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    Published on: September 16, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    Rolling Stone has a terrific story about a new culinary trend - pairing food with specific strains of cannabis designed to go with different kinds of food.

    The trend seems to have taken hold in parts of the country where recreational marijuana is legal, and I have to say that piece is really informative and very funny. One passage:

    "The first course was salad with beets, goat cheese and pistachios, paired with OG Kush – described on the menu as having 'an earthy pine and sour lemon scent with woody undertones,' and the ability to 'crush stress under the weight of its heavy euphoria.' I was trying to crumble the Kush with my fingers and stuff it into a narrow, cylindrical pipe from the goody bag, when someone passed us a vaporizer already loaded. Ray and I each took a puff. It seemed light, so we took a second."

    And, it goes on:

    "Neither Ray nor any of the guests I spoke with could discern any connection between the taste of the marijuana and the food it was paired with. By the time dessert came, it didn't matter. People had grown happier and happier, and were wandering about the grass, while the sky turned a deep black that it never does in the city.

    "I could feel my body letting go, dropping into a state of relaxation so deep it surprised me. There was a release of low-level tension I hadn't even been aware of. It was like discovering a gear you'd never used. A gear in which there's a calm, expansive cheer and all's right with the world. None of us wanted to leave."

    You can read the entire piece here.

    This probably will remain on the fringe for the time being, and I have to admit that I have mixed emotions about whether this is a good thing. But there may come a time when this all goes mainstream, and the story certainly is worth reading.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    Salon reports that yesterday as GOP presidential candidate Donald J. Trump was giving a speech to the Economic Club of New York in which he talked about budget proposals that focus on cutting taxes and eliminating regulations as a way of generating new economic growth, the campaign posted an online statement that proposed "slashing the power of the Food and Drug Administration."

    The release from the Trump campaign criticized “the FDA Food Police, which dictate how the federal government expects farmers to produce fruits and vegetables and even dictates the nutritional content of dog food," and the rules that "govern the soil farmers use, farm and food production hygiene, food packaging, food temperatures and even what animals may roam which fields and when." The campaign also lambasted the FDA for "greatly increased inspections of food ‘facilities,’ and levies new taxes to pay for this inspection overkill."

    In a follow-up story, The Hill reports that this press release was removed from the Trump campaign website, and was replaced by another statement that did not mention the FDA.

    Crain's New York Business, in its coverage, writes that "the Obama administration has beefed up food-safety inspections on several fronts since Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act in 2010. It has subjected poultry facilities to more rigorous checks for salmonella and required meat and chicken processors to hold on to inventory until microbial and chemical tests are complete. Earlier this year, the FDA began requiring domestic and foreign food facilities to create a "defense plan" and identify areas most vulnerable to intentional contamination. Businesses with less than $10 million in revenue are exempt from the rule.

    "In 1999, there were 76 million instances of food-related illnesses, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2010, those figures had declined to 48 million illnesses, 130,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths."
    KC's View:
    A lot of the attention over the past few days has focused on issues like the candidates' health and the current President's birthplace. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the approach each of the presidential candidates would take to things like food safety is a far more important issue that actually affects people's lives and well-being.

    It is important to remember that food safety has largely been a bipartisan issue. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed with bipartisan support, and it actually is legislation that was developed in the beginning by the George W. Bush administration, and finally passed by the Obama administration.

    Are there inefficiencies in food safety rules and regulations? Sure. No argument. But are US citizens safer because of increased regulation and vigilance? I think the answer is yes.

    As for the nutritional context of dog food ... I'm not sure, but this may have something to do with the fact that dogs were getting sick when they ate dog food with ingredients imported from China that contained melamine. Maybe it is just me, but I sort of think that knowing what's in pet food is a good idea ... and if it takes a government regulation to assure that this stuff is listed on the label, I'm okay with it.

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    Tech Crunch has a story about a new NPD Group study saying that owners of Amazon's Echo - a voice recognition computer that allows for extensive interaction between the consumer and the computer - "spent around 10 percent more after they bought the voice-powered smart speaker than they did before," and a six percent increase "in the overall number of purchases made by Echo owners on when compared to their pre-Echo existence."

    The story notes that "it’s not a huge deal for other retailers yet because of Echo’s somewhat limited reach thus far – NPD says it estimates around 1.6 million have sold thus far. But it’s a trend that could be very good for Amazon long-term, especially as it brings the Echo Dot back to market at a new, more affordable price point."

    Tech Crunch writes, "We all suspected the Echo’s purpose was – at least in part – to drive more Amazon sales. And that’s exactly what’s happening."
    KC's View:
    There was never any doubt in my mind what the Echo's purpose was ... it seemed clear to me that it is largely designed as a vehicle that allows people to buy more stuff from Amazon. Which, by the way, is why it makes no sense to me for other retailers (Staples, Lowes) to be selling it ... because it is designed to steal sales from them.

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that Unilever is in negotiations to acquire Honest Co., the environmentally friendly CPG company co-founded by actress Jessica Alba that sells "disposable baby diapers, household cleaners, personal-care and beauty products and has built a loyal following among young mothers." Eighty percent of the company's sales reportedly come through an online subscription service.

    Honest Co. reportedly generates about $300 million in sales a year, and the purchase price is said to be in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Last year, Honest Co. valued itself at $1.7 billion when it flirted with an IPO. The story says that if the Unilever talks stall, an IPO remains a possibility.

    Honest Co. has been criticized for selling products that are not as green as advertised, though it has disputed the tests that led to those criticisms.

    The Journal notes that for Unilever, "an acquisition of Honest would be its second recent purchase of a California e-commerce consumer products company. In August, it paid $1 billion to acquire Dollar Shave Club, a premium to the $615 million valuation that company fetched a year earlier. The fast-growing but unprofitable startup provides a mail-order service that ships disposable razors for a flat monthly fee. There have been a string of high-profile startups, including and Dollar Shave Club, that have recently decided to sell to established corporations as the IPO market cooled and investors insisted that startups operate in the black."
    KC's View:
    The most interesting thing about this is the whole e-commerce/subscription component, and how Unilever is clearly focused on getting as much knowledge and experience as it can in this area.

    Retailers need to pay close attention, because if Unilever can find ways to sell direct to consumers via e-commerce, and then doing automatic replenishment via subscriptions, those all will be sales that previously would've gone to traditional retailers. It is called disintermediation, and it has the potential of being a real problem to retailers that do not have their own plans in these areas.

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Amazon has opened its second Amazon Book bricks-and-mortar store, at the Westfield UTC mall in University City - next to a Tesla dealership and across from an Apple Store.

    According to the story, "The opening comes just 10 months after the first Amazon Books store debuted at University Village, a Seattle-area outdoor mall. It arrives amid a shift in the offline book-selling business, which, after years of decline, has made a partial comeback. In 2015, the total number of bookstores surpassed 2,200, compared to 1,400 store in 2009, according to the American Booksellers Association. Amazon, often considered a threat to independent booksellers, has two additional mall bookstores in the works for the Portland and Chicago areas."
    KC's View:
    Big fan. You can read my review of the original here.

    More than a few retailers I've spoken to think that the most impressive thing about the Amazon Books store is how the template could be adjusted for other retail segments - food, drugs, office supplies, etc... The concept is highly flexible, and can be tweaked depending on local needs.

    Very smart.

    Also, by the way ... the Amazon stores also sell things like the Echo, which as noted above is designed to help them sell more stuff.

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    Reuters this morning reports that "Walmart Canada will stop accepting Visa Inc cards at its 16 stores in the province of Manitoba starting on Oct. 24," expanding on a challenge to what it sees as Visa's unacceptably high transaction fees that led it to stop accepting Visa in three of its stores in Ontario.

    Walmart Canada said that the ban could be extended to more stores if a deal with Visa cannot be achieved.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    • The Chicago Tribune reports that Illinois plans to institute a program next year that will allow food stamp users there "to buy their groceries online through a two-year federal pilot program intended to increase food access for the poor ... The test run, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, is intended to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture work out the kinks before making online purchasing a permanent option. To help accomplish this complex goal, USDA officials are expected to announce Thursday a request for online grocery retailers to participate in the program. Up to five retailers in as many as three states will be chosen; the program is expected to begin next summer."

    An online option is said to be aimed in part at helping people who live in so-called food deserts, where there is a lack of available grocery shopping.

    • The Washington Post reports that has part of a broader effort to improve its image, Target plans to adjust its merchandising so that low prices are more simply advertised and obvious to consumers, especially on end caps.

    "It’s a fairly subtle change," the Post writes, "but it is symbolic of an important goal for Target. The retailer believes its sales have struggled lately in part because it has failed to emphasize strongly enough that it is a destination for value and low prices. The redesigned end caps are just one strategy for trumpeting that message; Target has also changed up its circulars to put a spotlight on low-priced household essentials."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    Yesterday, referring to the need for retailers to focus on both bricks-and-mortar stores and e-commerce, as well as appeal to both people with kids who are the center of the marketing target and millennials who have different needs and interests, I wrote:

    It strikes me as critical to do all this stuff ... sort of like the guy who used to spin plates on the old "Ed Sullivan Show."

    Now, I got several emails about this metaphor.

    MNB user Larry Owens wrote:

    Wow, Kevin, you just dated yourself big time!  I wonder how many of your readers remember the spinning plates guy or Topo Gigio as well as you and I do.

    And MNB reader Jim DeLuca wrote:

    Wow, you must be older than your writing and opinions indicate. Plate spinning indeed...

    I think that's a compliment.

    Anyway, I thought that in the interest of educating MNB readers not familiar with the metaphor, I ought to show you a video. Which you can see at left ... in a TV clip from a long time ago, when the TV universe was a very different place.


    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    The Chicago Cubs clinched the National League Central title last night when the St. Louis Cardinals lost 6-2 to the San Francisco Giants, mathematically eliminating the Cardinals from the race. (Though the Cardinals could still get into the playoffs via the Wild Card, though at the moment they remain behind both the Giants and the New York Mets in that race.)

    And, in Thursday Night Football, the New York Jets defeated the Buffalo Bills 37-30.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 16, 2016

    Reed Farrel Coleman is out with his third Jesse Stone novel, "Debt To Pay," and he yet again proves not just a worthy successor to Robert B. Parker - who wrote nine Stone novels among the some 70 books that he turned out before he passed away in 2010 - but that he is a writer willing and able to go beyond the boundaries sketched out by Parker.

    Especially as he got older, Parker specialized in a kind of minimalism, sometimes seeming to be trying to convey as much as he could through the fewest possible words. I admire that, as I admire so much of Parker's work. The chief differences between the Stone novels and the Spenser novels that made Parker famous were that the latter were written in a highly distinctive first person narrative, while the Stone books were third person; Spenser also was a more fully formed protagonist, while Parker seemed to enjoy showing Jesse Stone as someone still developing and maturing.

    In "Debt To Pay," Coleman spends much of his time focusing on Stone's alcoholism, looking at his struggles to maintain sobriety while in a new relationship with a woman who he hopes can make him finally forget the ex-wife on whom he's always been obsessed. This is all interesting stuff, and it plays out against Stone's cat-and-mouse game as he hunts - and is hunted by - a professional killer who appeared in an earlier book. And the action moves from Paradise, Massachusetts, where Stone serves as police chief, to Dallas and back again ... the plot is edge-of-your-seat compelling, the dialogue is first rate, and the approach is reminiscent of Parker's while probing deeper into the mysteries of the characters' psyches.

    The best thing about Coleman's Stone novels, beside the fact they keep alive a favorite character (who also has become known through the TV movies where he's played by Tom Selleck), is that they brought Coleman's other work to my attention. He's a terrific writer, and I recommend all his books to you.

    One of the best things about the fall is that good movies start to come out. I don't know about you, but I found the summer to be pretty disappointing. (My favorite two movies of the season, I think, both starred Chris Pine - Hell or High Water and Star Trek Beyond.)

    But an example, I hope, of what we have to look forward to is the new Tom Hanks movie, Sully, about Captain Chesley Sullenberger's heroic landing of a full passenger plane on the Hudson River when birds crashed into it and disabled its engines. Directed by Clint Eastwood - who keeps churning out movies at age 86 - Sully is a fascinating look at the events of that day in January 2009, as well as the personal agonies being suffered by Sullenberger after the landing, despite the fact that everyone survived.

    To be honest, I'm not a huge fan of Eastwood's directing style, which I often find to be too linear and often missing any significant tension. But I though Sully was terrific - it has a tone of energy, and I think it benefits by a wonderful performance by Hanks.

    See it. And if you can, see it on an IMAX screen, where it is even more impressive.

    I have two wines to recommend to you this week - the 2014 Evolution Pinot Noir, from Oregon's Willamette Valley, which is utterly delicious, and the 2015 Commanderie de Peyrassol, a rose from the Provence region of France, which when served cold is perfect for those lingering summer days and nights.

    By the way ... Sunday is National Cheeseburger Day. I don't know about you, but I'm planning to celebrate big time.

    New MNB readers may want to take a look at the MNB list of best hamburger joins around the country, as suggested by readers. You can read it here.

    Also ... Business Insider did a side-by-side comparison of In N Out vs. Whataburger. Also worth taking a look at, here.

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

    KC's View: