business news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get email about last week's story describing Americans' aversion to certain kinds of low-wage, manual labor jobs, and our note that we know someone in Southern California "who does not work in the retail business, and he commented that he didn’t understand why folks who work as checkout personnel expect to make a living wage. After all, he said, these are menial, unskilled jobs…and there's no reason to expect to make anything more than a menial wage." We thought that was an amazing statement, "especially considering that working in retail used to be a ticket to the middle class, a way to support a family, maybe buy a house, perhaps put a kid through school.

"Consumers now see these jobs as having little value, but that might be because retailers have devalued many of those people and those jobs," we wrote. "Not sure what we can do about that, but it seems to be something that the industry…and maybe society…has to address."

One MNB user responded:

In the late 50's and early 60's Super Market Institute, the fore-runner of FMI, sponsored the "Checker of the Year contest" It was nationwide and relied on consumer input, input from the store personnel, management's input and of course there were state, regional and national winners. I was just a fresh out of college store manager and over a 5 years period, was fortunate to have 2 checkers who won the national. We ended up with as much local and regional news coverage as the Miss America. It was fantastic, the responses from customers and competition from major chains. Why did our checkers win? Customer contact, smiles, and consistency. We have lost all of that in technology…

MNB user Jerry Jewett wrote:

It isn't that the work is menial. I would like for those who say 'it's a no brainer to be a checker,' spend 8 hours in a check stand, they might change their minds. The problem is that labor is a commodity on the world market. That's why there is so much outsourcing.

The other part of the problem when it comes to the U.S. economy is that when companies save the money on labor they only pass a small fraction of the savings on by lower prices for their goods or services. Most of the savings goes to the bottom line making the CEO look like a super executive. If all the savings were passed on we would probably have deflation, but at least the low paid person could afford to live on their wages.

We think that's called "profits."

We had an MNB user comment last week that any job that paid less than $20 an hour was volunteer work…a notion that raised a few eyebrows out in the MNB community. One email read:

Anything under $20 an hour is a volunteer job!!?? There are a lot of teachers (most) and day care workers (many with MA degrees) pastors, hair stylists, and most people in my office who "volunteer" their time according to this standard. This kind of thinking is what led to the Enron and other scandals--"I deserve a big slice of the pie".

Service jobs are not easy, but quality of life for the rest of us would drop way down if all these "volunteers" were not doing their jobs.

I am an original baby boomer. One of my grandparents was a German immigrant. All of my great-grandparents were, some of whom I knew. Those generations and that of my parents were not afraid to work, and to all of them, work of any kind gave a person dignity. Men who had fought for our freedom in WWII or defended freedom in Korea came home eager to work and build stable, happy lives for themselves and their families. As I was growing up, six of my uncles did just that. Most rose quite high in their companies and were financially comfortable as a result of that.

Many young people today think they deserve everything and don't want to work unless it is something they like doing or fits into the upward mobility of their career plans. Dirty, hard, or service jobs aren't even considered by many. "Flipping burgers" is not even considered entry level by many. I have heard many say "I won't sling hash".

Corporate America has contributed to this issue. My father retired with 32 years at the same company. Soon not many will do that. In my office we have two out of nearly 100 employees who have worked here for that length of time. I have watched many get pink slips in the five years I have been here- probably 25. I know some of these people felt that working hard, doing a good job and being a good employee got them nothing. Downsizing and the bottom line becomes more important than anything. Growth and big profit margins is everything.

I must return to the tasks at hand or I will loose my "volunteer job". Maybe all of us who "volunteer" should stay home on Monday. Not much would happen.

We had a story last week about infighting at Goya, where one part of the family-owned management wants to expand by doing business with the likes of Wal-Mart, and another feels that this would be disloyal to its traditional retailer base. MNB user David Livingston wrote:

The inner cities of many American cities are filled with small Hispanic supermarkets stock full of Goya products. Does this mean that if Wal-Mart suddenly started selling the Goya brands at low Wal-Mart prices that this would put hundreds of small Hispanic stores at a huge disadvantage? Maybe Wal-Mart would roll out its own version of an Hispanic Neighborhood Market? If Goya does not hook up with Wal-Mart doesn't it seem logical that another company will simply step in and provide similar products? Goya may be damned it they do and damn if they don't. Wal-Mart is learning a lot about selling groceries to Hispanics ever since they took over the Amigo stores in Puerto Rico. A lot of people do not realize just how significant that acquisition was.

And MNB user Denise Remark wrote:

There will always be someone or company who is no. 1 & another who is no. 2. Number 2 isn't a horrible place to be; it's better than no. 3! Despite the projected growth, not selling their corporate soul (as it were) evidently is more important than the almighty dollar.

Regarding the US Senate passage of legislation requiring great disclosure on labels about allergens in food products, MNB user Xavier Noblat wrote:

Since one of my children is severely allergic to peanuts, I fully support this move. It is very hard to read the small ingredient print list, not to mention time consuming, too. To many, this may seem like another label and increased cost. To my wife and I and the millions of other allergy sufferers, this is a potential life safer.

Any other parent reading this knows what I'm talking about but to the ones that don't, consider yourselves lucky. Exposure to a food allergen will cause your child to go into anaphylactic shock and eventual death unless epinephrine is injected and a quick call to 911 is done. This legislation does not totally eliminate the fear of having your child touch someone else's peanut butter smear on the play ground but it does help in shopping for and preparing foods.

There was a report last week that too much consumption of meat and seafood could lead to gout…at the same time that there was a story saying that sufficient protein consumption is critical to weight loss. We remarked that all this information seems designed to confuse consumers, to which MNB user James Curley responded:

Are consumers confused about protein, weight loss, gout? Yes, consumers are confused, and I think it's primarily due to two things: First, competing food marketers and competing book authors are all trying to convince people that their food product or their approach is "THE ONE" when it comes to healthy eating and weight management. Second, a TV journalist pal of mine once told me: "Controversy is the essence of news. There are no ratings in reporting about normal people doing normal things." This means that average people eating well and trying to maintain a healthy weight by consuming a wide range of foods is not reported about.

Speaking of non-news in this arena, Weight Watchers has had this problem figured out for many years. Their plan includes eating all kinds of foods, even occasional fast foods and 'snack' foods, and WW clients lose weight safely and effectively if they follow the plan (speaking from both experience and observation). It's just not 'sexy' or 'newsworthy' but it's worked extremely well for all kinds of people for over 30 years, without causing gout or 'protein confusion' I might add. All variety of proteins, complex carbs from grain, vegetables and fruits (even wine, Kevin!), and 'good fats' are all included in the WW program, which entails a common sense, long-term approach to healthy eating. But in the immortal words of Horace Greeley: "Common sense is very uncommon."

We like that "controversy is the essence of news" comment. It's right up there with "the job of the journalist is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Regarding the introduction of "Tesco TV" in the UK, and our comment that few companies seem to have made this work, one MNB user responded:

You are right, remember the Checkout Channel? It was Ted Turner's attempt to reach consumers out of the home. He also launched the Airport Channel at the same time. There were a few big problems with the TVs at the front-end. They are at the front-end, a little too late to change purchase behavior and volume control, the cashiers complained more than the customers. Don't you think we should be getting customers through the checkout process faster, as opposed to entertaining them while they wait in long lines?

And MNB user Anthony Ruback noted:

Tesco is good at execution, so this may well work. However the cynic in me suspects that with 'EDLP' central to Tesco's positioning, this could be a smart way of getting hold of supplier promotional monies now that traditional price promotions are less frequent.

Regarding Gallo's decision to introduce a French wine here in the US, one decidedly anti-French MNB user wrote:

Thanks for letting us know it will be here. I have lost a little respect for Gallo trying to slip it in this way. I can assure you I will not be purchasing any wine from France. I will be looking to make sure this does not slip by my family. I also hope many others feel the same way.

Can't we all just get along?

In response to our story about massive coffee consumption helping to ward off diabetes, one MNB user wrote:

Howard Schultz is dancing a jig to the bank!

No doubt.

On the subject of drug reimportation, MNB user Bob Thomas wrote:

I take exception to the comment made by a MNB community member: "A recent study showed 88 out of 100 medications imported from Canadian mail order pharmacies were counterfeit drugs." I would ask him to reference the study. An article appeared in the Kaiser newsletter last September talking about a study that was reported in the NY Times in January of 2003.. Excerpts appear below:

"A second FDA "blitz" inspection of prescription drugs imported from Canada found that most of the 2,000 packages examined contained foreign versions of U.S. medications that agency officials said "might not be safe," the New York Times reports (Harris/Davey, New York Times, 1/24). In September, FDA officials announced that a spot check of imported prescription drugs conducted last summer found that 88% of the medications were not approved for U.S. use. FDA officials examined 100 packages per day for three days in July and August at mail centers in Miami, New York and Carson, Calif. Customs officials selected packages from nations known for international prescription drug shipments. Canada accounted for about 16% of the packages, India accounted for 14% and Thailand accounted for about 14%. Other nations included Brazil, China, Mexico, Peru and the Philippines. FDA officials found that 1,019 of the 1,153 packages examined contained unapproved prescription drugs -- medications not produced in FDA-inspected facilities and not sold with FDA-approved labels and directions (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report 9/30/03)."

The statement is very misleading as to the actual results of the study. Canada shipments were only 16% of the study. The drugs were "unapproved" - not counterfeit - by the FDA because the facilities were not FDA inspected. Let's find a spokesperson from a pharmaceutical company that will say that their foreign manufacturing plants do not meet FDA standards or that their foreign produced brand name drugs are not as good as the US version. A MANUFACTURER of a foreign produced drug has to request FDA approval to market the drug in the US. I do not foresee any pharmaceutical companies doing that with their established brands. Of course, if you are buying generics, you have to beware.

Finally, to quote from a letter sent to the FDA from Congressional Democrats written by Rep. Sherrod Brown: "There's never been one shred of evidence, in my committee or anywhere else, that the Canadian drug safety process is not as rigorous as ours."

Had a story last week about the speculation that the Mondavi vineyard business could be up for sale, and we recounted how we're raising our kids not to be afraid of wine, especially our now-14 year old son, who can tell the difference between a cabernet and a merlot and actually had some correspondence with charming and interested Michael Mondavi. To which MNB user Brett Johnson wrote:

Good to hear you are raising your kids right! parents did the same thing and by the time I was 21 I was picking the wine at restaurants and industry dinners etc. It has exposed me to a wonderful world because most people do not have and understanding of wine; even as I near 30, besides my fiancé, most people I know still have no clue...and I live 45 minutes from Napa!

I enjoy your MNB updates every morning and have spread the word around my company and others. You do an excellent job and I hope to run into you someday at an industry event so I can meet you face to face and buy you a beer or split a bottle of wine.

KC's View: