business news in context, analysis with attitude

I got the following email from an MNB user who described himself as a “geological engineer turned food marketing specialist,” which means he is a lot smarter about this stuff than I am:

Rarely do people mention the ice ages when they talk about global warming. These scientifically unexplained cyclical events existed before the modernization of man and likely unexplainably are still at work. From a historical geologic perspective, we are still warming up from the last ice age that gave us the great lakes, so you could say it’s supposed to be getting warmer. The question then is how fast are temperatures rising?

I have no doubt man’s consumption of fossil fuels has escalated the warming trend. According to “An Inconvenient Truth” it may be too late to reverse the trend as evidenced by more gasses being release from thawing tundra producing more warming gasses, creating a vicious circle of warming.

Taking the devil’s advocate position for a moment. If scientists can’t agree as to why the ice ages occurred, how are we to be certain we are not merely measuring a natural phenomenon? Scientists point out that volcanoes have emitted far more greenhouse gasses, 150 times more by some estimates, than man. Scientists have also concluded that we are currently emitting greenhouse gasses at rates far exceeding the volcanoes at this time. But, volcanoes also emit ash and SO2 which have global cooling effects that offset their CO2 emissions. What’s happening probably has more to do with forces deep within the earth that we do not understand.

Maybe what we are witnessing and measuring with global warming is nothing short of a brief geologically historical lull in tectonic activity, where not enough volcanic ash and gas are producing enough global cooling?

Part of the equation in this debate is a natural occurrence. We just need to adapt to the global climactic changes that are happening. We can do that. Maybe the farm belt moves from Kansas to South Dakota. The once predictable seasons are changing, but we can adapt. We have no other choice.

I don’t think mankind can spend or engineer its way out of this mess. I believe it’s too late to change the path of global warming short of the unpredictable hand of Mother Nature with a very large series of volcanic eruptions. Does knowing the truth or the why really make a difference? It’s getting warmer and the debate about it being man made or natural is almost irrelevant.

Ultimately, whatever you believe…we need to act now to pursue alternative energy sources and use environmentally sustainable practices simply because it’s the right thing to do. The amount of fossil fuels on this planet is finite. Once it’s gone, it’s gone! The pillaging of our planet for profit by corporations and governments must end if we are to sustain life as we know it. I think if we can give up the right vs. wrong, nature vs. man, and left vs. right positioning, global sustainability might be possible.

And, regarding the debate about private equity companies investing in retail chains, MNB user Bob Bartels wrote:

Some thoughts from a previous life as a General Electric trainee: In those days one of the key result areas by which management was measured was maintaining proper balance between the interests of the contributor claimants of any business. Customers, share holders, suppliers, employees and society seem to constitute the lineup. The private equity world tends to get out of balance with an over emphasis on share holder value at each transaction level. Privately owned companies tend to be more up close and personal with the contributor claimants and perhaps better balanced.

And MNB user Dan Onishuk wrote:

Every time I hear that a PE firm has been involved in a supermarket buy I think of Michael Douglas (the infamous Gordon Gecko) in the movie “Wall Street” saying, “I am not a destroyer of companies, I am a liberator...greed captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit." Unfortunately, while the loyal employees at the stores are attempting to make it work, those liberators are still trying to figure how the food got to the end of the fork.

Did you see that they’re thinking about making a sequel to “Wall Street,” detailing what happens to Gecko after he gets out of jail?

We reported yesterday about the rise in limited assortment stores, which led one MNB user to write:

Exciting limited assortment is not! Cheap it is. Mostly private label and case stocked, not on shelves for the most part. It gets those seeking the absolute lowest prices and willing to compromise on quality. I’ve researched in the U.S. and Europe where it all started. Aldi is Albrecht’s operation. BTW, by definition Costco and Sam’s are limited assortment with excitement and quality aren’t they?

True. And two of my favorite retailers, Stew Leonard’s and Trader Joe’s, are both limited assortment stores – and they also are two of the more exciting retailers around.

Limited assortment doesn’t have to mean limited appeal. Done right, it can mean precisely the opposite.

MNB user J. Michael Casner sent the following email:

Regarding your mention that Procter & Gamble will spend an estimated $86 million to drive awareness and sales of Charmin.

I cannot believe P&G management is so insensitive by using music from the very well known Hallelujah Chorus, part of Handel's Messiah, for the latest Charmin commercial! I associate this musical piece with great religious reverence, and find it a disgraceful to be used for something so trite as a toilet tissue commercial.

I've written to P&G and gotten no response.

Kevin, I'm sure if you were to make a comment on their choice of music, it might gain a response.

I haven't seen the commercial, so I can't comment on whether it is appropriate. But I know this – if there is a consumer uproar about the music, it’ll get changed.

Finally, my favorite email of the week…

Yesterday, commenting about a feud breaking out between Tesco CEO Sir Terry Leahy and Waitrose CEO Mark Price, I wondered if Sir Terry ever thinks to himself, ‘Y’know, since I’m a knight and Price is not, maybe I ought to just have him beheaded.”

To which Dr. Jonathan Reynolds, Director of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at the University of Oxford, responded:

Some quaint cultural context could be helpful here.

What you have to know about beheadings is that it is Her Majesty the Queen who wields the sword, when knighting her subjects. There have been no recently reported accidents.

The job is normally performed by the Public Executioner or Headsman, rather than by a Knight, on another Person of Quality (or even a commoner such as Mr. Price). The last official beheading in the UK was in 1747, however, so we can perhaps relax.

Also, you should know that the Queen shops at Waitrose (purveyors of groceries and wines & spirits by Royal Appointment, so is unlikely to sanction any beheadings by her Knights Bachelor…

I have two responses.

First, this email illustrates why I love England so much. If it didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.

For some reason, it sort of reminds me of Hugh Grant’s speech when he played the Prime Minister in one of my favorite movies, “Love Actually” (2003):

“Britain. We may be a small country but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that...”

The email also makes me think something else – that I can’t believe I actually write something that is read by the Director of the Oxford Institute of Retail Management at the University of Oxford.

KC's View: