business news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of nutritional education in schools, we continue to get email, including this note from MNB user Bill Kesl:

“Our kids are now in high school (it really is as bad as everyone warns you it's going to be) and have brought their lunch from home since they
elementary school. It's not like bad food in schools is a new phenomena. This has been our way of trying to provide at least some semblance of balancing what they like to eat and what is good for them. They of course have had their share of fast food on the way to soccer practice, after football games, going to the beach, etc.

“It takes about 15 minutes to prepare lunches and I know we are all already pressed for time but believe this is one of those important 15 minutes of the day. Another idea; there is a deli close to our home that prepares kids' lunches using fresh meats, fruits, salads and healthy snacks and drinks - they sell out of these brown lunch bags every day!

“I guess it's another thing that requires effort from already spent parents.”

Seems to us that this is a job for the ambitious and aggressive retailer…

MNB user Susan Hesselgrave writes:

“There's another issue here that, admittedly, has nothing to do with nutrition: in a time-crunched day, where teachers are being legislated (read: coerced) from every side regarding what they teach and how much time needs to be spent on basically non-academic issues... 12 minutes (of stuff they can see in "News at 6" or read in Newsweek) is an enormous amount of time to steal from the already compressed school day. And two minutes of that is Advertising!?! We're all paying for those 12 minutes, our kids most of all. Education is compulsory. Let's make sure public education is for the good of the child, not indentured to private interests.

On the general subject of self-checkout, MNB user bob McMath writes:

“It should be hitting somebody in Government that some of the schemes to go toward automation must be aimed at reducing the number of people one has to have to service the customer. Sure, properly done, it can speed up the check-out. Or the E-tickets we are being forced to use at airports are going to cut down on the number of people needed by the airlines to check everyone in. And the new hand scanners for the individuals to use in supermarkets sound fascinating although I would like to try them myself before passing final judgment.

“The thing is, we have seen constant pressure in industry, assembly lines, service businesses and everything imaginable to cut back the number of people needed to do a job. Why? Because the people are getting ever more expensive to hire, train, and keep, and thus it helps if you have to hire fewer and fewer people to do the old jobs. Besides, those that do the jobs -- especially those that have to associate with the public/customers, are getting less and less helpful, and more and more surly. Sure -- everybody needs more money including the lowest paid workers. But the costs for them are getting so expensive our labor costs are getting out of control. And so the cycle goes around. How can we replace the people with something automated?”

Earlier this week, in a story about Fleming’s decision to divest its retail operations, the company’s CEO, Mark Hansen, described the “new” Fleming as “the only independent, pure-play wholesale distributing company with a national footprint that covers all key retailing segments…”

MNB user Ken Robb had a thought about that:

“The contorted description of Fleming as the "only independent, pure-play wholesale...with a national footprint...etc...etc...etc." reminds me of the humorous attempt by an unnamed manufacturer sales representative that told me his brand of bar soap was the ‘number one selling, two size, single color, premium-priced deodorant bar in the branded bar soap category.’”

Responding to our story about Retail Forward’s new report detailing Target’s likely growth pattern over the next few years, MNB user Stan Barrett, of Food Distributors International, wrote:

“Target will have to be sure it keeps close tabs on its exchange policies and quality of front-line staff. I have had several recent experiences that make me feel more like I was at Wal-Mart (the one in our area is less than stellar, not like other units I have visited) or worse, K-Mart. Attempting to return a piece of furniture (that was a Target exclusive brand, for which I had no receipt) I was told that I could get store credit for use "that day". Three kids in tow, I had no intention of going on a Target shopping spree. I explained this to the clerk, who checked with the store manager, who still said, no must spend that day. What they didn't realize was that if I had a $100 store credit to spend in the future, it would probably have been supplemented by another $100 or so since we had our major "pre-camping Target trip planned" (most of which was subsequently accomplished at a local grocery store). This is just one example of the illogical return policies that will drive frequent customers into the arms of another merchant.”

And in an email responding to our description of Superquinn’s sale of cloth bags in its stores, MNB user Kate Baillie wrote:

“Loblaws in Canada has a bin system. They sell the plastic bins for CDN$2.99 each and they are engineered to fit perfectly three to a shopping cart. We keep our bins in the trunk of our car (they stack and are really useful for toting all sorts of things - not just groceries) and use them every time we go to Loblaws. Groceries go in the bins and are scanned and re-packed by the clerk as we check out. They last indefinitely, cut down on the plastic bags going into landfills and are multi-purpose. When we have too much to fit in the bins, we use reusable muslin shopping bags. Loblaws also credits us for not using plastic bags.

“There is enough excess packaging out there without the plastic bags you use to tote your groceries home with. I believe that as problems with our environment become increasingly evident, customers will demand that grocery retailers stock products and switch to systems that use less of our resources and cause less garbage.”

We love these ideas…

And on that note, we're outta here. There is videotaping to be done, there are more columns to write, and the deadlines mount up.

Have a great weekend, and we'll see you Monday...
KC's View: