business news in context, analysis with attitude

Got the following email from MNB user Terry Halverson regarding the 20 cent-per bag fee being charged in Seattle for disposable bags handed out at supermarkets…which MNB didn’t think seemed like such a bad idea but that local grocers take exception to:

Grocers are and have been doing their part to make our earth a better place, especially in Seattle. We tried to get the City's attention (the mayor shops in our stores almost daily) to show that we would do even more, and to explain a number of important things that they missed in their ordinance language. The bottom line is that they made it impossible to get in front of them and share our views. I was more than surprised, and very disappointed in their attitude and how they handled this. In fact, I've lost what respect I had for how they put laws into place. Sounds bleak I know, but you would at least think that they would have asked us how the ordinance language will affect service and costs, and if we had any ideas to improve it before going to a vote.

Ironically, after the ordinance was completed, the city council president told me that he was going to Ireland to check out how the plastic bag fee was working there, and wanted to know if we wanted to have him find out how it affects service, costs, and so on. Oh well, I guess he just got himself a first time trip to Europe.....paid for by our new bag tax!

Worst thing is, anybody owning a store close to city limits is going to lose business. One of the top comments on the blogs is that people that work or live just outside the city will do more of their shopping there. I feel sorry for those guys. The city's response to this comment was "we don't think it will make any difference, besides, other cities will eventually pass the same law". So far, two cities have taken up the suggestions that we proposed as alternatives to this fee.

The point you make is a good one, and it seems that perhaps I underestimated the commitment that Seattle’s grocers had to a voluntary recycling program and educational effort that could have accomplished the same results without legislation and a tax.

On the subject of the viability of meal assembly stores, one MNB user wrote:

I’m a consumer of meal assembly services. I can’t say what their best target demographic is, or whether they’re on their way up or out. However, I am a 35 year old sales exec (not quite elderly yet!), wife and mother and have used these services consistently for the past 2 years. To me, the meal assembly services are a good value proposition short of having a personal chef plan and prepare meals. My husband, I, or sometimes both of us, can assemble the meals once a month. Once we get home from a long day of work, it only takes 30 minutes to prepare dinner. In addition to saving time, there seems to be more variety and less waste than if we planned the meals ourselves – a big plus for my husband who considers it practically immoral to waste food. Perhaps that’s because otherwise our “planning” consists of walking up and down grocery aisles and trying to come up with what to eat for the next week. While I love eating, I truly despise the processes of planning, procuring, transporting, sorting, storing, preparing, and cleaning up needed to feed our family of 3. Meal assembly helps simplify all of that. This process dramatically changes our approach to, and time spent in the grocery store. After taking care of a month’s worth of main courses at a meal assembly service, we’re only looking for produce, breakfast, drinks and desserts once we hit the store. (Which for us, happens to be a combination of Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s).

There recently was some coverage and debate about bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical commonly found in household products such as baby bottles and food containers. Some studies have linked the chemical to prostate and breast cancers, diabetes, behavioral disorders such as hyperactivity and reproductive problems in laboratory animals – and both Walmart and the entire nation of Canada have decided not to sell children’s products containing BPA. However, the FDA has said that BPA does not pose a health hazard when people are exposed to it in small amounts.

MNB user Adam Dill wrote:

As science was never my strong subject, I have yet to find a clear answer if BPA is harmful for you or not. I do know this, someone is a brilliant marketer. With our second baby on the way, I have been instructed by my wife to throw out the tote of baby bottles from our first child (a mere 2 years ago) and that we would be buying all new BPA free bottles. At $20 for just 2 plastic bottles, I am about to cancel my first child's 529 college savings fund just so her little sister can have BPA free bottles.

It just shows how fear and peer pressure can out weight facts when dealing with your children. As I have read studies on both sides of the issue, I guess I would rather be safe than sorry…

MNB user Liz McMann chimed in:

“BPA has been safely used in food contact applications for 50 years and plays an essential role in keeping foods safe and fresh.”

Arguments like this just don’t hold much weight. Our methods of food preservation have come a long way since we buried meat in the ground and carried milk around in bladders and stomachs. I’m sure our ancestors argued that these methods were perfectly safe…because it was all they knew. So while we’ve done a great job at preserving foods in cans and jars, dehydrating and freezing them, we are finding that some methods are safer than others. We’ve advanced to the point that we can worry a little less about acute problems like botulism and a little more about long-term affects of chemical liners in our cans. Just because we’ve been using BPA for 50 years doesn’t mean it’s safe! How’s the cancer rate been for the last 50 years???

KC's View: