business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story last Friday about a piece in USA Today about how Americans are becoming increasingly selective eaters, wanting the foods they eat "their way." Examples: Starbucks has more than 19,000 ways it can serve a cup of coffee, and five kinds of milk to stir into it: whole, non-fat, half & half, organic and soy. Ten years ago, Tropicana had two kinds of orange juice; today it has two dozen. And it is caused by an American consumer that is increasingly aware of what is available.

MNB user Randal O'Toole responded:

As you probably know, the trend USA Today thinks it has identified
has long been known as "mass customization"…

Yes, Americans follow fads. But I can still get low-fat food even though low-carbo food is the fad of the day. The real trend is that smaller and smaller minorities of people can get what they want in the marketplace -- unlike so-called democracy where a majority (or even a loud minority) can take away options from minorities, as in the case of the Mendocino County's ban on GMOs.

And MNB user Andrew D. Couch added:

$3-plus for a latte' at Starbucks is a bit absurd. But I spend the money anyway. A few years ago I read an article equating it to something like this: I can't afford to go to Italy this year, but a latté' at Starbucks feels good - so by comparison it's a whale of a bargain.

On the subject of why Americans persist in reimporting medicines from Canada, one MNB user wrote:

A retiree's P&L statement looks like this…

Income from SS self 1525.00
Income from SS spouse 618.00

Drugs for retiree and Spouse $600.00/month
(note: most are branded except for 3 which are generic)
Doctor bills not covered by Medicare $200.00/month
Cobra cost per month $495.99
Long Term Care per month(both) 387.00

Total costs $1582.99
Less SS income 2143.00
Net $ 461.99

And that's to cover all other fixed expenses. Of course its prior to any other investment income from retirement plans, 401K and IRA's if they are lucky.

Is it any wonder people flock across the border?

We would but can't afford the gas.

On the subject of Wal-Mart passing Bruno's as the supermarket leader in Alabama, one MNB user wrote:

If you take a look at most markets where Wal-Mart has been competing they are well on their way to being number #1, or already there. Ten years ago they weren't even on the radar screen with Super Centers, now they are twice the size of their nearest competitor on a national basis? The dominos will begin to fall quicker over the next 5 years. The original thought was, let's create scale to compete with Wal-Mart. How well has that worked for Safeway (Randall's, Dominick's, and Genuardi's), Albertson's (Houston/San Antonio), Ahold, etc.

Getting larger and not changing your business processes changes nothing, and the debt load actually creates newer issues.

Manufacturers continue to channel their efforts (trade, marketing, people) to the retailers who are trying to reach consumers and sell product efficiently. Whether it is Wal-Mart, Dollar General, Costco, HEB, Publix, Wegmans, etc it doesn't matter, the cost of "selling" product is part of the equation. Back to Alabama, what changed for Bruno's besides more Wal-Mart locations? Do you think the pressures on margin to offset their parent companies' issues had anything to do with it? Maybe it is the double whammy of Wal-Mart on the low end and Publix on the quality side, take your pick.

i>MNB user David Livingston wrote:

Wal-Mart is a given fact of life in the south and anyone looking to buy Bruno's is probably not concerned too much about Wal-Mart. The biggest problem is trying to figure out how to compete with Publix.

On the subject of mad cow disease, MNB user Joe Walsh wrote:

The USDA's conflicting mandate to promote the sale of beef while validating its safety is at the heart of their reluctance to do much more than spin the story.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman consistently recruits beef industry and association executives to work for the USDA so it should come as no surprise that in 2003 only 1 or 5000 cows in the US were tested for BSE.

(In Europe and Japan every single cow above a certain age is tested).

The US is basically doing what England did from 1985-1995 when 167,000 cattle died of Mad Cow Disease: Our officials are adamantly maintaining there is noting unsafe about eating American beef. Furthermore, they have insisted that the infected Washington Holstein was a downer cow when it now appears based on three first hand accounts that this was not the case. This is important because the USDA has touted a ban on downer cows as a cure all to BSE.

A friend of mine used to be a Montana cattle rancher-- he is now a vegan. That should make us all pause and reflect...

Regarding Wal-Mart's victory in last week's Contra Costa County vote that allowed supercenters to be built there, MNB user Paul Higham wrote:

In a speech last week I advised my audience of listeners that when they were making evaluations of retailers that they should follow the customers not the critics. It’s not at all unusual for Wal-Mart to win votes in communities. In fact, they win the vast majority. Reporters and commentators, like the rest of us only get one vote. The stores like Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target exist to provide for the needs of the rest of us ordinary people who shop in them.

I think that it would be refreshing for you to adopt a Wal-Mart neutral overall perspective in your writings and then take a position on the specific element or issue that you are covering.

We are Wal-Mart neutral. But we are not Wal-Mart dispassionate.

There's a difference.
KC's View: