business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB had a story last week about the decision by Red Lobster restaurants to begin farm raising its own lobsters. I drew a comparison to an old Fiesta store in Texas that used to grow its own produce in an in-store hydroponic garden, and suggested that this was the epitome of local.

MNB user Rosemary Fifield disagreed:

Farm-raised lobsters the epitome of local? Local does not mean "raised by the corporation." People want local because they see the value of maintaining rural landscapes, supporting the people who grow our food, knowing the people who grow our food, and influencing the people who grow our food. A bunch of lobsters raised in captivity in Florida is not local. It's just another example of corporate greed trying to control or cut out the grower/farmer/fisherman to increase its own profits. Aquaculture has threatened wild salmon populations, polluted the oceans, destroyed mangrove forests, spread disease and parasites, and produced food and oceans contaminated with antibiotics and filth. Just another reason to avoid Red Lobster and Darden Restaurants. What other restaurants do they own?

But MNB user Richard Evans had a different perspective:

We've been aqua farming the lobster's tiny cousin, the crawfish, down here in Louisiana  for many years with great success.

I'm sure many of the techniques for doing so would cross over.

For instance, they are fed with a protein meal made from rendered waste products of processing such as shells and gutted remains. There is even specialized harvesting equipment which has been developed for the business.

It has become an industry with world wide reach. .

They even grow them in rice fields which are flooded much of the time thus providing a duel use for the land.

This sounds like an excellent move on the part of Darden.

Am I unreasonable to think that there ought to be room for both kinds of lobsters, both farmed and wild? As long as the things are labeled accurately, it seems to me that they ought to be able to co-exist. But maybe that’s too much to ask for.

BTW...the story noted that the lobsters being raised would be clawless European lobsters, which I’d never heard of. Thanks to all the MNB users who sent me pictures of the clawless variety, saying that they are meaty and delicious. Consider me a little better educated today than yesterday.

We had a lot of discussion last week about an SKU rationalization effort that Supervalu reportedly is imposing on its Jewel stores in Chicago, which comes under the name “SHE - Simplify Her Experience.” The goal is to increase profits by eliminating some brands and increasing private label items.

One MNB user wrote:

RE:  Simplify Her Experience - I don't think they used good judgement on the name of their program.  Seems a bit condescending to offer to help the helpless Little Lady wade through that difficult shopping thicket.  Overtones are that "she" can't think on her own. 

What neanderthal thought up that one?

And what reaction would a such a campaign get if it were advertised to the public? 


On another subject, from MNB user Chris Hoyt:

Thanks for the heads-up on the L.A.Times' article about the possibility of the USDA setting standards for Olive Oil purity (and, consequently, marketing claims!). Importers abuse this all the time but because they are so small, it's not worth going after any one individual company -- and they know it. It's a widespread abuse & ought to be stopped.

Separately, you are so right about California Olive Oil -- they win on all important aspects -- purity, taste & freshness.

We have been reading MNB since it started (I believe in 2001 or thereabouts) and look forward to it every morning -- great work! Again, thanks!

My pleasure.

And another MNB user wrote:

At last!  That anything can legally be labeled one thing and be another is just outrageous.  This is way overdue.  Next should be the mango papaya juices that are predominantly  grape/apple  with a splash of the title juice.  Very misleading and a classic example of our industry's inability to police itself and do the "voluntary" appropriate thing.  Gee, why do you suppose we have labels?  Oh, yeah,  it's the pretty pictures.

More reaction to the signing of legislation by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger requiring that eggs sold in California come from hens that are not crammed into cages. The law requires all eggs sold in the state as of Jan. 1, 2015, to come from hens able to stand up, fully extend their limbs, lie down and fully extend their wings without touching each other or the sides of cages. The legislation was supported by the Humane Society of the United States.

One MNB user wrote:

In reading some of your readers' negative responses to California's new legislation that seeks to improve the living conditions of egg-laying hens, I was reminded of very similar defenses of sweatshops: "it's anti-business, will raise the costs of products and drive production elsewhere."  Are these same readers supportive of sweatshops (which certainly make it easier to turn a profit), or do they just think that because chickens are animals, we should be allowed to do anything we want to them?

But another MNB user wrote:

It seems remarkable that the CA legislature, while presiding over a “failed state” tottering on the edge of bankruptcy, spends any time at all that is not completely focused on correcting the fiscal and employment problems---but instead, worries about an issue that is surely not in the top 1000 of importance.  Illinois doing the same, broke, way underfunded pensions is raising state employee’s pay and has increased the cost of speeding tickets (30 mph over limit) all the way up to $1,500 and up to 5 years in jail.

Got a number of differing emails about our reference to a New York Times story about Walmart spending more than a million dollars to fight the imposition of a $7,000 fine by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that was related to the trampling death of a part-time employee on the day after Thanksgiving in 2008. According to the Times, Walmart appears to be arguing “that the government is improperly trying to define ‘crowd trampling’ as an occupational hazard that retailers must take action to prevent.”

MNB user David Bernstein wrote:

You go to a bar, you drink too much, you get behind the wheel and someone dies. Guess what – the law says the bar is at fault for serving you too much.  I applaud OSHA’s fines, and cannot believe Walmart essentially does not want to be on the hook for maintaining a safe shopping environment.  Is that really the message you want to send your customers?

I mean, their prices might be “to die for,” but this is taking it too far (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

But another MNB user wrote:

Sounds to me like a culling of the herd.  Those who put themselves at the front of the line just to buy something on sale are missing something in the intelligence department.  Stupid is as stupid does!

This last email strikes me as a little cold. After all, it wasn’t a shopper who died - it was a temporary employee.

The people who trampled that poor guy have moral culpability, and I wouldn’t have minded if they’d been charged with assault. But “culling of the herd”? Give me a break.

Another MNB user wrote:

Couldn't agree with the big 'W' more on this one.  I know it's naïve to think federal agencies are here to enforce only laws already on the books, but this one is overstepping the bounds of reasonability.  Controlling how customers will react to certain promotions is way beyond the reach of what can be expected of any retailer.  How would they put together a law (assuming they need one) to cover this?  Too many variables and probably all costly to both implement and enforce.

Let's not lose sight of the bigger issue.  What were these customers thinking?  Was it important enough to spoil their kids or themselves for Christmas to get caught up in this kind of destructive behavior?  As long as there is this type of human behavior, bars on the doors before 5 am won't be enough.

I for one applaud Walmart for fighting that OSHA violation charge.  All too often businesses cave in, not because they did anything wrong, but because it is the most cost efficient way of bringing the matter to closure.    Often I tell clients that once a federal agency makes up their mind, they refuse to be swayed by the facts.  The report that Walmart's stand has "mystified and even angered some federal officials" also points out a real risk that going forward Walmart may face retaliation in the form of stricter enforcement of real OSHA requirements.  The government may begin to exercise their discretion in such areas in a punitive manner when it comes to Walmart.  It is unfortunate that our government works that way, but it is just human nature.

On the subject of retailers who have decided to bypass using FSI’s in newspapers and switching to direct mail, one MNB user wrote:

I just HAD to write in in response to the issue of grocery stores sending ad circulars in the mail. Where I live local residents receive just such a bundle of ads each week and I absolutely HATE it! I loathe, despise, can’t find words strong enough to describe how much I dislike this mailing.

Each and every Sunday I look forward to reading the sales circulars that come with the newspaper so it’s not that I object to the circulars themselves. I also receive several (my husband would say too many) catalogs in the mail which I enjoy leafing through so it’s not an objection to “junk” mail either.

What the issue is, precisely, is that even though these circulars are no longer in the newspaper they are still printed on that same flimsy paper at the same newspaper friendly size making them oversize for my mailbox. They end up getting folded by the mailman and sometimes stuffed in there all balled up like they were ready for a trash can free throw. This ultimately results in the bundle getting torn when being removed from the mailbox by myself and all my neighbors. This ad bundle takes up a lot of mailbox room too so if you have several items of actual mail in the box you have to rip it to get everything out. It looks like someone threw a party by the mail station on the days they are delivered from all the “confetti” on the ground left by me and everyone else!

Also, I know I’m not the only one who hates these because our development installed a garbage can by the mail station and on the days this ad bundle arrives it is filled to the brim with them so no one has to even take them into the house.

But MNB user J. Schindler wrote:

For at least the past 40 years, here in Columbus, OH the local weekly grocery ads have been delivered in "The Bag" dropped on our doorstep every weekend by "independent contractors".  That bag has the circulars for two of the three major grocery chains - Kroger and Meijer, plus occasional other retailers.   Because Giant Eagle has a different ad schedule (Thursday to Wednesday) they have always used a "marriage mail" company that uses the U.S. Post office to deliver their circular.  As postal rates rise I would not be surprised to see the "marriage mail" company shift to delivery using such independent contractors.

We had a great email from MNB user Jim Swoboda last week that compared CPG attitudes toward product innovation to those of Apple. Which led MNB user Jim Donegan to write:

Mr. Swoboda’s analogy of Apple vs. CPG companies excludes the concept of slotting fees on a national basis that retailers will charge companies to “switch out” their items annually.  If you ran a P&L for a CPG company you wouldn’t do that.  Apple doesn’t pay slotting to the marketplace.

In some ways, you make his point. Slotting allowances are a corruptive influence on the system in a wide variety of ways.

I noted last week that the post card is becoming an obsolete form of communication, replaced by photos sent via email or posted on Facebook or other social media sites. Which led MNB user Brian Fox to write:

The demise of the post card? There’s nothing like sending post cards to all your friends with the everlasting “Having a wunnerful time! Wish u were here!” message from every exotic locale and destination we get to visit while they sit at home doin nuttin! Oh yeah, unlike Facebook, et al, post cards get read and stuck on the fridge to bring a smile again and again!

Oh yeah… just wait ‘til your grandkids get ‘em from Grampa from all over the world and get to take them to show and tell! Post cards are love in their eyes! Not as good as Skype for staying in touch but our 5 & 7 year old granddaughters have an album of them and can tell you imaginative tales about the jungles in Cuba, the Puerto Vallarta seahorse, Alaskan Kodiak bear encounters, walking the Golden Gate bridge, and on and on.

One last point….. they’re usually the only “Good news piece” in my mailbox as all the rest seem to be bills from the dinosaurs who do not yet offer an e-bill or online option.

All good and legitimate reasons for the postcard to survive. But while grandparents may enjoy sending them, I suspect their grandchildren will opt for other communications methods. (You probably also think that your grandkids like those Super 8 movies you keep showing them...)

KC's View: