business news in context, analysis with attitude

Ongoing discussion of the nutrition/obesity issue, as this email from MNB user attests:

As a nutritionist, I certainly see every day the ravages of a terrible diet. And it is true that the information in today's diet manic day-to-day is confusing. You mentioned some of the "health" conscious dinners that are offered up as nutritious contained trans fatty acids and will be labeled. Good, they should.

The flaw in food label's Nutrition Facts is that, every time you place a level on an ingredient in the label panel, you give it an undefined importance. We have seen that this only leads to yet more confusion. And fear. Perhaps even more confusing and fearful is this: if something is ""bad" for me, why would the government even allow these "undefined" levels of harmful ingredients in the first place? Gee, thanks FDA for looking out for me.

My nutritional counseling practice exists mainly because people are scared and confused. They are also overweight and/or underfed, they are sick or lack any vitality...and they are sick and/tired of feeling that way but don't have a clue what to do about it.

Truth be told, if I could at least get my clients to eat portions the Weight Watchers, Lean Cuisine, and Healthy Choices provide (instead of the junk they do eat and are unwilling to give up,) the negligible amounts of trans-fats in these products would almost be worth it. If you look at the existing food labels on these foods, you would find less calories, better healthier ingredients and less preservatives than most foods on the shelves. I would rather they ate portions of this size with fresh foods, but I say a Healthy Choice dinner at night will help 80% of the people I see lose weight.

I charge $100 dollars an hour to guide my clients through a healthy shopping experience, teaching them about food labels, which foods can help their particular concerns for health and answering questions about the foods they do eat. The client usually leaves the store with a $150-200 in good foods, some knowledge about their health...and a plan for their nutritional health. My local store loves me being there, as they know my client will have a good-size order of fresher (read higher gross margin foods) coming through the check stand. Everyone wins. The client feels empowered with the knowledge, the store sees volume increase and I pocket a couple hundred bucks for the couple hours in the store.

I have always felt that supermarkets could offer this type of counseling service and market it well. They would become the advocate for the consumer as a money part of a for-profit operation in the store. The store would employ a certified nutritional person (CNC, RD, CCN, etc.) to help answer questions about food and diet, offer counseling services for "Healthy Shopping Tours" and offer seminars in-store (ala Home Depot classes). The value of having someone on the premises that can simply answer nutritional questions is immeasurable. Ask Whole Foods. I suggest the main reason the company's nutritional dollars per purchase numbers are higher than industry standards. It is simple; counseling sells product.

Stores could market their nutritional services to the healthcare community and receive good press for the services. The store could maintain their current inventory of "good" and "bad" foods, but would be seen in the community as an advocate for the healthy way of life and be perceived as a more caring place, for those that need it. And continue to sell all foods to those that don't. Ask anyone with weight problems if a little care doesn't go a long way in their struggle...what retailer wouldn't want that type of reputation. And it would go a long way, Kevin, to bring diet out of the confusing and fearful enigma of healthcare and into the retail environment where it belongs!

No argument here.

We believe firmly that by tackling the twin issues of nutrition and obesity head-on…by embracing the challenge rather than reacting to events…the mainstream supermarket industry has the opportunity to make itself truly relevant to a confused and misinformed consumer public.

It is more than a health issue. It is a public policy issue, and a consumer issue. It affects our children as well as ourselves. And we owe it to future generations to improve on the knowledge base currently available.

Don't leave it to the politicians, and certainly don't leave it to the nutritionists. This is an opportunity to truly be an agent for change, an agent for the consumer.

Regarding so-called diet foods loaded with trans fats, one MNB user wrote:

Look at the names of these foods! Sorry Kevin but anytime you pump processed, fake foods into your body, you know and I know (and if you don’t know, you live under a rock) that you’re ingesting unnatural food stuffs – and usually on a regular basis! Last time I checked, fresh fruits and vegetables had little or no fats – be they the trans, saturated, unsaturated or whatever kind! We have to stop giving people someone else to blame for the fact that THEY choose to eat unnaturally. It really takes no longer to boil some angel hair and top with fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic than it does to heat up a Lean Cuisine Lasagna. Imagine – get healthier AND have better taste – what a concept!

And another MNB user wrote:

Although I agree that the new findings on trans fats will cause some confusion, I believe at the root of the problem is that we all know what to eat, we just don't want to do it. When Snackwells first were introduced in the market, there were lines of people waiting to buy them right off the delivery truck. Shouldn't we have asked ourselves whether we really thought Fat Free cookies were really OK? As intelligent people, shouldn't we have tried to understand that these were not the magic bullets? What we as Americans want is for the food manufacturers, schools and the government to save ourselves from taking responsibility for what we eat. What, before the research on trans fats, and the government regulations on labeling we thought Oreo's were good for us? We really believed Lean Cuisine Four Cheese Lasagna would make us lose weight?

We reported yesterday that c-store chain 7-Eleven is introducing new coffees, creamers, cocoa, cappuccino, toppings, flavor syrups, steamed milk mix and sweeteners - all of which permit consumers to create "more than 1,300 different hot beverage combinations" for the same price as a plain old cup of coffee. The new 7-Eleven hot beverage bar will feature: five or more varieties of coffee (Exclusive Blend, Dark Mountain Roast, 100 Percent Colombian, Decaf, Flavored), four Italian-style flavored syrups (Vanilla, Caramel, Hazelnut, Irish Creme), five toppings (Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Vanilla, Chocolate, Mini- marshmallows), Steamed Milk Mix, Hot Chocolate made with Hershey's Cocoa, Flavored Cappuccino, Half and Half and flavored creamers (French Vanilla, Hazelnut, Irish Creme), sugar and artificial sweeteners, and seven varieties of teabags (Black, Earl Grey, Green, French Vanilla, Orange Spice, I Love Lemon, Mint Medley) to be brewed fresh with hot water. The new expanded coffee program is available in participating U.S. and Canadian stores.

(Pause to catch breath…)

We commented that this much confusion we just don't need. While ample selection is admirable, it is possible that this just could be too many choices, and could intimidate people rather than inspire them

One MNB user thought there should be 1,301:

What?? No soy lattes?

Another MNB user wrote:

You're right on the money. When I walk into my local 7-Eleven, they have too many choices. All I want is a simple cup of coffee with lots of caffeine. It's hard to find among all the color-coded coffee pots and flavorings. And their coffee, at best, is a watered down version of a real coffeehouse brew.

So, it's not selection, but quality, that really matters…?

That's certainly the perspective of another MNB user:

Well yeah, this plus the more important fact that convenience store coffee is still, well, convenience store coffee no matter how much you dress it up.

The burnt, 6-hour-old remainders of a coffee-like liquid in the last quarter of the pot is typically what I find at 7-Eleven and other such C-stores.

Let's see if they can amp up the customer service factor, because I have NEVER seen good customer service at a convenience store. Maybe they aren't about that, but shouldn't they be about that?

We think that everybody should be about that.

MNB user Denise Remark wrote:

There are 1300 choices available for a good reason--everyone likes their coffee or tea made differently. Haven't you ever noticed that when people get together & a hot beverage is offered that no one really ever duplicates what another in the group is drinking?

Stand in line long enough at Starbucks and listen to the plethora of orders crossing the counter! Hopefully 7-11 won't advertise 1300 choices because I agree with you, it would be daunting to most consumers. However, if I were to visit 7-11 and discovered that I could get my coffee served up exactly as I wanted it depending upon my whim, I would return. Sure beats the basic, day-in, day out, coffee with cream & sugar scenario!

One MNB user decided to get personal:

Regarding your article on too many choices for most people for the new coffee program at 7-Eleven. Would you want to eat the exact same food every day? Day after day, year after year… Life is full of choices and having the variety can make the experience of your morning coffee more enjoyable.

From the sounds of your response, you probably have a hamburger with the bun only and no condiments, lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles or onions, too.

This email reminded us of a girl we dated a long, long time ago. We went out for ice cream early in the relationship, and she pretty much ruined the evening by commenting that we seemed to be the kind of person who would eat vanilla.

Clearly, the MNB person who wrote the email above hasn't been paying attention…because we eat just about everything, will try almost anything, and love gastronomic adventures about as much as anyone. (And we write about it, ad nauseum, on MNB…)

It's just that 1,300 varieties of coffee seemed, well, a little much. But, hey, what do we know…

Despite the personal attack by this MNB user, we promise not to hold a grudge…just like we didn’t hold a grudge against that girl we were dating so long ago, and with whom we recently celebrated a 20th wedding anniversary.

Regarding labor troubles in St. Louis, one MNB user wrote:

It seems to me that the only speed bump the behemoth Wal-Mart has noticed is the union force; perhaps a long-term look for Schnucks, Dierbergs, et al. would be to keep the UFCW as healthy as possible.

Maybe. Maybe in their hearts, the management at every major US supermarket chain wishes the UFCW well in its battle to unionize Wal-Mart.

But we suspect that considering the current strife in St. Louis, management at Schnucks and Dierbergs may not have the health of the UFCW at the top of their lists…

It's amazing what we get email about. One MNB user wrote:

You know, your sports desk needs analysis with an attitude too! I reckon that you will add some spice when the Red Sox start with New York, but that Cubs Marlins game last night was amazing! What a contest. 7 home runs - 4 Triples. Three in one inning! Sammy's home run in the 9th to tie it was the stuff of legends. Even the Cubs fans, disappointed as they are, have to admit that was a thriller! This was baseball at it's best.

We figured if we started doing long commentaries on the sports scores, we might push you folks further than you want to go with MNB. Get us started, and we may not be able to stop…

MNB user Gary Stephenson had a question for the Content Guy…

I'm intrigued about you and Australian wine. You seem to be quite a fan and I was wondering where you acquired your 'liking'.

As an Australian who's lived in the States for the last 26 years (following 5 years in Italy -- now there's a place for good wines) I'm always intrigued about Americans who are so supportive about Aussie wines -- we'll have to compare notes!

Actually, we're not sure how we became so fond of Australian wines.

Trial and error, we think – lots of trial, and, as it happens, very little error.
KC's View: