business news in context, analysis with attitude

In response to yesterday story about dealing with obesity issues immediately and forthrightly, MNB user Timothy C. McCook of the Snack Food Association had a suggestion -- follow William Shakespeare’s directive, delivered in Henry VI, Part II, Act Four, Scene Two:

“The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.”

But MNB user Tom Stenzl, of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, had a different take:

“Kevin, the NYT article and your comments are a well-timed word of warning. Food companies, retailers, restaurants and commodity groups are going to have to figure out whether their actions are part of the solution to the obesity crisis, or part of the problem. The real battle isn't in the court with frivolous lawsuits; it's in the court of public opinion where consumers want to know where their kids' health ranks in your corporate priorities. Retailers are well positioned to promote healthy eating programs like the government's 5 A Day program to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Quick serve restaurants that offer a fruit cup or baby carrots as an option with their kids meals can win that battle. But commodity groups and companies that take a public-be-damned approach and tell us to exercise more while still mindlessly promoting overeating the wrong foods haven't begun to feel the backlash that's coming when 12-year-old Susie comes home from the doctor with diabetes.”

We got an email the other day from an MNB user who commented on a story we didn’t even run, that 7-Eleven Japan has entered into an alliance with Toyota to build stores near the car manufacturer’s Nagoya factory, as well as in housing developments that it is building for its employees.

The MNB user wrote:

“Is this the current version of the company store? In the company town?”

Sounds like it. Maybe these are the kinds of relationships that American retailers should be building with the giants of other industries…

Sort of reminds us of the culture portrayed in the movie “Rollerball” (the original James Caan version, not the laughable remake from last year). That movie portrayed a world in which there were no countries or states, only corporations…which sounds to us like a pretty good premonition about where things are headed.

On the subject of nutritious meals and Americans’ declining desire to spend time in the kitchen preparing them, MNB user Trish Bellrose sent us the following email:

“As the marketing director of a small private food manufacturer (The Spice Hunter and the mother of 2 small children, but most notably a cheap skate, I cannot believe people are so pressed for time that they can't bother to peel a potato or a carrot anymore and would rather pay the premiums for pre-peeled and pre-cut vegetables. What's next? Pre cooked pasta? And these "conveniences" are so packed with fat and sodium it's no wonder kids are more obese than ever! Maybe people should work less and stay home more so they can prepare a nutritious meal for their family that, by the way, will still only take about 20 - 30 minutes!

“I'm probably living in the stone age, but I am baffled by these statistics. And believe me, I came from a home where Kraft blue box mac & cheese and instant mashed potatoes were the norm (maybe that's where I get my angst from)!

“So onward I press, trying to find that food product golden egg, delivering flavor, convenience yet still being healthy and natural at a price you won't need to take a second mortgage on your home to afford!”

We’re so sympathetic to Trish’s point of view that we even allowed her to not-so-subtly sneak in a commercial for her company.

We would point out, however, that prepared salad mixes have revolutionized the produce department, and we swear by them. And as for pre-cooked pasta, it’s a lot easier to make lasagna if you use the no-boil pasta…

So we fall into the “heathen” category. Sorry…

On the subject of Starbuck’s continued growth, one MNB user wrote in to tell us:

“Did you read about the community loyalty Starbucks has recently been doing? They've set up a community involvement program where their employees can participate in a local fund-raising or community service effort, even ask for their patrons' participation, and Starbucks will pay the Charity for the hours worked of both employee and patron? Talk about away to build community loyalty within a community.”

Responding to recent stories about self-checkouts at Home Depot and Wal-Mart dealing with class action lawsuits on labor issues, one MNB user wrote:

“Do you think it's a coincidence that you have all this talk about self checkout at the same time Wal-Mart employees are suing because the company is "making" them work? And don't forget about the note you received a couple of months ago about the union employee who gets three months of the year paid vacation. Has it become so "all about me" that everyone has forgotten about getting a day's pay for a day's work? Are people getting that self-absorbed that they don't know how or don't want to interact with each other?”

Maybe we’re naïve, but we fervently hope that the lawsuits don’t exist just because certain union employees don’t feel like doing a day’s work. We’d like to think it is about more than that…even if “more” means union organizers looking for an angle…

But maybe we’re naïve.

We wrote yesterday about how farmers in the UK are testing their own supermarket to compete with chains that they feel are treating them unfairly. One member of the MNB community wrote:

“The Seattle area has been making a concerted effort to created numerous outlets for the local farmers to offer their produce throughout the growing season not just at the Pike Place Market but also in various in-city and outlying communities. The thrust is being emphasized on organics. Although some of the local grocery stores haven't necessarily seen this as competition cutting into their margins, there area stores who have noticed and have begun to incorporate more organic produce, and even one local chain (Larry's Markets) that actually has a local farmers emphasis in their produce section where all the produce from a local farmer is even identified by farmer. They've been taking this approach for two seasons now and it obviously is working as both farmers and Larry's are continuing in the program.”

Makes sense to us.

On the subject of Home Depot’s sales help (or lack of), one MNB user wrote:

“Making a new home in the Greater Atlanta area city of Roswell I am making numerous visits to a near-by HD to make and fix numerous items we find necessary in making a new home. The sales people at the HD I visited, and I have no idea which one it was, were friendly, helpful and we never had to walk too far to find one to help us in numerous departments. Now, I realize not every store nor every visit may be as nice as what I experienced but I can't help but believe that, in total, more people are satisfied with the treatment and service they receive than the few who are complaining about it on MNB. Otherwise, HD wouldn't have the competitive edge in their business that they have succeeded in getting.”

Maybe. Or maybe it is surviving on its reputation and the pure size and reach of its operations, and the fact that it has put almost everybody else in the category out of business.

We’re just speculating here…

Responding to yesterday’s story about Wal-Mart building a multi-level unit in Central LA, one MNB user wrote:

“It sounds like "Ikea", Wal-Mart style!”

Does, doesn’t it?

Finally, we wrote yesterday about how people ordering on Amazon can now pick up their books, CDs and DVDs from their local Borders Books and Music, generating this incredulous email from MNB user Tom Russell:

“Help me understand this. If I order on Amazon so it comes to my house and saves me the time and gas and grief of shopping, why would I want to go to a Border's to pick it up?”

Maybe because it is a last minute present. Maybe because you can’t wait two or three days to get your hands on the new Tom Clancy novel, but want to pay Amazon prices?

This isn’t a requirement. Just an option.

We believe in options. We want lots of them. And so, we think, do most consumers.
KC's View: