business news in context, analysis with attitude

It has been a while since we’ve posted reader emails; my travel schedule simply made it tougher than usual to get through the hundreds of messages that I got while on the road in Australia and England.

But let me see if I can give you a taste of what people have been writing about...

On the general subject of healthy eating, one MNB user wrote:

We spent a week in Sweden with friends, one Swedish, one American.  They have a 5 year old daughter.  It would be interesting for you do look into the way Sweden raises their children.   A sit-down lunch is served every day.  The students have to eat the school lunches and everyone sits until the whole group is dismissed for recess.  They do not use processed foods, or high-sugar content foods.  The children are sent outside for recess, no matter the weather.  The parents are also cautioned if they are over zealous about pushing too much education at too early an age.

We spent 5 days out on an island in the archipelago at a family hostel.  Everyone shared a kitchen, cooking their own meals.  I did not see one bag of chips or candy, junk food.  We had yogurt and granola for breakfasts with fresh fruit as did most of the other families, along with cheeses and Ry-Krisp type breads.  I cannot find a yogurt in the US that comes close to the wonder yogurt I had in Sweden, thinner, smoother and way less sugar.

MNB had a story some time back about a study suggesting that moderate drinkers were healthier than non-drinkers, and noting that “moderate alcohol consumption is a powerful general indicator of optimal social status.”

MNB user Karen Shunk wrote:

This made me wonder if the same inference could be drawn from other studies purporting to show that moderate drinking has health benefits.  Could it be that what these studies are showing, regardless of groups being compared, is that moderate consumption of alcohol is more an economic indicator than anything else?   This would align with other studies conducted in this country showing that economic status is a major determinant of health among different populations – but it’s not the conclusion the beverage industry would like us to draw.  I am in awe of their marketing prowess, but a little depressed, too.

Michael Sansolo had a column recently about attending a James Taylor-Carole King concert, and what this taught him about the importance of marketing to baby boomers. MNB user Ben Ball responded:

Great column, Michael. Besides bringing back some really good memories of my own -- first time I saw James play was sitting under an oak tree in McCorkle Place at UNC Chapel Hill as a student – his uncle later became Chancellor and James was occasionally found on campus in those years -- you also captured the essence of marketing to us boomers in one simple parable. Well done.

On another subject, a reader wrote:

You may be trying to compare ‘apples with oranges’, in comparing outcomes of Wal-Mart’s banking efforts in Canada with what might happen if Wal-Mart were to operate banking operations in the US.

The Canadian banking industry is very highly regulated by the federal government, something Wal-Mart is not accustomed to and something that may cause it some problems with its banking efforts. Nonetheless, while healthy competition does exist in the Canadian financial industry it is no where near  comparison with the ‘wild west’ take no prisoners, competitive attitude in the US industry. (This of course is the main reason why the Canadian Banks thrived while their America cousins were collapsing last year).

Wal-Mart’s bank card program will be a success in Canada in the same way similar programs with other Canadian retailers are successful. But that does not mean it would have the same success in the US environment.

Regarding Walgreen’s efforts to overturn a San Francisco bill saying that drug stores should not be able to sell tobacco products, one MNB user wrote:

Walgreen has a strong case here.  Agree (restricting the sale of products which kill you is a reasonable condition of a licensed business centered on wellness) or disagree (too much government) with the basic premise of the law, it has to be applied equitably.  If the connection is the licensed pharmacy and its commitment to wellness, why is the size of your store or the extent of your other offerings relevant?

At some point, when referring top the “dirty tricks” campaigns against Walmart that were funded in part by Supervalu and Safeway, I must have said “all’s fair in love and war.”

To which one MNB user responded:

I disagree with your statement, "All's fair in love and war." Using fake names and misrepresenting yourself in multiple communications from multiple locations to give the false impression that your numbers are larger than they really are is neither fair nor honest. I'm no lawyer, but if these activities aren't criminal, they ought to be.

More importantly, I think Wal-Mart's competition would be wise to invest their money to find ways to compete rather than trying to delay the inevitable.

My thinking has evolved on this one. Dirty tricks are silly. At the very least, if a company objects to the growth strategies of its competition on legal/zoning grounds, it ought to have the cojones to be up front about it, rather than making it look like grass-roots community opposition.

It reminds me of the Nixon years. Not good memories.

There was a study recently that predicted “children growing up now will have the worst health in human history.”

Which got MNB user Dan Jones thinking:

Really?  Human history? 2.6 million years, 99% of it subsistence living.  80% of it before fire was able to be controlled for cooking food.  Just 300 years ago children were bled by barbers to relieve “bad humours.”  Even with Obamacare, I do not expect my children to “have the worst health in human history.”  Call me crazy.

You’re not crazy. You picked up on something that I should have.

Hyperbolic statements like these should be exposed for what they are.

There recently was a story on MNB about how CVS wanted to get into the food business, and some experts suggested that the retailer wanted to do so in part because it wanted to avail itself of the slotting allowances often available in this segment. My reaction was that slotting allowances are one of the most corrupting influences in food retailing and that, if true, this would be a serious mistake for CVS.

One MNB user responded:

I’m a retailer and I happen to agree with you on slotting allowances, bad idea.  Please advise all of your CPG readers to stop offering them.  Until then, the CVS’s of the world will continue going after the money they think they are missing.  I think you believe that retailers invented slotting allowances. I’d never heard the word until about 30 years ago when one was offered to me by a CPG company.  The only way they will stop is when CPG’s have enough courage to stop offering them and sell products on their merits.  If a retailer bullies them, just walk away, you don’t need to be in their store.

MNB user Glenn Cantor added:

CVS would do well, and improve brand equity, by complimenting food selections to their health solution initiatives.  For example, one of the most challenging concerns of people with diabetes is what, and how, to eat.  CVS can improve their relevance as a diabetes solution center by offering food selections that compliment their medical products.  This should be in addition to the packaged drinks and nutrition bars they already sell.  Real people eat real food.

As it is now, the food selections in both Walgreens and CVS are primarily convenience and snack products.  Drug stores are not commonly perceived as convenience stores despite attempts to compete for this business.

I might disagree with you on the last statement. Talk to people in the c-store business, and they see Walgreen and CVS as their primary competition.

Regarding a new online tool that will allow people to shop for physicians, with price and care transparency, one MNB user wrote:

I am commenting on this piece more from a personal perspective than a professional one.  I myself am a price shopper.  Eggs, milk, bread, etc., I go for bang for buck.  Where I draw the line is the health and well being of my family.  I think "shopping" for a doctor would feel like I was devaluing the importance of the care my family received.  Safeway and other companies that employ this resource need to be careful in the communication of the tool as to not imply they are devaluing the importance of their employees' health.  That being said, I think the Castlight Health tool being presented could be improved ten fold by employing a user review function.  This would allow users to compare quality of care and price to derive an implicit value of care.

Shopping doesn’t always mean you go for the cheapest. It means you look for the most appropriate and relevant.

Another MNB user wrote:

As to Castlight for med cost transparency - I find it interesting that we will reduce costs by adding a charge to see what the costs are. When one goes to a restaurant (with very rare exception) or Grocery store, with no exceptions that I know of, the prices are posted. Why don’t we require – oh yes, through our big, bad government - health care providers to PROVIDE information as to costs by having available a menu of costs in their offices or on line prior to services being rendered. That would be true transparency and it should not have a cost.

I was complaining about boxed wines - which I saw a lot of in Australia - and got a number of emails in response.

One MNB user wrote:

I would hate to ever see any high quality wines, particularly reds, sold in a box.  However, I would welcome seeing box wines move beyond generally containing cheap garbage.  There is no reason that some medium priced whites, for example, a Honig or Goose Cross Sauvignon Blanc, should not be offered in such a convenient format.  For people who like to have a glass of decent white wine with dinner, it seems that this would work nicely.

Another MNB user wrote:

Kevin I must strongly disagree with you on the box wine subject. Obviously you are a CT. snob with a very closed mind (SNL: “Jane you ignorant Slut”-Chevy Chase)(Just kidding by the way!!). I too once thought the way you did. There are some good selections= of boxed wine for everyday use, plus the packaging is recyclable and costs the producer much less than glass and they pass that savings on to the consumer. There is a brand called ‘Yellow+Blue=Green” that package their wine in ‘Tetra Aseptic’ packaging that is earth-friendly, lightweight packaging that costs less to ship, leaves a smaller carbon footprint and holds a full liter of wine, a third more than a traditional bottle. Simply put this is a better way to indulge your passion  for excellent wine while giving back to the earth, doing the planet a favor.

When writing about boxed wine, I quoted a few lines from Ghostbusters, which led one MNB user to write:

Your passion for wine rivals my passion for beer.  Dogs and cats living together = hilarious.  It's going to be OK.  Allow me to offer a bit of therapeutic counseling.  Try to place more focus on your own rituals and enjoyment, and try to keep in mind that boxed wine doesn't really impact you... unless the bottling and corking of wine is completely eliminated in favor of boxes only.  This nightmare scenario is highly unlikely, you should be able to enjoy your experience without so much personal anguish.

Problem: Solved.  You're welcome.  The bill is in the mail.

Thanks. But I’m still not drinking wine from a box. (Of course, the people who make wine in screw top bottles also managed to wear me why knows?

We’ll have more tomorrow...
KC's View: