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MNB user Dave Scheiber had a thought about the piece we ran the other day about the cost of healthful eating.

This reminds me of the old TV commercial for Fram Oil Filters, with the "You can pay me now, or pay me later" slogan.

The message: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Down the road, when those who eat healthy avoid the costly medical bills associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, etc., they'll be happy they spent a few hundred extra bucks per month along the way.

We should note here that Dave has a vested interest in people eating better – he is director of marketing for Filippo Berio Olive Oil. (And we could no sooner go through a day without olive oil than we could go without oxygen.)

And MNB user Marina Kotsianas wrote:

Isn’t this an issue of balance also?

Americans spend less of their MONEY on food than any other country. Why is that? Because food is comparatively cheap. Why? Because it is made of cheap, low quality ingredients – it is mostly dead food.

Also, Americans spend less of their TIME on food than any other country. Why is that? Because cheap food is readily available in supermarkets and fast food places. We choose to spend our time watching TV or working late.

As it turns out, you can’t have everything: other cultures value the quality of their food more than the bigger house, latest gadgets and multiple TVs. So, they spend more money and more time on their food, and therefore, they eat better, and are not battling fat all their lives. How do these issues weigh for the French, the Indians or the Argentineans?

So, maybe there is a balance: maybe we don’t have to spend 50% of our day planning, shopping and cooking meals, nor spend 30% of our income on food. But we shouldn’t be spending next to no time or money on it either… somewhere between the two extremes, we can eat higher quality, fresher, less fattening food, and also, spend less of the day shopping and cooking, and have a bit of money for a night at the theater… The move towards more Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s shows that some people are understanding the trade-off.

Can’t have it all: Between health, and the time and money it takes to get it / keep it – we must decide on our priorities. Maybe this is a message the good supermarkets can promote – and help us with. What is the real cost of cheap, quick food?

MNB user Richard Lowe chimed in:

The issue should not be about the high cost of a healthful diet, but about the difficulty and torment of trying to eat a healthful diet. What costs more - the food we eat - or our medical insurance and the pills we take? It seems to me getting exercise and eating a healthful diet is and inexpensive trade of to medical bills and pills. Also I think the article was way off base or Boston is very expensive. I have never seen $3.00 a pound whole grain organic rice. I pay between a $1-1.50.

The problem is everyone wants the easy way out and our capitalistic society is continually tormenting us with tempting bad choices and not tempting good choices! The industry needs to get religion about the results they are bring forth, not how we can hoodwink the consumer to buy something.

I had the unusual pleasure of having lunch at a new healthful restaurant here in Indianapolis last week, which actually served the curried chicken sandwich on a delicious whole grain baguette. Why is this so hard to come by. Where can I get a whole grain pizza? What retailer advertises healthful food and the fact that we value you as a customer and want to help keep you around for as long as we can? Now there's a marketing emotional connection!

We had a piece yesterday about Wild Oats needing to close a communications gap with its customers, and MNB user Denise Remark wrote:

When I worked for a large natural foods grocer, we as well experienced a communication gap. We advertised our perishable perimeter items, our grocery items, our non-food and our wellness products, etc., on radio, in newspapers, and in our own flyer, which went to about 20,000 people on our mailing list.

We advertised ourselves as a one-stop-shopping destination. However, the perception that customers had was that we were a specialty store. No matter how much we had expanded ( from 2000 sq. ft. to 31,000 sq. ft.), customers routinely commented about how they "knew us when... ". I no longer work there, but continue to shop. I check out the contents of people's carts (foodie voyeur?) & even though the carts are full, most still don't contain toilet paper, tissues, contact solution etc. So it doesn't really surprise me that a store even as large as WO still battles consumer perceptions.

Blame it on the store's ability or inability to tell their story; human nature being what it is, once we get an idea in our heads, it's damn difficult to change it. But stores should never stop trying!

Responding to the story we had about Missouri McDonald’s franchises using a call center in Colorado to take and process orders placed at their drive-through windows, one MNB user observed:

I can foresee the day when my order will be processed in a call center in India and sent back, via the web, to the McDonald's 5 miles from my home. They are sending nearly every other call center type job to foreign shores, why not these too?

While we get your point, this case could be the exception. After all, we’re not sure how folks over in India would feel about processing burger orders.

MNB user Brain Fox had some thoughts about our momentary feelings of sympathy for Martha Stewart:

If you or I got caught doing the same thing, there is no doubt we would have had a swift and speedy trial and be spending the maximum sentence in jail. She reportedly had several chances to say “ oops, I was wrong, what is the fine” and this would have evaporated. Her arrogance is what did her in and she remains defiant and feels the victim because of her power. I doubt she will serve one day in jail after her high profile lawyers get through the multiple appeals process.

In writing the other day about a study from the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) saying that 72 percent of Americans eat too much meat and fat, and don’t eat enough of the vegetables that can help prevent cancer and heart disease, we suggested that it seems inevitable that the Atkins and South Beach Diet folks will get sued by someone claiming that their low-carb diets had an adverse impact on their health.

To which MNB user Andrea DeRouen responded:

You suggested that a possibility down the line was for Atkins and South Beach Diet folks to sue over cancer and heart disease. While this may be true of Atkins (which, to my knowledge never limits animal fats and encourages little consumption of whole grains and beans) the same can't be said of South Beach Diet. My internist put my on the latter (I'm a Type II diabetic and hypertensive) and not only have I lost weight but all my other blood chemistry has improved including my cholesterol scores. South Beach instructs its dieters to eat only the right fats and the right carbs. From the very beginning you are told to eat beans and legumes. You can eat beef but only the leaner cuts, same for other meat. And you never eat a carb just because it has low net carbs or whatever baloney Atkins is pushing. You only eat whole grains, with no trans fats. I am eating healthier than ever before and only occasionally wish that Krispy Kreme would come up with a whole grain doughnut.

Please don't equate Atkins and South Beach in this way as I believe it's misleading.

Fair enough.

And thanks to MNB user Joe Walsh, who pointed out something else to us – that the Atkins folks already are being sued using the same rationale we speculated about in our column.

Of course, we should have realized that – since we reported on that suit more than a month ago right here on MNB. (Must be a few of those vacation cobwebs slowing down our memory circuits…)

It’s the political season…

We had a piece yesterday about a curious political divide between two of the nation’s best-known retailers, Wal-Mart and Costco. Wal-Mart executives tend to be Bush supporters, and the folks at Costco are Kerry supporters. We also had a story yesterday about a Wall Street Journal piece noting that while there seems to be an economic recovery, it is the more affluent segment of the population that is benefiting the most.

Predictably, we got some reaction to these stories…

One MNB user wrote:

I think Bush will find out in Nov. that most voters didn't really get much from his tax cuts. The $600 for my wife and I wasn't exactly a life changing event. We are fast becoming a have and have not society.

This same MNB user passed along a quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt:

"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little."

And another MNB user chimed in:

We all know why Wal-Mart is for Bush: Unions, period. With a Democratic president, unions may have an easier time getting what they want and once one distribution center or store goes, it will be like dominoes…

And another MNB user wrote:

Knowing this, I am even happier as a Costco shareholder.

We wrote in a commentary yesterday that “if we ran the supermarket industry, we’d immediately decree that all senior managers go to culinary school, be required to do all the shopping and cooking for their families, and be forced to try at least one new dish or cuisine a week.”

To which MNB user Mark Boyer responded:

The next time you give an industry speech ask for a show of hands as to how many people do the main grocery shopping in their families. You will be appalled. Ask how many have read "Made in America" by Walton. Typically fewer than 30%. Ask how many clip coupons. Or even look at them. Unheard of.

Or the next time you tour a store with a manufacturer, see if they head straight for their category, or if they walk the store like a consumer.

A lot of people "running the business" don't "get the business." It's hard to make six figures and try to figure out what makes sense to a HH with <$40k income and five mouths to feed, plus soccer and gymnastics. You can pay for a lot of research, but you can also see a lot of it right in the store. Just look and see what is in the marketbasket.

Keep harping on the "go, see, smell, touch" approach.

We do. And will continue to.

In fact, we’re speaking this very day at the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA)-Food Marketing Institute (FMI) 2004 Joint Industry Unsaleables Management Conference in Miami, and these are the kinds of questions and challenges we pose.
KC's View: