business news in context, analysis with attitude

On the subject of retailers hiring older workers, MNB user Glenn Cantor wrote:

Most of the older Americans that are returning to the work-force, as retail store associates, as not doing so because they want to work.

They are doing this because they are finding that they need the income to maintain a lifestyle.

It will be incumbent upon those companies that hire these people to make them satisfied and content with their employment. Otherwise, relying on "grumpy old men" to interact with younger customers will be disastrous.

This trend points to a concerning, future issue- the aging baby boomers that we expect to retire with oodles of discretionary spending don't actually have that kind of money.

We had a piece yesterday about a study saying that genetically modified crops can cause harm to wildlife. We commented: ”We’ve long been agnostic on the subject of biotechnology and genetically modified foods. But we have to admit that this Forbes made us look a second time.

It seems unlikely that there will be any sort of major shift of opinion here in the US, though. We think that in areas such as this, it takes utter catastrophe to move the needle on public opinion.

MNB user Lisa Malmarowski wrote:

I know, I know... I work on the natural side of the grocery industry, but this is not news to us. You're probably right Kevin, we (as in America) won't act on it until it is at catastrophe status and that is so breathtakingly shortsighted. Take a long range look - we're all in the business of selling food. And more and more grocers are in the business of selling fresh foods. What happens if the supply of these products becomes compromised in the coming years because of our short sighted use of GM crops? Gee, to think about it, it wouldn't matter to our businesses, because we'd all be starving - literally. I'm sickened by chemical companies co-opting our food supply.

I would challenge the large conventional grocers to champion this cause. Money talks after all and food is our livelihood in more ways than one.

MNB user Denise Remark-Lundell wrote:

Kevin--Why do suppose this is--that to get the public opinion needle to move in the US requires a catastrophe? Are we so disconnected that the information doesn't register? Do you think the British are more attuned due to the size of their country? Or could it be that as an old culture, they are closer to their land and their sensibilities are more developed or refined?

MNB user Elizabeth Ferry had an interesting observation:

I respect your work and the many factors that balance in your daily e-zine.

Both personally and professionally, I am of the opinion that GM crops pose serious threats that need to be studied before they are (a) grown outside of laboratories and (b) entered into the food chain. Both of those things are happening worldwide and will have serious, profound consequences on our health and our surroundings in the future.

It sounds like the Forbes article got you thinking along the same lines. It's an unsettling scenario. It takes courage to see it.

So -- I encourage you not to estimate the role of your opinion among your readers. Why dig your toe in the dirt and, looking down, say, "It seems unlikely that there will be any sort of major shift of opinion here in the US, though"?

I encourage you to stand up for the power of your conviction. It is not "bias" to have an opinion. There is mutual respect between you and your readers. Rather than say, "no one else will see it our way, short of a disaster," you could encourage your readers to give this more thought.

Why not say something like, "Forbes made us look at the issue a second time. As biotech grows, so does our understanding that it may have enormous impacts not only on the food we eat, but on the natural world that surrounds us and on which we depend. We are, as Chief Seattle aptly expressed it, interconnected in a web of life."

That doesn't force your opinion down anyone's throat, but it does signal that this is a serious matter that merits consideration. The merits and weaknesses of GM crops deserve genuine evaluation. We can't just go along with the crowd on this issue the way we did in junior high school. The stakes are much too high -- higher, I believe, than we even dare to admit to ourselves.

Rarely have we been accused of not having a strong enough opinion.

We weren’t being coy when we stated our opinion. We’re seriously agnostic on this issue – learning with everything we read, but not quite to the point where we’re willing to take an ironclad stand.

Sometimes that isn’t being wishy-washy. Sometimes (and if you ask our kids, this doesn’t happen often) it’s just being willing to admit that we don’t know everything.

Regarding yesterday’s story about Massachusetts officials questioning whether Procter & Gamble is paying enough for Gillette, speculating that this acquisition will end up being a sweetheart deal for Gillette’s CEO, MNB user Tim Burns responded:

A few observations on the P&G/Gillette merger:

- With any merger of this magnitude, it is customary -- and proper – for the FTC to take a long, hard look. And the reality is that there are no material anti-trust issues here, as there is minimal overlap between the P&G and Gillette product portfolios.

- It is also customary, albeit unfortunate, that such mergers result in substantial layoffs which, in this case, will disproportionately impact the Gillette employees in the Boston area.

- The shrill commentaries in the Boston Globe and by Massachusetts Secretary of State Bill Galvin notwithstanding, Jim Kilts has been one of the premier CEOs in the CPG business. Indeed, since he took over the helm at Gillette in 2001, their stock price has doubled. Kilt's leadership and commitment over the next 12 to 18 months will be critical to the ultimate success of the merger. And the vast majority of Kilt's huge pay-out potential is (very rightly) contingent on how well the stock price performs over this transition period. The insinuations by The Globe and Bill Galvin against Kilt's character and motives are both groundless and distasteful.

- P&G's offer of $57 billion was at an 18% premium to Gillette's stock price (which was already fully valued, according to most knowledgeable observers). Somehow, Bill Galvin's calculus has determined that Gillette's real value is $72 billion! A disingenuous comment, at best. Even Galvin knows that whatever synergies the new P&G realizes will be: painful in the short-term, hard-earned in the longer-term, and ultimately to the benefit of all company stakeholders.

- The grandstanding by Bill Galvin and The Boston Globe is just that: political posturing and pandering. Perhaps these politicians and media pundits should address some of the real questions here: Why is Boston (and Massachusetts, in general) not a very business-friendly locale? Do the high taxes and regulatory environment have an impact? Why have Fleet Bank, Hancock Financial, and Gillette (among others) all been acquired by out-of-state companies? Heck, even the Boston Globe is owned by the New York Times!

Another MNB user wrote:

Or is this a way for the state of MA to increase whatever take they may realize by inflating the value of the company? If for this reason the sale doesn't go through I imagine MA will show up at Gillette's door asking for more taxes! I generally suspect the motives of politicians before those of CEO's. If MA wanted to prevent the sale wouldn't it make more sense to promote Gillette as worth less than P&G is offering and throw the spotlight back to Cincinnati?

Y’think Massachusetts might have an ulterior motive?

Well, as Raymond Chandler once wrote, “It is not a fragrant world.”

On the subject of whether or not chocolate is healthy food, MNB user Jem Welsh wrote:

As a nutritionist practicing in the real world, I can tell you that the majority of my weight management clients can strictly adhere to a good, common sense approach to eating, including structured times to eat and proper portions to eat, drinking decent amounts of water, eating whole foods (nothing processed, that is) and cutting foods from the diet that are offensive to them (lattes, mochas, candy, etc.) provided they do not feel deprived of a "taste of sin" once in a while. In other words, they still look for a treat now and again.

I include on most of my dietary meal plans a 1/4 to 1/2 ounce piece of dark (75%) chocolate daily, either from a great (European usually) 4 ounce bar or an Organic Dark Truffle from Trader Joe's (which is under a 1/4 ounce). An informal study of my client's weight management showed that 86% of the clients having the dark chocolate lost 7.75 pounds or more during their first month and over 50% of those having the chocolate voluntarily consumed less than the offered serving size. Just a little taste seemed to help any cravings they felt and all felt like they were not deprived of sweets with the chocolate on the plan.

As silly as it seems, having one piece of dark chocolate is a very healthy option in a conservative meal plan. It is high in nutrients that support the immune system, it is high in nutrients that positively affect mood and chocolate is such a sinful pleasure for my clients that it is almost treated with reverence by those that no longer miss their lousy, artificial sodas and milky, sugary candies. Clients all consider this type of chocolate a gourmet part of their day's healthy meal, so most save it until after dinner or heat it and drizzle over a poached pear (also on the plan,)

Nutrition in the media makes it seem impossible for most people to use their foods as health allies. They come to seek counsel, dreading the idea they will be deprived of something. in many cases, my clients had never had a piece of 75% dark chocolate. and yet, a little bit of rich, healthy chocolate can change the way they feel about their foods and their definition of treats. They recognize that a little piece of something really rich and decadent can be more rewarding than a whole lot of something artificial and vacant of health benefits. Dark chocolate was put on this planet to remind us that it is healthy to "have a taste" in life, but not so healthy to have gobs more than that.

Chocolate... my favorite health food.

We wrote yesterday about improving food choices in airports, to which MNB user Jo Anne Forman wrote:

I just returned from Minneapolis MN. My favorite airport because of the FRESH food service and shopping. It's also very well organized and convenient if you're flying NorthWest.

We had a story yesterday about how Cadbury Adams is paying a Brooklyn man to walk around New York City and shout the name of its Halls Fruit Breezers product every 15 minutes. The concept is called “voicevertising,” and is said to be the verbal version of creative marketing efforts that have had product names plastered on foreheads and pregnant stomachs.

One MNB user responded:

What goes around comes around. When our country was new, we had town criers to tell the news. This is a version of that.

Another MNB user wrote:

Where does "creative marketing" end and annoying begin? I think we all know the answer!

On the subject of the lawsuit filed by Unilever against Ahold because of what it says is “copycat packaging” used by Ahold’s Albert Heijn division for private label packaging, MNB user Kathleen Whelen wrote:

I've noticed the copycat packaging for years - and the private labels are always placed close to the brands so it would be possible to confuse them - kind of like picking up the National Enquirer instead of the New York Post – I did that once - it took me a while to figure out why there were no stories that even resembled hard news. The private label names are often similar to the brands they are mimicking. I just figured that the manufacturers believed that there was no possibility of bringing a successful suit. It will be interesting to see how this comes out!

MNB user Mary Burns added:

I am surprised that more has not been said about copy cat product marketing. I was surprised to see large numbers of these types of products on the shelves of 99 Cent Stores; I am sure many people never realize that they aren’t buying the authentic product.

I visited a 99 Cent Store to see what all of the whoopla was about and was quickly disenchanted by the shelves full of these products with very few real “bargains” in sight.

Another MNB user wrote:

Don't forget the *purely* mercenary angle...I'm guessing that Unilever is NOT the vendor for Ahold's own-brand programme -- and am wondering if some of the grapes could be sour.

Ahold's contracted with someone OTHER than Unilever to produce these items...Ahold has produced labels with some similarities, and Unilever's complaining because it's their ox bleeding profusely. Methinks if the shoe were on the other foot (Ahold were contracting with Unilever to produce a package similar to someone else's package) Unilever would be smugly producing every package without a whimper.

Geez, I'm getting jaded as I get old....

MNB user Reg Hitchcock had an observation about a story run yesterday on MNB:

I cannot believe the French are more productive than the Germans, English, Americans and Japanese!!! By what standard??? It would have been useful and interesting to have seen you print these standards in your article this morning.

Good point.

The original Forbes piece said the productivity numbers were compiled by the European statistics agency Eurostat.

Another MNB user wrote:

I think that the French are a little kooky, but the have their heads on a hell of a lot straighter than many Americans. The French have time to do things like cook, be with their families, pursue a life outside of work, go for walks, drink wine, and above all this are more productive than Americans. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be the fact that Americans are so concerned with working, getting ahead, and their oh so precious careers. I can't tell you how many people I know that do things in the most inefficient way possible and then raise their brows when you would rather get all of your work done then work 55 hours a week inefficiently. The way I see it, as soon as I can afford to, I'm leaving for Italy or France and never coming back to the states. Our culture regarding work is one of the most disturbing things about America, and I believe that it's the root of many issues that we have today as a nation. Viva la France!

In France, they’d never do a story like the one in this month’s Fast Company, profiling people who work a minimum of eight hours a week in “extreme jobs” that require relentless travel and dedication to the job at the expense of almost everything else.

We work hard – on MNB, on columns and articles for other publications ( , Chain Store Age, XR23, etc…), on speeches and presentations that we give around the world, and on custom video presentations for various companies (and this doesn’t even count the novel we’re fiddling with) – but we have an advantage. It isn’t really work (but don’t tell anyone).

Finally, you folks sometimes think that we are cynical about Wal-Mart…but you have no idea of the depth of suspicion out there.

Witness the story we ran this week about the Canadian union leader who has been active in trying to organize Wal-Mart employees there, and who died last weekend.

We received the following two emails:

Have I been watching too many movies or does anyone else find it somewhat strange that a 39 or 40-year old woman who has been a "thorn in Wal-Mart's side" dies suddenly of a heart attack? I wonder if an autopsy will be performed - would be interesting to see if they could confirm that she actually had heart disease or if it was something else. I don't want to go "Oliver Stone" and conjure up a conspiracy theory but, was it divine intervention on behalf of WM or has WM gone into the hit-man business as well? They certainly have more money than the mafia and could take over that industry too... be careful what you write or do in opposition to WM!


Am I the only one wondering at the untimely death…of a high level union executive who just happens to be at odds with multi-billion dollar strong corporations? Is there any whisper of foul play?


Even we didn’t consider this possibility…at least not for longer than a moment.

On the other hand, maybe this is an idea for another novel.
KC's View: