business news in context, analysis with attitude

We got several fascinating emails about yesterday's story (taken from about the possible mainstreaming of stomach stapling surgery, including this one from a member of the MNB community who had a personal experience with the procedure:

My wife had gastric bypass surgery in December 2002. In 2003, she has been hospitalized 3 times for dehydration and malnutrition and had to go through an additional surgery related to her original operation. She has suffered from loss of her hair, loss of muscle tone and is currently bedridden with an IV feeding her. She went from a stomach the size of a deflated football (normal) to one the size of a golf ball. Medical costs have well exceeded $100,000 for 2003. The surgeon who performed this operation had little understanding of basic nutrition and, even after the second operation (when she weighed 120 lbs.) insisted she follow a high protein low carb diet that was designed for someone who needed to lose 150 lbs.!!! This is essentially a production line concept with little or no follow-up where the patient is left to fend for themselves if there are complications. I am convinced she would have died had it not been for very aggressive follow-up on our part, beginning with confronting a surgeon who informs us that he does not make mistakes and convincing him that perhaps he should look again.

Bottom line, people can and do die from this operation. You see the success stories but it would be very, very difficult to track down those who don't do well as they tend to fall through the cracks.

Heart-wrenching. And worth considering for people who are pondering the surgery. Of course, there is another side, as one MNB user linked the surgery story to another piece that ran yesterday:

Krispy Kreme profits are up 43%, and over 100,000 gastric bypass surgeries are being performed yearly. Golly, do you think there might be a connection?

All kidding aside, why the Supermarket Guru is so concerned about the proliferation of the surgery? The screening process is extensive, intense, expensive, and candidates are not considered for the surgery unless they have an absolute acceptance of the life-long commitment to cleaner living.

While the morbidity numbers are enough to make anyone pause, is it better to live with coronary disease, diabetes, or stroke?

I thank God this surgery is available for those who need it. I wish my father could have had it...maybe he'd still be here, buying fewer highly processed foods and more natural and organic perishables. Wait, it couldn't be about the potential cost to the grocery industry, could it? Nah, that would be shallow.

We can tell you without any reservation that the piece was written without any thought of trying to preserve sales for the grocery industry. It was written out of genuine concern about consumer health and the worry that this could become an assembly line surgery with greater risks than people realize. (Our first letter today suggests what can happen under the wrong circumstances…)

MNB user Phil Smith chimed in:

"Our revenue is down; let's raise prices!"

"Our business did not return desired financials; let's cook the books!"

What do these have in common with Stomach stapling?

Oblivious to the problem.

And the punchline: "I have a fat gene and can't help it"

Just wait, it will happen.

Fascinating letter from MNB user John B. Moss:

You quote a report (in the 11/24/03 MNB) from the Associated Press regarding 'a pair of pension funds have sued Safeway management and board of directors, charging that the company "has been decimated by rampant conflicts of interest, managerial bungling, deceit and greed"'.

Earlier this year, terminating on 9/26, I managed a group of salaried IT support employees responsible for corporate warehouse distribution issues rising from IT-related causes: job scheduling, bad data, data timing integrity, that sort of thing. We were on call 7*24*365, working a normal 40 hour week and in addition all 11 of us were available at a moment's notice should there be a support issue. An estimated average of our ACTUAL working hours would approximate 65 hours a week. We were efficient, effective - and it seems, our annual salaries were TOO costly. We were outsourced. Offshore outsourced. In a quiet and unannounced manner, one morning we reported to work and heard - "Sorry, you aren't needed any more".

We were expendable, in exchange for less costly offshore resources. And you reported this at the time, near the end of September/beginning of October, so this is 'no new news'. However, we thought it strange at the time that the Safeway Manager spearheading this structural change within Safeway was also the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Philippine company newly tasked with taking over our job responsibilities. It seemed that we were being released so that this individual's company - and pockets - would benefit.

We only saw a little of the 'big picture'. There were hundreds of positions 'let go', and many more employees were directly effected than the dozen or so I'm referring to here. But it DID seem that the personal care for quality employees was less important than the bottom line - in someone else's trousers. Am I bitter? Not really, I cannot afford the expense of rancor. But I CAN express myself, tell it like I saw it, and it is fair to say that MANY Safeway employees have been embittered by the offshore outsourcing experience and that the morale situation hasn't improved.

Incidentally, and a far greater concern than the simple expediency of having one's job replaced by someone else, is the recognition that money which stayed in the American economy and cycled here is now being sent offshore, effectively lost to America. I paid taxes, fueled my car and warmed my home, bought newspapers, got haircuts, ate at restaurants, shopped in Sears and Safeway by buying my groceries there. I bought at local stores, contributed to the church, and political campaigns, and spent my salary here, locally, supporting the merchants who depend on my dollars. No more. Not with Safeway dollars. If I were employed at Safeway, as are the folks on the picket lines in Southern California, I'd want a better accounting of how dollars are being spent. Rather than limit my argument to continued health and welfare benefits, in addition I'd want to see where the dollars are being spent that (apparently) are too costly to provide me with what I currently earn and still make a profit. Wal-Mart? The enemy isn't Wal-Mart, it is using management techniques and structure such that corporate policy can be understood, effectively applied, and consistently so throughout the entire enterprise.

We got a couple of very different responses to yesterday's piece about Lowe's Home Improvement Centers greater appeal to women, and how it is helping the chain compete with Home Depot.

MNB user Bob Vereen questioned the original report, which was published by Bloomberg:

The Bloomberg report is not quite up to date. About two months ago, consumer research conducted by a neutral third party (which I don't remember) found that a higher percentage of women preferred Home Depot to Lowes, surprisingly, since some industry observers have said what Bloomberg reported. Turns out it "ain't necessarily so."

If Indianapolis is typical (which I am sure is true), the new look of Depot's major appliance section is better signed and more informative than that of Lowes (or Menards, the other big home center chain operating here.) Under Bob Nardelli's leadership, Depot has been busy upgrading its stores with better signing ala Lowes. Its Color Center is especially well done. Some of the stores even are downplaying the traditional orange on warehouse racking.

I interviewed founder Bernie Marcus last June, and he says he thinks Depot can double its sales - lots of room to go with new retailing concepts.

However, MNB user Jerry Gelsomino had a different perspective:

I've worked with the Lowe's stores to help them "Improve Home Improvement" and it's a classic marketing story. When a retailer become so heavily skewed towards one gender, or lifestyle of customer, a door is open for a competitor to strike an opposing chord. In this case, the industry (home improvement) also changed. You may also point to the show "Home Improvement" as a satire on we men can get in trouble with power tools in our hands. Can we get in the same trouble with pots and pans?

We got a terrific - and pithy - response to yesterday's story about the growing popularity of starvation diets:

Once upon a time anorexia was a bad thing.

And still is.

MNB user Jerome Schindler responded to an email yesterday that supported the notion that the FDA ought to change food labeling regulations so that the nutritional information for entire packages - not just serving sizes - is included:

Currently, FDA regulation 21 CFR 101.9(b)(6) provides that "Packages sold individually that contain 200% or more of the applicable reference amount may be labeled as a single serving if the entire contents of the package can reasonably be consumed at a single eating occasion."

All FDA needs to do is change that "may" to "shall". That makes sense, but it makes no sense to label a 64 oz bottle of soda or a 16 oz box of cereal package the same way.
KC's View: