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    Published on: September 8, 2016

    This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

    Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

    I'm not sure what kind of stuff you were reading over the summer, but in addition to the books I read for pleasure, I also spent some time reading about superbugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and biological threats. And it wasn't in a Michael Crichton novel. (Though it almost certainly would be if Crichton were still alive...)

    Now, I'm not nearly smart enough or educated enough to be able to explain this in all its complexity. After all, I think the last science class I took was chemistry when I was a junior in high school - that would've been 1970-71, with Brother Grondin at Iona Prep in New Rochelle. (It is a pretty good bet that almost everything in chemistry has changed since then.)

    But essentially what it comes down to is a concern among scientists about superbugs that are "highly resistant to last resort antibiotics," with a number of respected researchers saying that we are "very close" to the emergence of "enterobacteria" that will be impossible to treat with antibiotics currently in existence. There are, in fact, patients in the US who have been found to be infected with such bugs.

    There apparently are a couple of genes out there - called mcr-1 and mcr-2 - that are resistant to this drug called colistin, which is described by Business Insider as "an antibiotic used to cure infections that have already developed resistance to other antibiotics." And if I'm reading these articles right, the suggestion is that these genes are highly mobile, able to be swapped among all sorts of different bacteria, which makes them even harder to detect and fight.

    The Business Insider story also makes the point that while "the emergence of superbugs has been blamed on the overuse of antibiotics in both people and in livestock," colistin is not used in animal husbandry in the United States. But it is in other parts of the world, including China.

    You know - places from which we import food.

    And, there was a Los Angeles Times article that really grabbed my attention with this particular turn of phrase: "The golden age of antibiotics appears to be coming to an end, its demise hastened by a combination of medical, social and economic factors. For decades, these drugs made it easy for doctors to treat infections and injuries. Now, common ailments are regaining the power to kill."


    Now, this is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has established a network of labs that it hopes will be able to respond quickly to the emergence of such bugs ... though at least from some of the reading that I've been doing, it sounds like they may be bringing knives to a gunfight.

    Like I said, I'm not really educated enough to understand all this stuff. But the one thing that these articles and others like them seem to agree on - a common strain, if you will - is the fact that our society is going to have to be a lot more vigilant and transparent about the foods we eat and the medicines we use, and a lot more willing to invest in the kinds of scientific research necessary to identify and fight these problems. These aren't the kinds of issues that politicians can sit around debating, trying to find electoral advantages. If we don't do what is necessary in terms of medical research, people are going to die.

    Food retailers and manufacturers are going to have to understand that they need to be at the forefront of this new transparency and vigilance ... that if they cut corners or ignore opportunities, they are going to be putting their companies at risk ... and worse, will be putting their customers' lives at risk.

    It means that that everybody in the food supply chain has to be open, up front, specific and transparent about where food is from, what is in food, how it has been treated and should be treated by customers. This isn't scare-mongering ... it is, in fact, an enormous opportunity to be on the front lines of consumer education.

    I'm sure there will be someone out there who will suggest that consumers don't need to know this or that, or that some of the things being suggested by scientists will cost too much money or offer too little return on investment. And all I can think of is that those little superbugs don't really give a damn about profit margins or communications strategies.

    Words like "superbugs, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and biological threats" are scary as hell. They aren't the stuff of science fiction these days. Rather, they reflect our modern reality ... and companies have to respond decisively and without hesitation.

    That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning, as I desperately resist the desire to crawl under the covers. As always, I want to know what is on your mind.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    Fifty years ago this evening, the very first episode of "Star Trek" aired on NBC. It was called "Man Trap," and actually was not the first episode filmed ... it was just the one that network executives felt would be most palatable for a mass audience not used to serious-minded science fiction.

    In fact, it took two pilot episodes for "Star Trek" to even get on the air. The first one was called "The Cage," and starred Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike; it was rejected by NBC as not mainstream enough. The second pilot, which starred William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock (Nimoy/Spock had been in the first pilot, but the character was markedly different - he showed emotion), had more action, though apparently enough for network executives to put it on first.

    It wasn't like "Star Trek" was an enormous popular success. In fact, it was ratings challenged for the three seasons it was on, and when finally cancelled by NBC, the general feeling was that "Star Trek" was over. But it caught fire when it went into syndicated reruns ... and the rest is history. There have been 13 feature films in the franchise, plus five additional TV series, with a sixth scheduled to debut early next year.

    This lifespan is, I think, a measure of how compelling the basic message of "Star Trek" is. From the beginning, with various degrees of seriousness and success, "Star Trek" has been about the human spirit, the need to explore and learn, the acceptance and embracing of diversity, and how making connections is so much more important than severing them. "Star Trek" has never just been a television series or movie franchise - for those of us who love it in all its various iterations, it speaks to optimism and hopes and dreams and a belief that a better world - a better universe - are, in fact, possible. We just have to offer the best versions of ourselves.

    And that doesn't even count the ways in which modern technological advances often are measured against the predictions made on "Star Trek" a half-century ago.

    I went back last night and watched "Man Trap," and it is extraordinary to me how fully formed it is. There is all the wonderful Kirk-Spock-Dr. McCoy banter, there is even a bit of a flirtation between Spock and Lt. Uhura (presaging something that was explored to a greater degree in the movie reboot), there is actually a serious discussion about how sometimes the enemy is driven by legitimate needs that we don't understand, and there is even an environmental subtext.

    "Star Trek" often has been an Eye-Opener, and it is worth noting its humble beginnings on September 8, 1966.

    Live long and prosper.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Kmart - which has been cutting costs and closing hundreds of stores - has renovated one of its stores, in Des Plaines, Illinois, trying to present a new image of its capabilities.

    The store, according to the Journal, "introduced a modest grocery section with meat and fresh produce like avocados and boxes of raspberries. Lowered aisle heights allow customers to see new department signs from across the store, and the layout was made to look more spacious by widening the aisles ... The store, on a busy road lined with strip malls and fast-food restaurants, is a test site for possible upgrades to the chain’s better-performing branches, said Kelly Cook, Kmart’s chief marketing officer."

    The store also "is testing a free personal shopping program called Shoparazzi. Through it, customers can place an online order for pickup - even asking for items Kmart doesn’t stock but which a personal shopper could acquire."

    Cook would not say how much the remodeling cost, but did say that more are planned before the end of the year.

    “We’re starting here,” Cook tells the Journal. “In the next couple of weeks we’re really going to drill down to understand every single aspect.”
    KC's View:
    I hate to be a cynic, but I'm not buying.

    In so many ways, this sounds a little like just a couple of years ago when RadioShack started talking about reinventing itself - it managed to renovate a few stores and do a couple of good commercials, but the promises were a lot bigger than the delivery. And we know how that all turned out.

    Kmart has to renovate a lot more than just a few stores ... it has to change its culture, its image, and its financials ... and this is just not going to happen. No way. No how.

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    Advocacy group Oceana is out with a new study saying that one in five of more than 25,000 samples of seafood tested worldwide was mislabeled.

    By reviewing more than 200 published studies from 55 countries, Oceana said it "found seafood fraud present in each investigation with only one exception. The studies reviewed also found seafood mislabeling in every sector of the seafood supply chain: retail, wholesale, distribution, import/export, packaging/processing and landing."

    The study also found that in the US, there has been an average fraud rate since 2014 of 28 percent, and that 58 percent "of the samples substituted for other seafood were a species that pose a health risk to consumers, meaning that consumers could be unwittingly eating fish that could make them sick."

    In 65 percent of studies, the motivation for the seafood labeling was said to be economic.

    The study comes out, Ocean says, "as ocean leaders from all over the world prepare to gather in Washington, DC for the Our Ocean Conference next week. Earlier this year, the President’s Task Force on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Seafood Fraud released a proposed rule to address these issues that would require traceability for 13 'at-risk' types of seafood from the fishing boat or farm to the U.S. border. Oceana contends that while this is a good step forward, the government needs to expand the final rule to include all seafood species sold in the U.S. and extend it throughout the entire supply chain, from boat or farm to plate."
    KC's View:
    To me, this is both worrying and unconscionable.

    In this day and age, there is absolutely no excuse for not having airtight regulations and procedures that guarantee that people are buying and eating the actual products that they are paying for. Now, I recognize that companies cannot solve this problem in a vacuum, but it seems to me that the industry has to be very concerned about reports that use words like "fraud" and talk about percentages that are significant, not negligible.

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    Media Post reports that a new study from eMarketer saying that "the number of adult mobile coupon users in the US rose nearly 18% to 92.6 million in 2015. By the end of 2016, mobile coupon users will increase by 11% to 104 million in the US. And Koupon Media (a mobile offer platform) reports 500 million mobile coupons delivered in 2015."

    Indeed, the story also notes a "26% increase in basket size when customer uses a mobile coupon" ... that "39% of customers spend more if they receive a personalized coupon" ... that "42% of mobile users have used a mobile coupon" ... and that "60% of customers would adopt mobile payments if offered coupons."
    KC's View:
    The biggest advantage of this sort of technology is that it offers retailers and suppliers so much more information about efficacy, information that can be acted upon by companies looking to move the needle in terms of purchase behavior.

    The companies with the most actionable information, that actually act upon the data, inevitably will be the companies with the greatest likelihood of success.

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    • The Walmart Foundation yesterday announced that "10 Workforce Development Boards (WDBs) across the country will receive funding from The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership (The Partnership). The Partnership selected 10 WDBs to collectively form and implement new models of career services specific to retail - models that will serve as best practices for the approximately 550 WDBs in the U.S. that already provide services, such as career coaching, soft skills training, specialized skills training and referrals to other resources."

    The announcement notes that this funding commitment "is part of a $10.9 million grant the Walmart Foundation made to The Partnership in March 2016. The two-year grant program is the largest investment to date as part of Walmart and the Walmart Foundation’s Opportunity initiative, which aims to increase the economic mobility of workers in retail and adjacent sectors by working with nonprofits, educational institutions and government agencies to make it easier for frontline workers to move faster into middle skills roles."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    • The Associated Press reports this morning that UberEATS - the service that delivers restaurant food via Uber drivers - has launched in Las Vegas, the 24th market in which it operates.

    The story says that UberEATS "will now compete with other food delivery apps already in the market, such as Postmates and Grubhub, among others."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that a "persistent slide in food prices is putting pressure on more U.S. grocers and distributors, weighing down their stocks and prompting some to revise full-year earnings outlooks." Among the companies mentioned in the story as having to recalculate their outlooks are Kroger, Whole Foods, Walmart, Sprouts, Ahold Delhaize, Dollar General, and Supervalu.

    Bloomberg reports that the UK Serious Fraud Office is expected to announce before the end of the month whether it will file criminal charges against Tesco, following the investigation into an accounting scandal related to the company's understatement of costs and overstatement of revenue.

    According to the story, "Tesco has long been suspected as a candidate for a deferred prosecution agreement-- under such a deal prosecution would be suspended if the company agreed to conditions that can include paying a fine, repaying profits, and helping bring cases against individuals. A key requirement of a DPA is cooperation from the company, which Tesco appears to have given. If the retailer is offered a DPA it would require approval from a U.K. judge."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger is stepping down from that role, though he remaining as chairman; he will be succeeded as CEO by James Snee, who joined the company in 1989 and most recently has been COO.

    The Journal writes that Snee "is expected to continue pushing the Austin, Minn., company to diversify into more protein-focused grocery products."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 8, 2016

    ...will return.

    BTW....apologies for the late posting this morning. I had some internet connectivity issues that slowed things down a bit.
    KC's View: