business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a story last week about how studies suggest that Walmart remains less expensive than Target, though the gap is narrowing. Which led one MNB user to write:

I am glad to hear that I am saving 2.6% by shopping at Target using my "Red Card" 5% discount.  Lines are shorter, they actually have stock on the shelf, and their associates seem, on average, to be a lot more competent and helpful. Added bonuses - unlike the local Walmart I have not read any news stories of a customer getting assaulted, robbed or car jacked at my local Target; and the parking lots are lot cleaner.

Regarding another story, an email from an MNB reader:

No question that the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group was properly put in its place with the decision denying its health claims and implications (using images of berries and pomegranates on soda labels to give a false impression that these fruits were an actual part of the soda’s contents) as  to nutritional values of several of its sodas.  However, there is an easily overlooked byproduct of this decision which reflects a noticeably increasing trend of the haves gaining the system by contributing services at exorbitant rates, often at the expense of far more deserving parties.

The piece noted that, ” The drink company also agreed to pay $5,000 to the Center for Science in the Public Interest and $237,500 in attorney’s fees."   It seems to me that the offended party took on an uphill fight based on sincere feelings of right vs. wrong, which is almost heroic in my book.  I would have preferred the lawyers take a back seat here and the size of the awards be reversed.

You must be living in an alternative universe.

We continue to get emails about the Cheerios ad that showed an interracial couple, and the video in which a series of children seemed to be surprised that anyone would get upset at such a thing.

One MNB user wrote:

To point out the obvious, it confirms what I have always preached to my own kids; hate is neither intrinsic nor innate.  It is an emotion that must be taught.  It’s so good to see that either there are fewer parents teaching it (although the Haters are much more vocal), or there are more kids not listening to that particular lesson.

I’m not deluding myself.  There are too many recent happenings that show we are far from achieving Dr. King’s dream, but I do believe each generation brings us one step closer.
I also applaud General Mills for having the fortitude to run this ad knowing full well they were opening a Pandora’s box.  It’s a long way from the old “big G, little o”.

And from another reader:

All of  this discussion about mixed race couples and families with kids attitudes toward them made me think of a line from an old Tom T. Hall song, “Old Dogs, & Children & Watermelon Wine”,  the line is “God bless  the little children, while their still too young to hate."

And, on another oft-discussed topic, MNB reader Craig Espelien wrote:

I wanted to toss a couple of comments into the GMO fray. While I think open and honest disclosure is the best rule, I have so little interest in GMO labeling as a cause (either for or against) that I typically skip any of your stories/commentary on it as, in my mind, it has become too prevalent on MNB (this is your right – it is your blog).  It is likely you get so many pieces of input on this issue due to the continuous and overwhelming (again my opinion) amount of press you provide the issue – people may perceive you are for GMO labeling (and, if I interpret things properly, you are more for full disclosure than for GMO labeling in particular). 

Part of my challenge with the whole issue is that at our age (I am pretty close to your age if our last conversation sticks in my head properly) we grew up on some of the most interesting “preservatives” – like those found in Spaghetti O’s with sliced franks – pretty sure that was not all that good for me and I am neither overweight (okay – perhaps a bit) nor unhealthy.  I actually think I might look younger than my years due to all of the preservatives I ingested as a kid (young and college) – and am okay with that.  GMO’s to me are the “preservatives” of this time and there is probably just as little issue with how they will affect people long term.  As a society we seem to be dying at a pretty regular rate and it also seems that allergies to all things nut, gluten or flavor related continue to escalate (Conspiracy Theory – this is all due to anti-bacterial soap and computer games – kids no longer go play in the dirt and immediately throw away items that fall on the floor completely ignoring the 5 (or 15) second rule) based on things totally unrelated to preservatives or GMO’s – go figure.

GMO’s are a bit like Organic – more of a lifestyle choice.  I believe kids should have as much natural stuff as a family can afford but eating McDonald’s or GMO products is likely not going to hurt as long as it is “once in a while” (full disclosure – we have no kids and I have not eaten McDonald’s in over 15 years).  I do not adhere to that lifestyle (and do not to the Organic lifestyle either) – so the continuous rhetoric on the issue simply becomes boring.   Clearly, I am in the minority as this is another polarizing issue that I agree with you on – learn about both sides, do not try and force your side (or middle in my case) on anyone else and make choices that support your lifestyle.

Regarding a study that labeled Trader Joe's as America's favorite supermarket, MNB reader Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

I'll put more faith in a study like this when respondents are allowed to choose 'my locally owned neighborhood co-op'. With hundreds of food cooperatives across the country, we are a quiet sector with a lot of people power behind us.

We got a number of emails about our story last week about White Castle installing windows so its kitchens are more open to scrutiny.

One reader offered:

We recently had dinner at a family-owned restaurant in Cedar Falls, Iowa during a weeknight when (I perceive) business was better than had been anticipated.   In addition to being seated by the wife of the couple who own the restaurant, our table was located near an open pass-through window into the kitchen where we had a full view of the dishes being plated and prepared.

The husband-owner was working feverishly in the kitchen among some college-aged young men to ensure that everything going out of the kitchen met his standards.   In addition, we were able to hear everything that was being said and it was truly enlightening to watch the process.   It quickly became clear to us that the younger employees were making every attempt to make the owner happy and appeared to be doing a great job, in addition to getting an education on how to work in a kitchen.   While the arrival of our meal took longer than expected, the time flew by because we were able to enjoy a nice bottle of wine and conversation while we observed the "show" in front of us.

Our meal was wonderful.....and we had the ability to catch the husband and wife on our way out the door to not only tell them how much we enjoyed our dinner, but also how much we respected the way they ran their business.

P.S. White Castle is not introducing anything new to the fast food industry with their planned changes.  Anyone who lives in the Midwest and eats at Steak and Shake restaurants knows that they have had the open kitchen concept for years.  If you don't want to sit at a table, you can sit at their counter and watch your order being prepared.   On the wall of many of their restaurants is their motto......."in sight, it must be right".

From another reader:

I too enjoy watching chefs at work, but it can also work against the restaurant if they are not careful. A couple of years ago my wife and I stopped in a Carrabba’s and were told we could sit at their new kitchen seating area and watch the food be prepared. We took them up on this, ordered some wine, and watched everyone hustle around. This turned bad quickly because of two issues: 1) The guy making pizzas right in front of us was sweating like crazy, and every time he leaned over the pizza to add ingredients sweat dripped all over the pie. And 2) another worker handling ingredients (mainly cutting up vegetables) reached over a couple of times and pulled a garbage can closer to him (thumb on the outside of the can and four fingers inside) then used the same hand to continue working with the vegetables without washing his hands. Needless to say we finished our wine and left, and have not been back.

And, regarding Barnes & Noble's travails, one MNB reader wrote:

Barnes & Noble could do much better if they didn't hire haughty politically correct elitists, who turn their noses up at customers, who wish to purchase books that don't agree with their political perspective.  Some popular books are buried, rather than being promoted, or are sometimes never ordered.  Their employees' holier-than-thou attitudes will ensure that 30-40% of potential book buyers will avoid going into the store; probably shopping at Amazon, where they'll pay less, with no sales tax, and will evade the slings and arrows of outrageous snobbery.  The only problem is what do we do with the B&N gift certificate we got for our birthday?

Really? You've been able to determine the politics of the people who work at your local Barnes & Noble? And you've found that they've "buried" books that disagreed with their politics?

I'm shocked.

First of all, I've been in a lot of Barnes & Nobles in my life, and it never occurred to me to discuss politics with the employees there.

Second, it always has been my impression that very few decisions about where books are displayed are made at store level ... it all looks pretty programmed to me. Unless, of course, this is some sort of national conspiracy by Barnes & Noble ... which would be pretty dumb if indeed its leadership is driving 30-40 percent of book buyers away from a business that is being killed by the internet.

But if you're right, maybe that's the reason we couldn't get our book into Barnes & Noble. I just figured it was because we were small potatoes ... but if it is a grand political conspiracy, that's a much better story.
KC's View: