business news in context, analysis with attitude

We continue to get email joining in the discussion about what some people feel is Wal-Mart’s inconsistency in applying its cultural mores – deciding to sell hard liquor in some locations, which some feel will offend its core audience. (We raised a few hackles by suggesting that Wal-Mart often is inconsistent, selling guns while sanitizing its book, CD and magazine racks.)

One MNB user wrote:

I find Wal-Mart’s “inconsistency” with respect to gun sales and sanitized entertainment products to be a fairly accurate reflection of its customers and the marketplace in general. In case you haven’t noticed, there are an awful lot of us in this country that have difficulty walking the talk, practicing what we preach, (insert your own pithy phrase here). Just from reading recent MNB articles and reader commentary, we see stuff like the following:
• America is fat and getting fatter, and people want to lose weight, --- but much of the growth in the quick serve restaurant business is in hyper-indulgent new food offerings --- not salads and fruits.
• Steroid use is cheating, and users should be thrown out of baseball --- unless it’s “your” guy under the microscope, in which case there’s no proof and his records are the result of extraordinary skill only.
• America has lost its way morally and ethically --- but have you seen the Nielsen ratings for “Desperate Housewives” in the red states / Bible belt?
Kevin, there’s a lot of unsavory stuff that people do a good job of avoiding. If you keep the place a little dark, and don’t look in every corner or under every rock, it’s amazing how easy it is to be a happy hypocrite.

America is like Michael Corleone at his godson’s baptism, reciting empty phrases while his hit-men murder the heads of the other crime families. (I guess that kinda’ makes Wal-Mart the church, eh?)

Okay, we know we’re going to get email about that metaphor…

Another MNB user wrote:

I guess that you understand that in today’s society some people may either not be able to censor what their kids watch or hear or just don't give a darn. I am not suggesting Wal-Mart raise our children. I am suggesting that the average parent is probably more comfortable shopping for a CD at Wal-Mart than one of the other more liberal retailers. That is either a smart business decision or hypocrisy, either way many people take the stand that if Wal-Mart weren't sincere they would take the money for the sale. I know you can't protect your children from everything, but I have a very odd belief that kids need to be kids and growing up shouldn't be rushed.

You are correct about the regional thing and firearms, it does matter to someone who was raised and educated with respect for firearms and the law. I also take notice with the first amendment, under that amendment I do have free speech. Therefore, while you may think they should be able to sell anything, many people think they should be able
to sell what they choose to sell. They don't have a responsibility to
anyone other than their customers and conscience. As usual I enjoy your
opinions, it does make me think and consider other views.

For the record, we’ve always said that Wal-Mart can sell whatever it wants to. We have a far greater problem with sanitizing products, which we feel amounts to censorship. (And, by the way, we have a bigger problem with the media companies that allow it to happen.)

MNB user Bob Vereen wrote:

Reading the comments about Wal-Mart today caused me to recall some things that some of your readers might not have considered:

(1) Wal-Mart began in small towns, where folks hunt for food, as I did growing up in Minnesota, so selling guns was a natural for the company. Yes, people still do hunt for food in lots of places. And fishing, too, for that matter.

(2) I have read that Wal-Mart imports about $18 billion in goods, but this is from $280 billion in sales---far from being a dominant part of the firm's business. One of your readers today seemed to think most of what the company sells is from China. Simply not true.

(3) If you read the labels on products sold in other stores--including
fancy department stores like Saks, Nordstrom, etc.,, many American
manufacturers are now sourcing from China or elsewhere. For example,
how much of Nike's products are made in the US? (If any?) Is Nike

(4) One reason Wal-Mart has become such a powerful factor in food retailing is its promise of low prices every day. We continue to be amazed at the pricing differences one can find on so many products between WMT and Kroger, for example, on a non-sale basis. We don't shop there all the time, but we enjoy the savings when we do.

MNB user Elaine Nolan wrote:

I saw this statement of yours in today's MNB letters section and felt I had to comment on it...

"And it always intrigues us that some people who don‚t necessary take all the provisions of the First Amendment seriously tend to take very seriously the provisions of the Second Amendment."

Actually, I have found quite often that the same people who don't necessarily take the ENTIRE first amendment seriously, also seems to forget a part of the SECOND Amendment as well ... its first clause - you know, the one that talks about a "well-regulated militia being necessary". Somehow the gun-loving folks prefer not to dwell on that part. Go figure.

Just an observation ...

On the subject of Oregon deciding to turn some allergy and cold medications into prescription-only products, MNB user Clayton R. Hoerauf wrote:

While I fully appreciate the dangers of Methamphetamine, this type of legislation is nothing short of a "Patriot act like" over reaction to the problem. Why not put these medications behind the counter and have people sign for them like we have done for years with Codeine ? Seems like a golden opportunity for the drug companies to turn a $5.00 bottle of pills into $25.00 if not more.

Responding to a story about the increased level of salt in prepared and packaged foods, and its impact on the national health, one MNB user wrote:

It is a disturbing report since consumers to a great extent have no control over salt in food prepared away from home. Labeling isn't the answer, however. My experience in consumer behavior is any label claim, be it on a retail product or restaurant menu, promoting less of something is translated by consumers into 'less taste' and that product is avoided. Manufacturers have just disappointed the American consumer too many times.

I feel the answer comes from an article you presented a few days ago about the success of Weight Watchers and people who follow their program. The people who eliminate weight under this program have changed their behavior forever, and in doing so, have become more savvy food shoppers. These people ignore claims and go right to nutrition statements for information.

And guess what, smart manufacturers have put Weight Watchers' points on their label.

More technology or regulation isn't the answer - consumers have to become more actively involved in their diet. When they do, the market will handle selling healthy food.

MNB user Roby McNeely wrote:

The article about salt is very interesting. We all know that sodium in high doses is not good for you. What will happen when the nation's largest retailer is the only place left to by meat? All of their beef, pork and chicken contain high levels of sodium!

It will be very interesting to see what the health in small town America will be like 5 or 10 years from now when the only choice some of these towns have is BIG BLUE!

MNB user Robert Dyer wrote:

If you check out the nutritional areas of any of the fast food companies or check other sites that compare the nutritional aspects of several, you will find not only exorbitant fat content, but high sodium levels in almost all food and drinks sold at these establishments. Being a high blood pressure sufferer and extensive business traveler, I have had to totally eliminate fast food from my diet, because there are no low sodium options. Here are some examples of items you would think are healthily, but high in salt content:


California Cobb Salad with Grilled Chicken - 1,060 mg sodium
Chicken McGrill Sandwich - 1,010 mg
Chicken Selects (3 piece) - 930 mg
Egg McMuffin - 350 mg


Veggie Max sub (12/6 in) - 2,080/1,040 mg
Turkey Breast (6 in) - 1,020 mg

Taco Bell:

Southwest Steak Bowl - 2,050 mg
Bean Burrito - 1,200 mg
Beef Soft Taco - 600 mg

Another MNB user wrote:

In your column today, it talks about fast food chains are reporting better sales than ever of “less healthy” food, despite all the talk about eating healthier foods and the chains offering them. You comment that maybe it's because healthy foods just don't taste as good and Americans aren't ready to eat them.

That may well be, but I suspect there is something else in play here — the so-called experts who keep bombarding the public with new health guidelines and then challenging or changing them over and over until you can't tell what or whom to believe. After awhile, the only way to deal with it is to stop listening. Maybe that's what some of these fast-food customers are doing.

One more thing — people sometimes eat “junk food” because it's psychologically comforting as well as tasting better. In our so-called stressful world, trying to take away people's comfort blankets may be fruitless — no pun intended.

Another MNB user wrote:

People going to McDonalds or Wendy’s - or any other Fast food service establishment - are not expecting to get "healthy" food regardless of the sales pitch. "Healthy fast food" in itself is an oxymoron.

And, contributing to the ongoing trans fat discussion, one MNB user wrote:

Butter has so little trans fat that it labels at 0g per tablespoon. What the nutritionists are now telling us is that trans fat is worse than saturated fat. Most if not all vegetable oil spread manufacturers have eliminated trans fat. There are many studies showing that saturated fat is necessary for making the "good" hdl cholesterol. Furthermore, many nutritionists are of the opinion that not all saturated fats are created equal. A good portion of the saturated fat in butter is thought by some experts not to be either artery clogging nor cholesterol raising. This is a complicated area and much is yet to be learned.

Finally, we continue to get baseball-themed emails, which are – to be honest – some of our favorites.

One member of the MNB community wrote:

I humbly submit another tie between steroids in sports and retailing. In a word, Produce.

Our fresh produce today is incredible. Our seasons have been extended to the point that many commodities are available 52 weeks per year. Assuming there is no lockout, the NHL is close behind many of these wonderful commodities. Have you noticed the increased size of navel oranges, apples, and pumpkins to name but a few? If you've been out to a modern production orchard recently, the 'body fat' on the trees is non-existent. They grow fruit, not trees. It starts with great seeds (or graftings) followed by perfect soil and plentiful water. I don't know if there's much difference between the fertilizers from Scott's or Balco but they both seem to produce great mass and strength.

The average consumer enjoys the best and biggest produce we can put on the field, however there is a group who prefers organic only. Organic produce is frequently average but occasionally wonderful. Fans of organic produce are vocal about the purity and goodness, which helps them either overlook or appreciate the imperfections and mediocrity of the product. The mass market often sees the difference between the best product of enhancement and the organic version - and chooses the former over the latter. Since there's little evidence to assume any ill effects from consumption of the enhanced product, many folks will choose to enjoy the best product that can be put on the field... err... I mean display.

Maybe the grocery industry is ahead of the sports world? Maybe we need separate leagues for full-throttle enhanced sports and a separate league for the organic version. Players and fans could choose be given the gift of choice to enjoy whichever product appeals most to them. In one league we'll be able to field a team with 9 clones (really) of Barry Bond genes, the best supplements, and aluminum bats. The organic league won't even need much testing because the players that gravitate this way will likely seem beyond reproach. I'm not sure the grocery industry immediately accepted whether there was room in the produce department for two leagues. The consumer demanded the choice and now only the dinosaurs fail to provide it.

And MNB user Sue Seisler wrote:

I will be traveling to Williamsport this weekend for the 5th year in a row to catch some of the action at the Little League World Series. I will once again find the joy that's been missing in a sport that I so dearly love. I'm in awe at the immense sacrifice of not only the coaches and parents but also all the volunteers who masterfully put on one of the greatest shows on earth. The enthusiasm and sportsmanship of all those kids from around the world is truly a rewarding and renewing experience. For a few magical days I will feel "all is right in the world".

And for those of us who cannot attend such games, there’s another option.

Grab a ball and as glove, go outside and have a catch with a kid.

Doesn’t get any better than that.
KC's View: