business news in context, analysis with attitude

Between the coverage of the CIES World Food Business Summit in New York last week, as well as a speaking schedule that had me at the All Things Organic conference in Chicago, it was hard to keep up with all the email. Sorry about that…the sheer volume sometimes is a little overwhelming.

I was getting email about the cookie dough recall almost as soon as it happened, which was after we posted MorningNewsBeat on Friday. One MNB user wrote:

I'm speechless...mad cow disease made me wary of cheeseburgers, the peanut butter contamination made me put away my spoon, but COOKIE DOUGH?! Sigh! I'm going back to bed; someone wake me when this one's over.

First of all, it never will be over.

Second, I suspect this will be a typical consumer response. Which is not good for a food industry that first and foremost is selling trust.

Got lots of response to Kate McMahon’s “BlogBeat” column about Dell’s unfortunate development of a “Della” computer that condescended to female shoppers.

MNB user Donna Brockway wrote:

LOL! This comes under the “What men don’t know about women could fill an ocean” category.

Two oceans, from my experience.

Another MNB user wrote:

Makes me feel good I just bought an HP! What idiots.

And she signed herself, “a woman who would NEVER buy a laptop for the enticements they presented and, who, in fact, would walk a mile to ensure my business did NOT go in the direction of anyone that dense and loaded with outdated stereotypes about women. They deserve a long-term Internet punishment. Also makes me wonder if they employ any women.”

On the issue of Walmart’s approach to sustainability issues, MNB user Don Brandt wrote:

I travel a bit to Asia for my company and run into Wal-Mart suppliers occasionally…peoples’ eyes get big when they talk about Wal-Mart and you can hear the cash register bells ringing (OK so I’ve been around a while)…they claim Wal-Mart is ferocious in seeking price concessions, but many also say they are a better company for having done business with Wal-Mart…Wal-Mart also gives them ways to be better…there are two sides to every coin…

And, on another issue – a Cooking Light article about making choices and developing priorities about organic food choices in a cash-strapped economy, MNB user Margaret Mittelstadt wrote:

Farmers markets, CSAs and farm stands are growing exponentially as the demand for food grown close to home is becoming a common reality for today's urban- and suburbanites. What a great way to meet the people who grow the food that feeds you and look them right in the eye - a trusted relationship which is so absent in today's fast food, convenience-oriented marketplace? I certainly advocate for supporting local family farms whenever we can.

A word on sustainable agriculture and truth in advertising. The USDA certified organic seal exists for a reason, grown out of hard-fought grassroots efforts that date back over 30 years. It ensures that the food item was grown or produced according to strict standards as outlined in the National Organic Program and established by the National Organic Standards Board. This certification must be renewed every year at some expense to the farmer. The consumer can trust that any farmer or farm stand displaying the organic seal is, indeed, a USDA certified farm operating according to these standards. If you find yourself buying from a farmer displaying the USDA organic seal at a CSA, farmers market or farm stand, they should be able to provide you with a copy of their current farm certification if you ask for it. Farmers indicating they practice agriculture using organic methods, beyond organic or other sustainable farming methods, likewise, should also be willing to openly answer any questions as to whether they use or don't use certain farm inputs, products or practices on their farms. This is the kind of dialogue that builds lasting relationships and repeat customers and farmers should be willing to share. Any farmer or farm stand displaying the USDA certified organic seal, but is unwilling or unable to provide farm certification, may be using the seal illegally and could be misleading the customer. If buying USDA certified organic is important to the consumer, they should always make sure they are getting exactly what they paid for. Always ask!

The debate over whether or not USDA certified organic foods are healthier will, sadly, go on for some time. Certainly for now we can all agree that organic farming practices are healthier for the planet, farmers, farm workers and farm animals. What's not to love about that?

MNB user Lisa Malmarowski chimed in:

Most people buy goods, services and food with 'what's in it for ME' being the most important factor in making a decision.

I suppose one could look at organics this same way but the fact of the matter is that choosing organic has a far wider impact that just 'what's in it for me'. Organic keeps pesticides off the land and out of our waterways and improves the quality of our soil and the health of farm workers.

We can all continue to go around being, well, selfish and 'choosing' the best organics for our personal needs, when the reality of choosing organic whenever possible improves our lives and the lives of many others.

And honestly, what you 'save' at the checkout, you do pay for in other ways through farmer subsidies, polluted waterways and increased public health care costs for workers.

It's not that simple and when I saw the article in Cooking Light, I just shook my head at it's short-sighted slant.

Regarding the Best Buy TV commercials that promote the retailer’s in-store expertise and contrasting it with what I characterizes as a lack of expertise at Walmart in the electronics area, one MNB user wrote:

Interesting piece because I just had the exact experience as the one portrayed in the commercial. I wanted to buy a web cam for a couple that just had a baby and was by a Best Buy so I went in. The customer service was excellent and I ended buying the web cam. I asked the guy if they price match and he said they would if I found it lower anywhere else. I ended up at a Walmart shortly after and saw the exact camera for $10 cheaper. I asked an associate if she would take it out from behind the locked glass case and it took her 10 minutes to come back with a key. During that time I saw her putting together a display while I was waiting. So I called Best Buy and asked if they would honor the $10 difference and they said to just come in. I went back and they quickly gave me the difference. I will never buy electronics at Walmart again. The employees know nothing about the product and they’re rude.

I mentioned in “OffBeat” last Friday that both “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” are seeing their viewership get just a bit older…which puts the Comedy Central network in the position of figuring out the next big thing. (Which is what retailers need to do on an ongoing basis, by the way…)

One MNB user responded:

I sent the bit about The Daily Show and The Colbert Report to my 21 yr old daughter. She suggested that the reason the viewership among the younger audience may be down is because they're all watching it online. If the viewership numbers don't include online, she might have a point!

MNB user Sue DeRemer wrote:

Was that study tracking TV viewing only? If so, most younger people watch those shows on the comedy central website, not on TV.

A excellent point – which speaks volumes about the information gathering habits of the next generation.

Another MNB user wrote:

Speaking as one of the older demographic that watches Colbert and Stewart, I can say that, other than the sharp witted comedy, these shows (particularly the Daily Show) provides some of the best political commentary and insightful interviews on television.

Television journalism is dead. When CNN first aired, you had no name journalists on a shoestring budget giving very timely information from around the world. If you were to look at their schedule, you would see “News” for 24 hours with the occasional in depth special report. Now, the ‘news’ is all about the commentator rather than the news itself. CNN has gone the way of Eddie Bauer and forgotten their core business imperatives. The once paramount journalism has fallen to a distant third behind the marketing of personalities and high tech gadgets and set pieces. What had been tactics have been mistaken for strategies. I can name most of the CNN broadcasters off the top of my head (Anderson Cooper, Fareed Zakaria, Robin Meade, Dr. Sanjai Gupta), but I can’t tell you one thing they said that was insightful or informative. Today’s major news sources don’t want to offend either political party, so them in order to fill air time they either read posts from Twitter and Facebook or they put a right wing and left wing pundit on the air at the same time and let them shout over each other—“full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Contrast that with a Daily Show interview. While primarily a comedian, John Stewart is one of the best interviewers on television. When interviewing a political heavy, his questions are insightful and he does not shy away from uncomfortable topics.

What journalism needs is a 21st century Ted Turner who will create a real news outlet that focuses on real news rather than the person reading it.

I don't think I would as tough on CNN as you, but I certainly agree about Jon Stewart – he puts people on television that you don’t see anywhere else, and they talk about issues and books not discussed elsewhere in popular culture. I almost always learn something…and I usually get a few belly laughs.

Still another MNB user wrote:

Funny that you commented on Jon Stewart today. Last night, I found myself watching him as he had an interview with the author of a book titled “The dangerous Lives of Butterflies” and the hidden message in the book. I was drawn to the story because of Jon’s uncanny way to veer away from the script and ask those questions that many of his viewers would want to ask. The answers were so bizarre that he found himself having to return to the script just to retain composure.

Good stuff and I will continue to watch his show. Being that I am 44 years old, I guess I am one that helps raise his median age of viewers.

Me, too.
KC's View: