business news in context, analysis with attitude

We used our little soapbox yesterday to promote the Great American Bake Off, designed by Share Our Strength and promoted by the Food Network to draw attention to the problem of childhood hunger in America.

Which led to the following email from MNB user David Farnam:

Great timing!

My wife and I live in Kansas City, MO and just completed our 4th Annual Bake Sale last Saturday and it was the best event we have had…yet.

We hold the event each year in conjunction with our neighborhood garage sale to maximize traffic. Cosentino’s Price Chopper always comes through with generous donations of hot dogs, buns, cookies, condiments, and water for the event. My wife organizes all the bakers, does all the packaging, and I man the grill. We also had over 50 plants for sale from divided perennials donated by our gardening friends.

We even had donations from the smallest of retailers with the biggest of hearts, which we greatly appreciated, like:

• The Classic Cookie an excellent breakfast and lunch only restaurant and cookie company, they donated many gourmet cookies.
• The Upper Crust, run by two sisters and their Mom out of Olde Prides of Westport a specialty kitchen and specialty food retailer.
• Coffee Bar Catering Company, our neighbor two houses down who donated many carafes of gourmet coffee.
• Deb’s Gourmet Pantry, a budding specialty food company currently focused on gourmet Jams, Jellies, and Chutneys (it’s my wife’s business).

The newest addition came when a neighbor (Kelly Manbeck) offered to have his bluegrass band come and play. Then two weeks prior to the event it had spawned into four bands with an extended Jam at the end.

And yes it’s a lot of work but at the end of the day it’s a satisfying/rewarding kind of tired. We raised a new record for ourselves at $1300 and got to create an event ordinary people could be a part of to make a difference with kids. The surprise every year is the satisfaction we get when a stranger comes up with a home made apple pie, four kids in tow who is obviously busy but took the time to contribute and is extremely happy to do so.

It was originally my wife’s idea when she read an article in the Parade Magazine of the paper on The Great American Bake Sale. We are content to continue creating this wonderful event that makes those moments of happiness possible.

In a world of cynicism – and on this website, which sometimes revels in other people’s discomfiture – it is terrific to get emails like this one.

On the subject of whether increased gasoline prices will affect consumer behavior and confidence, one MNB user wrote:

I will probably not curtail driving due to rising gas prices. The major reasons are the office, church, kid’s school, grocery store and out of state mother remain the same distance they have always been from my house. These distances are all too far to walk.

I already shop on my lunch hour since stores are close to my office and stop on the way home as I pass grocery stores. When my husband and I were young, we used to take a Sunday afternoon ride for entertainment. We no longer do that. We do, however, consider Saturday morning garage sales to be our entertainment. We will not stop that activity. I do not know any other ways we can avoid driving. What is the difference between spending more on gas or buying ever more expensive plane tickets to travel to visit an aging mother? Our society is gas dependent because our mode of transportation uses gas. Stores are no longer walking distance from people’s homes and in our town there is no public transportation to take me to work or church or shopping. The real losers in this situation are the working poor who have no discretionary spending money to readjust to cover rising costs of getting where they need to go. From my perspective, the auto industry can and must do something to seriously improve gas consumption.

We agree. Which is the point we’ve been trying to make.

Letters like this one make us realize how lucky we are. When we’re home, we walk downstairs from the bedroom to the kitchen at about 4:30 or 5 am, turn on the coffee pot, walk and feed the dog, get the newspaper, pet the bird, and start reading and writing. That’s our commute. No gasoline required. (Just Starbucks Verona coffee, black.)

When we go to MNB World Headquarters later in the day, more often than not we walk. (It is about a quarter mile away.) When we go to NYC, we take the train instead of driving.

But we are reminded that not everybody has these options, and that we have to do something as a nation to address this issue.

By the way, we joked yesterday in a piece about Campbell Soup’s sales that it might in part be because we drink copious amounts of V-8. Which led one MNB user to write:

I’ve heard warnings about the sodium in Campbell’s soup for years. V8 Juice / 5.5 oz: That little rascal has 300 mg of sodium (just under ∏ a teaspoon) in that tiny can. I’m trying to stay under 2,000 mg (3+ teaspoons) a day. Wow. I’m beginning to agree with a friend who says that food manufacturers add either copious amounts of sugar or salt to processed foods to give them “flavor”. Microwave dinners are the WORST. One that I ate before I became sodium aware had 1,800 mg of sodium! Now that I’m eating homemade food as much as possible (to avoid the over-the-top sodium) I’m amazed at how much salt I can leave out and not notice it. Hope no one comes up with the fact that my freshly ground multi-color pepper is bad for me.

Good rule of thumb – too much of anything is bad for you.

We solve the problem, in part, by not using salt on anything, ever. And we’re lucky enough to not have any problem with our blood pressure. (We give other people high blood pressure.)

We had a story yesterday about a Wall Street Journal piece saying that as major detergent manufacturers move to smaller containers and more concentrate versions of their products, it could create marketing headaches for the companies.

MNB user Phillip W. Censky responded:

I find it hard to believe that P&G considers the detergent size reduction a “messy marketing challenge”. As you mentioned, making these products smaller and more concentrated is helping the environment. To expand the PR, they could invest some of the cost savings into expanded recycling programs across the nation. Furthermore, consumers don’t have to lug home a 150 fluid ounce (or larger) bottle, why not play up the convenience factor? Finally, shoppers are savvy enough to look at the big number on the label: number of loads. Consumers gain value, P&G saves money, and Mother Earth saves ‘shelf space’.

How can this not scream opportunity?

You’d think so, wouldn’t you.

But not everyone agrees.

One MNB user wrote:

The 32 load 100 oz bottle will become the 32 load concentrated 50 oz bottle. How long do you think it will take before some marketing person seeking additional shelf space will introduce a 64 load 100 oz bottle. Then all will follow. Manufacturers will drool over the money generated by filling the pipeline. Kroger and Safeway will drool over the slotting fees. Sam's Club will have a 128 load 200 oz bottle that will double as weight lifting devices.

Doesn’t that still reduce waste? Because if that big bottle handles twice as many washings, then you only have to buy half as many bottles. Right?

Another MNB user wrote:

How often do you do the laundry?

In my experience most Moms, and the few Dads like myself earlier on, are more interested in getting the clothes clean, extra clean if spotted with jelly, mud and/or whatever unidentifiable goop that spot on Sunday's pants/dress came from, than all the environmental good a new product might offer.

I just hope the manufacturers offer them in small, easy-to-handle sizes for the ladies in their later years who have used up all their muscle lifting Susie and Johnnie in and out of hi-chairs, car seats and the like, and don't feel like hefting a super-duper giant economy size container of detergent onto a shelf above the washing machine.

I believe a homeowner's thoughts on the environmental good an (especially) new product has to offer differs with every new product or idea offered them.

FYI, when we’re home we do virtually ALL the laundry. We buy the detergent when we go to Costco, and we’re intimately familiar with what it takes. And we love those super duper giant economy containers…mostly because they reduce the number of trips we have to take to the supermarket to buy them.

Or, we can use our other, new, favorite option – we just get it from and have it delivered in two days “free” because we use its “Prime” service. (This will become more and more an option for consumers as gas prices get higher and higher, by the way.)

MNB user Jim Swoboda had a thought:

Having been a buyer during the first move to ULTRA's 17 years ago, the manufacturers made the same mistake. Consumers were confused. They felt like they were taken advantage of. The could not compare old sizes to new sizes, uses to uses, etc. and nobody touted the environmental qualities associated with shipping less water, which is what diluted the product to fill those old VERY large bottles.

This is such a no brainer for the environment, water is saved, trucks haul less water, which saves fuel, which saves on emissions into the atmosphere. For warehouses and stores, less space is needed, for the consumer, they get a lighter, small package that also saves them in the same areas. Let's hope the CPG's do a better job getting the message communicated this time around.

And, we continue to get email about the county law in suburban New York suggesting that it be illegal for people to smoke in their cars if kids are with them.

One MNB user wrote:

I don’t know where to draw the line here. I said this when cities were passing ordinances making public buildings smoke free. I don’t want to take away someone else’s right to smoke, but I think I have to right to not breathe second hand smoke either. I think we’ve managed a pretty good compromise by designating smoking areas outside of buildings. A car is different, and the child has no say in who their parents are, what kind of habits their parents have or in fact whether they are going to ride in that car with their parents. You would hope the parents would have the sense to avoid smoking in such a closed space with their children, however, I see it happening far too frequently still. I think I could support legislation against people smoking in their cars with their children present, but I’m still very uneasy with it because of the slippery slope argument, if we do this, then what’s next. We can’t legislate morality and we can’t legislate common sense.

If our kids had their way, they’d probably vote for a law saying that we would not be allowed to sing with them in the car.

MNB user Terry Pyles wrote:

Can you take one more comment on the issue of banning smoking in cars with kids?

While I am not a smoker, and am dead set against this type of invasive legislation, my issue isn’t so much with the pinheads proposing (and maybe passing) these moronic laws. My concern is with how they ever got into office in the first place. It is high time that we, the American people, take responsibility for the mess in which we find our great country. Voter turnout in this country is abominably low. On Election Day we stay home in droves, and then sit around and whine while the politicians destroy our rights with impunity. We have allowed the extremists on both sides of the aisle to hijack the political process and then pretend not to understand why they write laws that are so far from the mainstream. If we want this nonsense to stop, we have the tool to do so right at our fingertips. It’s called a voting booth. Enough said.
KC's View: