted for 3% of online video consumption in March, but that's up from just 0.6% a year ago. And with a recently unveiled connected-TV device and increasingly aggressive TV-and-movie acquisition strategy, the e-commerce giant is on an upward trajectory."
    KC's View:
    Worth noting, I think, because it points to how aggressive and relentless Amazon is about dominating the markets in which it competes. They've just given several new series green lights to start producing first seasons, and have green-lit some new pilots. So they just keep going…

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    The Wall Street Journal has an interesting interview with Mondelez International CEO Irene B. Rosenfeld, in which she talks about the impact of climate change on the food supply.

    "As we look at the volatility of pricing, as we look at the volatility of the availability of our supply, there's no question something has changed," she says. "Without a doubt, there's been a very dramatic change in the availability of our raw materials. We've taken a very active position in addressing that both from the availability perspective, as well as from a sustainability standpoint."

    This has meant doing things like making "a $400 million investment for the next 10 years to help cocoa farmers in a number of ways," as well as making investments in coffee manufacturing and wheat farming.

    "I am finding that there's great support for the investments that we're making," she says. "It's a little more challenging to calculate the return on those investments. But without a doubt, at the end of the day, we're looking for the benefits to our profit, to our people and to the planet. And it seems to be playing out the way we had hoped."
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    • Procter & Gamble has agreed to sell most of its pet food portfolio, including Iams and Eukanuba, to Mars, the candy manufacturer. The price: $2.9 billion.

    “Exiting pet care is an important step in our strategy to focus P.&G.’s portfolio on the core businesses where we can create the most value for consumers and share owners,” P&G CEO A.G. Lafley said in a statement. “The transaction creates value for P&G share owners and we are confident that the business will thrive at Mars, a leading company in pet care.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: April 10, 2014

    Yesterday we reported on how CVS agreed to settle a case with the SEC by writing a check for $20 million but not admitting any guilt. I suggested that this was "demonstrably absurd," since I cannot imagine writing a check that large if I were not guilty.

    Which prompted one MNB user to write:

    Really? Demonstrably absurd?

    If CVS thought they had a 65% chance of winning in court, but faced $60MM in fines if they lost, plus significant legal expenses and management time (depositions, etc.), it wouldn't make sense for CVS to settle for $20MM with no admission of guilt?

    Noticed that you didn’t ask, how much harm to investors did these actions, if true, cause? Why did the SEC settle for cash with no admission of guilt? Is there deterrence when there's no admission of guilt, or just a sense that the SEC has problems? Did the SEC have a strong case?

    Maybe CVS was making a business decision. If they had dug in on principle. would that have been best for shareholders?

    All good and legitimate points. I think maybe I was overly glib on that one…

    Regarding the retail brand equity story that ran yesterday, one MNB user wrote:

    Again Walmart kicks butt despite how bad you run them down, KC. Whole Foods gets on the list only because of organics and surely not because of any value. Once most of these chains get fully into organics, which I believe they will, WF will drop out of the top 20…

    Last week we had a story about legislation making its way through Congress that would redefine - for the purposes of health care coverage - a full time work week as 40 hours, not 30. I suggested that Democrats that want to retain the 30 hour limit, saying that few companies would keep employees to 29 hours or less as a way of avoiding health care expenditures, were dead wrong.

    And, I commented:

    I'm also not sure why anyone would've suggested that 30 hours a week is a full-time job. Where do they think we are? France?

    One reader wrote:

    I present the case of a Family Practice Nurse Practitioner who works full time (40 hours).  Medical providers in clinics work "sessions," or times during which they see patients.  A session is usually 4 hours, and a work week consists of ten sessions.  A full time provider (100%) usually gets one session for desk time--time to complete patient charts, respond to requests from patients or interactions with other parties such as workman's comp claims people, test results from labs, school sports forms, a different clinic who has seen their patient, a referred specialist, etc. and if they have any organizational role, take care of manager duties, or program updates, etc.  Each patient visit is 20 or 40 minutes depending on the type of visit (this varies by organization) during which it is often impossible to complete all the notes in the electronic record--they are trying to look at you and talk to you and complete whatever physical examination needs to take place--and so at the end of a pretty standard day, there can be 16-24 charts to update, each taking anywhere from five to twenty-five minutes depending upon the complexity and how well the provider knows the patient already.

    Taking just the average of those figures (20 charts at 15 minutes each), the full time work day becomes 8 hours of patient visits and four hours of patient charting (leave off the interactions and duties other than patient charting for now).  Thus, the 'full time' work week is nine sessions (36 hours) and 4 hours to complete the additional 18 hours of charting.  Often that four hours of desk time is the only weekday time not scheduled for patients, and so the full time health care provider can only make those doctor appointments for themselves or their family during that one session each week and so that time is given to other pursuits.

    So the provider sticks those 18+ hours of charting in wherever they can--after dinner for two hours, on the weekend all day each day . . . you get the idea.

    Many providers, as a result, often work .8 (80% or 32 hours with patients) which would create 16 hours of charting for a week's total effort of 48 hours.  Most find they have to knock it back further to have any kind of sane life to .6 (60% or 24 hours with patients, 12 hours of charting).  Remember, their full- or part-time status is based on the sessions they see patients, plus paid-for desk time (which seems to only come with a 100% work time).  Those hours charting and taking care of the extras is unpaid.

    For many doctors, the income helps make it possible to work less, though getting health benefits is often no less expensive for them even though that's the business they work for.  (For Nurse Practitioners, the pay does not help them reduce this workload without hardship.)  So, it's great if 30 hours can be "full-time" to allow for at least getting healthcare benefits.

    For my profession (retail analyst), a 45-hour work week is normal, and with a few exceptions, I can let it go completely on the weekend.  I don't know how long I'd last if I had a job that required at least 60 hours of focus every week.  My partner is a nurse practitioner; we'd all be a lot happier with a lighter workload for that role--closer to, say, 40 hours a week.

    From another reader:

    I do not believe that anyone thought that 30 hours is actually a full time job.  At my business, we consider 35 hours as full time though.  I supported the 30 hour definition because I thought it was needed to get employers to offer health care.  In the retail world, most employees generally do not have any benefits.  So making 40 hours the line won't change anything.

    Employers already keep 75% or more of their employees as part time.  I guess I am completely baffled as to why there is so much anger about providing health insurance to citizens.  I just had a blood test to confirm a diagnosis; I didn't have to have the test, but I thought I would like a confirmation.  I did not think to ask how much it might cost.  Most of my other blood tests cost less than $300.  When I got the bill I almost went nuts; my insurance was charged $6400 which they reduced to $3300.  I have a $5200 deductible plan...  I wish that as a people we could actually sanely discuss what it would take to have a health insurance system as good as France's!

    From another reader:

    My daughter graduated from college in December 2012 and like many other recent grads has been unable to find employment in her chosen field (Graphic Design). Instead of giving up, she has gone into a related design field, Retail Fashion Merchandising. Retail has always been a challenging work environment but it just got worse – her employer, a division of GAP, Inc. is now very careful to make sure she never gets scheduled close to the 29 hours a week that would trigger them having to offer health benefits. They are also very careful to avoid giving her enough hours in a day where they would have to give her a meal break – but that’s another story unfortunately.

    This strikes me as such a shame. At some point, I imagine, this company could well wonder why your daughter feels limited loyalty to it … ignoring the fact that other than writing her a check, they are doing little to make her feel invested in the entire enterprise.

    Now, the importance of getting a check is not to be underestimated. It is better than not getting one. But it makes the relationship largely transactional, and does not take advantage of what can happened when happy and invested employees feel engaged with the process and a sense of ownership about the company.

    Responding to our story about Amazon Fire TV, one MNB user wrote:

    Amazon is late to the party - I already have Chromecast, Micracast, Apple TV and Roku. But I'll wait until Fire TV is free with Prime, as it should be considering the money they can make through serving up personalized ad content targeted to your family. Now with a voice activated remote, imagine how easy it would be to search for stuff while you're watching TV through voice control. With X-Ray that Amazon already has integrated into Amazon Instant Video they can even make offers - Like the outfit this character is wearing? Available at Order with a click of your remote.

    And since Amazon already applied for a patent to ship you products that you did not order but they know you need - Fire TV can help refine that algorithm.

    So if you take the data from website browse/purchase, Kindle and Fire TV, Amazon would probably know you're likely to propose even before you do...and ship you an engagement ring via Prime Air drone when you're watching that romantic movie with your love streaming via Fire TV. And you would probably go ahead and do it anyway 1) You were thinking about it anyway and she's already teary eyed from the movie 2) Because you're too lazy to ship it back to them and 3)They gave you a 10% discount on the stone if you keep it. Unbelievable? Maybe not.

    When the divorce happens, y'think they'll be able to name Amazon as the co-respondent?

    From MNB reader Doug White:

    I have been waiting for this introduction ever since you hinted weeks ago that it was coming.  I too received a message announcing the product is available for $99.  I believe that Amazon is missing the mark here, they should be giving the devices away for free – or at least free to it’s Prime members.  Heres why:

    The information they will be able to mine from users will be priceless -  greatly exceeding the $99.

    The last thing I really need is another set top box to clutter the space around my tv’s. 

    For $99 the device should at least include a Blu-ray player, thereby replacing my existing player – a solution to #2 above.

    My TV’s do not have built in internet capabilities nor do they have DVD players.  However, each one has a separate Blu-ray player that includes internet capabilities that allow me to receive Netflix.  The added features of Fire TV (music and games) are not useful to me and the the video content offered by Amazon is not that impressive.  For me to use Fire TV now it would need to be free.  However in the future when Blu-ray discs have gone the was of VHS, and their streaming video content equals or surpasses Netflix and I can shop at Amazon – then I will be ready for a Fire TV!!

    I must admit that our Fire TV unit showed up last Saturday…but I've been on the road constantly since then, and have not had time to even plug it in, much less test it out.

    We had a story recently about how Southwest Airlines has been struggling to maintain some of the differential advantages that have defined its success, which led MNB user Dean Balsamo to write:

    Regarding the Southwest article, I used to fly Southwest upwards of 90% of the time for the 25 to 30 trips a year I take for meetings with grocers all over the country. But over the last few years I’ve pretty much stopped using Southwest for a variety of reasons-. I feel that with the AirTrans acquisition a few years back they started to lose some of the magic they had.  I don’t find them particularly business travel friendly these days.. I’m someone who began flying Southwest some 12 years ago on regular basis.. Here  are some of my thoughts about Southwest these days:

    Schedule changes seen to happen out of nowhere. Whereas for years I could get non-stops to Portland and Seattle from my airport here in the southwest - those are gone. Now it’s through Phoenix or Denver and even then there’s no advantage to getting out on the first plane since often times the most direct routes or least amount of time spent flying happen on flights either late morning or early afternoon or late at night-nothing connected to any of the patterns someone traveling for business would typically take advantage of. It’s as if they must have done some rationalization of their hubs and decided some didn’t merit as much attention.

    Their particular way of using hubs -all short haul flights between various cities means if you’re going to the East Coast you could end up spending 8 hours getting there  from the West Coast who knows how long. It’s a local not an express.. Definitely a turn off if you’re traveling a long distance for work as it can add an extra day or more to a trip, not good if you’re trying to maximize your time in a productive fashion.

    Pricing. Not much of an advantage anymore. It used to be but now when I go to check pricing Southwest just doesn’t have the advantage they once had-at least not if you’re booking two weeks out. If you go to Orbitz you’re just as likely to find both a better flight time/connection situation and as good as or better pricing-specially for booking closer to your departure date.

    Southwest handling of “situations” like the Midway debacle cited in the article is  poor. Starting about the time they acquired Air Trans I experienced three separate incidents where unexpected events - all weather related - completely threw them off. They had no backup plan. In one case where it was too foggy to land in Oakland…they flew us down to Los Angeles and just dropped us off with no game plan. No, rebooking people on another fight up to the Bay Area, not even a “we’re sorry.” Nothing  I  also remember being at La Guardia a couple of times when delays happened and Southwest didn’t have a clue as to how to take care of customers in an organized fashion, it was a free for all. Unlike say American which has automatically re-booked me on another flight in situations like this.

    And then there’s the people-the customers-who fly Southwest. Let’s say it’s like flying in a city bus. Expect anything and anyone to get on board. You might pay for the  Business Select but it doesn’t mean you won’t end up sitting next to the person with the bare feet,  the dude with all the tattoos and surly attitude or Vegas people either coming or going and already drunk, the family of six with children throwing stuff or kicking the seat over and over again without the parents saying anything - in short a slight difference in customer decorum from those you typically fly with on Delta, American or United for instance.

    Now I typically fly American. They’re not perfect but overall not bad. They’ve got long haul flights when you need them,  a good hub in Dallas that’s  easy to fly out of, they’ve taken care of me when there are problems-and rebook my flights, while some flight attendants are getting older and look tired the majority are in good spirits and accommodating. They’re getting newer planes on the shorter haul flights. I’m not crazy about their taking on US Air which I tend to avoid but time will tell. Over the years I’ve  gained some rewards status so it’s works  out well.

    Delta’s my second choice as I don’t live near one of their busier hubs. I’ll take it if I can’t find the ideal flights on American. Pretty much my airline of choice if I want to get to Portland or Seattle earlier in the day from where I live.   I find them reliable and also pleasant staff all in all.

    Alaska Air is one I wish I could fly more. They’ve got some spark to them and younger attendants that are enthusiastic and come across as sincere. Love Alaska Air.

    It is amazing that an industry that has spent so much time and money developing loyalty programs has also largely corrupted any sense of loyalty that people might feel toward it. And that's a good lesson for any company operating any sort of loyalty scheme.

    On another subject, MNB reader Kendra Riffe wrote:

    A friend of mine just posted this on FaceBook. 

    “Just received my latest copy of the Yellow Pages. Thank goodness! Now I can find the Blockbuster store located closest to me!”

    And that, in a phrase, encapsulates how the world has changed and how business models go from being vital to obsolete.

    MNB user Philip Bradley had some thoughts about the changes in Amazon's shipping policies, utilizing the USPS for the last mile:

    I was most interested in your reader's views on this subject, probably because my wife has her own business in which she receives important documents and packages through the mail, and has had a wide variety of experiences with the USPS.

    Apparently, when her "regular" carrier is on duty, she always gets her mail and packages promptly.  But when he is on vacation, sick, etc., and they have a sub, her mail is often delayed.  Her regular carrier explained that this is because the route is complex, and subs can never finish their work on time--so they leave some of the mail behind for the next day.

    In addition, because the USPS is under tremendous financial pressure, and employees experience this in many negative ways, a large number of longtime employees have left or retired, leaving a smaller number of less experienced workers behind--and efficiency suffers, with mail and packages delayed.

    Finally, I believe that the primary reason that the USPS is having such difficulty in responding to the challenges it faces is that it is based on the military model of efficiency--very structured and hierarchical.  The military model has never been known for entrepreneurial thinking or action, yet that is precisely what the USPS desperately needs.

    Got several emails regarding two stories that appeared next to each other … as one MNB reader wrote:

    Wow, I’m really confused!

    Genetically modified salmon is resisted because of a concern that it might cross breed with wild caught salmon.

    Fake chicken (which no doubt had some genetic modifications, they just aren’t referencing it as such) is ok despite the fact that it had to be recalled.

    So….salmon “life’s too short not to eat the real thing” vs. chicken “strides are being made in developing products with mouth appeal” leaves me really considering what the key difference represents.  It seems that both initiatives are focused on ensuring a good, safe food supply for a growing population that taxes our natural resources less than the original model.

    I’m always in agreement with your position on transparency, but it really seems to me that the entire GMO issue is being somewhat demonized without discussion around the possibility of benefits to our food supply.

    To be clear, I was saying that I think I'd rather eat non-genetically modified salmon … but while I was reporting on the development of meat-substitutes, I wasn't actually saying I would any of it.

    Along the same lines, one reader wrote:

    You don’t have to be “anti-science” to understand the fundamental truth that food is medicine, and when you change the formula of food it works differently. You are a fundamental influence in this industry, get off the fence on GMOs. You know what’s right!

    I don't think I am so much on the fence about GMOs as I am unable to go so far as to say that I cannot imagine circumstances under which it would not make any sense to produce and consume genetically modified food.

    MNB reader Jerry Dismore wrote:

    How about labeling non-GMO items as GMO free?  The product would be labeled as GMO Free Green Beans, pasta or whatever and elsewhere would be the statement that this product contains no GMO ingredients.  Seems to work for the organic industry.  The dairy industry also uses this for the rBST free claim. 

    Then one can easily determine which products contain GMO ingredients.

    I'm actually okay with that. At least, I think I am. But I'm reasonably sure there is an argument that "contains GMOs" is the better way to go.

    We had an MNB reader tell us recently about a nightmare scenario that unfolded around a bicycle purchase at Toys R Us, where it seemed that store employees had as their goal the desire to drive away every customer walking through the door.

    Another MNB reader chimed in:

    The horror story about the bike return at Toy R Us really just underlines something…

    Something such as a bicycle should never be bought at a big box store! Unless you’re someone who can do your own maintenance, forging a relationship with a local bike shop will pay for itself many times over. On the surface you’re paying less at the big box, but in terms of the quality of the bike and the ongoing maintenance that will need to be done, you’ll pay and pay (in time, money and energy) to get the thing assembled, properly adjusted and keep in it operational shape.  The shop owner at a nearby college town has horror story after horror story about families bringing their young students to town and buying a bike at the local big box only to have to bring it to him to correct everything that’s wrong with it, some of it potentially dangerous problems. If they had bought it there first he would have had it properly set up before it even went out the door, and many times minor adjustments will be done for free for a while after purchase.

    This is one of those areas where expertise is worth every penny.

    Regarding the Mozilla/Brendan Eich controversy, MNB reader Andy Casey wrote:

    Actually, I think it pretty dangerous ground when we start limiting our relationships to only those people we agree with.  If you never hear divergent opinions / thoughts how do you learn anything new?  I mean, what if Congress did that?  Oh wait …

    And from another reader:

    Your readers' impassioned responses to your Brendan Eich/Mozilla comments are exactly why civil discourse is absent from the gay rights/gay marriage debate.  I no longer discuss it with people because I got tired of being ridiculed/lambasted/bullied/patronized (pick your favorite word) for simply asking questions and trying to find out why people believe what they believe.

    I find it interesting that none of the stories I have read about Eich mention that our current president stated very publicly that he believed marriage is between a man and a women around the same time frame as Eich’s donation.  If I am not mistaken, one of our next presidential candidates did the same thing.

    All true.

    Look, I don't know what is in Eich's heart. I don't find it impossible to simultaneously disagree with his stated position on this issue and wonder if, six years after making the donation, he should've lost his job over it. I also don't find it contradictory to believe that his position infringed on the civil rights of an entire group of people, and also believe that in order to have a civil conversation, we have to understand what the motivations are behind those beliefs.

    We had a story the other day about how Chick-fil-A is reinventing itself a bit, leading one reader to write:

    Chick fil A consistently demonstrates a best practices example for fast food dining because of the quality of customer service.  Their employees are trained to respond with “it’s my pleasure” whenever a customer says “thank-you” for something.  The franchise owners are usually visible, on the front lines greeting customers.  Most of their stores even have a host, who greets customers, asks if refills are wanted, and offers mints.

    Chick fil A’s food is consistent.  They offer several good tasting, low-calorie options for people who are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  As a result of providing good food, good service, and varied options, Chick fil A’s restaurants are rewarded with strong lunch-time traffic.  Doing things right works!

    On another subject, MNB reader Kelly Jacob wrote:

    I am surprised no one in this current conversation is bringing up the fact that the produce industry faced COOL regulations a while back, didn’t think they could manage it and had all the concerns listed by the meat industry….but they did it.  Why wouldn’t that experience be the roadmap for everyone else especially when it comes to animals and how they are handled in other countries.

    If I don’t want to eat a chicken raised and slaughtered in China, I should at least have the opportunity to look at the label and decide on grass-fed beef in the US for dinner instead.

    And, on still another subject, one reader wrote:

    One of your postings intrigued me to investigate Amazon for a subscription service for dog food. My wife typically replenishes the dog food supply, lugging home a couple of 40 pound bags each month or so that address the age and dietary needs of our two dogs. It seemed to make a lot of sense.

    I was able to find the exact same dog food listed on Amazon, only in somewhat smaller sizes, and the equivalent pricing wasn’t even remotely in the game. As much as I love my wife and would like to make her life easier, I can live with her lugging the bags home from the big box pet store.

    This is one of those cases where Amazon clearly decided that having a low price on a subscription item didn't serve its broader needs, even if it would've served your wife's. Which is too bad … but, by the way, it strikes me as an opportunity for your local supermarket to make some inroads!

    Another Amazon-related email, this one from Susan DeRemer:

    This week I had a unique experience with Amazon that has massively increased my customer loyalty, and will cause me to purchase more grocery items there in the future.

    I’d purchased some organic spices from Amazon, since my local grocer wasn’t carrying a full range of organic selections.  Received them on Sunday (delivered by a US Postal Service truck!) and put them in the cupboard. 

    On Tuesday I received an email alert form Amazon, to inform me that there’d been a recall on one of the spices.  The FDA recall was dated April 4, the same day I purchased the items online. 

    Amazon’s incredibly fast alert system insured that my family was not at risk from a possibly contaminated item.  Makes me feel like they ‘have my back’ and I can count on them to look out for my food safety.  Contrast this with an experience of several years ago, where I received a letter (a letter!) by mail from a local retailer, informing me that hamburger I’d purchased 4 months prior was contaminated.  Naturally we’d already eaten it long before getting the letter.

    Finally, got the following email from MNB user Craig Ryder:

    Was interested to see the NY Times inference that the growth of the discounters in the UK is a function of an economy struggling with slow recovery. Speaking with consumers around the country, I see a paradigm shift. The UK is one of the most 'internet-savvy' economies. The big store formats that Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury and Morrisons operate are therefore proving increasingly redundant - 'all under one roof' has lost it's allure. They require a minimum two hour trip and they are full of items you probably ordered on the internet when the need for them arose.  A trip to Aldi meanwhile delivers a 'Time & Effort' benefit (the whole store visit is finished in under an hour) and, more importantly, delivers better quality than traditional private labels. Add to that a shift in middle class perceptions (for whom Aldi was once a no-go zone but is now almost a badge of honour) and it looks a long road ahead for Britain's 'big four' grocers. Expect to see similar problems for Target, Meijer and Wal Mart as Aldi's aggressive roll out in the US continues!

    Thanks for the insights … what you are describing makes a lot of sense.
    KC's View: