business news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday, we reported that the “5 A Day for Better Health” program, which promotes produce consumption, is fighting with the dairy industry, which is launching a “3-A-Day for Stronger Bones” campaign this month. The fight is over the similar slogans, which the produce people feel with confuse consumers. Our headline, which we would concede was just a little bit flip, was: “Can’t They Compromise And Make It Eight-A-Day?”

Tom Stenzl, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association, sent us an email suggesting (with some justification) that perhaps we were not taking the issue seriously enough:

“Oh, Kevin, you didn't really want to say that did you?

“The 5 A Day message and public health campaign was born in government public health agencies over a decade ago and adopted by federal health authorities as the nation’s pre eminent dietary campaign to reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic disease. It is neither an industry marketing program nor an agricultural check-off program paid for by growers. Confusing the two is just what the public health community fears – teaching your children to eat 5 A Day means preventing an early death from cancer. "Got Milk" and the "Milk Mustache Campaign" are great fun, but obviously advertising. This "3 a Day" concept totally blurs those lines -- it's dairy advertising, only masquerading as health, and thus minimizing the importance of a REAL public health campaign.

“Commercial use of the 5 A Day logo is limited by a strict licensing structure from the National Cancer Institute, which requires compliance with national dietary guidelines, not those chosen by industry. If this were an industry program, I'd be promoting a heck of a lot more broccoli smothered in cheese sauce and chocolate covered strawberries, but it's against the law to put the 5 A Day logo on those!

“5 A Day is the federal government’s most comprehensive, multi-endpoint, research driven disease prevention program, with effectiveness in preventing not only cancer but a host of other chronic diseases. That’s why the National 5 A Day Partnership is also led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, in addition to cancer authorities.

“Unfortunately, the dairy marketing program envisioned under a "3 A Day" health banner fails to meet any of the criteria above. The industry itself designed the program, pays for the promotions, and chooses which products to promote. The industry itself chooses which standards will be used to "qualify" for use of the logo. Yet, with sheer marketing might, the deep pockets of the dairy tax on producers through a check-off program, and the additional funding of dairy processors, the "3 A Day" program will quickly eclipse the total spending by federal, state and local health authorities who have worked tirelessly for the past decade in a heartfelt commitment to prevent cancer and chronic disease through improved diet. In short order, they can buy their way into supermarkets with a commercial sales message that dwarfs the not-for-profit 5 A Day for Better Health Campaign.

“For these reasons, the National Cancer Institute has asked the Dairy Council to develop a different marketing program. They've said no.”

Tom, you’re right. We were wrong. We just hope our penance doesn’t have anything to do with brussel sprouts…

Lots of reaction to yesterday’s story about Balducci’s flagship Greenwich Village store suddenly being closed down by owner Sutton Place Markets, including this email from MNB user Susan Hesselgrave:

“I can't believe the gross insensitivity of management in this scenario. I am horrified by their choice to not provide a period of closure, perhaps of a week, to their customers and employees. Real estate/size issue? We all know upper management knew of this brewing months in advance. Keeping it secret until closing time on D-Day is unconscionable. I can only imagine that that particular location had a longstanding loyal patronage and that there were loyal employees who had relationships with those customers. They all deserved the opportunity to say their goodbyes and thank yous to each other. Now they are all among the "disappeared." Done deal. Move on. It is this kind of soulless management that is ripping out the heart of the American worker and
consumer. Why not go to anonymousville big box store, when the "little" guys reward your loyalty to them like this? Lesson? Don't treat each other like human beings, go stand in the self-checkout line...”

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

“Balducci's has always been one of the magical places for food. We were lucky enough to be invited in to the basement where the magic took place. A rare and wonderful experience.

“It's terribly disappointing to hear of the way Sutton has handled this. Seems like still another case of a larger company buying a smaller and much loved "boutique" business and quickly putting them out of business. I guess that's one way to eliminate competition.

“I suppose there are still reasons to make the pilgrimage to NYC but.........”

One or two reasons anyway. (We’d suggest one of them is to see the revival of “Man of La Mancha,” which we saw last weekend…but we digress.)

While we agree that Sutton Place probably could have handled the closure better, we’re not sure the evidence supports the notion that it just wanted to buy and close the competition. Just to be fair here…

Our story about several retailers and manufacturers testing so-called “smart shelves” that can read radio waves emitted by microchips embedded in consumer packaged goods, therefore allowing them to more efficiently keep stores stocked with merchandise, prompted the following email from one MNB user:

“Does the technology already exist where the consumer keys in what they are out of through a key pad on their fridge?”

Sure it does – in test, anyway. One of the technologies we’ve seen tested actually has a scanner on the fridge, so the consumer can scan bar codes of products that are empty, placing an automatic refill order with the store.

It’s very cool. It may be a decade away from popularization, but it is very cool.

There was a lot of criticism by MNB users yesterday of a story we ran on Wednesday about Loblaw deciding not to accept personal checks/cheques anymore. These emails prompted some responses, including this one from a Canadian member of the MNB community:

John Schmitt is way out of line when he talks about us ‘settling’ as consumers. As consumers, Canadians settle for little less than a convenient shopping experience. Long before Americans (that will get a rise) were out of the gate with debit cards Canadians were embracing this new and convenient technology. I personally have been using debit for purchases for over 15 years and it is only in the last 5 I have been able to use it in the US with regularity. I would be surprised if I write five cheques per year and can foresee not having to write any in the near future. Lets be blunt, in the US you write cheques (checks) still, in Canada a cheque is becoming a rarity.”

Another MNB user wrote:

“The different spellings (Cheque vs Check) are the probably the smallest difference between Canadian and American consumer payment preferences that make Loblaw’s decision a true non-event in Canadian retailing. Our firm made this move three years ago in Canada but would never even consider such a move in our US division. Consider that Canada, with a population equal to a little over 10% of the US, did 2.2 billion pin based
debit transactions in 2001 and is on track to do over 2.5 billion in 2002. Canada also has over 460,000 IDP terminals deployed at 325,000 merchants so if you want to talk convenience and efficiency for both consumers and merchants. Our interchange fees are reflective of the volumes and definitely reflect the old "economies of scale" adage.

“And by the way....if you really want to pay by cheque at one of our stores in Canada we never met a sale we didn't like, regardless of tender!”

We reported yesterday that Dean Foods has received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for technology that can extend the shelf life of dairy-based beverages to 180 days and allows these products to be stored and shipped at ambient temperatures. This prompted one MNB user to write:

“I've read about this and it's a great new idea. But consumers are probably going to need a lot of reassurance that the technology works. After all, we've had it drilled into our heads to put the milk into the refrigerator. Not to mention that, while certainly the product can be placed in the fridge, room temperature milk sounds unappetizing. Not insurmountable obstacles, just attitudes and habits that will need to be addressed for the success of the product.”


We got an email from an MNB user about the continuing discussion of people’s being too tired to cook:

“When I first started reading your responses to the survey that said people were too tired or busy to cook at home, I experienced (savored is a better word here), all the collective memories I have of making myself and others something to eat at the end of the day, even if it's only bread and microwaved frozen soup. (Soup, by-the-way, is one of my stand-bys as a meal solution when I'm harried and hurried, it's something I usually make fresh in a big batch, then freeze in 2 cup amounts for a future quick meal.)

“When I picture either the simpler soup and sandwich routine (visualizing myself in the kitchen), it conjures up images of Mom at home in my childhood. And what image is more comforting and centering, universally, than the reassurance that "Mother is at home." I think the 60s guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi even said the experience of being centered and stress-free was best described as a feeling like "mother is at home." The point of all this is that cultural, sexual/social tasks, and traditional thinking might put mom in the kitchen making a meal for everyone else, but since we all eat, somehow we have to attend to this, busy or not. Wasn't the fact that Yoda cooked for Luke Skywalker in the second 'Star Wars' episode one of the things that made him so endearing? There he was, stirring a simmering pot, and seeming so human. So go on now! There are ways to accomplish this, be healthy, and be satisfied.

“YES! Most of us want grocers to stop grabbing at us with junk that pops from the shelves and may satisfy our impulse buying, but not our desired waistlines. Offer us something we not only want, but that's good for us and can help us live busy lives. After all this time blabbing about what's healthy (I know I've been aware of it since the mid 70s), isn't it time for the big grocers to listen to their grocery marketing oracles (IRI and ACNeilsen), and cook us up a soothing stew that's good for us?”

This may be the first email we’ve ever gotten that got both the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Yoda into the same paragraph.

In fact, now that we think about it, has anyone ever seen Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Yoda together?

Coincidence? We think not.

It was noted by an MNB user yesterday that with all the discussion of cloning babies, it made watching “Blade Runner,” the old Harrison Ford film, a particularly interesting experience. Well, we talk about a lot of different stuff here on MNB, and this prompted a response from another member of the MNB community:

“Just saw this again last week. It is an artful film, and worth seeing. Of particular note: a succinct and beautiful soliloquy on the worth of a life (delivered at the end by the Nexus 6/Rutger Hauer character). A film that resonates long after viewing...”

We’ll make it a point to see it.

Finally, we started this “Your Views” section with a rebuke for being not serious enough…so we’ll end with an even stronger criticism from an MNB user about something we said about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA):

“Rarely have I read such an ignorant, flippant and well, just plain dumb comment regarding PETA's actions against KFC. You are hereby ordered to immediately read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.” He was once called a muckraker too! To say PETA is a "fringe, radical group that attempts to demonize people and companies as it pursues its own agenda" is just laughable. I am not a member of PETA but know that millions of us welcome their legal efforts to help inform the public. Honestly, you are WAY off base here.”

Criticism noted.

Have a good weekend, all. We’ll see you Monday, when we’ll be reporting from the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Midwinter executive conference in Florida…

Go, Jets!
KC's View: