business news in context, analysis with attitude

Following a story about food banks in trouble and rising “food insecurity” in America, one MNB user wrote last week that “food Insecurity is a made up B.S. condition. Having to change your lifestyle to meet your budget is called living within your means. If you can't afford to eat like you used to - you have to either get another job, or eat something else.” My response to that was that while “food insecurity” sounds like an annoying demographic phrase, I hoped it wasn't being suggested that there is no hunger in America…and now, this MNB user has a further response:

I am not suggesting that there isn't hunger in America, but there is no way that almost 12% of the population of the US are is in state of hunger. Our "poor" live like kings compared to the poor in other countries.

Over 70% of the population has Internet access, and over 80% of the population has cable TV. There has to be some overlap in those numbers and the people who suffer from food insecurity. You can't honestly classify someone as hungry when they have non-necessities like cable TV, Internet access, computers and cell phones.

Again, I think you are painting with a broad brush…and that there are probably enough anecdotes on both sides of the argument to keep us debating for years.

MNB had a story yesterday about a study saying that red meat consumption can increase the likelihood of getting certain kinds of cancer, to which I offered a short comment: “Pass the fish.”

The emails poured in…

One MNB user wrote:

You mean pass the fish that is full of mercury? I wonder if the red meat they used in the research was raised on a grass and vegetarian diet, not fed grain at any time or injected with hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals or if the red meat they used in the research was raised in pens and boxes, fed an unnatural diet of corn and other grains, pumped up with hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals and shipped to the research lab in CO2 filled packages. Just wondering if all the chemicals and unnatural diet could be a confounding attribute in the research findings?

MNB user Kevin McCaffery wrote:

Fish? Watch out for the mercury.

As Roseanne Roseannadanna from Saturday Night Live used to say, “It’s always something.”

The sobering thing is that there is an entire generation of MNB readers that has no idea who Roseanne Roseannadanna was, and who played her.

MNB user Andy Casey echoed the thought:

Except the fish is full of PCBs, mercury and other heavy metals. I suppose vegetarian is the way to go, unless of course, you happen to get into some genetically modified crops which may or may not be bad for us depending on who you ask. God help us, what have we done to our food supply?

Nobody is going to help us if we don't help ourselves.

I am reminded of the email I got a few years ago from an MNB user who said that he couldn’t eat meat because of mad cow, couldn’t eat chicken because of bird flu, couldn’t eat seafood because of mercury, and would eat only salad except that he was convinced that the residue from acid rain would kill him.

Is it any wonder that consumers are confused about what is safe to eat, and don't really understand food safety and nutrition issues?

Bob Johansen of the Institute for the Future likes to say that we live in a “VUCA World,” meaning that it is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – and studies like the new “red meat causes cancer” report only serve to make it more so. It is incumbent on retailers to try to figure out a way to make the world less volatile, uncertain and ambiguous.

Finally, I just got this email about a bad shopping experience:

Kevin, I hope Arthur Blank is among your 30K+ readers (reasonable chance?) I say this because there is no hope for the current team running Home Depot, not based on the experience I just had.

As you know there's snow in today's forecast for the Northeast. It's been on the news for a few days. This would be snow #2 of the season, the time when people like me, caught off guard by snow #1, realize we need to get prepared for the long winter – a shovel, some ice melt, 2 car brush/scrapers, etc. I'm basically in the perfect position to be a retail sucker right now, just put it out and I'll probably buy it.

Well apparently HD still has the October calendar page hung up in the office. I went to the Westbury, LI store at 6:15 this morning. I thought if I go on the way to work, they'll have a full selection of snow stuff (keep in mind no precipitation yet).

I got a weird feeling as I entered the store with my huge sucker, I mean shopping, cart... no snow-related items anywhere in the front. So I walked to the first few aisles, where they keep the outdoor-related items. First I passed all the BBQs, and they had lots…

That's right BBQs in NY in December. A nice touch. Then I passed the garden supplies and various potted plants. Now at this point, I actually circled back toward the front entrance, thinking I must have missed all the shovels etc. Nope. So I go back to the aisles, passing a full selection of rakes (but still no shovels), some brooms, cleaning products etc. I finally told someone what I was looking for, she said "We keep that stuff outside, go to the second door and make a left." That's funny, I had been passed there already but didn't see any signage to that effect. NO SIGNS?! We're about to have a snowstorm! Did these guys take a marketing class in college?

But she was right, they were out there. In the cold, dimly lit outdoor area, with more pigeons than employees and customers combined. So what did they have? A small, lame selection of shovels. They were dusty, filthy (Note to HD: what happens to your merchandise when a lot of pigeons are around? THE SAME THING THAT HAPPENS TO YOUR CAR.) They had a few kinds of rock salt / ice melter, but all were in bags were more than 25 lbs. I helped 2 other customers put them in their carts, but I wonder how they got them onto the self-checkout platform for scanning? (Because the ONE open cashier lane had a dozen early AM contractor types).

Navigating my cart over the wet floors outside (and holding my newspaper over my head for obvious reasons), I just couldn't find the ice scrapers. When I finally saw an employee, I asked... "Oh we don't carry those" was the response.

So basically, I went to HD today looking for a solution. It's going to snow. Winter is coming, I need stuff. Cost was not a very big factor (probably the case with many in that store's trading area). And they blew it. Shame on them. And it wasn't just "a bad experience" caused by a rude employee or long line, a deviation from what senior management thinks is the norm. This was just bad, bad retailing. Bad product placement, bad assortment planning, bad merchandising. That's senior management's fault.

I know it's been a bad week for Arthur Blank. Michael Vick is gone, the coach has left. But if he still has any skin in the game at HD, he obviously has way more important things to focus on.

KC's View: