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    Published on: September 30, 2016

    by Kevin Coupe

    This weekend, an era ends. An era that has lasted 67 years, that began in Ebbets Field in Brooklyn.

    Vin Scully, the longtime, legendary broadcaster for the Brooklyn Dodgers and then the Los Angeles Dodgers, will call his last game on Sunday. He's 88.

    The thing is, Scully probably could've gone on calling games forever. At least, that's what those of us who love that voice, that delivery, that passion for the world's greatest game, would like to think. But he's hanging it up this weekend.

    Scully probably could've worked the post season for one of the national media outlets. There were plenty of calls to give him that opportunity, to give him one last time in front of a national audience. But he told the Los Angeles Times the other day that he only wanted to say goodbye once, that the uncertainties of the playoffs would mean that his final game would play out like an opera without end, and he didn't want that.

    So he'll say goodbye on Sunday. The great thing about the internet is that it'll be available - forever - almost immediately. Tears will be shed. Hearts will be warmed. But an era will end, an era that began so many, many years ago with the likes of Mel Allen and Red Barber and Harry Caray and Jack Buck. Those voices are silent now, except in heart and memory.

    Here's something I just found. It is Vin Scully doing the famous James Earl Jones speech about baseball from Field of Dreams, about a games that makes so many of us feel as innocent as children, longing for the past. You can listen to it here; it is like dipping oneself in magic waters.

    Mark the time. This field. This game. This voice. It is an Eye-Opener.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reports that as Supervalu considers selling off its Save-A-Lot discount retail brand rather than spinning it off as originally expected, Canadian private equity firm Onex Corp. is said to have made the highest bid.

    A decision is expected before the end of October. Save-A-Lot could be worth as much as $1.8 billion. There are more than 1,300 Save-A-Lot stores, but the majority are licensees.

    According to the story, "Supervalu has been talking about shedding Save-A-Lot for more than a year. It's among the best-performing units for Supervalu, but the company has been refocusing on its wholesale business in recent years, selling several units to Cerberus Capital Management in 2013.

    "Supervalu initially planned a spinoff of the business, but began entertaining sale offers from private equity firms late last year."
    KC's View:
    I just hope that all this dithering is not having a negative impact on Save-A-Lot CEO Eric Claus and his team's ability to turn Save-A-Lot around and make it more competitive in a competitive climate where Aldi is growing and Lidl is coming. I'm a big Eric Claus fan, but sit helps to be able to operate in a stable environment ... and I think even he would agree that Save-A-Lot has to make some serious leaps to get where it needs to be.

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    The Associated Press reports that Costco Wholesale had Q4 earnings of $779 million, up 1.6 percent from from $767 million during the same period a year ago. Net revenue, excluding membership fees, was up two percent to $35.7 billion. Q4 same-store sales were flat.

    For the fiscal year, Costco reported profit of $2.35 billion, down from $2.38 billion a year ago, on revenue of $116.07 billion, up two percent from the previous year.

    However ... putting to rest a belief in some quarters that its switch from American Express to Visa was hurting its results, Costco said that "customers opened 730,000 new credit card accounts since the launch of its new Visa cards in June," according to the Puget Sound Business Journal. While the switch has not gone smoothly and is expected to have some impact on Costco's financial results, the company also expects to increase sign-ups during the coming holiday sales period.
    KC's View:
    Funny. Just yesterday I got an email suggesting that the move to Costco to Amazon that we'd been discussing here might be at least partially connected to the Amex-Visa shift. At least in the short term, that doesn't seem to be the case.

    The thing about these competitive sets is, it rarely is either/or. There's plenty of room for both Amazon and Costco ... but the way they continue to carve out their own spaces is fascinating.

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    USA Today reports that "Amazon is offering $1 million to the university team that builds an artificial intelligence that can keep up its side of the conversation with a human being for 20 minutes." Calling it the Alexa Prize, Amazon said that the development of such capabilities would be unprecedented “and at least five times more advanced than state-of-the-art conversational AI."

    The story notes that "the push comes as Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa is coming to multiple platforms beyond its original home on Amazon’s Echo speaker, and as artificial intelligence is anticipated to become the cutting edge of tech companies' interfaces with their customers."

    For example ... The Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon is extending its voice assistant Alexa software into a new device - " its second-gen Fire TV Stick, keeping the same $40 price, but including a voice-capable remote that lets owners talk to the artificially intelligent assistant."

    According to the story, "By speaking to Alexa, you can not only find something to watch, but also purchase hundreds of items from Amazon’s online store, check the weather, get a news update or play a song on Spotify. Amazon says Alexa is currently able to understand 3,000 distinct commands."

    The Journal notes that this is part of a broader effort by Amazon to create a kind of ubiquity for Alexa, even in devices it does not manufacture. It stands in contrast to Apple's Siri software, which is only available on Apple hardware.
    KC's View:
    I've said all along that Alexa is far superior to Siri ... and I can tell you from personal experience that the Amazon software very quickly insinuates itself into how one lives life on a day to day basis.

    I also love the idea of the prize. Pure genius.

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    Politico reports that the US House of Representatives has voted 246-177, largely along party lines, "to delay by six months implementation of the Labor Department’s overtime rule," saying that the new rule “burdens hard-working small business owners” and “jeopardizes vital services for vulnerable Americans.”

    The rule, Politico writes, virtually doubles to $47,476 "the salary threshold under which virtually all workers are guaranteed time-and-a-half pay whenever they work more than 40 hours in a given week."

    Every Republican in the House voted for the delay, along with five Democrats. The Senate will consider a companion bill, but neither legislation is expected to go very far, since a veto by President Barack Obama is all but assured.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    In Minnesota, the Star Tribune reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has sent a warning letter to Supervalu regarding "serious food safety violations at a seafood processing facility in Pennsylvania — violations not typically seen at such a large operation."

    FDA cited "six violations at one of the company’s Denver, Pa., wholesale distribution centers that, if not fixed soon, could be shut down ... A failure to properly regulate the storage temperatures for different types of fish, which protects against harmful pathogen growth, and the absence of an allergen prevention program, which safeguards against cross contamination, are among the violations."

    Supervalu said it takes food safety very seriously, and already has moved to improve the seafood situation.
    KC's View:
    These are the kinds of headlines that no food company wants to see. And it just points to the degree that every food company needs to be totally focused on this stuff. No room for error ... especially at a time when the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is heightening both oversight and penalties.

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    The Seattle Times reports that Amazon, in addition to offering Prime Now service in Spain, also "allows shoppers to order items from the many stalls that populate the Mercado de la Paz, a 19th century market."

    This option, the Times writes, "marks an interesting adaptation by Amazon to European shopping mores, where street and municipal markets still play a major role in dense urban neighborhoods."

    “Many of us think public markets are the birthplace of this passion for food. That is why, our collaboration with the emblematic Mercado de la Paz — the first time ever that Amazon partners with a popular public market through Prime Now — is something that we are sure our Spanish customers will value,” François Nuyts, the head of Amazon in Spain, said in a statement. “We are happy to blend this deep-rooted culture with our most-advanced technology on behalf of them.”
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    • The Wall Street Journal reports that Coke and Pepsi are going to war again, this time with bottled coffee. Dunkin' Donuts will launch a new bottled coffee in the US early next year, distributed by Coca-Cola. It will compete with Starbucks' Frappuccino brand, which is distributed by Pepsi.

    According to the story, "The moves come as Coke also tries to catch up in the U.S. ready-to-drink tea market, which also is growing fast as Americans thirst for more caffeine but less soda. The bottled tea category is led by the Lipton joint venture of PepsiCo and Unilever NV. For Dunkin’, it is the latest attempt to position itself in the U.S. as more of a coffee destination than a doughnut stop. Coffee already represents 50% of its U.S. sales, including hot, iced, brewed and espresso. This summer, it rolled out cold brew coffee in some markets and is testing café au lait in New York."

    • The Tampa Bay Times reports that Sprouts, described as "a speciality grocery known for its affordable assortment of natural and organic foods," has released a list of eight new store locations scheduled to open in the first quarter of next year.

    The story notes that in addition to the fact that one of these stores is in Florida, Sprouts appears to have bigger ambitions for the Sunshine State. And, "Sprouts enters the Florida market at a time when many other organic grocery chains are looking to expand here, too. Lucky's Market, a Colorado-based organic chain, will open a store at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg. Earth Fare, another chain known for its healthy foods, opened its first store in Tampa Bay at the Seminole City Center this week."
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    We continue to get email about whether In-N-Out should sell a veggie burger, an issue that has come to the fore because of an online petition to that effect. One MNB user wrote:

    I've had some great veggie burgers here and there.  Imagine if In-n-out decided to do it, and make it "the best ever" for the very reason that your commenter made, that it helps broaden the appeal of the restaurant to patron groups that have mixed veg and nonveg preferences.

    The very old and now defunct American Cafe in DC (once owned by WR Grace Co. because they were an innovator in terms of what is now called sous vide) had the best vegetarian chili I've ever had.  I always thought it tasted as if it were meat based.

    Creating a veggie burger that good totally fits in with the In-n-Out Burger ethos of fresh and very very tasty food.

    On another subject, from another reader:

    While I won’t be one to bet against on-line grocery sales, knowing that people living in big cities and working long hours don’t have time for shopping, I think there is also a movement the other way going on at the same time.  Most Saturday mornings, I drove to the Easton (PA) Farmer’s Market.  Opened in 1752, it is America’s longest continuously Run Open Air market (or so they say).  But in the last few years, I’ve seen more and more Farmer’s Markets pop up.  Now we also have a few indoor, year-round public markets (Easton and Stockton, NJ).  I love the ability to walk the vendors, see what looks good that day and take it home to prepare a meal.  I can’t get that from an on-line grocer.  I can’t touch, feel and smell the produce, see the actual piece of meat or fish I’m buying or taste samples.  And it’s not just here that I do this.  Traveling a decent amount, I’ve gone out of my way to make visiting local food markets as part of a way to get a feel for the local foods.  The Jean-Talon Market in Montreal is absolutely incredible.  I’ve done markets in Paris, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Philly, LA and Boston. 
    So, while I won’t be betting against on-line grocers, I am also not counting out the impact of local markets and farmers markets.  I guess when you think about it that way, it’s probably part of the reason some grocers, like A&P and Haggen are no longer with us.

    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    In Thursday Night Football, the Cincinnati Bengals defeated the Miami Dolphins 22-7.
    KC's View:

    Published on: September 30, 2016

    As noted yesterday in "FaceTime with the Content Guy," last weekend I had the opportunity to attend baseball games at two Florida major league ballparks - Marlins Park and Tropicana Field. Which completed for me a quest that has taken something like a quarter-century - I now have been to every one of the 30 major league ballparks.

    Also as noted yesterday, I've been to more than just the 30. In fact, there are 18 ballparks (in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Houston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Toronto, Chicago, Milwaukee, and two in New York) that I've seen games in that have since been torn down and replaced; there also was a ballpark in Montreal, which doesn't have a team anymore.

    Now comes the moment I've been waiting for - ranking the 30 existing ballparks. So here goes...

    Because it is my list, and I can do whatever I want, I'm taking three ballparks off the table for discussion - Fenway Park in Boston, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. These are the three oldest stadiums in the country, and while they may not have all the modern amenities, they have the advantage of tradition on their side. They're classics. They'd dominate the top 10. I sit in any of those ballparks and I am supremely happy ... it isn't just the baseball, but the history.

    Which leaves me with 27 ballparks to rate. To make my job a little easier, what I decided to do is start by breaking the list up into three groups of nine, and then rate the stadiums within the groupings. For me, this just was an organizational tool, but it helped a lot.

    I'm also not going to get specific here about all the rationales behind each ranking. This will annoy some people who will disagree with my choices, but at some level I had to grade on a curve because the visits have taken place over a long period of time; it isn't like I visited all of them within a few months of each other and was comparing apples to apples. I'm ranking them on the totality of the experience. It is all about whether I had a good time.

    What does this mean, precisely? Well, I have biases. I'm partial to craft beer and food that goes beyond the standard hot dogs and peanuts. (I'm big on fish tacos. And the Blue Smoke and Shake Shack stands at Citi Field are a major lure.) I like a little leg room, and I think high-definition displays and great scoreboards are really, really important. (A stadium without an out-of-town scoreboard that lists every game being played in the majors in real time loses points ... which is a problem both at Marlins Field and Tropicana Park, for example.) I dislike domes and artificial turf, and I like stadiums that one can walk to from downtown (eight of my top ten are walkable from downtown areas).

    I've also tried to be fair about not over-ranking stadiums where I've been lucky enough to be taken as a guest and have enjoyed great - sometimes extraordinary - seats. But by coincidence or not, some of the parks where I've been lucky in this way also happen to be among the best of them. (Thanks, for example, to Larree Renda and Brian Dowling, who treated me to an amazing afternoon at San Francisco's gorgeous AT&T Park, and Phil Lombardo, who helped make Target Field in Minneapolis an exceptional experience.) At the same time, so many of the games I've seen have been shared with family and friends ... the quest has been a fun one, to say the least.

    One last thing. Even though I've been doing this a long time, I have to say that pretty much every time I walk into a ballpark, I get a thrill when I get my first look at the field. There's just something about it. I can remember when I was a little kid and my dad took me to my first major league game at the old Yankee Stadium (which, by the way, was so much better than the new version, which resembles a mausoleum). We walked out to our seats, and I couldn't believe how big and green the field was. To that point, you see, I'd only ever seen a major league baseball field on a small black and white television. it never occurred to me that the real thing was in color. I remember that feeling - and that trip with my dad - every time I go to a game.

    While these stadiums are ranked from favorite to not-so-much, let me be clear. I feel about baseball stadiums the same way that the late Robert B. Parker felt about beer, and he once said, "The worst beer I ever had was wonderful."

    Here's my list.

    1. AT&T Park, San Francisco
    2. Safeco Field, Seattle
    3. Petco Park, San Diego
    4. Camden Yards, Baltimore
    5. Citi Field, New York
    6. PNC Park, Pittsburgh
    7. Busch Stadium, St. Louis
    8. Target Field, Minneapolis/St. Paul
    9. Coors Field, Denver
    10. Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City
    11. Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati
    12. Miller Park, Milwaukee
    13. Comerica Park, Detroit
    14. Angel Stadium, Anaheim
    15. Globe Life Park, Arlington
    16. Nationals Park, Washington, DC
    17. Rogers Centre, Toronto
    18. Minute Maid Park, Houston
    19. Progressive Field, Cleveland
    20. Turner Field, Atlanta
    21. Yankee Stadium, New York
    22. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia
    23. Chase Field, Phoenix
    24. Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg
    25. Marlins Park, Miami
    26. US Cellular Field, Chicago
    27. Oakland Coliseum, Oakland

    Of course, I realize that my quest really isn't over. Atlanta is scheduled to open a new stadium next spring - SunTrust Park. It replaces Turner Field, which only has been open since 1996, when it replaced Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium (where I also attended a game).

    Probably too early right now to get tickets, but I think I'll have to find my way to Atlanta in about six months or so...

    That's it for this week.

    Have a great weekend, and I'll see you Monday.

    KC's View: