business news in context, analysis with attitude

Commenting yesterday on some of the uncharacteristic changes that Wal-Mart’s been making lately – such as hobnobbing with liberal environmental activists and movie producers, as well as joining the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce - we asked what was in the water down in Bentonville.

To which one MNB user wrote:

Perhaps I read too much into it, but do I sense some general disdain from the Content Guy with respect to Wal Mart's recent attempts to become more socially conscious? The use of the word "Liberals" to describe individuals came across a bit derogatory . . . when, in fact, we should all be so lucky to be considered Liberal. In today's retail environment, clearly the prudent manager will choose open-mindedness over closed-mindedness every single time.

That "something in the water" that led to being aware of, and taking some initiative on environmental concerns, joining the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and a decision to sell the safe and legal Plan B without restrictions (equivalent to selling the garden variety birth control pill) sounds like a pretty desirable elixir to me, and this is coming from a person who is generally no fan of Wal Mart.

When did MNB start being produced by FOX News? Rupert Murdoch would be proud.

Actually, we’re sort of amused that you thought we were being negative about Wal-Mart’s change of approach. We were just observing that there has been a change.

We report and you decide?????

On the subject of why Wal-Mart is having trouble getting permission to open a bank, one MNB user wrote:

Wal-Mart should have predicted this one.

It's okay for Wal-Mart to be the number one retailer in the world and run all those billions thorough the banks, but when it comes to being forced to be competitive, they cry foul.

They are all greedy.

Maybe Wal-Mart should issue its own currency. Wal-bucks. We could take our pay checks to the Wal-bank and convert them to Wal-bucks which would certainly be accepted anywhere in the country. The Wal-bank could then issue each customer a Wal-card with no user fees.

I sincerely hope something like this comes back to bite the banking industry where they are the fattest.

On the subject of fair trade products, MNB user Cleve Young wrote:

Fair trade sounds good on the surface, but it is much more complex than= the simple term would indicate. I have absolutely no problem with this concept as a voluntary action. If people want to pay extra for it then more power to them; as long as it’s not being dictated to us by government/special interest groups. What I do question is how well it is being explained, or using the term you often like, how ‘transparent’ it is. Fair trade for one product or one company may mean something very different from someone else. Are customers being given both sides of the argument, as there are legitimate points to be made against the actual results of what may sound like a no lose concept? People who make the conscious decision to spend more on a product (sometimes much more) because of perceived social factors are often engaged enough to want to know more details. And if companies are going to market their products under this concept they owe it to their customers to be clear and upfront about what it actually means and its full impact.

Whither Rachael Ray?

One MNB user wrote:

I agree with the assessment of what makes Rachel Ray popular – she makes tasty, home-made meals accessible to the vast segment of consumers that had somehow “learned” over the years that there was no middle ground between a gourmet feast and a bucket of fast food. Her success is one example where the middle of the road is a place to really thrive.

But, (and you knew this was coming) after years of watching Mario, Emeril, Bobby Flay, et al on the food network and being inspired to try new dishes and new cooking methods, watching Rachel Ray chopping hot dogs into mac ‘n cheese and opening a can of whatever to get her meal done in 30 minutes is a huge turnoff. It’s a bit like walking into Whole Foods and finding out that the produce department is completely stocked with canned fruits and vegetables. It may be fast and even tasty, but if she really eats that stuff everyday she’ll soon weigh 250lbs…

Another MNB user wrote:

Some people find Rachel Ray annoying, because of her personality. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, KC - there's not a big intellectual ingredient why some personalities appeal to one person and not another. I can't stand her voice, her 'isms' (yummers!) and strangely enough her hands. (which is a lot of what you see when you watch someone cooking or eating).

Outside of the 'nails on a chalkboard' effect she has on me, the premise of her shows make sense, and I understand her appeal. And for some reason the guys in my office really understand her appeal...

Now can we talk Tyler Florence instead??

Finally, we noted yesterday that when Daniel Craig got the phone call informing him that he would be the new James Bond, he was shopping in a Whole Foods in Baltimore of all places.

To which one MNB user wrote:

"Baltimore, of all places"????? Gee whiz, can you New Englanders be any snobbier? May I remind you that Baltimore is reportedly one of the "epicenters" of the "slow food" movement (per your new "crush" Rachael Ray)? That Duff Goldman, the latest Food Network star is based in Baltimore (Capital Cakes)? And there is nowhere, I repeat nowhere on earth that you can get a real Chesapeake Bay Crab Cake except for Baltimore.

Besides that, we have a local delicacy, based on New England's own beloved cod, that is found and enjoyed no where else - the Baltimore Coddie. Steamed blue hard crabs crusted with Old Bay - need I say more? Next time you're in the Mid-Atlantic, visit one of our historic public markets brimming with fresh food vendors - try Lexington Market on the up and coming Westside, or Cross Street Market. And yes, we've got lots of fabulous restaurants - some in charming old neighborhoods such as Fells Point or Federal Hill. Some good local brews, too, I'm told.

The food retailing landscape is slowly changing here, but it looks like that's for the best - Wegmans has moved into the area and Harris-Teeter is headed this way.

And yes, we have a burgeoning film industry - Bruce Willis was in town a few weeks ago working on a film and HBO's "The Wire" is based in Baltimore (though you'll see a lot of "lowlights" of the city in most episodes). It's a great place with lots of character - stop by when you're driving back from DC!!!

We love Baltimore. We love Camden Yards. We were just commenting on the fact that it isn’t exactly the kind of place where you’d expect to find James Bond.

But to answer your first question, you’re right – we New Englanders can be pretty snobby.

KC's View: