business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB user Marv Imus had a thought about McDonald's decision to come up with a new ad campaign:

How does an ad campaign with a new slogan make for “ WOWing” the consumer when you are serving the same old crap ? I think the campaign McDonald’s should be looking at to address is Wendy’s old one but the best at pointing out McDonald’s issue (weakness?) … WHERE’S THE BEEF?

MNB user Bill Webb had some thoughts about Asda's decision to test a freestanding "George" clothing concept:

I'm not crazy about Asda's move to open stand-alone George stores. If the brand depends on footfall generated by Asda's core offer, and is effectively a "convenience" offer for people who are primarily shopping for commodities then it will not be strong enough to compete with high street retailers like Primark and Peacock who offer lower prices than George AND better merchandising skills.

If, on the other hand, it is so good these days that it is a destination brand in itself (as George's Design Director Kate Bostock is on record as believing), then surely it is a misguided strategy to open stand-alone stores and divert shoppers from visiting nearby Asda outlets? Yorkshire is Asda's heartland and they are also present in Croydon, so perhaps this is just an experiment to see what happens. Either way they will find out something useful, and it supports the growing preference of retailers to "learn by doing" rather than by hypothetical and often ill conceived market research. I am not putting my money on a roll-out though....

We got an email from a somewhat indignant Canadian member of the MNB community objecting to some of our coverage of the mad cow controversy, and our comment yesterday in which we called Canadians "plucky" for not cutting back on meat consumption:

Two things that as a regular reader I don't believe you have addressed.

1. They have found only one cow in a system that checks 1 in about 1000. And before you get your pride in check, check out the US system, they check even less so how safe is the system really?

2. To the best of my knowledge (I have to believe the experts), to get affected you have to eat the brain and spine of a diseased animal. For most of us that means hot dogs, sausage etc. Again, in Canada these byproducts do not go into the human food chain. I also strongly believe that they should not be
put into animal feed either.

Another point, as a consumer I am more worried about, e-coli, (ask ARBY's, JACK-IN-THE-BOX) improper storage and sanitary procedures (now how well do they really train those low paid workers in American slaughter houses), side effects from all of the hormones and antibiotics (can we say super resistant bacteria) than mad cow disease.

Plucky bunch my a**, all of the above have been in the system for years and is much easier to get or be affected by than mad cow disease.

We certainly never meant to suggest that the US necessarily had a better system for checking cattle than Canada; we would agree that there are plenty of other food safety concerns that need to be paid attention to; and where we come from, "plucky" is a compliment.

We had a story yesterday about Wal-Mart's effect on the economy, and we expressed some concern about the company's monolithic nature, which generated a number of emails:

MNB user Yair Esrubilsky wrote:

All of these discussions about what Wal-Mart is doing to culture, to entrepreneurs, to this and to that always make me cringe a bit. Let's not forget that we are not in the old Soviet Union where we had to go shop at the local state run emporium. THAT was a monolith. Here we have had options, lots of them, and it seems to me that within those options the vast majority of us chose to go to Wal-Mart- to the tune of about $250 billion a year. Why? Because as the Slate says "Procter & Gamble's and Kraft's and Revlon's and Gillette's and Campbell Soup's and RJR's and on down the list of America's famous branded manufacturers" - we can get the stuff we want there at unbeatable prices. I personally refuse to pay more for the same thing just because it is offered by a culturally diverse entrepreneur in a tiny corner shop. It may sound quaint and old-fashioned but by no means a solid value proposition nor objectively 'good'. Despite Wal-Mart's size there are lots of other successful businesses that are competing very well - Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, my local McGruders (family owned, entrepreneurial business). How do they do it? They offer me things Wal-Mart can't, at competitive prices. Period.

Thanks. Keep up the good work and provocative commentary.

We do not believe that anybody has a right to exist, not even a "culturally diverse entrepreneur in a tiny corner shop." But that doesn’t mean we can't be concerned about the size and power of any entity as big as Wal-Mart.

At least someone agrees with us, as another MNB user wrote:

I think your article is "right - on". There is a certain positive impact that Wal-Mart has had on the "productivity" gains of the 1990's. I think a recent USAToday article credited them w/ being responsible for 70 - 80% of that gain.

But W-M influence needs to be "checked" - expansion into the Banking industry and other related industries does not bode well for our future. The govt needs to step in where necessary.

We had a story yesterday about the debate surrounding obesity, which generated some email. MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

Quite to the contrary of your headline, reading "Obesity's Cause and Effect No Simple Matter," it is pretty simple.

We - collectively - are eating more crappy food, and our activities are not as
physically involved as they once were.

Here's a great example:

All of our local schools offer courtesy busing, which means that basically each and every kid is taken to school via school bus. No one walks! The bus even picks us kids who live literally next door to the school. Now, I hate to use the words, "when we were kids," but..........when I was kid, we walked to and from school each day. Once we got to school, we played in the school yard until they opened the doors. Now, the kids sit on the bus and wait until the doors are opened.

MNB user Al Kober addressed the issue of who has the responsibility for dealing with this issue:

It's the parents' job to raise their kids not the government. It's parents' job to educate their kids themselves or to be able to choose who does it for them. It's the parents' job to determined just what their kids are taught, not the government's. We are working under the misguided concept that government is responsible for raising the children in the USA. It is not government's responsibility, it is the parents, and as long as the government assumes that role, many lazy and uninvolved parents will allow them to do it and even blame them for doing it wrong. The role of government is to "protect"." Protect every American, by producing a safe country to live in. Provide, through that protection, an environment where we can live and make choices, and then be personally responsible for the consequences of those choices.

No argument. But isn't part of protection making sure that parents and children have all the information necessary to make choices?

And one MNB user actually wrote something unexpected about proposed "fat taxes":

Fat tax is a good idea - I am a young, healthy individual that eats well & exercises vigilantly.... and my health insurance costs keep going up! Individuals' poor choices affect the entire society as healthy people subsidize the high costs of gluttonous & lazy lifestyles. If individuals want to behave irresponsibly, they certainly should have that freedom, and they should be the ones paying for it.

Not everyone agrees, obviously, as MNB user B. Cosgrave wrote:

Over the years many countries have levied ever increasing taxes on tobacco products. I've lived in Europe, Australia and the US and despite much grumbling about price increases smokers kept on smoking - it was never about price to them! Let's get real, no 'fat tax' is going to change consumers eating habits either!

A&P-owned Farmer Jack's decision to move to an EDLP model next week prompted some email:

One MNB user wrote:

A & P really has it wrong. The issue for Farmer Jack is not price, it’s service.

Even retail mavens like us need to buy groceries. I live in SE Michigan & shop occasionally at FJ. Their service is always a notch or two below that of Kroger and Hiller’s, the local independent chain.

I wonder of they did a focus group study before the EDLP decision.

One would hope.

Another MNB user wrote:

Don't retailers study history? Farmer Jack may be nailing their own coffin shut with this ill-conceived EDLP strategy. Big Star in the Carolinas did identically the same thing a number of years ago, and where are they now?

Finally, we got several emails about the coming glut of California Pinot Noir. One MNB user wrote:

I may not be able to heat my house next winter, but at least I can drink
Pinot Noir.

I think I prefer the wine to heat.

And MNB user and Oregonian Jeff Johnston wrote:

This news from California producers is really a non-issue, as everyone knows the best Pinot Noir's in the world are coming from Oregon anyway!

We're not getting into this battle…
KC's View: