business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB user Bob Vereen filed the following report from Indiana:

Wal-Mart very quietly opened a new 213,000 sq. ft. supercenter 5 minutes from our house in Avon, Indiana, yesterday. We dropped in for a visit today.

Really a handsome store. Excellent, broad assortment in the food side. We frequently shop at a Meijer supercenter about a mile or so away, and thought the aisles at Wal-Mart were much wider; the assortments broader, the organization of the stock, easy to shop.

I heard a rumor they did nearly $350,000 in the first day--with no publicity on the opening, no advertising, just a sign on the front saying GRAND OPENING.

They also have a gas station there, so I filled up and saved 3 cents a gallon over the nearby Meijer.

It will be interesting to watch.

Regarding yesterday's report that the cost of obesity-related health care in this country $75 billion, with people who actually are obese paying less than half that, MNB user Mike Martin wrote:

Make the fat pay! I work hard to stay healthy and physically fit, by exercising and a proper diet.

Why should my tax dollars be applied to the cost of health care for people who CHOOSE a sedentary lifestyle and over indulge in the consumption of food?

People who smoke and/or are obese should pay higher health care premiums. Much like a driver with a history of speeding tickets, pays higher insurance premiums. Better yet, offer tax credits to those who maintain a healthy lifestyle.

On the broader subject of obesity in this country, MNB user Randal O'Toole wrote:

I am very skeptical about anything the Centers for Disease Control says about obesity. To gain public attention (and increased appropriations), they have manufactured a crisis out of very little evidence.

The widely cited survey that supposedly shows we are getting fatter is an annual unverified telephone poll asking people (among other things) their height and weight. The people running the survey do no statistical analyses to see if their results are reliable.

But one piece of information shows that the results are not reliable. The first year they did the survey (1985), they found that 12 percent of Americans were obese. At the time, actual measurements of a random sample of thousands of Americans had found that 22 percent were obese. So, they assumed that lots of people lied to pollsters about their height or weight. In the last year of the survey, they found that 20 percent were obese. Does that mean fewer people are lying? Or does it mean the real obesity rate has increased by two thirds to 36 percent? Without verification, CDC assumes the latter. I am dubious.

Later some CDC "scientists" put out a report, based on the flimsiest of evidence, claiming the suburbs cause obesity. The evidence was the same unverified survey, and it showed that people who live in cities exercise and average of 40 seconds more a day than suburbanites. Even if true, 40 seconds a day doesn't make much difference, certainly not enough to lead planners to force dramatic changes in suburban land-use patterns (which was the goal of the report).

Now CDC says obesity costs $75 billion. This is a silly number because it fails to take into account the health care cost of NOT being obese. Data clearly show that people who are healthy live longer lives than people who are obese. If you are not obese, you are more likely to spend your last years in a nursing home whose expense could greatly outweigh the cost of obesity. Yet I doubt that CDC will put out a hysterical report about the cost of being healthy.

Also on the subject of obesity, one MNB user wrote:

The main point for any successful weight loss plan (low cab or low fat) doesn't really seem to get stated enough. Eat less (choosing a wide variety of foods - fruits, veggies, meats, whole grains) and move more. Period.

Sounds so easy but it never seems to make the bestseller list when it comes to diet books. And it's certainly not that easy to follow when you're bombarded by really horrible food choices from a very early age. (Why haven't we seen the Cheetos diet yet?). And everyone's looking for a quick fix.

It's nice to see Atkins and South Beach doing well and actually changing the face of the grocery aisles a bit. But I can already see that the changes are beginning to confuse shoppers and the choices are becoming much like those in the rest of the store - chemical filled, sugar-free with questionable nutritional value if eaten as a sole source. I am reminded of Snack Wells and how they took off during the height of the low fat era. Well, they were loaded with sugar and people assumed they could eat as many as they wanted and everyone continued to get fat.

It seems it's still about the competition for the consumer's dollar at the expense of common sense and their health.

MNB user Patrick Sullivan of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, wrote:

Since you've devoted some recent coverage to controversy about the safety of the low-carbohydrate diets (Dec. 9) and the Food and Drug Administration's move to define the meaning of "low carbohydrate" (Jan. 22), we thought you and your readers should know that a new scientific review has drawn a clearer link between low-carb diets and cardiac arrhythmia.

As you know, cardiac arrhythmia killed Rachel Huskey, a 16-year-old Missouri girl who was on a low-carb diet. Now, a paper appearing in the current issue of Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition offers additional scientific support for tying such deaths to low-carb diets. This extensive review of the scientific literature is titled, "Low-carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short and long-term health implications?"

Shane Bilsborough, lead author, has stated, "There is a growing concern now among doctors that cardiac problems seen on low-carbohydrate diets are the reason for sudden death seen in otherwise healthy dieters who cut out carbohydrates from their diets."

Moreover, low-carb dieters have reported an alarming number of such incidents to our organization, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Since the news conference described in your Dec. 9 article, PCRM has collected 27 accounts of life-threatening cardiac events experienced by low-carb dieters.

These facts should give pause to anyone in the food business. As science takes a closer look at health problems linked to these popular diets, what kind of ethical, legal, and public relations problems will bedevil companies who jumped on the low-carb bandwagon before the facts were clear?

Points well taken.

Yesterday, we had a letter from an MNB user suggesting that an FMI workshop on "How To Keep Your CEO Out Of Jail" would be better attended if it did a seminar on "How To Put Your (Former) CEO in Jail," which, he said, would be embraced by Fleming, Ahold, and Kmart employees. That struck us as a little harsh. Funny, but harsh.

Another member of the MNB community wrote:

Bitterness is one thing but mistrust once broken never comes back to center. It may after time be repaired but leadership failed people, shareholders, and communities. Saving / cutting into the future has never been a sustainable model nor a compelling vision to follow. Lessons will be learned on the backs of people within the company until good leadership arrives.

MNB user Glen Terbeek sent us the following email:

There is a great editorial in the WSJ today by my favorite strategy guy after you, Gary Hamel. It is entitled "When Dinosaurs Mate". It is worth a read, in light of the mega mergers in the food industry.

Two great quotes in it:

1) "As management's attention turns inward, customers lose out and market share wane."

2) "Put simply, you don't get a gazelle by breeding dinosaurs."

After reading today's MNB alone, think about Safeway, Ahold, even Spartan. What are they thinking? The shopper only cares about the stores in her/his marketplace.

Isn't it true that not only were dinosaurs big and slow moving, they were also too dumb (or impressed with their size) to change with the environment?

The beat goes on!!!

True. True.
KC's View: