business news in context, analysis with attitude

There has been some discussion over the last couple of days on MNB about the value of organic and natural foods in the diet. Yesterday, we posted an email from MNB user Andy Gromen saying, in essence, that he believed that the growth of the organic market was largely a marketing phenomenon and he remained unconvinced of its overall health value.

Not surprisingly, his letter generated some reaction.

MNB user Lisa Everitt wrote:

Bill Moyers had his blood analyzed not long ago and the lab result found 84 discrete chemical substances, including dioxins, DDT and Dursban. And yes, I know some people will be saying, "Yeah yeah yeah, PBS, what do you expect," but hey, sometimes the liberals are right.

Modern non-organic food processing strives to move the greatest amount of food to the largest number of people at the lowest possible cost. Members of the consuming public are beginning to realize that some of these practices, while seemingly in the best interest of the food industry, are not in their own best interest. It's not just fertilizer and pesticides, but herbicides and fungicides, antibiotics, hormones, artificial colors and flavors, preservatives and the latest bad boys of the food world, high-fructose corn sweetener and trans fats.

For hundreds of years, growers grew food without chemical additives and people ate it. That economic model can work, and is working, at organic farms and food producers small and large, all over the world. Andy makes organic growers sound backward and ignorant, and that is just not the case. If it were, General Mills would not have bought Cascadian Farms and Coca-Cola would not now own Odwalla.

We have been feeding our family primarily organic/natural for two years. Our food bill only went up about 25 percent. We cut out a lot of expensive processed food like canned soda and junk snacks, and in the process my husband, my 12-year-old son and myself have all lost weight.

As a cancer survivor, I don't care to add to the chemical burden my body already carries just from walking around the United States for 45 years. My oncologist -- and the nutritionist who works for him -- specifically told me to eat only organic animal products (meat and dairy) to avoid the added hormones that my particular cancer really adores. Organic food is more expensive. Radiation treatment cost $5,000 a week (for seven weeks) in 2002. You do the math.

And as a foodie, I can tell you that Horizon milk tastes milkier, Maranatha peanut butter is peanuttier, Coleman beef explodes with flavor and Stillwell Natural frozen pizza is truly excellent (try the chicken artichoke). And if you haven't had a Newman's Own Organic peanut butter cup yet, Andy, you owe it to yourself.

MNB user Jane Graves chimed in:

While I agree with Andy that there is little or no solid, scientific proof that organic food is better for you than non-organic food, I still prefer organics. For me, it is more of a matter of the health and sustainability of the environment than of any perceived benefit to my own health. I buy organics for the same reasons that I buy eggs from cage-free chickens and fair trade coffee. I have to eat to live, but I feel it is my responsibility to do so in a manner that does not damage the world I live in.

We also got quite a bit of reaction to yesterday’s story about Los Angeles requiring that big box stores – including and perhaps especially Wal-Mart – prove that their units will not lower local wages and hurt local businesses before they will be allowed to build.

One MNB user wrote:

A big box ordinance - sounds like LA customers' right to pay 35% too much for ketchup and 40% plus too much for HBA items is secure…

LA - say hello to the 99k square foot gm/grocery combo box with supercenter prices.

Quite likely.

MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

I visited a new Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market yesterday - 1 pm and very,
very busy.

Wal-Mart may decide to open this type of unit throughout the LA area. Why not? Avoids conflict with the proposed ordinance, is cheaper to open, takes less land--and brings low prices to the people.

Also entirely possible.

MNB user Mandy Hedger wrote:

First of all, no one is forcing anyone to become a Wal-Mart employee! This is something that as an individual they have chosen to do.

About the $86 million in public assistance. If these people didn’t work at all, we would still be paying for them with state welfare. These people are working! So does Berkeley have a breakdown of who is actually getting this assistance.

I’m taking a guess here and saying that it is probably single parent families, or older folks. Let’s break that down, these days most families have to have 2 people working just to make it. Evan with a college education most families need two incomes to live. For the older folks, I’m guessing that they didn’t have enough in a retirement account, and now need that Wal-Mart income plus assistance.

Don’t blame Wal-Mart for giving working people a paycheck!!

MNB user Samantha Bruno wrote:

My opinion is that we can never please Everyone. Yes Wal-Mart does dominate the market, making it almost impossible for anyone to compete with their prices, they buy in such bulk no other competitor could ever sell for as low a price as they. They put smaller companies out of business, which is sad but this is what we have asked for. We all know when you want something quick, fast and cheap you go to Wal-Mart. ALL OF US DO, DON'T LIE!

On the other hand it does create jobs, maybe for lower wages, but they do offer pretty competitive benefits. And there is always someone who will work for the lower wage because they need a job and to support their family.

This topic causes a great divide in opinions.

Thank goodness. We make a living navigating the “great divide in opinions…”

Speaking of a great divide, there were two references we made yesterday that members of the MNB community disagreed with.

In one case, we were writing about Supervalu’s decision to remain in the Pacific Northwest, and noted that “’cut and run’ wouldn’t appear to be part of the Supervalu growth strategy.”

One MNB user – who conceded that he was a former Supervalu associate, disagreed with our characterization:

One doesn’t need to look too far back into the rearview mirror to be reminded of Miami, FL, Jacksonville, FL, Albuquerque, NM, Omaha, NE, Denver, CO and New England. Cut and Run has been a real part of their strategy in the past and Mr. Noddle was intimately involved in many of these decisions.

While they remain the clear leader in the wholesale distribution arena I have heard little from them that is positive about their business or their strategies outside of the remarkably successful Sav-A-Lot portion of their business.

And we referred yesterday to Meijer as being a pioneer in the supercenter business, which prompted MNB user Randal O'Toole to question our choice of words:

My dictionary defines "pioneer" as "the person or group that is the first to do something." Fred Meijer opened his first supercenter-like store in 1962. The true pioneer would be the coincidentally named Fred Meyer, who opened a "one-stop shopping center" featuring food, drug, clothing, general merchandise, and gasoline in 1931, three years before the first Meijer grocery store ever opened.

But you probably know that and are just using "pioneer" in the sense of being an early adapter.

I have heard that Fred Meijer was influenced by Fred Meyer but have never seen it documented.

I grew up within walking distance of Fred Meyer's first one-stop shopping center, by then extensively remodeled.

Fred Meyer (now of course owned by Kroger) is a strong supporter of Oregon land-use rules that are effectively keeping Wal-Mart Supercenters out of the Portland area. We happen to have both a Wal-Mart Supercenter and Fred Meyers within 30 miles of Bandon, and there are Wal-Mart Supercenters in Woodburn (30 miles south of Portland) and Vancouver, Washington, but none on the Oregon side of the Portland metropolitan area.

I often wonder what Fred would have thought about that. He was a fierce competitor and I suspect he could have kept Wal-Mart out (or denied them much of a market share) just by out-competing them. Kroger has much to learn from its Fred Meyer stores, but as so often happens (but didn't happen with Wal-Mart) the company's innovative spark died with its founder.
KC's View: