business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got some interesting emails regarding last week's vandalism of Starbucks locations in San Francisco, apparently by activists who believe that the coffee retailer represents a negative trend toward homogenization of the American culture.

One MNB user wrote:

I live in the Pugetropolis (Puget Sound) where Starbucks got it start. Seattle has been a coffee mecca since long before Starburnt came on the scene. I, for one, am in awe, of how or why this company has been able to soar. In my opinion it can't be the quality of the product, so it must be the ignorance of the customer base.

In as much as I disapprove of vandalism, I applaud the minimalist approach damage wise in delaying the openings of the targeted stores. The message was sent and I hope that is the end of it. Unfortunately, I doubt if a few lost hours will impact the mega-giant in the least. Hopefully it will attention of the consumers and they will take their business elsewhere for a time. Even then, it will only impact the local stores, not the giant corporate machine.

I'll continue to roast my own coffee beans in my West Bend, Poppery I® or Poppery II® Corn Popper out on my back deck. I only roast mine barely into the second crack as I don't like the burnt coffee. You know, like you get from Starburnt. I learned about coffee from Howie Baldwin an old friend and a former head coffee roaster here in Seattle. He still has the first can of vacuum packed coffee that came off the line way back then. I'm pretty sure that was back in the thirties/forties. I'm sure the lead in the seal would poison you if you opened it and used it today. Good old Howie made the best cup of joe I ever had. He always used an electric percolator.

Another MNB user wrote:

How in the world can one blame Starbucks and use them as a focal point for the Homogenization of America? Although they are quite large, the concept of having your store (product) splattered on every corner of the USA certainly did not start with a Latte'. I'm certain the list of corporate retail giants is expansive and starts with the like of Woolworth's or a Sears and moves right on up to the Wal-Mart, Kroger, Home Depot, Target and the list goes on.

Perhaps I'm to far removed from the social politics of retailing.
What am I missing here?

We suspect that it isn’t the social politics of retailing that is at work here, but the social politics of San Francisco…which is something entirely different.

Look, we've been writing about our concerns regarding the homogenization of American business and culture for a number of years, and it continues to be a subject that fascinates us. That said, we can't imagine how vandalizing a bunch of stores is going to change a nation's direction on this issue; of course, we might have felt differently 30 years ago, when our hair was down to our shoulders and a little civil disobedience was believed to be character building…

We had several stories about e-grocery last week, prompting the following email from MNB user Gary Savoy, who happens to be head of CPG for Google, Inc.:

The concept of on-line e-tail for grocery sales is clearly going to be a viable sales channel for retailers and manufacturers. The high cost of slotting fees and limited shelf space will virtually be eliminated. FSI coupon redemption is eclipsed by a 22% higher redemption rate with on-line coupons. On-line is simply more cost effective. The challenge for traditional grocery operations teams will be to eliminate planagrams and bring on smart web developers to sell grocery products.

Like any new medium, on-line grocery sales has experienced many growing
pains, but it's going to be ready to hop out of the crib shortly. Forrester research predicts that the most dramatic growth in on-line sales is expected in the food and beverage category, with sales increasing from $3.7 billion to $17.4 billion over the next five years! As proven in other categories on-line, traditional brick and mortar retailers will have an immediate strong hold through brand recognition.

I have evangelized the benefits of retailers and Consumer Packaged Goods manufacturers marketing on-line for years. Our user base searches over 1.5 billion times a year for information on Consumer Packaged Goods products. We know that on-line marketing or "Destination Branding" influences off-line sales, give Internet users a solid experience on-line and you will capture a huge market share.

It's amazing. We didn’t really even have a story about obesity issues last Friday - just some references to it in the "Your Views" department - and still the email continues to come in on this subject.

One MNB user wrote:

It seems to me that there is a huge issue being overlooked in the American obesity debate.

For years I can recall hearing that the key to staying fit is a healthy diet and regular exercise. Does anyone honestly believe that simply focusing on the diet portion of the equation will make everyone fit and trim? I'm afraid that the main reason the food industry is being attacked is because it's easier to blame someone else. Okay, money's an issue too.

What happens a decade or so from now when fat content has been greatly reduced and large serving sizes have been eliminated, yet obesity continues to be one of the hot causes of the day? If the same pattern holds true, we will start seeing lawsuits against furniture manufacturers because their sofas and beds were so comfortable, we didn't feel like getting up and actually flexing a muscle. It shouldn't be too long before someone sues the television networks for offering programming so "addictive" that they never left the house. I know, suing TV is probably a good idea, but not for this.

Food is only one aspect of a healthy lifestyle and shouldn't be the sole emphasis of the obesity police. It's just the easiest target.

Another MNB user chimed in:

Hey, who's that person in the mirror that made me eat all those fat laden foods???

Good point.

And MNB user Jeffrey Pipes Guice offered the following perspective:

It's just a change in the American culture.

I was born and raised in New Orleans. My mother prepared three square meals a day.

We ate breakfast (7:30 AM) and dinner as a "family" of six kids and two parents, with dinner being served SHARPLY at 6:00 PM. We learned never to ask for seconds "out loud" because one of the siblings would jump on it, usually my older sister. We called her "the goat" because she would eat anything left after the meal.

My mom prepared "fairly decent" lunches for all of us to take to school or work, usually sandwiches with celery or carrot sticks. I say fairly decent, because I remember that we never had Oreos, Fritos or like snacks as the other kids usually did.

One other point -my mom ran a family-owned Sterling silver shop from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM.

Today is different. My wife leaves the house at 7:15 AM and grabs a bagel and coffee on her way to catch the train to work in NYC. She doesn't return home until 7:30 PM, long after the kids have eaten.

My three kids, ages 4, 2 and 1, are fed by their nanny and they usually eat whenever they're hungry. They ONLY eat PBJs or grilled cheese sandwiches, or Tyson chicken nuggets, supplemented by Yoplait or Dannon yogurt and granola bars. They also like "Pirate Booty" and crackers. They drink Propel Fitness water mixed with Costco grape/cranberry juice.

They refuse to eat vegetables or try new things, with the recent exception of soy ice cream from Trader Joe's.

We have no regular eating schedule, that I know of, and we rarely eat as a "family", except on the weekends at our club, but we NEVER go to McDonald's or any other fast food restaurant.

While my kids are all thin and "doing very well" according to their doctor, maybe we're not establishing a totally healthy foundation for their future. Now that I've written all of this, I realize that it's MY FAULT AS A PARENT and I better get on the ball!

At the very least, maybe you ought to have a defense lawyer on retainer…
KC's View: